A blurb on Sabernomics about the Cheater’s Guide reminded me of an incident that’s not in the book —
As a Braves fan, I first checked to make sure he devoted some time to the evil 1991 Minnesota Twins. This team won the World Series by cranking up the AC to give Kirby Puckett a tainted home run off of Charlie Leibrandt. Zumsteg covers this, but misses the most egregious incident of that series: Kent Hrbek pushing Ron Gant off the bag to get an out. The play was so obvious that Hrbek couldn’t even keep a straight face when later describing the play.
On the 1991 home run, it’s interesting to note how well that fits into the known Twins AC-related cheating: that they tried to run it late in the game, starting at the bottom of the eighth, if the Twins were tied or behind, to give the offense a boost: it would get the Twins two innings (bottom of the eighth, bottom of the ninth) of wind-blowing-out assistance, while the visiting team only got one (top of the ninth). Now, in this case, they wouldn’t have the pretext of people leaving to crank them up, because in a tied World Series game, fans would stick around.
But it makes sense: crank them up for the bottom of the 8th (where all three Twins outs were in the air), and then leave them going.
The Hrbek story (btw, check out his picture on Wikipedia, that’s got to be a joke) — in the third inning of Game 2, Ron Gant hit a single, rounded first, and then retreated. The Twins threw to first, where Hrbek forced Gant off the bag as he returned safely. Drew Coble called Gant out and argued that it was Gant’s momentum that carried him off the base, but… no.
I wish I could point to a video clip of this, but the only instance of it I could find was removed “due to a copyright claim by MLB Advanced Media”. Because short video clips showing memorable plays in baseball history must be crushed.
The out ended the inning. Had Gant been called safe, the Braves would have had men on first-and-third with two outs and David Justice at bat. And the final score of the game was 3-2 Twins. We can’t know if Justice would have struck out or scored a runner, but it was a huge play in the game and might have changed the outcome of the World Series.
That kind of hard-tag force-the-runner off play really goes back to the rough days of baseball, when the hip check was relatively common, and it’s another example of how rough play, even with much better umpiring, still affects the outcomes of games and, one can easily argue, Championships.