Metrodome cheating, Kent Hrbek and Ron Gant

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.


#1 Mat on 03.26.07 at 4:57 pm

Do you have the citation to the Star Tribune article that discusses the AC thing? I wonder if it’s the same article that I knew about (though I can only search their archives for the last 14 days.)

I remember a couple years ago the Tigers were complaining about that and a group of engineering students from the University of Minnesota studied what the largest possible effect of the AC fans could be. The way the study was spun in the paper was that with the fans, the ball could go 7-8 feet farther. However, I knew someone who was in that group, and they said that the uncertainty in the study was somewhere around 7-8 feet, so that the result wasn’t statistically significant. But, this being the media covering science, that didn’t get included in the newspaper article.

If this had noticable effect, you’d expect that the AC fans would have to create enough of a breeze that it would feel like sitting outside on a windy day, and from personal experience, it has never seemed windy inside the Metrodome.

Also, if this was a big effect, you’d expect that it might show up in the HR splits for Twins closers, especially a guy like Joe Nathan who is a pretty extreme fly ball pitcher. From what I can tell, though, it looks like Nathan and Guardado gave up HR at basically the same rate at home and on the road.

Anyway, I think it’s an interesting topic, and I’ve got a copy of your book in a UPS truck somewhere which might clear things up, but I’m not seeing a whole lot of good evidence for a real effect here.

#2 Mat on 03.26.07 at 5:08 pm

The Hrbek thing was definitely cheating, though. As for his wiki picture, Hrbek has kind of a weird, cheesy personality in the local media (getting his start in the media pitching air conditioning systems for Carrier) that has developed over time, so that picture doesn’t surprise me too much.

That game also had a great play where the Twins middle infield faked that they were turning a DP on a ball hit to the outfield, which slowed the runner advancing from first and likely prevented him from scoring. Not cheating in major league baseball (it would be cheating in my slow-pitch softball league), but definitely gamesmanship.

#3 Mat on 03.26.07 at 5:12 pm

Sorry, not the same game, just the same series. I’ll stop now.

#4 David on 04.05.07 at 9:28 am

Thanks for your discussion of the Gant/Hrbek incident. As a Braves fan, it still bothers me. I have a friend (that I was actually watching the game with) who to this day refuses to say Hrbek’s name, consistently referring to him as “The Cheater.”

#5 Matt on 04.07.07 at 8:55 pm

Does anyone have a photo of Kent Hrbek pushing Gant off of the bag? If so please e-mail it to me with the subject line of 91′ World Series, so I’ll know what it is.