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Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024
The Observer

Kramer: The Curse of the Hammbino

Among our nation’s great state stereotypes, perhaps “Minnesota Nice” proves the most questionable. The torrential weather that sweeps over the fields of the North Star State forces publicly kind Minnesotans to endure abysmal temperatures in belligerent privacy. Outsiders never see the passive aggression and mass hysteria that pervades the state in five months of bone-chilling winter. They never hear the endless complaints and curses from the secluded comfort of the plains. They never feel the unadulterated regret that leads loyal Minnesotans to fend for themselves in social withdrawal. Throughout the annual bombardment of piercing winds reaching 60 degrees below zero, the Land of 10,000 Lakes releases a collective outcry of all that is unkind. And in gratitude, it embraces the mediocre-at-best summer month of July with such positivity that outsiders label the hermits and hibernators of Minnesota as the kindest of them all. Timing is everything.

But before this seriously twisted bullying at the hands of Jack Frost even kicks into high gear, one event stands alone as the truest test of Minnesota’s resilience: the start (and abrupt end) of playoff baseball in October.

The Minnesota Twins’ recent misfortunes in the MLB playoffs have undoubtedly reached laughing stock status. Over the last 16 years, the Twins organization has assumed the longest consecutive playoff losing streak in the history of North American sports. In just two short days last week, the “Bomba Squad” of the Twin Cities surpassed the 1975-1979 Chicago Blackhawks with 18 playoff losses in a row, a number that looks as dreadful on paper as their level of play looks on the field.

The Minnesota Twins have mixed an effective cocktail in coping with a drastically disadvantageous annual payroll: low-budget veteran starting pitching, high-powered hitting, and a moderate accumulation of underpriced free agents in the offseason. General Manager Thad Levine and President of Baseball Operations Derek Falvey delicately balance their embrace of established baseball strategy with analytically driven innovation.

But even these unequivocal geniuses can’t halt the “Curse of the Hammbino” (named after Minnesota’s own Hamm’s beer). Last season brought the Twins’ first 100-win season since 1965, one that ended with the first Division Series sweep of a 100-win team in MLB history. To make matters worse, the 2020 Houston Astros became the first team with a losing regular season record to win a playoff series, all against a Twins squad that was on pace to win 97 games if given a full-length season. Joining the ranks of the similarly disappointing Timberwolves, Wild and Vikings, the Twins perpetuate the longest active playoff championship drought in men’s American sports. Minnesotans look to the wrinkled, musty 1991 World Series championship banner swaying aimlessly at Target Field as the last glimpse of sports jubilation in the Twin Cities.

Most people deem this wildly unlikely phenomenon a matter of mere chance. But c’mon, what fun is that?

As a diehard Twins fan, I find the curse much easier to swallow if I can shift some blame to MLB teams of vast success that treat the Twins like a depleted punching bag in the back corner of an empty gym. The Yankees, an organization so assuredly despised by the less lucrative, have crushed the Twins’ playoff hopes without fail since Game 2 of the 2004 ALCS. After scoring two runs off of Mariano Rivera in the eighth inning, the Twins sent elite closer Joe Nathan to battle the Yankees into the middle of the 12th inning. Manager Ron Gardenhire replaced Nathan with J.C. Romero, who served up a devastating walk off line drive to Hideki Matsui to the roar of 57,000 Yankees fans. Thirteen consecutive losses to the pinstripes, the longest playoff losing streak to a single team in MLB history, separates that fateful night from the dread of Twins playoff baseball today.

Speaking for my home state, we don’t want your pity or your consolation. We deserve the ridicule, the criticism and the social media roasts (which, honestly, seem to get funnier every year). We welcome your taunts and your jokes because, really, we’ve heard them all.

But for the sake of our Minnesota niceness, feel free to give us a win next time around.