A League of Their Own would have been a nice enough movie as an ongoing battle between the Racine Belles and Rockford Peaches for supremacy of the first women’s professional baseball league. However, the sibling rivalry of Kit Keller and Dottie Hinson defined the greatness of the movie as much as it did the championship of the league. As Hinson notes You got yourself in the league. I got you on the train.
Hollywood leans on these narratives because rivalries often define the fandom of a team as much as the on-field successes and failures. Collegiate athletics thrive on the confluence of how a team does against its main antagonist as much as it does the full breadth of their schedule. The John Cooper era of Ohio State football was a bust due to his 2-10-1 record against that team up North. Finishing with only a single loss in the 1993 and 1996 seasons meant little when those losses added to the 10.
Who is the foil for the Cleveland Indians to combat? Upon the genesis of the Jacob’s Field – Progressive Field era, the chief antagonizer appeared to be the Chicago White Sox. Frank Thomas and Albert Belle were among the two most-feared hitters in baseball. The 1994 season ended with Chicago a mere game ahead of Cleveland in the standings. The Tribe would win the division every season following until the White Sox reclaimed the division crown in 2000. Only one of the prior seasons saw a team other than the Pale Hose finish in second place. Manager Gene Lamont had Belle’s bat confiscated. The Indians collapse in 2005 would ease the path for Chicago’s lone World Series championship run. Hated personnel from Robin Venture to A.J. Pierzynski to Ozzie Guillen lived in the opposing dugout as did former Tribe heroes; Albert Belle, Jim Thome, Omar Vizquel, Kenny Lofton, Sandy Alomar, and more.
Yet, the competition never boiled over. Chicago, while in second, finished too far back for the AL Central division to have been considered a race in any of those seasons. 1997 had the infamous White Flag trades with White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf telling a Sun-Times reporter: “Anyone who thinks we can catch Cleveland is crazy.” The current era has been more defined by the Indians using the White Sox as a path to padding their win total than creating animosity despite some indications Chicago maybe could become more challenging an opponent.
As rivalries are defined by games that matter throughout history of franchises, it would also be impossible to call the Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Indians such. The ballclubs are teams that belong to the same division through happenstance.
Prior to 2019, the Twins and Tribe have had an uncanny ability to have one– and only one– of the clubs be contenders each season. The Twins tasted World Series success in 1987 and 1991, but the team was terrible upon joining the AL Central in 1994 as the Indians dominated. When the Tribe finally faltered, it was the Twins who would win four of the five division titles between 2002 and 2006. The Twins would take a step back as the Indians stepped forward in 2007 and 2008 only to re-establish themselves in 2009 and 2010. In fact, both franchises were established in 1901,1 but the only season both teams made the MLB postseason was in 2017.2 The Twins finished 17 games back in the division and did not advance past the AL Wild Card game.
Which is why this past weekend was so unique and special. Every game the Indians and Twins play against each other for the rest of this season will be the most important game between the two in their 118-year franchise history… unless one team surprisingly pulls away. Baseball is what gets inside you. It’s what lights you up, you can’t deny that. And, the drama unfolding within this series helps prove the point.
The Mike Clevinger game was tense throughout as most Tribe fans understood the Twins propensity for late-game comebacks. They did not disappoint though Hand was able to ensure victory for the Indians; barely.
The Shane Bieber game lacked the dramatics. The Tribe hitters reached base 17 times and the pitchers struck out 12, while walking just two.
The Adam Plutko game saw the Indians reach base another 12 times, but ‘because baseball’ would see the Tribe only score a single run. Plutko somehow managed to similarly stifle the Twins for awhile, but they eventually sequenced six hits in a row to take control of the game.
The series finale was one on which a rivalry can be built. The Indians cruised as their rookie pitcher with three starts– Aaron Civale– out-dueled the Twins ace– Jose Berrios. The Twins would manage a comeback, this time forcing a tie– which could have been more if not for a couple great throws by Tyler Naquin and Francisco Lindor to get an out at the plate. Rather than meekly find a way to lose, the Indians loaded the bases in extra innings without hitting a ball more than 79 miles per hour before Carlos Santana closed things out with a grand slam.
Whether or not the Twins can become That Other Team Up North will depend on a multitude of factors. There are six more games this season that fans can only hope lives up to this past weekend. Minnesota must continue their upward trajectory of success. The Indians must be able to continue their on-the-fly rebuild with youth. Each team must continue to compete for the divisional, league, and overall pennants.
This is our daughter, Dottie. And this is our other daughter, Dottie’s sister. Those lines were the introductions Kit and Dottie’s parents had supposedly used, which pushed the animosity between the girls to the forefront early in their lives– at least for Keller– until the Naquin-ism of the younger3 was finally overcome by smashing a high fastball for a clutch hit. But, while it’s true the little sister bested her elder in the climatic scene, when Brad Hand is the one throwing that high heat, Tribe fans can safely chant out at the Twin faithful “You’re gonna lose, you’re gonna lose!”