Lisa Guerrero: My conversation with Chili Davis
The Tampa Bay Rays may have the talent, momentum and swagger to be World Series champions, but is destiny on their side?
The only team to go from worst to first and win the World Series was the 1991 Minnesota Twins, who defeated another last-to-best ball club, the Atlanta Braves. In one of the most exciting Series ever, the Twins won in seven games with Jack Morris pitching 10 innings of shutout baseball for the final victory.
Evan Longoria was 6. If the Rays are knocking on destiny's door, it's been a long time coming.
My husband, Scott Erickson, was a starting pitcher for the Twins in 1991, winning 20 games and earning a selection to the All-Star team. His roommate was Chili Davis (pictured here), owner of three championship rings (the other two with the Yankees in '98 and '99) and a three-time All Star.
This morning, I spoke with Chili, still a close buddy and a business partner of Scott's who had this to say about comparing the Twins worst-to-first season and the Rays' quest for a championship:
"In our case, we had a group of scrappy, older veterans. We were kinda like the Oakland Raiders. Some people thought we were washed up. ... They didn't necessarily like us. We had guys like [Mike]Pagliarulo, [Jack] Morris, [Steve] Bedrosian, [Shane] Mack, [Carl] Willis, West, [Dan] Gladden, [Rick] Aguilera, [Kent] Hrbek. No real superstars except for Kirby Puckett.
"Tampa has a lot of young guys, quality pitchers, but our team was about a lot of veterans policing the rookies, teaching them how the game is supposed to be played. The manager [Tom Kelly] stayed the hell out of the way," he said with a laugh.
The tone was set in spring training that year when, after a shakeup in the roster following the '90 season (winning just 74 games -- 29 behind the first-place A's), a veteran player stood up and announced to the rest of the team, "Nobody's gonna beat us on our own turf this year."
The goal was to win 75% of their games in the Metrodome.
After starting the season 1-9, the Twins went on a 15-game winning streak in May. By the All-Star break they were tied for first with Texas. They won the first game after the break to claim sole possession of first in the AL West -- and held that position the rest of the season, winning 95 games, a 21-win turnaround.
But even those achievements didn't win over the national media which, according to many of the Twins players, focused mostly on the Atlanta Braves, perhaps because of the daily exposure the Braves received on TBS, long before fans could catch their favorite teams by purchasing a MLB television package.
Chili says he still harbors resentment about how the media treated the Twins that season. Like Tampa, Minnesota was the smaller-market team facing the "media darling" Braves (i.e. John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, David Justice, Deion Sanders).
"We beat them and the press acted like they won. They went from worst to first, but so did we -- and we beat them. I'll always be anti-Atlanta and anti-Boston," vowed the former Twin and Yankee (among several other teams spanning a 19-year career). "Always."
-- Lisa Guerrero
Lisa Guerrero has covered Super Bowls, the NBA Finals and the World Series, along with the Oscars, Emmys and Grammys. As an actress, she has appeared on "Frasier" and "The George Lopez Show" and as Billy Baldwin's long-suffering wife in the film "A Plumm Summer," which she executive-produced.
Photo: Chili Davis in 1994 when he was with the Angels. Credit: Karen Tapia-Andersen / Los Angeles Times