[Phil Cuzzi sucks at his job.]
The Twins lost again and I am sad again. I attended my first Twins game as a six-month-old baby at the Met. I was at Game 7 if the 91 World Series as twelve-year-old. I have watched every Twins playoff game since. Since that night, rooting for the Twins in the playoffs has meant nothing but disappointment. (I also like the Oakland A's, so even that '02 victory was a bit dubious.)
On the other hand, I lived in Massachusetts from 1997 to 2001 and remember watching Red Sox games with actual die-hard Red Sox fans, before they had won in the playoffs. I recall the dead look in their eyes, the suffocating atmosphere of defeat. Though I'm sick of it now, I admired the dogged determination of the Rex Sox flock, downtrodden and clinging to even the slightest glimmer of hope in spite of generations of history teaching you lessons to the contrary.
(By the way: can you imagine what Boston sports fans would be like after a 0-18 stretch? It must have been similar to whatever hell world Boston was like after the ’86 World Series.)
In Minnesota, we’re generally too modest to get worked up about feeling sorry for ourselves. People here half expect to lose, and many have come to terms with it. But there's losing in general, and then there's the specific zero-for-eighteen stretch that the Twins are on, which is an epic marvel of defeat. By one calculation, the odds of it happening are something like 1 in 28,000.
So what's going on? Why are the Twins so damned as to have broken the record for most consecutive playoff losses in any major pro sport in the history of the United States? What kind of forlorn curse can explain it?
Here are some prevailing theories, ranked in order of how much I, a die-hard Twins fan, believe in them:
#8. The Pepsi Curse
Theory: Switching the soft drink vendor from Coke to Pepsi cursed the Twins in the plaoyffos.
Believability: Low. They only switched in 2010.
Remedy: Drink Pepsi, I guess.
#7. Curse of Wally the Beer Man
Theory: The Twins cursed themselves when they fired the famous beer vendor, Wally the Beer Man, for undisclosed reasons.
Believability: Dunno. I like this one simply because it reminds me of the Billy Goat Curse. That said, they only fired Wally in 2011.
Remedy: Free beer night?
#6. Curse of the Center Field Pines
Theory: After they cut down the pine trees above center field, the Twins cursed themselves with the fierce maleficent wrath of the confier gods.
Believability: Low. The curse must date back to the Metrodome era, no?
Remedy: Bring back the trees.
#5. The M-hat Curse
Theory: The Twins’ winning years were when they wore their ‘M’ hat logo, not the ‘TC’ logo. Until they bring back the ‘M’ hat for the playoffs, they are cursed.
Believability: Has been debunked, as the ‘M’ hat was won in '04 and at other times. That said, still could be a minor curse.
Remedy: Wear the ‘M’ hats in the playoffs again? It can’t hurt.
#4. Curse of the ’91 Halloween Blizzard
Theory: The famous 1991 Halloween Blizzard happened only four days after the Twins won the World Series. It was like the moment in Ghostbusters when the clouds start revolving around The Dakota before Gozer the Gozerian makes their appearance, only it happened afterwards. The blizzard was the meteorological incarnation of the Twins good fortune. Only, because Minnesotans are so fixated on being special, they keep talking about the Halloween Blizzard ad infinitum, keeping the time-space continuum firmly locked in 1991 mode, not allowing for the ontological evolution of Twins baseball beyond the scrappy carpet Metrodome era.
Believability: Not too bad.
Remedy: Minnesotans have to stop talking about the Halloween Blizzard. Continuing to do so only perpetuates the curse.
#3. The Guildenstern Curse
Theory: Losing 18 baseball games in a row is so improbable that it can only be like the beginning of the play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.
Believability: You could convince me of this with a little effort. Hard to really understand it otherwise.
Remedy: Unclear. If the Twins players are minor characters in Hamlet, perhaps this traces back to the Pohlads. Do they live in a castle? It’s possible. They need to decide what to do about Carl’s ghost.
#2. Curse of Big Papi
Theory: This is the most popular explanation, and it makes a lot of sense. This is sort of a variation on the Curse of the Bambino (see further notes below), that the Twins’ lost their playoff magic when they released oft-injured David Ortiz back in 2002. Ortiz would of course go on to become the Red Sox’ playoff talisman and is a lock for the Hall of Fame.
Believability: High. Ortiz was magical.
Remedy: Pick up someone from the Red Sox waiver wire? Make a trade with the Red Sox (which the Twins almost did in the Graterol deal)?
#1. Big Papi / Babe Ruth Curse Transfer
Theory: Similar to the previous curse, except in this case, it involves the transfer of team playoff karma. In 1919, the trade of Babe Ruth somehow transferred all the playoff karma from the Red Sox to the Yankees. Then, in 2004, the Red Sox stole the Twins’ World Series mojo in the form of David Ortiz. It proves that playoff mojo is at any given point found in one specific mercurial or talismanic player, and teams must keep these players at all costs or risk losing everything.
Believability: This one is my favorite.
Remedy: The Twins need to trade for some other team’s magical mojo player. It could be anyone. They should be consulting a psychic.
Speaking of which, I am devastated by the thought that there will be no further Federal relief for bars and restaurants because of Congressional Republicans and Trump. This fall and winter will surely be an apocalypse for Twin Cities bars, especially the wonderfully marginal ones. Let's hope something changes!
The last few years have not been kind to downtown Saint Paul dive bars, and COVID-19 and the absence of sports has made everything worse. I was downtown last week and once again struck by the lack of people, which is saying something for a downtown that is typically lacking in signs of human life in the first place.
Well, it seems inevitable that bars will go out of business during the COVID pandemic, and that goes double for places located downtown that are dealing with a huge drop in population. You would expect the most marginal places to be the first to disappear, and there was no more marginal dive bar in downtown Saint Paul than the Hat Trick.
The Hat Trick -- formerly the Top Hat, but the named was changed when the Xcel Energy Center opened up -- was in a historic one-story building in the middle of one the city’s last old blocks in the downtown core. It shares a wall with the the decrepit Empire Building, smushed between the Pioneer-Endicott alley and a large parking ramp, in what was once the heart of old downtown. 5th and Robert should be one of Saint Paul’s prime locations, but today, with the skyway buildings sucking all the life off the street, somehow it always seemed desolate. Even finding the place was like walking into an alley you didn’t know existed.
Each time I went into the place, I was struck again by its slapdash character. It was the kind of dive that was made from patchwork, where you could see each and every repair, remodel, or new piece of furniture in the place. Walking through the Hat Trick was like visiting a museum, various things on the wall dating back sometimes decades. The curiosities on the wall were unparalleled; I was especially fond of the weird carpet shamrock. The bar itself was a split-level and U-shaped, and festooned with historic-looking 70s lampposts.
They had big darts tournaments and a good pool table elevated somehow onto a balcony overlooking the main bar room. Typically the TV was tuned to local news unless there was Minnesota sports happening somewhere. There was often a newspaper sitting on the plush bar railing, probably opened to the comics or the sports page. This was one fo the last places in downtown where you could be absolutely sure to find the marginal folks of Saint Paul, people passing the time and drinking the day away. At night, local cover bands would play in the big side room. There was a vending machine (!) and one of the city’s dingiest bathrooms down a long beige hallway.
The building is for sale and the interior gutted. Almost nobody will miss it, but downtown is surely less diverse without the Hat Trick Lounge, made all the poorer without this weird refuge. RIP Hat Trick Lounge!