1991 Baseball Season

Not since 1890 had a major league team leapfrogged from the cellar to a pennant the following year, but in the 1991 baseball season, two clubs pulled off this astounding feat. The Atlanta Braves vaulted from the worst record in the majors in 1990 to the National League pennant, and the Minnesota Twins scrambled out of the American League West basement to snatch their second American League flag in five years.

Atlanta overcame a 9-1/2-game deficit to beat out LA in the National League West. Bobby Cox's Braves boasted the best starting rotation in the majors, headed by Cy Young Award winner Tom Glavine (20-11, 2.55 ERA) and 21-year-old Steve Avery (18-8). Providing the offense were David Justice, Ron Gant, and free-agent third sacker Terry Pendleton. A dismal .230 hitter in 1990, Pendleton won the 1991 batting title (.319) and also captured the league's MVP Award.

The Twins had two key free-agent acquisitions -- DH Chili Davis and Minnesota native Jack Morris. Both, like Pendleton, were coming off sub-par years. In 1991, however, Morris rebounded to win 18 games, and Davis paced the Twins with 29 homers and 93 RBI. When manager Tom Kelly also got 20 wins from Scott Erickson, 42 saves from Rick Aguilera, the usual fine season from Kirby Puckett, and a surprise contribution from Rookie of the Year second sacker Chuck Knoblauch, Minnesota reeled off 16 straight victories and was never caught.

Yet all the accolades in 1991 did not belong to the two flag winners. Julio Franco, with a .341 average, became the first Texas Ranger to win a batting title. Two other Rangers, Ruben Sierra and Rafael Palmeiro, joined Franco to give Texas a trio of 200-hit men. Meanwhile another Ranger, the unstoppable Nolan Ryan, notched his seventh career no-hitter.

Other American League honors went to Tiger Cecil Fielder, a repeat homer and RBI champ; BoSox fireballer Roger Clemens, winner of his third Cy Young Award; and Oriole Cal Ripken, who parlayed one of the greatest offensive seasons ever by an American League shortstop (.323 average, 34 homers, 114 RBI) into his second MVP Award.

In July, two Montreal Expos hurlers, Mark Gardner and Dennis Martinez, no-hit the Dodgers twice in three days. Martinez's no-hitter was a perfect game, though Gardner lost his no-no in the tenth. Cardinal reliever Lee Smith set a new National League saves record with 47, although he could not help his club stall the Pirates, runaway winners in the National League East.

The Pirates' outstanding outfielders -- Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, and Andy Van Slyke -- fizzled in the NLCS, allowing the Braves to triumph in seven games. Minnesota, in contrast, needed just five frays to dispose of the Toronto Blue Jays, perennial late-season floppers.

The 1991 World Series was a true fall classic -- perhaps the greatest of all time. The Twins took the first two in Minnesota, winning game two 3-2 on a Scott Leius homer in the eighth. The Braves, inspired by their fans' "Tomahawk Chop," then swept the next three in Atlanta. They won game three 5-4 on a Mark Lemke single in the 12th, then captured game four 3-2 when Lemke tripled and scored in the ninth. Atlanta blew out the Twins 14-5 in the fifth contest.

The Twins, though, got revenge in the Metrodome. In game six, Puckett broke a 3-3 tie with an 11th-inning solo homer. In game seven, Morris and John Smoltz pitched a nail-biting 0-0 gem through nine-and-a-half innings. But in the bottom of the tenth, Minnesota's Gene Larkin singled home Dan Gladden with the Series-winning tally.

Morris's complete-game 1-0 triumph earned him the 1991 World Series MVP Award. Meanwhile, the Twins had won their second fall classic in five years without winning a single Series game on the road.

The next page provides headlines and summaries for some of the top stories of the 1991 baseball season.

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In 1991, Bo Jackson joined the Chicago White Sox, and Chuck Knoblauch was named American League Rookie of the Year. Here are some of the headlines from the 1991 baseball season:

Frank Thomas
Frank Thomas of the
Chicago White Sox topped
the major league with 138
walks and a .453 on-base

Big Frank Thomas Powers Sox

In his first full major league season, Frank Thomas hit .318, the best mark by a White Sox regular since Chet Lemon hit .318 in 1979. Thomas also paced the American League with a .453 on-base percentage and set a new Sox club record when he drew 138 walks. Thomas banged 32 homers and tallied 109 RBI. He also walked a league-leading 138 times. Big Frank is one of very few players in White Sox history to showcase power, patience, and the talent to hit for a high average.

Injured Bo Jackson Joins 1991 White Sox

Bo Jackson was released by Kansas City in the spring after he suffered an apparent career-ending hip injury in an NFL playoff game. However, Jackson vowed to return to the majors in '91. Bo needed a stint in the minors to regain his playing skills. He fulfilled his prophecy when he joined the White Sox for a few games late in the campaign.

Cal Ripken Rises to New Heights

Cal Ripken earned the American League MVP Award by posting some of the greatest stats ever by an American League shortstop. He became the only shortstop in history other than Ernie Banks to bat .300 with at least 30 homers and 100 RBI. Ripken played in all of Baltimore's games, keeping him on course to break Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games played record in 1995.

Chuck Knoblauch Named ROTY

In 1989, Chuck Knoblauch was a defensive whiz at shortstop for Texas A&M. In 1990, while playing for Double-A Orlando, he made a successful conversion to second base, though he was still considered a long shot to make the Twins in the spring of 1991. Knoblauch not only won the Minnesota keystone slot but achieved every freshman's dream when he won the American League Rookie of the Year Award and a 1991 World Championship ring.

Fred McGriff: Major League's Top Slugger

At the end of the 1991 season, San Diego first sacker Fred McGriff's .522 career slugging average led all active players with over 2,000 at-bats. McGriff provided the Padres with 31 homers and 106 RBI in his first year with the team after being acquired in a trade with Toronto. Few sluggers are more consistent or more feared than McGriff.

Bryan Harvey: 46 Halo Saves

Bryan Harvey set a new Angels franchise record in 1991 when he logged 46 saves. With Harvey in the bullpen to bail them out of trouble, California's three top starters -- Jim Abbott, Mark Langston, and Chuck Finley -- had an aggregate 55-27 record. Nevertheless, the Angels finished in the American League West cellar when the team's other hurlers could combine for only a 26-54 mark. Kirk McCaskill went 10-19.

Hefty Cecil Fielder Hits a Ton

In 1991, Detroit heavyweight Cecil Fielder became the first American League player since Jimmie Foxx in 1933 to repeat as both the loop's home run and RBI king. Fielder knocked home 133 runs and pounded 44 dingers in 1991. Both figures were major league highs. But to Fielder's disappointment, he once again finished second in MVP voting, this time to the more well-rounded Cal Ripken.

Montreal's Dennis Martinez Perfects LA

Montreal pitcher and National League ERA leader Dennis Martinez hurled a perfect game against the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 28, 1991, winning 2-0. Two days earlier, another Montreal pitcher, Mark Gardner, was less fortunate. Despite tossing a no-hitter through nine innings against those same Dodgers, Gardner lost 1-0 in the tenth frame.

Ruben Sierra, Mates Crack 200

In 1991, Ruben Sierra joined with Julio Franco and Rafael Palmeiro to give the Texas Rangers three 200-hit men. The trio also combined with five other Rangers to give the team eight players with at least 15 home runs. Texas topped the majors in runs with 829 and was second only to the Detroit Tigers in homers. Nevertheless, the Rangers were able to finish no better than a distant third in the American League West.

Check out more headlines from the 1991 baseball season on the next page.

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Below are more headlines from the 1991 baseball season, including key plays by the Twins and the Braves on their way to the 1991 World Series:

Knock-Kneed Julio Franco Captures 1991 American League Batting Title

Hitting from a unique knock-kneed batting stance with his bat held high behind his ear, the Rangers' Julio Franco hit .341 in 1991 to bag the American League batting crown. Franco was the first member of the Washington-Texas Rangers franchise ever to win the prize; he was also the first right-handed-hitting second sacker since 1954 to be a bat leader. During the last few weeks of the season, Franco's chief pursuer was Milwaukee's Willie Randolph, another righty-hitting second baseman, who finished the season with a .327 average.

Ramon Martinez Wins 17 Games for 1991 Dodgers

Ramon Martinez slipped from 20 wins in 1990 to 17 in 1991, but he was still the top winner on the best overall mound staff in the majors. In 1991, the Dodgers' 3.06 ERA paced both leagues by nearly a half-run, with Martinez, Tim Belcher, and Mike Morgan doing most of the labor. Los Angeles cemented its ERA title on the final day of the season when five pitchers blanked the Giants 2-0.

Jeff Bagwell Bags 1991 ROTY Prize

First baseman Jeff Bagwell was the crown jewel of the Houston Astros' youth corps in 1991, winning the National League Rookie of the Year Award for his frosh performance. The first player from the Astros franchise to win the ROTY, he had 15 home runs, 82 RBI, 75 walks, a .437 slugging average, and a .387 on-base average, all of which led Houston that year.

Jays' Roberto Alomar Flies High

Toronto second baseman Roberto Alomar was acquired from San Diego prior to the 1991 season and helped the Jays tighten their infield; he also gave the club a valuable offensive weapon. In 1991, Alomar hit .295 and stole 53 bases. Meanwhile, keystone mate Manuel Lee set a major league record for the most whiffs by a player without a home run (107).

Twins Soar Over Blue Jays, Take ALCS in Five Games

Twins third sacker Mike Pagliarulo jumped to spear a throw as Toronto's Devon White slid safely with a stolen base in game four of the ALCS. The Jays exited from postseason play the next day when they lost their third straight game at SkyDome. During the regular season, White hit a surprising .282 with 110 runs and 33 stolen bases.

1991 Atlanta Braves Bump off Bucs

Pittsburgh shortstop Jay Bell bowled through Atlanta third baseman Terry Pendleton in game four of the NLCS. Both Bell and Pendleton were surprising stars throughout 1991. Pendleton hit .319 to win the National League bat crown and MVP Award; and Bell, after struggling at the plate in his first five seasons, paced all National League shortstops with 164 hits. Pittsburgh won game four 3-2 in ten innings but lost the series in seven games, losing the finale 4-0.

Lonnie Smith's Blunder Kills 1991 Braves

Minnesota's Brian Harper tags out Atlanta outfielder Lonnie Smith in game four of the 1991 World Series. Ironically, it was Lonnie's timidity on the basepaths that ultimately cost the Braves the Series. With game seven still scoreless in the eighth inning, Smith hesitated in rounding second base and was unable to score on a long double by Terry Pendleton. The Twins won the unforgettable finale 1-0 in ten innings.

Jack Morris Wins 1-0 Finale

In 1991, Jack Morris had an 18-12 record but a suspiciously high 3.43 ERA. Skeptics wondered if he was merely reaping the rewards of pitching on a pennant-winner. In postseason action, Morris silenced doubters with a strong showing that culminated in a 1-0, ten-inning, complete-game win in game seven of the 1991 World Series. It was the first time in history that a fall classic was capped by a route-going overtime triumph.

1991 Atlanta Braves Take Game Four in 12 Innings

Twins catcher Brian Harper and Atlanta's David Justice awaited umpire Drew Coble's call in the bottom of the 12th inning in game three of the 1991 World Series. When Coble's decision went Justice's way, it gave Atlanta a thrilling 5-4 victory and kept Minnesota from taking a 3-0 lead in games. The 1991 Series was the first in history to go the seven-game limit and feature three extra-inning clashes. Five of the games were decided by one run, including the last two.

The next page highlights key events and details from the 1991 baseball season.

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The 1991 baseball season was dominated by two of the cellar teams from 1990 -- the Braves and the Twins. The two teams went on to the 1991 World Series, providing one of the greatest matches of all time. Below, you will find the highlights from the 1991 baseball season:
  • Minnesota wins American League pennant, polishing off Toronto in just five games, after finishing last in its division in 1990.

  • The Braves, also a cellar-dweller in '90, cop their first National League flag since moving to Atlanta.

  • The Braves need the full seven games to wrest NLCS from Pittsburgh, which loses its second LCS in a row when its big hitters -- Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, and Andy Van Slyke -- again fail in postseason play.

    Gaylord Perry
    In 1991, Gaylord Perry
    was voted into the
    Baseball Hall of Fame.

  • Rod Carew, Gaylord Perry, and Fergie Jenkins are voted into the Hall of Fame.

  • The Twins bag their second World Championship in five years.

  • For the first time since 1962, the World Series goes the full seven games and ends with a 1-0 verdict.

  • The 1991 World Series is the first since 1924 to go the ultimate limit -- a seven-game, extra-inning clash won by the home team in its last at-bat.

  • Jack Morris of the Twins bags 1991 World Series MVP Award after winning finale 1-0.

  • Gene Larkin of the Twins delivers Series-winning hit, a pinch single in the tenth plating Dan Gladden.

  • A base-running gaffe by Atlanta's Lonnie Smith costs the Braves a run that might have won the 1991 World Series finale.

  • Both 1991 World Series skippers, Bobby Cox of Atlanta and Tom Kelly of the Twins, are selected Manager of the Year in their respective leagues.

  • Atlanta is first major league team since the 1889-90 Louisville Colonels to win a pennant after posting the worst record in its league the previous year.

  • Third baseman Terry Pendleton of Atlanta wins the National League hitting crown (.319) and also tops the loop in hits (187).

  • Hal Morris of the Reds goes 3-for-4 on the season's final day to end up at .318, one point behind Terry Pendleton and short of the bat title.

  • San Diego's Tony Gwynn hits .317, with 11 triples and just 19 strikeouts, before an injury idles him for the season.

  • Pendleton wins National League MVP Award in the closest MVP vote since 1979. Bonds, 1990's National League MVP, is runner-up.

  • Howard Johnson of the Mets paces the National League in home runs (38) and RBI (117).

  • Johnson has 302 total bases, one behind National League co-leaders, and a .535 SA, .001 point behind leader Will Clark.

  • Dodger Brett Butler tops the National League in runs (112) and walks (108) and is second in OBP (.401).

  • Bonds is second to Butler in walks with 107 but tops the National League in OBP with .410.

  • A late-season injury hampers Clark in his bid for the National League RBI crown; he finishes with 116.

  • Padres first baseman Fred McGriff finishes season with a .522 career SA, highest among active players with at least 2,000 at-bats.

  • Marquis Grissom of the Expos leads the major league with 76 stolen bases.

  • Atlanta's Otis Nixon swipes 72 bases to set a new 20th century Braves record but is suspended for the rest of the season after failing a drug test.

  • David Cone of the Mets leads all National League pitchers with 241 strikeouts.

  • Cone ties the National League record when he fans 19 Phillies on the final day of the season.

  • Dennis Martinez of the Expos pitches a perfect game against the Dodgers on July 28, winning 2-0.

  • Two days before Martinez's gem, Mark Gardner of the Expos loses a no-hitter to the Dodgers, 1-0 in ten innings.

  • Martinez leads the National League with a 2.39 ERA and five shutouts and also ties Tom Glavine of the Braves for the National League lead in CGs with nine.

  • Glavine wins 20 games for the Braves and bags the National League Cy Young Award. The only other National League hurler to win 20 games is John Smiley of Pittsburgh.

  • Greg Maddux of the Cubs leads the National League in innings pitched with 263.

  • Reliever Lee Smith of the Cards sets a new National League record with 47 saves.

See the next page for more highlights of the 1991 baseball season.

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See more highlights of the 1991 baseball season, including Ricky Henderson's many stolen bases and labor disputes and Nolan Ryan's May 1 no-hitter.

  • The American League save leader is Bryan Harvey with 46, a new Angels record.

  • Boston's Roger Clemens paces the American League in ERA (2.62), strikeouts (241), innings (271), and shutouts (four) and wins his third Cy Young Award.

  • Clemens ties the American League record for the fewest wins (18) by a starting pitcher who copped a Cy Young Award.

  • Dennis Eckersley of the A's notches 43 saves to became first hurler ever to collect more than 160 career wins and 160 career saves.

  • Cecil Fielder of Detroit paces the American League in both homers (44) and RBI (133).

  • Jose Canseco of the A's ties Fielder for the American League homer crown and also is second in the loop in RBI (122).

  • Julio Franco becomes first member of Rangers franchise to win the American League bat crown when he hits .341.

  • Rafael Palmeiro, Franco, and Ruben Sierra of the Rangers all collect over 200 hits to tie the American League team record.

  • Milwaukee's Paul Molitor paces the major league in both runs (133) and hits (216) and finishes with a .325 average.

  • KC's Danny Tartabull tops the American League with a .593 SA, tops by far in the major league.

  • Frank Thomas of the White Sox tops the major league with 138 walks and a .453 OBP. His 138 walks are a new White Sox franchise record.

  • Rickey Henderson tops Lou Brock's record for career thefts, finishing season with 994 stolen bases.

  • Henderson also cops his American League-record 11th stolen-base crown, with 58 thefts.

  • Cal Ripken wins his second MVP Award, as he extends his consecutive-games-played streak to 1,572.

  • Ripken leads the American League in total bases with 368, is second in hits with 210, and is also second in doubles with 46. He is first shortstop in American League history to hit .300 with 30 or more homers and 100 or more RBI.

  • Cincinnati sets record for the lowest winning percentage (.457) by a defending world champion.

  • Replacement umpires are employed on Opening Day -- the result of a major league umpires labor dispute.

  • The Tigers become third team in American League history to lead loop in homers while finishing last in batting.

  • Joe Carter of Toronto becomes first player to collect 100 RBI for three different teams in as many seasons.

  • The Expos are forced to finish their season on the road after a section of Olympic Stadium collapses.

  • The Blue Jays set a new American League attendance record when they draw over four million fans to SkyDome.

  • Cleveland finishes with baseball's worst record (57-105) and sets a team record for losses.

  • For the sixth season in a row, the Blue Jays have a winning record both at home and on the road.

  • The Angels (81-81) become first team in major league history to finish in the basement without a losing record.

  • The Dodgers post a 3.06 staff ERA, best in the majors.

  • The Twins top the major league with a .280 BA.

  • Rookie Ivan Rodriguez of Texas catches 88 games at age 19 -- the most since 1949 by a teenage backstopper.

  • Rob Deer of Detroit hits just .179, the lowest BA in 105 years by a regular outfielder.

  • The A's Mark McGwire hits a mere .201, lowest BA in 103 years by a regular first baseman.

  • The Mariners break .500 for first time in franchise history but fire manager Jim Lefebvre anyway.

  • The American League wins the All-Star Game 4-2 at Toronto.

  • Nolan Ryan throws his major league-record seventh no-hitter on May 1 against Toronto.

  • At the end of the '91 season, Ryan has 314 wins, tied for 14th on the all-time career list.

  • Bo Jackson is released by the Royals prior to the season after suffering a hip injury while playing pro football.

  • Jackson signs with the White Sox and, after a long rehabilitation, returns to action late in the season.

  • The Brewers go 40-19 in the last two months to finish at 83-79.

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