Beating long odds: Exploring 1991 World Series artifacts

By Greg Bates

It’s a story Tim Wendel won’t soon forget.

While working on his book, “Down to the Last Pitch,” which details the iconic 1991 World

'Autumn Glory' exhibit

The Larkin ball display in the Hall of Fame’s “Autumn Glory” exhibit.

Series with the Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves, Wendel was able to interview Twins left fielder Dan Gladden. In a scoreless tie in Game 7 of the series, Gladden led off the 10th inning with a hit that he stretched into a double at the Metrodome in Minneapolis. Gladden remembers that when he connected with the ball, it felt like his bat had cracked.

He also ended scoring the winning run in the game as pinch-hitter Gene Larkin drove him home with a one-out single.

“Gladden was telling that they win and they’re all partying on the town,” Wendel recalled. “You go to any old bar around the Twin Cities and I think every player was everywhere at some point. That party went on until about dawn. And as dawn is coming upon the land, Gladden, it suddenly occurs to him, boy, it’d be great to have that bat.”

Wendel can’t quite remember if it was Gladden and a couple of his friends or teammates that worked their way into the Metrodome at that late hour in search of the historic broken piece of lumber.

“Believe it or not, they found it in a trash can,” Wendel said. “It hadn’t occurred to anybody cleaning up, saying, oh, this is a momentous thing. This is the guy that got on base and scored the only run in Game 7. Gladden got the bat, and it’s sitting above his mantel piece of his fireplace or something in his house to this day.”

That is one cherished item that remains from the memorable World Series. There were plenty of other pieces of memorabilia from the series adorned by fans, collectors, the teams involved and the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Now, 25 years later, Sports Collectors Digest takes a look at what happened to some of the most sought-after artifacts from that epic series.

National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum items

The National Baseball Hall of Fame wound up with three items from the series: the baseball from Larkin’s game-winning hit; an autographed baseball from Twins ace Jack Morris, who was the winning pitcher after heroically throwing all 10 innings; and a game-used bat by Braves second baseman Mark Lemke when he hit an MLB-record three triples in the seven-game series.

Jon Shestakofsky, Vice President, Communications & Education at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, isn’t sure how many items the Hall of Fame would have requested from the 1991 World Series, but the items the hall received are quite impressive.

“To me, the Jack Morris baseball and the Game 7 baseball, those are two iconic moments

Larkin's home run ball 1991 World Series

The ball Larkin hit to drive in the winning run of the 1991 World Series is behind glass in the Hall of Fame’s “Autumn Glory” exhibit. (Photo courtesy of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

in baseball history,” Shestakofsky said. “That game itself is probably one of the more exciting moments in baseball history and one of the most dramatic games in our pastime. To have items representing Jack Morris and his tremendous accomplishments as well as the incredible outcome of the game, having an extra innings walk-off to end a World Series, is rare and exciting.

“Our business here is in preserving the history of the game and being able to teach future generations about the game’s past. When we can acquire artifacts that tell the story of important moments to people, that’s kind of our business. These two baseballs are perfect examples of those types of artifacts.”

Shestakofsky noted the Hall of Fame would have made requests from both teams for items – the hall doesn’t focus entirely on artifacts from the winning team. For any World Series, there is typically a National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum representative at every game. That way, if the Hall of Fame would like to acquire an item, it can make a request directly to the player or team. During the regular season, requests for items that the Hall of Fame is seeking go through a team’s public relations department, said Shestakofsky.

“Typically after a game, our Hall of Fame representative would have access to the players to facilitate these types of arrangements and requests,” Shestakofsky said.

The Hall of Fame works almost exclusively off donations of items. It’s rare for the museum to accept an item on loan, so once it’s in the Hall of Fame’s possession, it’s theirs to keep. All three items received from the 1991 World Series were donated. The Larkin ball was given by then-MLB Commissioner Fay Vincent; the Morris ball was donated by Morris; and the Lemke bat was handed over by Lemke.

‘Autumn Glory’ Exhibit Celebrates Series

So how did Commissioner Vincent end up with the ball Larkin hit to win Game 7?

“That’s a good question,” Twins curator Clyde Doepner said. “I don’t know how Vincent ended up with the ball, unless he was in the locker room afterwards and got it. He would have been there to present the trophy and everything, and sometimes those types of things just happen.”

According to Shestakofsky, the Hall of Fame would have displayed all three items from the 1991 World Series for one year after the series had ended. After that one-year timeframe, the items ended up in different places in the museum.

Wendel's "Down to the Last Pitch"

Tim Wendel’s book, “Down to the Last Pitch,” chronicles the 1991 World Series and makes the argument that the showdown between the Minnesota Twins and the Atlanta Braves is the best World Series of all time.

The Larkin ball is behind glass and is currently displayed in the Hall of Fame’s “Autumn Glory” exhibit, featuring artifacts from every World Series. The Morris ball is prominently displayed in a large case in the “Whole New Ballgame” exhibit, which opened up in November 2015. The exhibit focuses on history from 1970 to the present. The ball is next to a screen that features rotating highlights from the 1991 World Series.

“We’re proud to have those two items on display for any fan of either team that comes to see what we have in this anniversary year,” Shestakofsky said.

The Lemke bat is currently in storage at the Hall of Fame.

Shestakofsky said all three items from the series are valuable pieces to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Since the hall has such an extensive collection – there are over 3 million pieces in the library and only 10 percent of the items the museum possesses are on display at once – it’s impossible to display every item all at the same time.

“Every item we collect we consider very important to the history of the game, and these three items represent a very special World Series that went seven games and a couple of really fantastic team performances to get them there,” Shestakofsky said. “It means a lot to have these items on display to fans to be able to explain to them and to be able to show them how great of a matchup that one series was. … It allows us to showcase all the drama that occurred in that World Series.”

Former writer ends up with World Series memorabilia

During his 14 years as a writer at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, IJ Rosenberg covered seven World Series. The 1991 World Series is still pretty fresh in his mind.

Rosenberg covered 203 Braves games that season – 31 spring training, 158 regular season and 14 postseason – so he got to know the players well. After the season, Rosenberg wrote the book, “Miracle Season!” to chronicle the Braves’ amazing run. The book was a success, selling over 130,000 copies.

“I don’t care if people know now, but back then I kept it really quiet, a lot of the players wanted Christmas gifts, so I would trade books,” Rosenberg said. “I have all kinds of stuff from ’91.”

Rosenberg said he has four game-used jerseys from Game 7 – including Braves pitcher Tom Glavine’s – along with bats and a World Series baseball that every Braves player and coach signed.

There’s one memento Rosenberg has from the 1991 World Series that he didn’t get from a player that is valuable to his collection.

“One thing that is really special is my scorebook,” Rosenberg said. “I scored three of the games. I was one of three official scorers, but I don’t think I was an official scorer for Game 7.”

Twins possess plenty of series memorabilia

In 1991, Clyde the Curator was Clyde the Collector.

Clyde Doepner was an avid memorabilia collector turned Twins curator. He acquired hundreds of pieces of memorabilia from the 1991 World Series. For the last nine years, he’s been managing what the Twins possess from the series and helping acquire more rare artifacts.

“It’s the opinion here of keeping the past,” Doepner said. “When I came on board as curator, it was the final commitment that they wanted to do that. We are really the only

This article originally appeared in Sports Collectors Digest magazine. Stay up-to-date with the happenings of the sports hobby with a subscription to SCD. One year (26 issues) print is $26 and digital is $20. Learn more>>>

This article originally appeared in Sports Collectors Digest magazine. Stay up-to-date with the happenings of the sports hobby with a subscription to SCD. One year (26 issues) print is $26 and digital is $20. Learn more>>>

team with a full-time curator.”

The Braves, on the other hand, haven’t been into collecting items from the 1991 World Series. According to Braves public relations manager Kelly Barnes, the team doesn’t display any items from the series.

The Twins have 37 display cases spread around their home ballpark, Target Field. The cases represent the team’s rich history, including two World Series championships in 1987 and ’91.

The Twins have a Morris jersey on display from the series.

“That has been one of our more difficult things to totally photo mat,” Doepner said. “Jack always put a jacket on and even in the (Game 7) celebration he has a jacket on.”

The team also has the jersey first baseman Kent Hrbek had on when he famously lifted Braves center fielder Ron Gant off first base after Gant singled and rounded first in Game 2.

Another Morris item the Twins have is his presentation bat from the World Series. The series MVP has his name burned into the bat along with all his teammates.

On the 20-year anniversary of the 1991 World Series, the Twins had a set of bobblehead dolls made, and the team has all 26 of the figurines.

Target Field Rich With 1991 Series Memorabilia

All those items – except the Hrbek jersey, which is hanging in Hrbek’s Pub at Target Field – are in a 1991 World Series display case at Target Field.

One of the most well-known items from the series is the Metrodome seat in left-center field where the ball landed that Kirby Puckett hit in his 11th-inning, walk-off home run in Game 6 to give the Twins the victory to tie the series at 3-3.

“We immediately took the seat out that night and replaced it,” Doepner said. “We ended up painting it gold and it stood out for all those years, but we have the original seat.

“In fact, we’re in the process right now of determining where we’re going to display that here at Target Field,” added Doepner in early June. “It’s been displayed at the All-Star Game and we’ve had it out many times for people to have their picture taken in it. We’re going to find a spot to have it on permanent public display.”

What happened to the bat Puckett used for that epic home run?

“We don’t have some of the keys like that,” Doepner said. “We’ve asked, and the problem is there were some fingers in the basket so to speak. In other words, Kirby was so generous giving bats away. I know four different people who claim to have that bat, and all four of them are very honest people that would be led to believe by Kirby that here’s a bat from the World Series or here is that bat from the World Series. I’m not inferring that he led anybody wrong, but he just had bats that he signed and gave away to his friends. He was probably one of the most generous people I’ve ever met in my life.

“When you asked Kirby about it, he said, ‘I gave them all away. I don’t know what happened to it type of thing.’”

How about the actual home run ball from Game 6?

“Somebody’s claiming to have it,” said Doepner in early June. “It’s a real generic thing right now. Somebody’s claiming to have it and it’s surfaced recently in the last three weeks.”

Doepner noted a woman called him saying she possesses the ball. The Twins would like to acquire the priceless piece, but it would have to be authenticated to see if it is the actual ball, if that is at all possible.

“It’s a lot easier now with holograms that we can prove everything,” Doepner said.

Recently, the Twins acquired a game-used glove that Puckett gave to the Hubert’s Sports Bar owner after the Minneapolis bar and grill was sold in 2015. When Hubert’s gave the glove to the Twins, Doepner noticed a piece of paper in the finger and pulled it out with a tweezers. The note said the glove was donated to Hubert’s in January 1992, meaning it was used during the 1991 season. The Twins are in the process of getting the glove put on display.

Another item the Twins have from the late Hall of Fame centerfielder is his 1991 World Series trophy. Puckett’s two children loaned the item to the team.

The Twins are also in the process of acquiring scorecards from television and radio announcers from the 1991 and ’87 World Series.

One important item still unaccounted for is the bat Larkin used when he hit the pinch-hit, game-winning single. Doepner isn’t sure where that ended up.

“Maybe a good story (in Sports Collectors Digest) will bring out seven people that say they have it,” Doepner joked.

Greg Bates is a freelance contributor to SCD. He can be reached at gregabates@gmail.com.

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