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Twins vs. Yanks like night vs. day
10/03/2004 8:36 PM ET
NEW YORK -- The contrast could not be more dramatic, unless the New York Yankees were facing the Montreal Expos.

As it is, there will be a surplus of contrast when the Yankees meet the Minnesota Twins in an American League Division Series. This is baseball's richest and most powerful and, over time, most successful franchise, against a franchise that is much longer on brains and diligence than it is on cash.

Oh, the Yankees are hard-working and intelligent, too. It is just that the Twins, from an organizational standpoint, have to be more astute and more efficient and practically flawless, because they can't outspend anybody.

Look at what happened in the offseason. The Yankees, just as examples, added Alex Rodriguez, a star of stars, and Gary Sheffield, who might well be this season's AL MVP. The Twins could not afford to keep their best two relievers, closer Eddie Guardado and setup man LaTroy Hawkins. Or starting pitchers Kenny Rogers and Eric Milton. Or catcher A.J. Pierzynski, for that matter.

It does not matter. The Twins, for example, picked up Joe Nathan, seeing a closer where no one else did, and Nathan had a brilliant season. The Twins, for another example, saw the potential greatness in young left-hander Johan Santana that his two previous employers did not. They nurtured Santana patiently and he became the best starting pitcher in baseball over the last four months.

The Twins are built on examples such as these; and a highly productive minor league system, which depends on first-class scouting and player development. The Twins are role models for small-market franchises everywhere. This is how to do it when you can't merely buy it.

The Yankees, of course, would be role models, too, except for the fact that none of the other 29 franchises is in their economic bracket and therefore would go broke trying to emulate them. This is not to denigrate the Yankees' overall quality. This is a team that epitomizes the concept of professionalism. On the field, in the dugout, in the clubhouse, their approach is one that everyone else should imitate. OK, don't imitate Kevin Brown in the clubhouse. But Derek Jeter, certainly.

This is Rolls Royce against Toyota. This is Florsheim against Converse. This is porterhouse against ground round. And I say that with respect and fondness for Toyota, Converse and ground round. This is, in economic terms, the ruling class against the working class. Karl Marx would pull for the Twins here, but Groucho Marx, as the consummate outsider, probably would, too. Chico Marx, however, would be with the Yankees and the smart money.

What is at stake for these two franchises in the 2004 postseason? For the Yankees, it is always the same. They are the one team in baseball that can say that nothing less than a world championship will satisfy them, and you must take them at their word. This is who they have been, this is who they still are, and with the broadcast revenue pouring in, this is who they will be for the foreseeable future.

They have been without a World Series championship for three straight seasons. This is the blink of an eye, if you are a Cubs fan, or, closer to the issue at hand, a Red Sox fan. But for the Yankees, no utter domination since 2000 is like a trek across the Sahara without water. They are deeply troubled by any season that does not end with them winning the final game of autumn.

The Yankees may be the only team in baseball that finishes the 162-game season believing that its work is only 25 percent done. A first-round playoff loss would come under the heading of unthinkable for them, even without the recriminations that would be sure to follow.

The Twins? An argument could be made that they have already proved their point, repeatedly, with three straight division titles, each one coming against the odds. But there is also the argument that they have not yet fully received their due.

The Oakland Athletics have far exceeded them in publicity -- see "Moneyball" -- although Minnesota's success might be a more fundamental commodity. Oakland's triumphs have come largely not as a result of New Wave number crunching, but because of three wonderful starting pitchers. And when one of those three falters down the stretch, look what happens.

With the Twins, you can't get general manager Terry Ryan to accept any credit, even though he must be Major League Baseball's executive of the millennium so far. The Twins do not require a defeat of the mighty Yankees to justify their work. But that is precisely the kind of thing that would be impossible for the baseball public to miss.

These two franchises reached this lofty point from opposite directions. But they are after the same thing. Whatever else this Series represents, enjoyment for the rest of us is in the October forecast.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.