Heading into the 1991 campaign, a full century had passed since a major league team leapfrogged from the cellar to a pennant the following year. However, two clubs accomplished this remarkable feat in 1991 – the Atlanta Braves in the National League and the Minnesota Twins in the American League. After finishing last in the A.L. West the previous year with a record of 74-88, the Twins rebounded in 1991 to compile a mark of 95-67 that placed them atop the division standings for the second time in five years. Minnesota finished eight games ahead of the runner-up Chicago White Sox, 10 games in front of the third-place Texas Rangers, and 11 games ahead of the three-time defending A.L. champion Oakland A’s, who slipped to fourth in the division.
The prudent free-agent signings of designated hitter Chili Davis and veteran right-hander Jack Morris during the offseason helped fuel Minnesota’s return to prominence. Davis batted .277 and led the team with 29 home runs and 93 runs batted in. Morris won 18 games and brought some much-needed leadership to the Twins’ young starting staff that also included 27-year-old Kevin Tapani and 23-year-old Scott Erickson. Tapani ended up winning 16 games and compiling a very impressive 2.99 ERA. Erickson finished 20-8 with an ERA of 3.18.
The Twins also received significant contributions from holdovers Kirby Puckett, Kent Hrbek, and Rick Aguilera, and from A.L. Rookie of the Year Chuck Knoblauch. Puckett batted .319, drove in 89 runs, and scored 92 others. Hrbek hit 20 homers and knocked in 89 runs. Aguilera placed among the league leaders with 42 saves. Knoblauch batted .281, scored 78 runs, and stole 25 bases.
Although the White Sox and Rangers both finished well behind the Twins in the West, they each featured one of the league’s top players. Frank Thomas posted huge offensive numbers in his first full season in Chicago, hitting 32 home runs, knocking in 109 runs, scoring 104 others, batting .318, and leading the league with 138 bases on balls and a .453 on-base percentage. Ruben Sierra similarly compiled outstanding numbers for Texas, hitting 25 homers, batting .307, and placing among the league leaders with 116 runs batted in, 110 runs scored, 203 hits, 44 doubles, and 332 total bases.
While the Twins jumped six places in the standings in the A.L. West, the Toronto Blue Jays advanced one slot in the East to capture their second division title in three years. After finishing just two games behind first-place Boston one year earlier, the Blue Jays concluded the 1991 campaign with a record of 91-71 that placed them seven games ahead of both Boston and Detroit, who finished tied for second in the division. The Milwaukee Brewers came in fourth, eight games off the pace.
Toronto had a balanced attack on offense that featured a blend of both speed and power. Centerfielder Devon White and second baseman Roberto Alomar provided much of the speed at the top of the batting order. White batted .282, scored 110 runs, and stole 33 bases. Alomar batted .295, scored 88 runs, and finished among the league leaders with 53 steals. Joe Carter supplied much of the power in the middle of the lineup, hitting 33 home runs and knocking in 108 runs.
The Blue Jays’ greatest strength lay in their pitching staff, which compiled a league-leading 3.50 team ERA. Three members of the starting rotation posted at least 15 victories, with Jimmy Key leading the club with 16 wins and a 3.05 ERA. Meanwhile, Tom Henke anchored the bullpen, saving 32 games and compiling an ERA of 2.32.
However, as was the case in the A.L. West, most of the division’s best players performed for non-contending teams. Paul Molitor had an outstanding year for the fourth-place Brewers. Serving primarily as a designated hitter, Molitor batted .325 and led the A.L. with 133 runs scored, 216 hits, and 13 triples. Red Sox right-hander Roger Clemens earned Cy Young honors for the third time by compiling a record of 18-10 and leading all A.L. hurlers with a 2.62 ERA, 241 strikeouts, 271 innings pitched, and four shutouts.
Detroit’s Cecil Fielder and Baltimore’s Cal Ripken Jr. both had monster years for their respective teams. Fielder earned his second consecutive second-place finish in the league MVP voting by topping the circuit with 44 home runs and 133 runs batted in. Ripken edged out Fielder in the balloting even though his Orioles finished sixth in the division, 24 games out of first. The Baltimore shortstop led the league with 368 total bases and also placed among the leaders with 34 homers, 114 runs batted in, a .323 batting average, a .566 slugging average, 210 hits, and 46 doubles. Ripken’s extraordinary performance made him the first shortstop in American League history to bat over .300 and surpass 30 home runs and 100 RBIs in the same season
Minnesota disposed of Toronto in five games in the ALCS, winning Games Three, Four, and Five in Toronto after splitting the first two contests at the Metrodome. Kirby Puckett earned ALCS MVP honors by batting .429, with two homers five RBIs.
The Twins continued their Cinderella run against Atlanta in the World Series, edging out the Braves in an extremely exciting Fall Classic. The Twins took the first two games in Minnesota, winning Game Two 3-2 on a Scott Leius homer in the eighth inning. The Braves, though, swept the next three contests in Atlanta. They won Game Three 5-4 on a Mark Lemke single in the 12th inning, then captured Game Four 3-2 when Lemke tripled and scored in the bottom of the ninth. Atlanta blew out the Twins 14-5 in the fifth contest.
However, the Twins exacted a measure of revenge when the Series returned to the Metrodome for the final two contests. Puckett ended Game Six in the bottom of the 11th inning with a solo homer that broke a 3-3 tie. In Game Seven, Jack Morris and John Smoltz pitched a nail-biting 0-0 gem through nine-and-a-half innings. Minnesota’s Gene Larkin then singled home Dan Gladden with the Series-winning run in the bottom of the 10th inning. The victory gave the Twins their second world championship in five years, making them a perfect eight-for-eight in World Series games
played at the Metrodome. Morris earned Series MVP honors for his gutsy performance in Game Seven.
Other notable events from around the league and players who distinguished themselves over the course of the season included:
• January 6 – Alan Wiggins, former lead-off hitter for the San Diego Padres and a key member of their 1984 pennant run, became the first baseball player known to die of AIDS. He was 32.
• January 7 – Pete Rose was released from Marion Federal Prison after serving a five-month sentence for tax evasion.
• February 4 – The 12 members of the board of directors of the Hall of Fame voted unanimously to bar Pete Rose from the ballot.
• April 8 – Just hours before the first pitch of the baseball season, MLB averted an umpires strike by reaching agreement with the Major League Umpires' Association on a new four-year contract.
• April 18 – The new Comiskey Park opened across the street from where the original ballpark stood in Chicago. A sold-out stadium crowd watched the Detroit Tigers defeat the Chicago White Sox, 16–0.
• May 1 – Nolan Ryan of the Texas Rangers recorded his seventh no-hitter, striking out Roberto Alomar for the final out in a 3-0 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays.
• May 1 – Rickey Henderson of the Oakland Athletics recorded his 939th stolen base, eclipsing Lou Brock's all-time record.
• July 7 – American League umpire Steve Palermo was shot outside a restaurant in Arlington, Texas while aiding a woman who was being mugged. He subsequently suffered paralysis from the waist down. The assailant was later sentenced to 75 years in prison.
• October 7 – Leo Durocher, the man credited with the phrase 'nice guys finish last,' died at the age of 86.
• Rod Carew, Gaylord Perry, and Fergie Jenkins were voted into the Hall of Fame.
• Jose Canseco of the A's tied Cecil Fielder for the league lead with 44 home runs and placed second to the Tiger slugger with 122 runs batted in.
• Julio Franco became the first member of the Texas Rangers franchise to win the American League batting title by leading the league with a .341 average.
• Rafael Palmeiro and Ruben Sierra joined Franco in giving the Rangers three players who surpassed 200 hits.
• Kansas City's Danny Tartabull hit 31 homers, drove in 100 runs, batted .316, and led the league with a .593 slugging average.
• Rickey Henderson stole 58 bases to lead the league in steals a record 11th time.
• The Twins led the major leagues with a .280 team batting average.
• Oakland’s Mark McGwire batted just .201, compiling in the process the lowest batting average by a regular first baseman in 103 years.
• The American League won the All-Star Game 4-2 at Toronto.
- 1991 ALCS, 1991 World Series, Alan Wiggins, American League, Cal Ripken, Jr., Cecil Fielder, Chili Davis, Chuck Knoblauch, Comiskey Park, Dan Gladden, Danny Tartabull, Devon White, Frank Thomas, Gene Larkin, Jack Morris, Jimmy Key, Joe Carter, Jose Canseco, Julio Franco, Kent Hrbek, Kevin Tapani, Kirby Puckett, Leo Durocher, Mark McGwire, Minnesota Twins, Nolan Ryan, Paul Molitor, Pete Rose, Rafael Palmeiro, Rick Aguilera, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Alomar, Roger Clemens, Ruben Sierra, Scott Erickson, Scott Leius, Steve Palermo, Tom Henke, Toronto Blue Jays