Reusse: An early scar fuels fan lore of Twins’ ‘June Swoon’

·4 min read

The majority of people covering baseball for newspapers or websites in this decade, or perhaps century, are well-occupied with actual facts and numerically provable analysis to find much time to dally with the game's lore.

As the major leagues now have added a dearth of hitting to go with a plodding pace, some of us old-timers remain hooked more by the lore than the current product.

There were three consecutive games on this homestand when the Twins huffed and puffed and still couldn't get more than two runs vs. the lowly Tigers and Royals. The first was a victory, the next two became well-earned losses.

And while viewing, the phrase kept coming to me as if I was sitting on the front steps of the funeral home/house in Fulda, Minn., in the mid-1950s, reading the big-league dispatches and commentary printed in the Minneapolis dailies:

"June Swoon."

Yes, sir, Dick Cullum (Tribune) and Bill Hengen (Star) … what we were seeing here with this feeble hacking from the home team was a budding opportunity for the dreaded "June Swoon."

The Twins still have the Royals here through Sunday, then go to Detroit for three games. When June starts, the Twins will have two left at Detroit, and then are at Toronto, home with the Yankees and Tampa Bay, and at Seattle and Arizona.

How many times do you think the Twins will have a chance to blow a 2-0 lead in the late innings over the first three weeks of June? I'm going with none.

For sure, this would have another June Swoon written all over it, if those actually had occurred with enough regularity to qualify as lore for the Twins.

The enthusiasm for finally having a big-league team — long after Milwaukee, even after Kansas City — caused us to monitor every inning of every game in the Twins' early years.

I recall a family friend with a big house on DuPont Avenue South always keeping score. If she got busy around the place and missed a batter on the radio, it was right to the phone to ask another baseball nut: "What happened with Battey?"

Followed by, "Thanks. Goodbye."

When I started as a Star Tribune copy boy in 1963, the great John Wiebusch was on the desk, editing copy, taking calls, communicating with makeup editors, while also keeping a scorebook for the Twins game.

That was Minnesota's sporting public in the '60s, from the arrival with Pedro Ramos' shutout of the Yankees on April 11, 1961, to the World Series in 1965, and to the Great Race of 1967 … we sweated the Twins every day, and often twice on Sundays.

And I swear, we mentioned frequently the Twins were embarking on their annual "June Swoon," even though mild research tells us those were far from annual.

Maybe that paranoia was based on the first season in Minnesota, or maybe, just because it's so much fun to say "June Swoon." But I recall the fatalists among us (guilty) frequently adopting a prediction perhaps first made by Ring Lardner when covering baseball in the 1910s:

"They are going to swoon in June and die in July."

Calvin Griffith moved his Washington Senators here for the 1961 season. Many decades earlier, famed baseball writer Charles Dryden came up with the description of the nation's capital:

"First in war, first in peace and last in the American League."

We were hopeful of better things during the Twins' first few weeks in 1961. They were 18-14 on May 20 and in second place in the 10-team league, four games out of first.

And then a June Swoon came early: The Twins lost 10 of the last 11 games in May, then the first eight in June. They lost 21 of 23 overall and were 10-21 for June.

The first Minnesota manager, Cookie Lavagetto, was fired on June 23. Griffith offered this explanation: "[Lavagetto] wanted to get rid of just about everybody I wanted to keep."

Throw out 1961 and the most memorable Junes for the Twins were great ones: The 22-6 run by the 1991 Twins on the way to winning the World Series, and the 19-7 rally in 2006, when the Twins were 25-33 on June 7 and 71-33 after that. That was a terrific team, but suffered the baseball version of a tragedy when Francisco Liriano blew out his elbow.

Bottom line: There is no clear June Swoon history here, but that doesn't mean us original Twins followers can ignore its hot breath on the back of our necks.

MONTH BY MONTH

The Twins' records by month since 1961:

July: 828-789, 509

September-October: 880-852, .508

May: 838-822, .505

June: 804-836, .490

August: 853-902, .486

March-April: 609-657, 481