Minnesota sports history is filled with what-if moments.
And according to former Twins catcher A.J. Pierzynski, we need to include the 2002 postseason on that list.
If you'll recall, the 2002 Twins broke through and won the American League Central after suffering through a lot of losing and the threat of contraction.
Ron Gardenhire took over as manager after the retirement of Tom Kelly, who guided the Twins from the end of 1986 through 2001 and led them to World Series titles in 1987 and 1991.
My perception of the 2002 Twins is that of a team that overachieved. But on Wednesday's Daily Delivery podcast, featuring Pierzynski as a guest, the former Twins catcher said he and some of his former teammates still look back on that year with some regret.
"It was Gardy's first year as manager, and I love Gardy. (But) we always say if we would had TK that year, we think we would have probably won the (World Series)," Pierzynski said. "And it's easy to say that because we didn't and we'll never know. But TK just brought something different to the table."
The unknown is part of the seduction of what-if scenarios, as Pierzynski properly notes. But let's look at some of the facts, too.
Gardenhire helped the Twins win 94 games in 2002, a jump from 85 the previous year under Kelly. And the Twins went on to pull a significant upset of the A's in the division series before losing to the Angels in five games in the ALCS.
In that series, the Twins won Game 1 before losing four in a row. I'm not sure what Kelly could have done differently to stave off the magic of the Rally Monkey or to keep Adam Kennedy from hitting three home runs in Game 5, but maybe it's a matter of mindset more than strategy.
Kelly, as noted, won two World Series titles as manager — in his only two tries in the postseason. When he had a talented roster, he did have a way of extracting maximum results. He was tough on young players, but the lessons were learned.
"If you were a young kid and you came up and the Twins, you hated Tom Kelly at some point. ... But then once you broke through that and he treated you as a major league player, which took a lot of time, he was great," Pierzynski said. "TK said a lot of things that we thought were crazy at the time, but he was right on most of them."
If you're really looking to go deep on the revisionist history, by the way, maybe the manager wasn't the deciding factor. Maybe it was a utility infielder?
Pierzynski recalled how Denny Hocking was injured during the celebration after the Twins defeated the A's when — as Pierzynski recalled it — outfielder Jacque Jones accidentally stepped on Hocking's finger.
Hocking went 3 for 6 in the series against the A's, made a tough catch to record the final out and his career OPS against the Angels was almost 100 points better than his overall mark.
"He would have definitely helped us against the Angels because he loved playing against the Angels," Pierzynski said. "He always got big hits against the Angels."