A Lifelong Love Affair with Randy Bush
Growing up, you look at superstars as larger than life. They’re superheroes. They seem to possess skills handed down from the gods themselves. Equally true is that our formative years have a tendency to latch on to lesser known or even role players just a strongly, perhaps even more.
It was a concept that Little Big League touched on beautifully. Time and again skipper Billy Heywood’s (Luke Edwards) pal suggested Wegman should get the ball in critical contests despite the fact that he was anything but a big-game pitcher. Hell, our very own Grand Poohbah Patrick Smith holds a special place in his heart for Manny Sanguillen from his childhood days as a Bucs fan. Not Willie Stargell or Dave Parker, but Manny Sanguillen.
The players we fall in love with are as inexplicable as those we are attracted to or choose to spend our lives with. There’s just a spark. It just feels right. It just makes sense.
My love affair began on a chilly October night in 1987. The Twins were hosting the Cardinals in Game 2 of the World Series as I nervously sat, Homer Hanky in hand, and laid eyes on the greatest slide I’d ever seen. It remains so three decades on.
Tim Laudner laced a fourth-inning single to left field that sent part-time outfielder and designated hitter Randy Bush sprinting around third, headed for home. When Vince Coleman’s throw landed in St. Louis catcher Tony Pena’s glove, it seemed Bush was dead to rights.
But then the magic happened.
Bush veered as far to the right of the plate as possible, dove head long and extended his left arm just far enough to brush the backside of the dish, eluding what seemed a certain tag and sending the assembled throng under the Teflon Confines into a frenzy.
When ABC replayed the slide in slow motion it took on legendary status almost immediately. Real time was impressive, but it was a blur of confused surprise and excitement. Slowed down, it was far easier to savor how blissful a scant few seconds in time could be. When the dust cleared, a frame that had begun with the Twins ahead 1-0 ended in a seven-run cushion thanks in no small part to Bush’s two-run double and mind-scrambling slide.
It was all any of my classmates could talk about in school the next day and made amateur theatre out of gym class later that afternoon. Child after child offered their dramatic recreation of Bush’s slide, even when our game of kickball was as far from a play at the plate as you could get.
Two days were all that were required to establish a lifelong love affair with Randy Bush.
Sentiments only enhanced by the feats the Delaware native enjoyed just four years later. In another championship campaign and one of the finest season-long displays of (forgive me, Fendley) clutch hitting in major league history, Bush boasted of a .500 on-base percentage as a pinch-hitter, batting .382 (13-for-34) with eight RBI and eight walks over 43 plate appearances in 1991.
It was a year that saw Bush blast two home runs to tie games in the ninth. The first snuck around Pesky’s Pole in a pinch at the expense of ’87 teammate Jeff Reardon in mid-July, and the second victimized Seattle’s Mike Schooler just over a month later at the ‘Dome. Both came with the Twins down to their final two outs.
Hell, #25 led off the bottom of the ninth in Game 7 of the ’91 World Series with a single to center that would have represented the championship run, but pinch-runner Al Newman was stranded at third, setting up the heroics of Jack Morris, Dan Gladden and Gene Larkin.
To this day, when asked who I’d want coming off the pine when one at-bat would make or break a game, a series or even a season, I offer no apologies to Manny Mota or Lenny Harris when I respond without hesitation– give me Randy Bush.
Now that I’m a man of rapidly advancing years, I’ve worked in newspaper and television and had the opportunity to interview Bush. Of course we talked about the slide, his almost incomprehensible work off the bench and his help in building the Cubs into a curse-breaking winner as Chicago’s assistant general manager.
Bush even thanked me for my glowing intro to said Q&A, which left my inner child beaming.
And when Kris Bryant’s toss to Anthony Rizzo made Goat-busters of the Cubbies this past October, you best believe tweets were sent to the Twins wondering why they weren’t congratulating one of their own on a third ring.
Sometimes my inner child is moody.
Minnesota has benefited from memorable performances by other players who’ve worn Bush’s number since his days with the Twins came to an end. Joe Mays was brilliant downing the Angels in Game 1 of the 2002 American League Championship Series, Alexi Casilla’s division-winning bouncer represented the conclusion to the most emotionally taxing game I’ve ever witnessed (Game 163 in 2009) and lumberjack Jim Thome provided Target Field with its first walk-off homer. A moment made that much sweeter because it came at the expense of the White Sox.
Magnificent all, but not magical.
The Randy Bush Fan Club banner hung in right-center near the top of the Metrodome roof for years, so I know that I wasn’t alone in my adulation. However, when my inner child reflects back on why baseball meant so much to him and remains so to the man that he’s become, thoughts immediately turn to an incredible slide and a competitor who seemed to be an impossible out when it mattered most.
I think about Randy Bush.