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The Twins’ Most Valuable Bench Player

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Judge Harry Seymour Crump, 64, avid snowboarder, member of a local ski patrol, a man trained first as a pharmacist before becoming a lawyer and then a judge, takes no credit for saving the Minnesota Twins.

“I think that’s a bit of a stretch,” he said Wednesday. “All I did was get assigned a case and make a ruling I thought was the right way to interpret the law.”

But on the streets of his city, where small children imitate Torii Hunter’s swing and old men gather to talk about Doug Mientkiewicz being a throwback to a time when guys played more for fun than money, Crump is known as every bit a hero.

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Without this soft-spoken great-grandfather, their beloved Twins might be out of existence.

Last November, baseball owners, in a move they said was made to lessen the revenue drag that deadbeat franchises were having on the rest of the league, voted to eliminate two teams. The Twins and Montreal Expos were expected to be the ones on the chopping block.

Enter Crump, a district court judge, who issued an injunction forcing the Twins to honor their lease on the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, effectively thwarting baseball’s plans.

In his ruling, Crump was poetic. He likened baseball to “turkey and apple pie” and wrote of fathers taking sons to games, and of how “the Twins brought the community together with Homer Hankies and bobblehead dolls,” referring to the white towels fans wave and the popular player statuettes.

He also noted that local streets and avenues had been named after Tony Oliva, Kirby Puckett, Harmon Killebrew, former Twins stars, and that baseball is “a tradition that passes from generation to generation, crosses social barriers and is a national pastime.”

And now, less than a year later, the once-sad-sack Twins are the happy story of sports, a collection of young, unjaded, lesser-paid, eager beavers who say they are just happy to be here--and mean it.

Having been one step from obliteration, they are now just a short hop from the World Series. They defeated the Anaheim Angels Tuesday in Game 1 of the best-of-seven-games American League championship series. The Angels won Wednesday’s game, 9-6, and the series moves to Anaheim for games Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

This metropolitan area, this state, this whole upper Midwest, has become convinced the Twins are somehow fated to keep winning playoff games.

“I came from Rapid City, S.D.,” Arnie Ribeault said. “And I’m looking for tickets. I want to support this team now.”

“What was almost done to this team and their fans was just wrong, and I’m happy Bud Selig has to show up here and eat some crow,” he said of baseball’s commissioner. “I believe that God sends messages. I think the Twins are a message.”

Such mystical talk doesn’t impress everyone.

A major league baseball attorney--he didn’t want to be identified--called Crump’s ruling the conclusion of “the most political case I’ve ever seen,” and Roger Magnuson, an attorney who represented the Twins and baseball in Crump’s courtroom, called the ruling “Homer Hanky jurisprudence.”

“The judge,” Magnuson said, “is clearly a sports fan, a baseball fan and a Twins fan, and maybe in inverse order.”

Not so, Crump says.

“I like the game of baseball, but no more than some other sports,” he said. “I am happy for the city that the Twins have done so well, and I suppose I understand how some see this as fate or as deserved after what happened. But none of that played any part in my ruling. I ruled according to the law.”

Crump’s ruling said the Twins had a valid lease that could not be broken without causing irreparable harm to the lessor--the Metrodome. His decision was upheld by the Minnesota Court of Appeals in January, and in February, a day after the Minnesota Supreme Court refused to hear baseball’s case, the owners gave up on a plan to eliminate the Twins and Expos in 2002. As part of baseball’s August labor agreement, no teams will be abandoned before 2007.

“I think,” said an attorney who represented the Metropolitan Sports Commission, which runs the Metrodome, “that Judge Crump’s ruling was the first tangible sign baseball owners got that the fans and cities who have paid taxes and paid for stadiums for these teams were not just going to roll over and be run over. I think baseball was surprised at the ruling, and I think baseball was even more surprised that the ruling was upheld.”

Crump, a licensed pilot and aerobatics performer, grew up in Chicago and attended White Sox and Cubs games but never became an avid supporter of either team.

He has not attended a Twins game since his son Sean, 24, who had helped Crump take underprivileged fathers and sons to Twins opening games, was killed in a head-on car crash on Christmas Day 1994.

“I just haven’t had it in me to go,” Crump said. “But I do understand about the deep feelings the game engenders.

“I was thinking the other day about what I wrote in my opinion and realized when I was speaking about children and parents that I had forgotten another group. Do you know what the game means to senior citizens? I see it all the time, in senior citizen homes, how the Twins bring light into the day.”

Magnuson, the Twins’ attorney, said there’s a problem with the judge’s heartfelt emotions.

“I wasn’t arguing for the Twins’ demise,” Magnuson said, “as much as I was arguing for the Twins’ legal right to take the money they were being offered through contraction instead of continuing to lose millions.”

Andy Shea, an attorney who represented the Metrodome, said that Crump’s ruling “was a key decision that legitimized the fight to keep the team in Minneapolis.”

“When you go up against the power and strength of major league baseball and the wealth and power of Twins ownership, you couldn’t be certain what would happen, what a judge would think,” Shea said. “Clearly, Judge Crump is a thoughtful man who understood both the law and baseball.”

Crump studied engineering and physics at Wilson Junior College in Illinois. He was urged by a professor to take a pharmacy course and entered the pharmacy program at the University of Illinois Medical Center.

There, Crump took a course in pharmacy law and, after acing it, decided law school was for him. In 1974, Crump graduated from DePaul University School of Law, where he was on the dean’s list.

Shortly after Crump’s ruling made him one of the most popular men in Minneapolis, Kevin Kolosky, a 49-year-old Minneapolis attorney, registered to challenge Crump for the judicial seat he has held for 18 years as a Hennepin County District court judge. The election is scheduled for Nov. 5.

“At the time,” Kolosky said, “I evaluated who else there was to challenge, and after deciding I had no chance of defeating the other highly respected judges up for re-election and knowing I personally disliked the ruling of Judge Crump, I chose to run against him.”

While Kolosky wouldn’t say he would have ruled differently than Crump, “I would have ruled strictly by the evidence, not by if I wanted the Twins to be here or not,” he said. “I have not seen where the public good supersedes the law.”

But Kolosky also realizes, as he walks around downtown Minneapolis; sees Homer Hankies in every window; sees posters and T-shirts, hats and pennants: “There’s no doubt in my mind I’ll probably lose this election because of the success of the Twins now that they’re in this postseason thing. A lot of people around here are cognizant that the ruling stopped the Twins from going suddenly downward toward a slippery slope.”

Kolosky has a good eye and a good ear.

“I will always vote for Judge Crump from now on,” said Harry Alfredson, 58, a computer programmer. “For what Judge Crump did for this community, everybody should vote for him to show their appreciation.... I would like to hug Judge Crump and kick Bud Selig in the rear end.”

Selig attended Game 1 of the AL championship series Tuesday night and watched the Twins beat the Angels, 2-1. Selig stayed in the background, never appearing where his face could be shown to the fans.

“I don’t have anything good or bad to say about Mr. Selig,” Crump said, “other than it was nice he could enjoy our city and our team.

“And as for my decision, I made it the same way I make all my decisions. I’m a religious person. Every morning I pray. I ask the Lord for wisdom and courage to make the right thing happen. That’s what I did in this case. I thought about what was the right thing. The state appellate court agreed with me.

“I’ve been told it was divine providence, the decision I made and the Twins’ success this year. About that, I don’t know. I just know the law.”

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Times staff writer Lance Pugmire contributed to this report.


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