Imagine two Kodiak bears, each walking alone through the forest. Strong, powerful, furry. They have no fear, no predators from which to run, and seemingly no enemies. Then, a twig snaps, and one bear looks up to find himself within 20 yards of the other. They growl at each other. They stand on their hind legs, they bare their teeth, and they roar menacingly. When these two bears meet in the woods, it is a scientific fact that they will fight, the fight will be epic, and that one of them will limp off to die alone.*
*Do not look this up.
I had never seen two bears walking through the forest until last weekend, when at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome for TwinsFest. You are skeptical, obviously. How could a bear even make it into the Twin Cities, let alone into a pressurized, domed stadium with revolving doors? “Chillax,” I say. “These are metaphorical bears.” These are bears in the form of circa 1973 Luis Tiant and Willie Horton, whose baseball cards I located glaring across from one another in a binder at the largest baseball card show in the Upper Midwest on the Metrodome field, their forced colocation adding to what was already a tense scene. Feel it:
Those are some intense staredowns and some very intimidating mustaches. As Tiant and Horton stared each other down from across the book, I worried for what would happen if they faced each other any longer, so I purchased one of them and David Temple, oft of this space, also purchased one and we separated them before any damage was done to the surrounding cards.
But we never resolved the question of which bear would have won the inevitable conflict. And as gentlemen of science and fine breeding, coming to a satisfactory conclusion was compulsory. Thankfully, we know that Tiant pitched against Horton’s Tigers five times in 1973, and Horton played in three of those games. And so it was when Willie Horton dug in against Luis Tiant in 1973 that we learned who was Ursa Major, and who was Ursa Minor, for here are the results of their struggle:
Tiant faces Horton to lead off the 2nd inning and homers. Tiant is pulled after giving up three more runs without escaping the inning. The Tigers win 7-1.
Tiant gets Horton to line out to end the 1st inning, but Horton leads off the top of the 4th with his eleventh homer of the season to push the Tigers’ lead to 2-0. He strikes out to end the 4th, but singles to left field to start the 8th. Tiant throws a complete game, but loses 4-1.
Exactly one month later, Tiant and Horton are at each other again. Horton grounds out to third base to start the 2nd inning and strikes out looking in the 4th. Leading 3-2, Tiant was pulled with a sore arm after 5 innings. Horton remained in the game, walking in the bottom of the 8th. Rich Reese, pinch running for him, scored the tying run of the game three batters later, and Ed Brinkman won the game with a walk-off homer in the bottom of the 9th.
So in three contests against Tiant, Horton went three for seven with two homers and two RBI, the Tigers won all three games, and Tiant had to leave the last one injured. Ladies and gentleman, now we know who’s the biggest bear in the forest: