Celebrating the first team on the Wheaties box
It happens in most cities, that communal gush of support for a sports underdog. It could be for a World Cup soccer team or a Tour de France cyclist. Or for a national treasure like Eddie the Eagle, a pudgy, far-sighted, unfunded, blue collar man who became a ski jumper on the world stage.
There was such white-hot fervor in middle America in 1987, you would have thought the British were coming again.
Instead, it was the Minnesota Twins preparing to play in the World Series, 30 years ago this fall. It was the only time a Major League Baseball team had been outscored during an entire season and reached the October Classic.
The excitement also was high because the Twins’ franchise hadn’t been to the World Series since its only appearance. That had been in 1965, when their championship dreams were dashed by the Los Angeles Dodgers in seven games.
Minnesota native Kent Hrbek, the first baseman, distilled the swelling frenzy in ’87 when he said fans “haven’t shown this much expression for any sports team in Minnesota in my lifetime.”
Former General Mills art director Linda Chryssomallis showed her expression with a thunderbolt of an idea.
“The whole city was electric with Twins’ fever,” she recalls. “I was so excited and I went to my boss and said, ‘We have to put the Twins on the Wheaties box. They could win the World Series.’”
The Wheaties box had been a solo gig since New York Yankee first baseman Lou Gehrig appeared on the back of it in 1934.
Given the green light, Linda told me she selected the image for the Twins package and designed the box.
“It had to be the whole team and action oriented. A celebration,” she says. “It was a simple design.”
But because her design had to be ready to go if the Twins beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, Linda had to choose a photo of the team’s on-field celebration after winning the American League Championship Series.
Not only did Linda’s package design in ’87 break with the brand’s tradition of honoring individuals, it became a collectible that had been rushed to store shelves faster than any previous Wheaties or Big G cereal package.
At the time, it normally took about half a year to step a new cereal box design from concept to your corner store. The Twins box in ‘87 was done in 19 days, from design to printing, on through to production and the first shipment to stores.
“It all went off without a hitch,” says David Murphy, who was General Mills’ vice president of Marketing Services in 1987. “The biggest issue I remember, more than anything, was how hypersensitive we all were – in particular, Major League Baseball – about packages getting out in advance or packages getting out if the Twins didn’t win. Had they not won the World Series, those packages were going to be destroyed that night.” (Listen to an audio clip of David Murphy, here).
At about 9:30 p.m. on October 25, 1987, a baseball smacked into Kent Hrbek’s glove inside a noise factory, the Metrodome in Minneapolis. It was the final out of the Twins’ World Series victory over the Cardinals. People in the Upper Midwest whooped in capital letters.
Hours later, in record time, the Wheaties boxes honoring the Twins were flying off the production line in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and then onto store shelves in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.
Based on research in the General Mills Archives, about 1.6 million boxes were eventually produced for regional sale in the Upper Midwest. Murphy says for the first two weeks after their release, an astounding one out of every four boxes of all cereal sold in the region was the ’87 Twins Wheaties box.
Because of that, we suspect many of the boxes are still around somewhere, either still displayed in homes or boxed up in storage.
So what’s valuable about that ’87 Twins Wheaties box today?
Clyde Doepner, the team curator for the Twins, told me it’s the memories it triggers. Because you can buy one on eBay for about 10 bucks.
“A real fan will never ask the value,” Doepner told me. “I don’t ever talk about the value having anything to do with money. The value has to do with your memory.”
Doepner talks about the impact of the ’87 Twins Wheaties box in this video clip.
Players from the ’87 team still see the team’s first Wheaties box often, as fans bring them to events.
“It’s amazing because a lot of people come up and have me autograph it and the Wheaties are still in the box,” says Dan Gladden, the left fielder on the ’87 Twins, who now works on the Twins’ radio broadcast team.
If you’re in Minneapolis, you might be able to get your Wheaties box signed this weekend. Gladden and several of his ’87 teammates will be at Target Field over the next few days as the team celebrates the 30th anniversary of their World Series victory.
Because of that, we thought it would be fitting to highlight the decision to make the Twins the first team to appear on the Wheaties box in the latest episode of our “A Taste of General Mills” podcast.
You’ll hear much more from David Murphy, as he shares the never-been-told story of all the twists and turns to put the Twins on the Wheaties box in ’87.
Also, Jessica Faucher, our corporate archivist, shares how the famous Wheaties line “The Breakfast of Champions” was christened, the lasting impact of the ’87 Twins box and how Wheaties has honored other teams since. (From 1987 to 2010, more than 60 other teams have appeared on the Wheaties box, in regional distribution).
Our interview with Clyde Doepner in the podcast is definitely worth a listen as well, as he gives you his unique perspective about the ’87 Twins as both a collector and baseball historian.
And the man who hit a grand slam in the ’87 post-season, Twins radio analyst Dan Gladden, tells us what made the team special. Dan included a story about that Wheaties’ box that we’ve never heard.
Listen (50 min)
SHOW NOTES – Episode 23: July 19, 2017
Photo: The 1987 Twins Wheaties box
Photo: The 1991 Twins Wheaties box
Video: Clyde Doepner, team curator for the Minnesota Twins
Link: Minnesota Twins through Memorabilia, by Clyde Doepner
Link: The Wheaties legacy
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Editor’s note: Jim Thielman, the writer of this post and the host of this podcast episode, wrote “Cool of the Evening,” about the 1965 Minnesota Twins.
Media: Several photos are available to download, here.
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