August 17, 1976: Twins’ singer sets stage for bad night with anthem flub

This article was written by J.G. Preston

Tom Johnson (Trading Card Database)It was “Bloomington Night” at Metropolitan Stadium on August 17, 1976, when the Twins paid tribute to their home community as part of their game against the Baltimore Orioles. The reigning Miss Bloomington – Stephanie Nilson,1 a 19-year-old college student and aspiring opera singer – was invited to sing the national anthem a cappella before the game.

“She got through ‘the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air’ just fine,” according to the Minneapolis Tribune, “but she didn’t make it past ‘gave proof through the night.’ She lost the tempo, then the tune, then stopped.

“‘Aaaaw rats!’ Miss Nielsen [sic] said, and walked off.”2

“She smiled graciously, bowed, and a sympathetic audience applauded,” according to an Associated Press report.3

Stephanie was thrown off by a delayed echo from the public-address system. “I wasn’t ready for that,” she said when she looked back on her performance in 2015. “Nobody told me about the echo. I reached that point where I couldn’t think of where I was as it was coming out of my mouth, and I just totally lost it. What I did, throwing my hands up in the air and saying, ‘oh, rats’ was, thankfully, instinctively correct. I could have said other things, but I wasn’t a cusser, so I’m thankful that didn’t come out.”4

Her gaffe made headlines across the country, some of them quite amusing: “Singer loses perilous fight with anthem”5… “National anthem infested by rats”6 … Anthem gets new ending”7 … “Star-spangled boner.”8

Among those who heard about Stephanie’s misadventure was Ted Turner, who just seven months earlier had bought the attendance-starved Atlanta Braves. Turner was willing to stage just about any stunt to attract attention and, perhaps, paying customers, including ostrich racing (Ted himself participated) and “Headlock and Wedlock Day,” featuring weddings at home plate before the game and professional wrestling on the field afterward.

Turner invited Stephanie to sing the national anthem before the Braves’ nationally televised game on August 23, and she did, turning in what was described as a “flawless performance.”9 That also made newspapers nationwide, this time with pictures of Stephanie celebrating her success. And on August 30, the Twins invited Stephanie back to Met Stadium to try again before their game with the Milwaukee Brewers, and she “came through unscathed.”10

On August 17, the sound of Stephanie Nilson’s “aw, rats” had hardly faded before the Orioles pounced on Twins pitcher Tom Johnson, making what would be the only start of his major-league career.11 After Al Bumbry struck out to lead off the game, Bobby Grich singled and stole second, Reggie Jackson walked, and designated hitter Lee May crushed a 384-foot home run into the left-field bleachers for a 3-0 Baltimore lead.

“That home-run pitch was a mistake,” May said afterward. “It was a slider he got out over the plate.”12 The homer was May’s 22nd of the season, putting him one behind Oakland’s Sal Bando for the American League lead. “When May’s hot, he’s as tough as there is,” said Minnesota manager Gene Mauch, who had also managed against May when both were in the National League.13

Johnson settled down after that, allowing just two more hits, both singles, and one walk through five innings. Meanwhile, however, his teammates had little success against Baltimore pitcher Rudy May; the Twins collected three singles and a walk in the first five innings and did not get a runner past second base. May was helped by an unusual double play in the fourth inning: After Dan Ford singled, first baseman Tony Muser caught a foul popup off the bat of Steve Brye and threw to catcher Rick Dempsey, who had run to first base, to double up Ford.14

The Orioles’ bats came alive again in the sixth inning. Jackson led off with a double, Lee May followed with a triple, and Ken Singleton singled to make the score 5-0. After Muser struck out, Doug DeCinces singled to right, and when Ford mishandled the ball, the runners advanced to second and third.

Jim Hughes relieved Johnson, and the first batter he faced, Mark Belanger, hit a shot that bounced off Hughes’s foot. Shortstop Roy Smalley retrieved the ball and threw to catcher Glenn Borgmann, who got Singleton in a rundown between third and home. Borgmann wound up tagging Singleton out, with DeCinces moving to third and Belanger taking second.15 Hughes walked Dempsey to load the bases, then Bumbry delivered a single to center that scored DeCinces and Belanger, giving the Orioles a 7-0 lead.

Rudy May took his shutout into the seventh inning, when singles by Ford, Brye, and Smalley gave the Twins a run. Another run followed in the bottom of the eighth, again requiring three singles, this time off the bats of Rod Carew, Ford, and Brye. Rudy May exited the game after Brye’s hit, with Dyar Miller coming on to get pinch-hitter Steve Braun to pop up for the final out of the inning.

In the top of the ninth, the Orioles roughed up Hughes, a 16-game winner as a rookie in 1975 who struggled in his second season. Dempsey led off with a single and Bumbry hit into a fielder’s choice and the runners moved up on a wild pitch. After Grich walked, Jackson singled to score Bumbry and Lee May singled to bring home Grich, May’s fifth run batted in of the game. (He would end the season with 109 RBIs to lead the league.) Jackson stopped at second on May’s hit, then moved to third on Singleton’s fly ball to left field and scored on Hughes’s second wild pitch of the inning, making the score 10-2, Baltimore.

The Twins did get another run in the bottom of the ninth on doubles by Smalley and Larry Hisle and had runners on first and third when Craig Kusick flied out to end the game, with the final score Baltimore 10, Minnesota 3.

When it was over, Stephanie Nilson’s singing was about the only thing Twins fans had to smile about … and even she had a tough night.



Game stories from the Minneapolis Tribune and Baltimore Sun were accessed via



1 Her name was misspelled “Stephany Nielsen” in early newspaper accounts.

2 “Singer Loses Perilous Fight with Anthem,” Minneapolis Tribune, August 18, 1976: C-1.

3 “National Anthem Infested by Rats,” Bangor (Maine) Daily News, August 19, 1976: 22.

4 The author interviewed Stephanie, now Stephanie Askew, in 2015 for a blog post, “From ‘aw, rats’ to redemption: Miss Bloomington sings the National Anthem at two ballparks in 1976.”

5 Minneapolis Tribune, August 18, 1976: C-1.

6 “National Anthem Infested by Rats.”

7 St. Petersburg (Florida) Times, August, 18, 1976: 4-C.

8 State Journal-Register, Peoria, Illinois, August 20, 1976.

9 Associated Press, “No Cues ThisTime,” Ithaca (New York) Journal, August 24, 1976: 15. Stephanie wasn’t Turner’s only pregame attraction that night. He also staged a pregame “Baseball Olympics” (it was an Olympic year, after all) in which one of the events saw Turner and Phillies pitcher Tug McGraw compete to see who could push a baseball from third base to home plate the fastest using their nose. Photos of that also found their way onto sports pages across the country.

10 Gary Libman, “Twins Crush Brewers, End Losing Streak,” Minneapolis Tribune, August 31, 1976: 5C.

11 Johnson was one of the game’s top relief pitchers in 1977, with a 16-7 record and 15 saves in 71 appearances. But all that work took a toll on his arm; he appeared in only 18 games in 1978, and after surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff in March 1979, he never pitched in the majors again. Jim McKernon, “Tom Johnson,” Society for American Baseball Research Baseball Biography Project,

12 Associated Press, “Baltimore Steps on Twins,” Bemidji (Minnesota) Pioneer, August 18, 1976: 8.

13 Joe Soucheray, “Baltimore Clobbers Twins 10-3,” Minneapolis Tribune, August 18, 1976: 1C.

14 “Lee May Drives in 5 as Orioles Rip Twins, 10-3,” Baltimore Sun, August 18, 1976: C5.

15 “Twins Scorecard,” Minneapolis Tribune, August 18, 1976: 2C.

Additional Stats

Baltimore Orioles 10
Minnesota Twins 3

Metropolitan Stadium
Bloomington, MN


Box Score + PBP:

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