November 2008

First Moose, Now Tony O.

RetroOliva.jpgRight on the heels of Mike Mussina announcing his retirement and that subsequent Hall of Fame debate, the Veterans Committee for the HOF announced its 2009 ballot.  First and foremost in the minds of Twins fans was the inclusion of popular Twins star Tony Oliva on that ballot.  Does Oliva have a chance to get a hanging plaque in the great Hall?  Well, let’s start by looking at the stats…

-13 seasons, 1,917 hits, 220 HR, .304 BA, 8 All-Star Appearances, Rookie of the Year Award in 1964, twice finished second in MVP voting.

By looking at those stats, I would consider Tony O. to be the epitome of an “on the fence” candidate for the Hall.  When healthy (and that is key), Tony was perhaps the best pure hitter of the American League during the mid to late 1960s.  However, knee injuries plagued Oliva for much of his career, getting so bad that he could hardly run anymore by the time he retired.  Thus, much like Mickey Mantle, Oliva never really was able to play at his true potential for any extended period of time, as those knees always ailed him.

What bolsters Oliva’s case, though, is the work that he has done away from the game, as he has been a loyal, devoted member to the Twins organization since his retirement and has been a great ambassador to the Latin American community (he was born in Panama).

So, do I think Oliva belongs in the Hall of Fame?  I would have to say no.  It’s tough to deny a guy a spot just because of injuries, but I don’t think Tony O. played at a high enough level for a long enough period to earn that bronze plaque.  I think that other former Twins still on the ballot such as Bert Blyleven and Jim Kaat have much more solid cases for the Hall than does Oliva.

Moose In The Hall? Yes.

364523_Mike-Mussina-060604.jpgI know I’m a little late to jump into this discussion, but recently it was announced that Mike Mussina will be retiring from baseball at the age of 39, coming off arguably his best season (20-9, 200 IP, 3.37 ERA) in professional baseball.  Right away, all the buzz about his decision was not so much focused on him leaving the game, but whether or not he is Hall of Fame-worthy.  Before I put my two cents in, here’s a look at some of Moose’s career stats that may be vital for his Hall bid in the future:

W-L: 270-153

K: 2,813

CG: 57

SO: 23

ERA: 3.68

Looking at those stats, Mussina is what I would consider a borderline HOF case.  He has a lot of wins, but not quite 300…a lot of strike outs, but not quite 3,000…a good career ERA, but not quite dominant.  However, if I could cast a vote, I would put Moose in the Hall based on one key area: winning percentage.  That 270-153 record translates into a .368 winning %, which, at least in my opinion, is quite remarkable.  Of course, many of you out there will point out that his W-L totals were inflated by playing for the Yankees for so many years, but even when you look back to Moose’s days in Baltimore, he just didn’t loose many games.

In borderline cases like these (as I can also see the case against Moose), what I like to think of is whether or not the Hall of Fame would somehow be cheapened or degraded if the player were let in.  I don’t see that happening with Mike Mussina, as he has been a great MLB pitcher during the last decade and one that fans will remember for many years after he leaves the game.

AL MVP and Back To The Division

Peddy.jpgTwo MLB notes I wanted to report today…

1. Dustin Pedroia of the Boston Red Sox was named AL MVP.  The Twins’ Justin Morneau was second in the balloting (although not a close second), and Joe Mauer was fourth.  As much as it would have been fun to see a Twin win the award for the second time in three seasons, Pedroia deserved the hardware after having perhaps the best season by a second baseman in the history of modern baseball.  His defense was flawless, and he can hit for power, shoot the gaps, and run extremely well.  He should be a force in the AL for many years to come.  Albert Pujols took home the NL MVP.

2. Just today, it was announced that the Red Sox traded CF Coco Crisp to the Kansas City Royals for relief pitcher Ramon Ramirez.  Just what the Twins needed…another quality player (and one who would single-handedly beat us when he was in Cleveland, at that) joining a division foe.

The New “Voice Of The Twins”

Gordo.jpgUntil he passed away a year or so ago, Herb Carneal was known as the “voice of the Twins”, as he had essentially (he might have missed one season) been with the Twins since they moved from Washington in 1961.  A week or so ago, it was announced that the Twins signed current radio broadcaster John Gordon to an extension, keeping him with the team at least through the 2010 season (the first in Target Field).

While older folks will also consider Carneal to be the greatest Twins broadcaster, I would have to give that nod to “Gordo”.  Not only does he have a “charismatic voice”, but he can also make any situation exciting (“down by nine, bottom of the ninth, Mariano Rivera on the mound…let’s get those rally caps on!).  I don’t miss too many televised Twins games during the season, but when I do I don’t feel as if I am being short-changed, and that, to me, is the sign of a great radio broadcaster.

Dan “Dazzle Man” Gladden will again be joining Gordon in the broadcast booth next season, while his replacements may include Jack Morris and Kris Atteberry.

Gardy At The Helm

070528_gardenhire_hmed_4phmedium.jpgThe Minnesota Twins organization announced today that manager Ron Gardenhire (who has been in that capacity since the start of the 2002 season) sign a two-year extension, pushing his tenure to the end of the 2011 baseball season.  This will assure Gardy an office in the Twins’ new stadium, Target Field, come 2010.

This was a no-brainer move for the Twins to make.  While I often disagree with Gardy’s careful handling of his starting pitchers and his careful playing of the lefty-righty numbers, he has proved me wrong more times than not.  His real talent, though, is in cultivating young players, as he has found the right balance of treating the youngsters with respect but showing them some tough love as well.  This year (2008) might have been his greatest achievement yet, taking a team that absolutely no one thought would contend and taking it within a few innings of a playoff berth.  I wouldn’t want anyone else manning the end spot in the dugout!

Twins Notes:

-In other Gardy news, he again finished second in the Manager of the Year award voting to the Tampa Bay Rays’ Joe Maddon.  Although Gardy deserved the award as much as anyone, how could it not go to Maddon for what he did for the Rays’ franchise?!  This is one of those awards where it’s better to be lucky than good, and Gardy has never been very lucky!  I doubt he cares though…he’ll probably go bowl a few games and forget about it!

World Series Failing? Let Rivalries Develop

1_61_fenway320.jpgThis week, while reading an article in Sports Illustrated magazine, I came across a rather lengthy article (although I cannot recall by whom) discussing how the World Series needs to re-establish its place as the crown-jewel of the baseball season, as in recent seasons (most dramatically this year) the event has lost huge viewership numbers, even losing to the NBA Finals in some seasons.  The author of the article layed out a few solutions to the problem, such as starting games earlier (so kids and working adults can watch them), speeding up pitching changes, and doing something to take bad weather out of the equation (like mandating that all new parks be built with a retractable roof).  However, I had a much different response to that article that I wanted to share on this blog…

To me, the drop in World Series luster in the recent years has, ironically, been caused by baseball’s biggest accomplishment…parity (eight different teams have played in the World Series the past four years).  Think back to when the World Series was a premiere event…it was because the New York Yankees were dominating and everyone either loved them or loved to hate them.  Realistically, the Yankees’ last playoff hurrah was in 2004 (when the Red Sox made their improbable comeback)…since then, the World Series just hasn’t been the same in terms of viewership (the Sox got a boost from beating the Yanks, of course).

So, at least in my mind, the best way to return to a star-studded World Series again is to let a big-market team dominate the playing field again.  However, I am terribly opposed to that sort of economic structure (despite the excitement it brings to the playoffs, as who didn’t have a rooting interest in the Yankees either way over the past decade?!), so here is what I think is the next best solution…let the natural MLB rivalries develop.

Historically, the ALCS and NLCS series’ have often been more dramatic as the World Series just due to the fact that both teams (being in the same league) know each other so well.  During the late 1990s and early 2000s, such rivalries as Cardinals-Astros, Braves-Mets, Yankees-Red Sox, and even Yankees-Rangers (for Texas’ first-round futility against the Bombers) really fueled the postseason structure, creating steam for a big World Series matchup.  Because, even though the WS does not, by definition, precipitate geographic rivalries, it can be made more exciting by teams that just came off a thrilling victory.  Growing up, I was always very anti-Yankees and anti-Braves (because I despised the advantages of large market teams over “my” Twins), but that “hatred” of those teams made me watch them all the more just to see them get beat!  I think the same principle could apply to MLB today, but we just have to let a few rivalries play out.

For example, Red Sox-Rays (as pictured above) could be big for years to come, while White Sox-Twins also has potential  In the NL, the Phillies and Dodgers may “get up” for each other after that spirited NLCS, while the Cubs and Cardinals are always at each other’s throats.  Plus, who knows where new rivalries will emerge.  Just last year, no one would have ever thought Sox-Rays would turn interesting, but look what happened.  From my experience with the AL Central, the Twins and Royals have quite a rivalry, but it will only gain attention if the Royals win a few more games (Yikes!).

Thus, I don’t think that there is a “quick fix” to restoring luster to the World Series.  I would love to see games start earlier and pitching changes go a bit quicker, but that alone will not restore interest…only teams, players, and the rivalries between them.

The Two Most Hated Words A Pitcher Can Hear

tommy_20john_small.jpgEarlier today on this blog, I reported that Twins relief pitcher Pat Neshek was flying back to the Twin Cities from his rehab in Florida to have an MRI performed.  The results of that MRI were not good.  The scan revealed a complete tear of Neshek’s ulnar collateral ligament, which can only be corrected by the dreaded Tommy John surgery, requiring the side-winding righty to miss the entire 2009 season (much like Francisco Liriano in 2007).

This devastating loss to the Twins’ pitching staff just further illustrates the Twins’ need to either develop another reliever (Jose Mijares looked promising in September) or venture into the trading or free agent markets to get one.

A Key Element To 2009

neshek_mlb1.jpgJust the other day, I read a report on the Twins website that Pat Neshek is currently having a bit of a setback in his rehabilitation of his elbow (ulnar collateral ligament damage) that he injured early in the 2008 season.  Today, I heard that Neshek will fly back here to the Twin Cities (he has been rehabbing in Fort Myers, Florida) for an MRI to see where the soreness in his elbow lies.

Twins fans should be following this situation very closely, as it is likely THE most important component to the 2009 bullpen.  Had the Twins had the services of Neshek all last year, there wouldn’t have needed to be a one-game playoff with Chicago…we would have easily won the division outright.  The return of a healthy Neshek would go very far in stabilizing the bullpen, while losing him again would throw the ‘pen into disarray once more.

The Golden Boy

GoldGlove.jpgYes, this is a bit of a late update (deer hunting opening weekend can do that to Twins fans!), but last Thursday it was announced that Twins catcher Joe Mauer received his first-ever AL Gold Glove award for his excellence at the catcher position.  Anyone who has watched Mauer catch for the Twins in recent years knows that this award is very deserving, and actually long overdue.  However, Gold Glove awards seem to run in bunches (Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez” had a lock on the award in recent seasons), so Mauer could very easily be beginning a long streak of taking home that specific gold hardware.

Next year, besides Mauer, I think Denard Span (if he sees everyday playing time) could very much be a Gold Glove candidate.  Wouldn’t it be something to see Torii Hunter and his protege (Span) win the award in the same season?!

Twins Notes:

-A few rumors have been going around that Twins RF Michael Cuddyer has been mentioned in trade talks with the Colorado Rockies for their 3B Garrett Atkins.  Don’t believe a word of it!  With the kind of contract we gave Cuddyer prior to this season, he will be a Twin for a LONG time.  Barring injury, he is a great right fielder with a cannon arm and good power…he’ll be sticking around.

-Also, the Twins have expressed interest in Dodgers 3B Casey Blake.  However, Blake will ultimately have much too high of a price tag for the Twins’ budget.  Plus, the platoon of Brian Buscher and Brendan Harris wasn’t all that bad last year, and Buscher has the potential to be an everyday player.  My guess is that this rumor started up when Twins GM Bill Smith made one simple phone call to the Dodgers inquiring about Blake (likely at a bargain-basement price) like most other teams in the MLB right now that could use a third baseman.  We had our shot at Blake earlier, but we went with Corey Koskie instead.

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