Each time around the major league baseball winter meetings, there seems to be a rather hilarious article “hot off the wire” detailing the “big signing” of the Minnesota Twins in the wake of the really big boys already changing hands. This year didn’t fail to disappoint…
First, record-setting closer Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez moved from the Angels to the Mets by signing a three-year, $37 million deal. With Billy Wagner rehabbing an injury and perhaps on the downslope of his career anyway, the Mets figured they needed a dominant closer and thus went out and got the best.
Then, just a few days later, C.C. Sabathia moved from the Brewers to the Yankees (who else, really?!) for seven years and $161 million, the largest contract ever for a pitcher. The bad news: He really could stabilize the Yanks’ starting rotation. The good news: We (the Twins) may only have to face him 1-2 a season TOPS…hooray!!
Finally, the inevitable “big move” came from the Minnesota Twins, as they announced the signing of “Little” Nick Punto to a two-year, $8.5 million contract. Ooh, the cash is really flowing now! Start printing those World Series tickets…”Little Nicky” is back.
In all honesty, though, Punto was actually a pretty good signing for the small-market Twins, as he is the best defenseman (at any position) in the league and, as long as he can keep his batting average above .260 or so, isn’t a huge drag on the lineup with the speed and bunting ability he brings to the table.
I just finished reading Kent Hrbek’s book “Tales From The Minnesota Twins Dugout”, and was not impressed in the least. Here is a review of the book that I wrote on Amazon.com that I thought was appropriate to share on this Twins blog:
Before my review, a little Kent Hrbek anecdote: A few years ago, while attending the annual TwinsFest event at the Metrodome, I waited in line to get a picture taken with the big guy at his booth promoting his outdoors TV show. Before the photo, I commented on how exciting it was to be there, while all Hrbek could do was mope about wanting to be out on the lake fishing.
So, with that experience firmly planted in my mind, I was only cautiously optimistic that Herbie’s book would be any more exciting than the man himself. As it turned out, this book only confirmed to me that Hrbek is an arrogant jerk who never really applied himself to the sport that set him up for life.
A few (just a few, to be sure) of the things that bothered me in this book included…
-Hrbek calling baseball a “team sport”, which it is, but then lauding his two World Series rings like they make him some sort of Minnesotan God.
-Hrbek not taking a stand on any issues. He claims to be this straight-shooting personality, but never comes close giving his real thoughts on things like steroids, his off-and-on friendship with Gary Gaetti, and the effort (very little) he put into improving his baseball skills. Instead, he couches his “memoirs” with enough “buts” and “althoughs” to get himself off the hook in every situation.
To me, Kent Hrbek has achieved a very false celebrity status her in Minnesota by cashing in on his Bloomington roots and dumb luck of playing on two championship clubs (he certainly didn’t carry those teams). Thus, the only reason I gave this book even a two-star rating is because I encourage Twins fans to read it…not because of the actual concepts, but so you can better understand the type of man that Hrbek really is.
I don’t like saying those things about a former member of the Minnesota Twins organization, but unfortunately they are true in relation to Hrbek, and this book only exacerbates his negative persona.
In the last day or two, an announcement came over the baseball wires that Greg Maddux announced his retirement after 23 years in major league baseball. I was quite saddened to hear this, as I consider Mad Dog (a nickname that totally belies Maddux’s personality) to be the greatest pitcher of our generation. Before my reminisces start, let’s just take a quick look at the stats…
355 wins, 227 losses, 109 complete games, 35 shutouts, 5,000 innings pitched, 3,371 strikeouts, 999 walks, 3.16 ERA, 4 consecutive Cy Young awards (1992-1995).
Though I once considered Roger Clemens to be the greatest pitcher of the modern era, his steroid taintings have dropped him off my list. Those stats that Maddux posted, most of them in the middle of the “Steroid Era” (roughly 1988-2005), are incredible and would even compare favorably to many pitchers in the dead-ball era, when getting batters out was a relatively simple task.
I first became “acquainted” with Maddux during the mid-1990s, when I actually despised the Atlanta Braves, as they were a large-payroll team (at least back then under Ted Turner) in the same mold as the New York Yankees. In fact, I always rooted against Maddux (my hero was Kevin Brown, his arch-enemy many a time) and for any team (most likely the Mets) that could beat him. However, I was usually disappointed, as Maddux was ALWAYS on top of his game in postseason games. Then, as my Twins began to rise in the standings (funny how attitudes soften towards winning teams when your favorite team is one of them?!), I looked at Maddux in a completely different light…not as a tormentor but as the absolutely dominating pitcher he was.
What really made Maddux so great was the movement of his pitches and his pin-point location. He never really had a great (+ 90 mph) heater, but that ball seemed to twirl and dive like no others. Combine that with his excellent collection of breaking balls (namely the changeup) and his diligent studying of opposing batters and Maddux was nearly impossible to have any kind of steady success against. Even in his last few seasons, Maddux was still perplexing opposing batters who had been facing him for a century or more!
So, it really saddens me to see Maddux retire. I always got excited watching him pitch, as not only was his mastery of his craft a sight to behold, but I also felt like I was watching history in the making, kind of like going to a long-forgotten era of baseball where pitchers dominated batters. Years from now, it will be an honor to say that I got to see Greg Maddux pitch.
Now that the traditional (not the Veterans Committee) Hall of Fame ballots are out, I would like to quickly point out two players that I have not yet discussed on this blog:
-First off, Ricky Henderson is obviously a first-ballot shoo-in for the Hall, as he was (and nobody has come close to surpassing him since) the greatest leadoff hitter in the history of the game. Yeah, he may have been an arrogant jerk with an affinity for speaking in the third person, but he did more than enough on the field to warrant a trip to Cooperstown.
-The other player I wanted to discuss, Bert Blyleven, is currently my biggest pet peeve about the Hall of Fame voters. I know this gets brought up every year about how Bert should be in the Hall, but let me assure you it isn’t just a Twins fan griping about a favorite player/personality. The statistics completely speak for themselves:
287 wins, 4,790 innings pitched, 242 complete games, 60 shutouts, 3,701 strikeouts, 3.31 ERA
Now, if those stats aren’t good enough to get a guy into the Hall of Fame, then I don’t know what are. Sure, Bert could be surly with the media and was a little crude at times (as evidenced by the picture posted above), but once you get to “know him” (I say this from listening to him broadcast Twins games for many years) you find that he just likes a good laugh…he isn’t really trying to be mean.
The other big knock on Bert is his 250 losses to go with all his wins, but you can’t necessarily blame him for the (mostly) terrible teams he played for. And, think of it this way…the two really good teams that Blyleven played for (’79 Pirates and ’87 Twins) ending up winning their respective World Series titles in LARGE part due to the contributions of Bert’s masterful pitching.
Finally, there are also some people who say that a player must dominate in a certain area of the game to be HOF-worthy, but Bert meets that qualification as well, as he had the greatest curveball of any of his contemporaries. You don’t top 3,000 K’s (and close in on 4,000) without a tremendous “out” pitch (think Johan Santana’s changeup or Francisco Liriano’s slider), and Bert had the curve.
So, here’s to hoping that Bert finally gets his dream of ascending those Cooperstown steps to receive his bronzed plaque. Let’s just hope he doesn’t moon the audience in the process!