January 2009

Twins Hall Of Fame

3cAmHuPZ.jpgThe other day, I was very excited to hear that former Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Brad Radke is being inducted into the Twins Hall of Fame in 2009.  Radke was my favorite Twins pitcher of all-time, as I loved the way he was able to dominate batters with little more than a great changeup and pin-point accuracy.  Though not quite as good, I always thought of Brad the Rad as the “poor man’s” Greg Maddux.  The big knock on Radke (what kept him from really becoming an elite pitcher) was his tendancy to give up the gopher balls at an alarming rate, but he still managed to be a very effective pitcher nonetheless.

A few years ago, while writing for the University Register (the student-run newspaper at the college I attended, the University of Minnesota-Morris), I penned a column about Radke that I would like to share on this blog.  It was written it 2005 and thus is a bit dated, but I think it still manages to capture the essence of why I admired Radke so much.  Here it is:

Over the years, starting pitcher Brad Radke has been the subject of much debate among Twins fans.  Is he the glue that holds the pitching staff together, or just an average pitcher who has been overrated his entire career?  Looking at his career statistics, the latter argument seems to win:  136 wins, 130 losses, 2,288.2 innings pitched, 2,446 hits, 302 home runs, 4.22 ERA.  While those statistics are better than most who toe the rubber, they are definitely not what legends are made of.  However, Radke’s value to the Twins cannot be calculated on statistics alone.  By giving his heart and soul to the Twins organization for the past eleven years, this sportswriter feels that Brad deserves a better legacy than “.500 pitcher”.

After the 1991 World Championship season and a strong second place finish in 1992, the Minnesota Twins started disbanding the nucleus of those teams due to financial constraints.  The area hit hardest was starting pitching.  Jack Morris, staff ace in 1991, was let go amid concerns over his age, while Scott Erickson and Kevin Tapani (key contributors in ’91 and ’92) each faltered under the “ace” mantra.  During the ’93 and ’94 seasons, such players as Willie Banks, Mike Trombley, Eddie Guardado (yes, Eddie!), Pat Mahomes, and Jim Deshaies tried to bolster the starting staff, but to no avail.  Not one of those players made the rotation for any length of time and both seasons were losing efforts.  It wasn’t until the next year that the Twins would find a true ace–Brad Radke.

When Radke made his debut in 1995, he looked like another pitcher to be discarded to the scrap heap.  In 181 innings, Radke was 11-14 with a 5.32 ERA and had a tendency to give up home runs, allowing 32 of them.  Though he got battered around his inaugural campaign, he did have good control of his pitches and the Twins, having no better options, decided to bring him back for another try in 1996.  In ’96, he managed to give up 40 gopher balls, but pitched 232 innings (a team-high that season) and get his ERA down to 4.46.  Now, while those numbers may not sound impressive, the Twins at that time had no other starter with an ERA lower than 5.00.  Radke (in just his second year) was the “established” ace of the Minnesota Twins.

In 1997 (arguably his best season as a Twin) he posted a 20-10 record with a 3.87 ERA.  To put his 20-win feat into perspective, he did it on a team that finished 68-94 with little offensive talent.  On a winning team, Radke could have easily racked up even more wins and established himself as a premiere pitcher in the league.  Instead, Brad was playing for the lowly “Twinkies” at the time and getting little or no attention from the press.

Over the next three seasons (’98, ’99, and ’00), Radke was 36-44 with an 4.17 ERA.  For most pitchers, those stats would kick them out the door, but one must remember that Radke was playing for perennial cellar-dweller teams.  Numerous times Brad would keep his team in the game and receive no offensive support (and consequently a loss), or leave the game with a lead and watch the bullpen squander it.  He might have won 15-20 games every year playing for a respectable team.  For those reasons, his value to the Twins could not be based on statistics.  His dependability (pitching over 214 innings in each of those seasons) and willingness to take the mound every fifth day for a sink-hole of a team were vital for an organization trying to build a winning philosophy.  In the ultimate show of loyalty to Minnesota, Radke signed a four year contract at the end of 2000.

Radke’s confidence payed off in 2001, as the team finished with its first winning season since 1992.  Brad was once again the leader of the pitching staff, going 15-11 with a 3.94 ERA and eating up 226 innings.  The playoffs were narrowly missed that year, but better days were on the horizon.

During the 2002 season, Radke pitched only 118.1 innings due to injuries, but got his first chance at pitching in the playoffs.  In two starts against Oakland he was 1-1 with a 1.54 ERA (winning Game 5 to clinch the series).  In the ALCS against Anaheim, he won his lone start, going 6+ innings and giving up only two earned runs.  Though the Twins lost that series, Radke had proven that he could perform well in the biggest starts of his career.  He was the unquestioned ace of the staff, but competition was lurking.

In 2003 and 2004, Radke was his old reliable self (25-18, 3.99 ERA), but Johan Santana was getting all the attention.  While Santana burst onto the scene in 2003 and won the Cy Young award in 2004, Radke kept laboring along every fifth day.  He still gave up a startling number of home runs as well as more hits than innings pitched, but more often than not he gave the Twins a chance to win in his starts.  The Twins made it to the playoffs each year (losing to the Yankees both times) and Radke turned in two more good performances, bringing his career postseason ERA to 3.19.  In typically Radke fashion, however, he was 1-3.  At the end of 2004, Radke’s contract was up and he was being courted by the Yankees, Red Sox, and Angels.  Signing with either of those teams would have meant better statistics for Brad (as a result of better run-support), but once again he chose to stay with the Twins, signing a two-year deal well under the $-value of the other offers.  He was looking forward to another run at the AL Central division title.

This year, that “run” never materialized.  Though Radke and the rest of the pitching rotation pitched well the entire year, an anemic offense doomed the Twins to a mediocre finish.  Before being deactivated in late September due to soreness in his shoulder, Radke was 9-12 with a 4.04 ERA and ten no-decisions.  For the first half of the season he was quite dominant, but after the All-Star break his shoulder injury pushed him back to mediocrity (he was not even able to throw in the bullpen between starts).  He battled the injury for a month and a half, not succumbing to the pain until the season was all but over.

Next year will be the end of Brad Radke’s current contract, after which he plans to retire.  For ten years, Radke has given his competitive heart and soul for a team that has too often not given him much in return.  While he will likely go down in Twins history as second-fiddle to Johan Santana (Brad didn’t play for many good teams, didn’t put together one spectacular season, didn’t strike out many batters, or didn’t pitch deep into the postseason often enough to get media recognition), he deserves better.  Many fans will await his retirement after next year, chafing over his mediocre record and statistics, but I will applaud his every start.  He deserves all we can give him.

Built To Win (John Schuerholz)

9780446696531.jpgI just finished reading the book “Built To Win” by Atlanta Braves GM John Schuerholz and wanted to share the review of it that I wrote for Amazon.com.  Unfortunately, much like my earlier review of Kent Hrbek’s book, this one was also a dud:

“Too Much Philosophy, Too Little Baseball”

As I began reading this book, I figured that it would explain the inside stories of how the Atlanta Braves were so successful from 1991-2005. The book tries to do this, but does so in completely the wrong fashion, making it an incredibly boring read.

Instead of describing the interesting deals/performances/stories that likely characterized those classic Braves teams, John Schuerholz instead spews out little more than inspirational quotes and philosophical points of view that, though they may contribute to his success, are unique to him and thus not inherently interesting. Schuerholz is trying to lay out the “basic mindset” of a winning GM, but what he doesn’t realize is that each GM/organization (even the winning ones) goes through different methods of building a good team.

The book begins with a little story about how Barry Bonds nearly became an Atlanta Brave, then trails off into an unnecessarily harsh criticism of Oakland GM Billy Beane’s “Moneyball” philosophy (stupid due to the fact that Beane has had just as much success with the model as Schuerholz) and finally descends into little more than Schuerholz spouting quotes about “winning” for the next 100-200 pages. There is no context to the stories told in the book. In fact, I found the only interesting part of the entire book to be the last 10 or so pages, where each Braves team (from 1991-2005) is given a quick summary. Had the entire book been about that, I would be giving it a much better review!

Thus, please DO NOT begin reading this book if you are expecting great Braves baseball stories. You will likely enjoy this book much more than I if you are into inspirational memoirs, but otherwise stay away.

“Kubel” Kahn and Hank The Blank

fantasy_a_jkubel_300.jpgWell, for those of you who thought that the Minnesota Twins had dropped off the face of the earth this offseason, just recently they announced a deal-in-principle with outfielder Jason Kubel.  It is a two-year contract, with salary figures not having been released yet.

For some reason, Jason Kubel is one of my favorite Twins players.  I just like the “all-or-nothing” approach he takes to hitting…either he hits the ball on the button, or he hits weak dribblers to the infield…there’s no in-between.  He also has the best “theme music” (played when he strides to the plate), the first few bars of Click Click Boom, of any MLB player.  I’m excited that Kubel is back!!

In other news, former Twin Henry Blanco signed a one-year contract with the San Diego Padres.  Man, that guy was ancient when he played with the Twins in 2004.  I guess he came highly recommended from former Padre Greg Maddux.

(Belated) HOF Thoughts

Rickey939b.jpgI know I’m really late on this, but I do want to share my thoughts on the recent Hall of Fame voting…

Rickey Henderson: Obviously a first-ballot HOFer, and 95% of the votes affirmed that feeling across the nation.  Sure, he seems to be an arrogant jerk, but being a gentleman isn’t necessarily a qualification for the Hall.  Rickey was the greatest leadoff hitter of the modern baseball era (only perhaps Ty Cobb in the history of the game eclipses him) and easily the best base stealer.  If I had to guess, I’d say that right now–pushing 50 years old–Henderson could still swipe at least 15-20 bags in the majors (assuming he could get on base in the first place, of course).

Jim Rice: I did not see Jim Rice play (way before my time), but I do not think he is a Hall of Famer.  He had a lot of hits (2,452), but not an astounding amount.  He had a lot of power (382 HR), but that is far from a tremendous amount.  To me, his most impressive statistic is his .298 career batting average, which is very impressive.  However, taking all his stats into consideration, I just don’t see them measuring up for a plaque in Cooperstown.  I guess the BBWAA felt differently.

-Of course, it was again a crying shame that Bert Blyleven was not inducted this year.  It was bad enough that Circle Me’s Dad passed away before he could hear his son’s induction speech, but now it has become just ridiculous.  The only thing I could think of his that Blyleven really ********** a bunch of writers during his playing days, as his stats are much better than many players already enshrined.

-Finally, Andre Dawson also nearly made the cut this year.  I don’t consider him to be worthy, either.  Much like Rice, I consider him to be a great player, but one that never really pushed himself past that “invisible threshold” of Hall consideration.

Minnesota Twins Winter Caravan: Fergus Falls Edition

TwinsTerritory%20blue.jpg

 

Just a quick note to say that this morning I braved the -27F cold of Fergus Falls, MN to attend the 49th annual edition of the Minnesota Twins Winter Caravan.  I believe the first caravan I ever went to was 2001 (the “Get To Know ‘Em” campaign), and I have attended each year since.

Fergus Falls was the first stop of the day for the Twins this time and thus they came to the local Applebees restaurant for a pancake breakfast.  Manager Ron Gardenhire, Hitting Coach Joe Vavra, and Starting Pitcher Glen Perkins were the featured guests who cracked jokes, entertained questions, and just had a good time promoting baseball in MN.  A highlight video was also shown (always the highlight of the program!) and a prize drawing ended the program (sadly, I was not lucky today).

Overall, the FF stop was just a drop-in on the long line of the caravan, but it was still fun to just get out and get excited about Twins baseball again!!

Oh, and just because I couldn’t resist:

http://minnesota.twins.mlb.com/media/video.jsp?mid=200809253550680&c_id=min

http://minnesota.twins.mlb.com/media/video.jsp?mid=200809253550680&c_id=min

Can Spring Training come early enough?!

A Few More Free Agent Signings

jason_giambi2.jpgThree new free-agent signings this week I wanted to comment on…

1. Jason Giambi is going back to the Oakland A’s.  After spending a bunch of years with the Yankees, the big man is going back to his roots.  I’ll never forget that Sports Illustrated cover (pictured above) showing the grease-ball Giambi and thinking “whoa…this guy is crazy”.  I became very jaded towards Giambi when his name kept popping up in the steroid scandals of the past decade, but I now have much more respect for him, as he is the ONLY player I can think of who has come clean.

2. Trevor Hoffman signed with the Milwaukee Brewers.  Hoffman is a no-brainer first ballot Hall of Famer, but he may be on the down-slope of his career.  By and large he’s still a pretty good closer, but he is beginning to fail a bit too often in those pressure-packed situations.

3. John Smoltz is now a member of the Boston Red Sox.  If healthy, Smoltz can dominate a game basically wherever you put him (starter, reliever, closer, etc.).  Of course, keeping him healthy is another matter entirely…

The Slippery Slope Of Steroids

romero1.jpgI found out the other day that former Minnesota Twins reliever J.C. Romero (who now plays for the Philadelphia Phillies and was instrumental to their World Series title last year) has been suspended for the first 50 games of the upcoming 2009 baseball season due to testing positive for a banned substance.

Romero’s defense is that the product (6-OXO Extreme) is readily available in most health supplement shops, and in that defense he is correct, creating a new wrinkle in the “war against steroids” in professional sports.

Though it is very difficult for me to sympathize with athletes who defend themselves after testing positive for a banned substance, there has been a rash of incidences lately in which players plead guilty and had a decent case.  Take Pat and Kevin Williams of the Minnesota Vikings, as well as Deuce McAllister and a lineman from the New Orleans Saints of the NFL.  They all faced suspensions for taking banned substances, but their defense was that they were just taking weight loss pills and the banned substance was not listed in the ingredients.  Romero is essentially saying the same thing, as he claims the substance was approved by his team-hired trainers in Philly.

Cases like these are why the steroid problem in professional sports is so hard to untangle.  On one hand, Romero could be a victim of an unscrupulous company.  On the other hand, though, he could just be using the newest defense of ‘roids (“it wasn’t on the label”) and trying to worm his way out of punishment.

Of course, the MLB Players Union supports Romero fully.

The Passing of Mr. Pohlad

 


pohlad.jpg(First of all, I apologize for using such an unflattering picture of Carl Pohlad in this post, but you will understand why I made the choice in a few moments of reading).

Yesterday, I heard the news that Minnesota Twins owner Carl Pohlad passed away from natural causes (essentially old age).  Before I critique his presence as owner of my favorite sports franchise now and forever, I would like to extend my condolences to anyone who knew Mr. Pohlad on a personal level.  From what I have gathered about the man over the years, he was very close to his family/friends/Twins staff/players, so I’m sure they are all grieving his loss right now.  Also, I cannot personally begrudge a man who served his country during World War II and, if not for a case of Poison Oak, would have hit the beach at Normandy in 1944.

However, in all honesty, I think that the Twins as an organization are better off in the hands of Carl Pohlad’s son Jim Pohlad’s hands (and have been for the last few years).  There are two reasons why I never really could throw my support behind Carlos as an owner:

First, of course, was his stinginess with his money.  Although I don’t blame Carl for trying to spend with the big boys (Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, etc.), as do you spend your personal earnings at work (?), he was notoriously one of the more penny-pinching owners of the 1980s and 1990s and severely hindered the Twins’ chances of contending any earlier than they did.  Pohlad took over ownership of the Twins in 1984, and really only had a few great seasons.  The Twins lucked out in 1987 and won the World Series, then (when Carl finally signed a few key free agents like Jack Morris and Chili Davis) put together a solid team in 1991 and again captured the title.  However, from that point until the new millennium, Carl refused to spend any money on the team and turned it into the laughingstock of the American League.  It wasn’t until the early portion of the 21st century, when Carl’s involvement in the operations of the team (because of his advancing age) started to be turned over to son Jim, that the Twins really began to aggressively pursue a winning tradition.  Before that, Carl was just completely unwilling to “open the purse strings” in the slightest.

Secondly, I lost a lot of respect for the business side of Carl Pohlad on three different occasions.  Though, on one side of his mouth, Carl said he wanted to keep the Twins in Minnesota, he came dangerously close to selling out to North Carolina businessman Don Beaver in 1997.  Then in 2002, Pohlad conspired with baseball commissioner Bud Selig to contract the Twins franchise and receive a large cash payback from MLB.  Luckily, the contraction idea was terminated at the eleventh hour and the Twins (ironically) went on to win three consecutive division titles.  Finally, just a few years after that, the Twins again came close to leaving Minnesota when they couldn’t get a new stadium.  Only a Metrodome lease kept the team grounded.

So, though I don’t want to begrudge Mr. Pohlad or his family, I don’t think he was a very good owner for the Twins when all is said and done.  The last mistake I think he made was not transferring official duties to his son, Jim, much earlier.  As pictured above, the last few years of his life were spent with his eyes seemingly “pasted” shut and an inability to even stand up.  Running a major league baseball team is a young man’s work, and Carl held out a bit too long out of pride.

I think that the Minnesota Twins, overall, are in better hands under Carl’s son Jim, who has proven himself very shrewd at balancing the financial aspect while also keeping the team competitive.

The Big Unit Moves West

rjohnson.jpgWith the Minnesota Vikings making a playoff run, I have spent most of my blogging efforts covering them.  However, I did want to keep things at least somewhat up to date with a relatively big free-agent signing.

About a week ago, Randy “Big Unit” Johnson signed a 1-year, $8 million contract with the San Francisco Giants.  Johnson is approaching 300 wins (he has 296) and 5,000 strikeouts (he has 4,789), and those milestones are likely one of the reasons he is hanging around.

Johnson, predictably due to his large stature, has struggled with various back injuries in recent years, but when he is on his game he can still be dominant and very entertaining to watch.

The Giants aren’t expected to compete in the NL West this season, so Johnson was likely brought in to mentor young pitchers Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, who are promising young stars in Frisco.

I’m glad that the Big Unit is still hanging around…he’s fun to watch!

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