Results tagged ‘ Babe Ruth ’

The Killer

Today, Minnesota Twins fans, baseball fans, and the world at large lost a hero with the passing of Harmon Killebrew at age 74 due to esophogeal cancer.

There are so many tributes to Harm floating around in cyberspace that I don’t even know where to begin.  Heck, I didn’t even see the guy play, but when EVERYONE who know says he was their hero as a child, a legend is pretty much the closest way of describing him.

I could go so many directions here, but I’ll keep it short and say this: When all is said in done, it really doesn’t matter how many home runs he hit or how many ballgames he won/lost.  Those moments may produce a lot of nostalgia, but the real reason there are a lot of misty eyes in Minnesota right now is because of the type of man Harmon was.  I’ve never heard a harsh word said about him from anyone, and he was always a model for a good, clean, simple life filled with the things and people he loved.  Referencing the “hook” of the above video tribute, I think that Harmon DID get all those letters (or at least tried!).  He also valued them deeply.

When Babe Ruth, the greatest pre-Harmon slugger, was dying of cancer (also of the throat, oddly enough), he was known to quip “The termites have got me.”  Well, sadly those same “termites” got Harm today, along with a big portion of Minnesota childhood for the baby boomers.

As far as relating this to the current Twins team that is mired in a deep slump, I remember a certain ballclub just a few years ago that turned a tragic event:

…into the inspiration for a remarkable comeback.  That team, of course, was the 2006 Twins, who (on May 17) were 9.5 GB in the division and ended up going to the playoffs.

Preview (12-27, 5th, 3.5 GB CWS): Francisco Liriano (2-5, 7.07) vs. Felix Hernandez (4-3, 3.36)

The Exception?

manny-ramirez.jpgAlright…with Manny Ramirez retiring suddenly this past week to avoid a second suspension for failing a drug test, it begs the question: HOF?

Taking steroids out of the equation, this guy is a first-ballot HOF-er.  I would argue that he was the greatest righthander hitter in baseball from 1995-2008, and one of the greatest pure hitters in baseball history.  Sure, he was a complete spaz and couldn’t field a lick, but when you hit like that it doesn’t really matter.  During the mid-1990s he and Jim Thome provided potency to the Cleveland Indians, then he and David Ortiz teamed up as perhaps the most dominant 3-4 combination since Ruth-Gehrig.  Even his stint with the Dodgers (before the first suspension that signaled the end of his career) was incredible.

Some of the career stats: .312 BA, .411 OBP, .585 SLG, .996 OPS, 2,574 H, 555 HR, 1,831 RBI.

He was always a favorite player of mine (when not tormenting Twins pitching, of course) for just his pure hitting ability.  The guy didn’t give a lick about anything, but he was blessed with the ability to hit a baseball really, really hard with surprising frequency.

Of course, much like Andy Pettitte, the steroid issue will cloud Manny’s candidacy.  Like Pettitte and, say, A-Rod, Manny is a confirmed steroid user.  That being said, he didn’t make up ridiculous stories in his defense (e.g. Barry Bonds), didn’t become a jerk about it (e.g. Roger Clemens), didn’t refuse to speak about the past (e.g. Mark McGwire), didn’t blatently deny his usage (e.g. Rafael Palmeiro), and didn’t forget how to speak English when questioned (e.g. Sammy Sosa).  Basically, he just got caught and served his time.

My feeling on the matter right now is that I would put Manny in the Hall, but not after a few years of “punishment waiting” sitting on the ballot.  Perhaps I am being too sentimental and should be harder on the guy, but at least he didn’t deny, deny, deny and make baseball look like a bunch of guys trying to pull the wool over our eyes.

Time will tell.

A-Rod 600: Make Your Own Kind Of Judgement

Last week, Alex Rodriguez hit his 600th home run:

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Was there a big hoopla over an event that, 20 years ago, would have captivated the entire sport?  No, as long as you don’t count the number of at-bats it took him to finally blast-off again.

More interesting, though, is the lack of steroid-related snipings and gripings.  Where’s the outrage at “A-Roid” joining the same club as the Say Hey kid:

willie-mays-d2.jpg To me, this indicates what the future of the Steroid Era might hold.  Instead of the outrage that accompanied the feats of McGwire, Sosa, and Clemens, now baseball fans are taking a “make your own judgement” approach to the issue.  It used to be that we wanted to re-write the record books, but now we realize that the steroid issue is so pervasive that it cannot be successfully excised.  So, we make up our own minds as to who the record holders are.

I know who mine are:

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babe_crown.jpgNot a perfect system, by far, but perhaps it will have to suffice, like a scar reminding you of an old wound that will never quite heal.

The Sad State Of Baseball Economics

mmw_baseball_101608_article.jpgAfter watching my beloved Minnesota Twins got stomped by the New York Yankees in the first round of the playoffs this past season, and then seeing Cleveland-bred C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee pitch the Yanks and Phillies into the World Series, I believe that now is the time for me to comment on the sad economic state of baseball these days.  This has always been a very hot-button topic for me (as I root for the small-market Twins), so I would like to take a few moments to explain why the current system is broken and what can be done to fix it:

Basically, the problem started way back in the 1900s, when both the American and National Leagues were first established.

mathewson-ruth-wagner-cobb-johnson.jpg Instead of free agency, there was something called the reserve clause, which was essentially a legal precedent that baseball used to keep players on one team until their owner decided differently.  The players were treated not too much different from a cattle-range steer, to be bought and sold as commodities.  It wasn’t, by any means, the greatest system in the world (as the only option a player had to fight against an unfair salary, which were very common in those days when most owners made Carl Pohlad look like the Monopoly Guy, was to quit playing altogether), but it did help the competitive balance of the game, allowing all teams (if managed/owned sensibly) to have a shot at competing for a championship.

That all changed in the 1970s when Curt Flood of the St. Louis Cardinals challenged the reserve clause all the way to the Supreme Court.

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Though Flood didn’t actually win his case, he shed so much light on the matter that a free agency sytem was quickly established by MLB. During the 1980s, the system actually worked like it was supposed to…players had better rights, AND the game was still competitive.  But, starting in the mid-1990s, salaries began exploding (along with the economy) and suddenly the system was skewered.  Teams in huge economic markets like New York, Los Angeles, and Boston were able to throw huge wads of cash in the pockets of all the top free agents, all but assuring there services.  Sometimes, in the case of Ted Turner’s Atlanta Braves, all it took was an incredibly rich owner to give a team a distinct advantage.

Those big markets had (and continue to have) such an advantage for a few different reasons: First and foremost is the fact that, just by sheer geography, a team like the Yankees can much more easily fill their ballpark every night than, say, the Twins can out here in Minny.  Also, teams on both coasts have established their own TV networks (YES Network for the Yankees and NESN for the Red Sox), which bring in enormous profits compared to what the Twins get from Fox Sports North.

After about ten years of this broken system, when the same teams started making the playoffs year in and year out, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig established the “luxury tax” system into the game.  Essentially, this is known as the Robin Hood system, as it robs from the rich to give to the poor.

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This has helped a little bit (e.g. the Twins signed Justin Morneau to a long-term deal and have at least a shot at doing the same with Joe Mauer), but it din’t get to the root of the problem, as teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, and Mets can continue to reach into their deep pockets to get the best players.  Essentially, they are saying “luxury tax be damned” and just paying the fine for going over the payroll limit.  This is evidenced very toughly for Twins fans by these two photos:

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johan-santana.jpgThe Twins gave very decent offers to both Torii Hunter and Johan Santana, but couldn’t come close to matching the amount of years the Halos offered Hunter or the sheer dollar amount the Mets dangled in front of Santana.  Another obvious example was the beginning of this season, when the Yankees went out and got C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, while the biggest moves the Twins made was signing Nick Punto, bringing in R.A. Dickey (what a joke) and getting a Joe Crede whose back was so bad that he essentially a non-factor.  Those “moves” were all we could afford.  Imagine how different the 2009 ALDS might have been if Hunter had been patrolling the outfield instead of Delmon Young, or if Santana had made the Game One start instead of Brian Duensing.

Now, to be fair, there are some criticisms of instituting a salary cap into MLB, but I would like to give my rebuttal to two of them:

1. Why should the Yankees be penalized for running an efficent system?  It seems as if Yankee fans could just criticize Carl Pohlad for being a tightwad all those years and not spending money to improve his team, but that really isn’t a fair criticism.  First of all, George Steinbrenner isn’t really spending much (if any) of his OWN MONEY on the Yankees, instead relying on seemingly endless revenue streams based on his sheer geography.  Without those streams, other owners (like the Pohlad family) would be dipping into their own personal reserves, which would be like you paying for your office supplies/furnishings or me paying for Wal-Mart shelf labels. 

Secondly, then, is that if teams know they can’t spend with the Yankees, then why even try?  The Twins know that, under the current economic system, they are already beaten in trying to sign free agents, so instead we save our money to try and lock up as many of our good players as possible (which, in this age of inflated salaries, is fewer and fewer each season).

2. The second criticism of the the salary cap is that it really isn’t needed, due to the fact that the 1998-2000 championship run of the Yankees was accomplished primarily with home-grown players like Derek Jeter, Jorge Posade, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera.

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That may be true, but funny how those great players STILL WEAR YANKEE PINSTRIPES! Instead of losing those great players to a higher bidder, the Yanks can just keep them.  Plus, whether the free agents work out (Jimmy Key, Paul O’Neill, Johnny Damon, Sabathia, etc.) or flop (Kevin Brown, Chuck Knoblauch, Carl Pavano), the Yanks can just “pay through” and be done with it.  If the Twins make a mistake in signing the wrong player to an expensive contract, it would hamper the organization for a decade.

Thus, until MLB institutes a salary cap like the NFL and NBA (to a certain extent) have in place, the economics of the game will remain skewered towards the large markets, and that severely troubles me.  I consider baseball to be my favorite sport, the one that captivated me as a child and still does to this day, but right now the NFL is gaining ground and fast due to the fact that in the NFL setup, all teams have a chance to be competitive.  It is only through bad ownership (Al Davis, Matt Millen, etc.) that teams completely fail.

I know that this situation isn’t likely to change anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean that it is right or correct.  Until Bud Selig can take charge of the National Pastime like he should and not just cater to the owners, the Yankees will continue to unfairly dominate the Twins for years and years to come.

Why We Lost, Theory #2: We Were Overmatched From The Start

yankeesboard06.jpgIn the previous post, I made the point that the Twins have nobody to blame but themselves for the ALDS sweep at the hands of the Yankees. But is this really true?

This is kind of a touchy issue, at least for me, as it implies that the Twins (or any small-market “David” vs. a big-market “Goliath”) really never have much of a chance to compete against the “big boys” of the league.

Any competant baseball fan knows that the economic system of the game is messed up due to the fact that no salary cap is in place.  Teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, and Angels (in the American League) have such a huge advantage over the Twins and Royals of the world that its a wonder any other team ever represents the league in the World Series (I guess that is the crapshoot of a playoff structure that features a 3-of-5 first round).  Sure, Bud Selig’s supposedly brilliant luxury tax system (where, much like Robin Hood, the league robs from the rich to give to the poor) helps a little bit, but in reality all it ends up doing is narrowing the free agent pool each year (as the middle-market teams are able to lock up a few key players to long-term deals).  It most definetly, however, does not prevent teams like the Yankees from nabbing the best free agents year after year (case in point: C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett brought in before the start of this season).  The Twins could never have dreamed of signing guys like that.

Of course, baseball will likely never changed (at least not with Selig at the helm), as the success of the Yanks, Sawx, and Halos fuels the revenue machine, especially in the World Series.  Though it might provide some sanctity back into the game, nobody wants to see the Twins and Athletics, to use two examples, duking it out in the ALCS.  If the MLB execs had it their way, it would be New York and Boston every single year.

The whole situation kind of reminds me of the infamous “You can’t handle the truth” speech from the movie A Few Good Men:

“My existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives…You don’t want the truth. Because deep down, in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall. You need me on that wall.”

While more parity would be great for baseball, it will never happen because admittedly it would weaken the short-term (until new rivalries are formed, at least) revenue stream of the league.

Thus, can the Twins even be expected to compete with the Yankees in any series?  They have Sabathia and Burnett, we have Baker and Blackburn.  They have the best middle of an order (Teixera, A-Rod, Matsui) since Ruth, Gehrig, and Lazzeri batted consecutively, while we have one stud (Mauer) and two others (Kubel, Cuddyer) that are by and large overmatched by quality pitching.  They have guys like Melky Cabrera and Robinson Cano at the BOTTOM of the order, while we have Carlos Gomez, Nick Punto, and Jose Morales because they are all we can afford.  They can throw arms like Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes at us, while he have Matt Guerrier and Jose Mijares.  No comparison.

So, those are the two theories as to why our beloved Twins were brutalized by the hated Yanks.  Which one is more valid?  I think it is a mixture of both.  The Twins would need to play a perfect series to even give themselves a chance to beat the Yankees, and instead we choked in every big opportunity.

Thoughts From The First Two Games

A few random thoughts from the first two games of the current Twins-Tigers series:

-Though going 16 innings and losing is bad enough for players and fans alike, I really can’t pin the blame on anyone in particular.  The Tiger bullpen was just throwing gas, and the Twins’ batters were (by and large) having decent at-bats.  They just couldn’t string enough hits together to get that elusive run across the plate.

-The Twins showed a little moxie today after Liriano gave up the big fly to Magglio Ordonez to give the pinstriped ones their short-lived lead.  In a game that needed to be won, the Twins came up with some clutch at-bats and were able to get the job done.  Now, we just need to take care of business tomorrow and things will be okay again.

-I never like to see a pitcher like Kevin Slowey go on the disabled list, but hopefully this will give him some time to either: A. get his wrist checked out, or B. get his mind right and back in that groove he had been in until a week or so ago.  Swarzak can probably fill in decently for Slowey, but we need Kevin back to his Brad Radke-esque form, where he can pitched deep into games and always give us a chance to win.

-I really think that Denard Span and Carlos Gomez need to stop fighting over outfield assists.  Eventually there is going to be a nasty train-wreck out there if they don’t get on the same page.  I think the problem is that both players, being center fielders by natural position, are used to calling off all other fielders (usually the CF’s perogative) to catch the ball.  However, Span is playing out in left alot recently, and in the back of his mind he probably knows that Gomez doesn’t take the best routes to balls but will scream for the catch anyway.

-Former Cubbie star Mark Grace was showing some serious love for the M&M boys today in the FOX TV broadcast.  Well-deserved, too, as they contributed to most of the scoring.  I look forward to watching them in the All-Star Game (which the roster for will be released tomorrow, by the way).

-Finally, today’s Fourth of July holiday also marks the 70th anniversary of Lou Gehrig giving what is now famously known as his ‘Luckiest Man” speech.  I know that the Iron Horse was second-banana to The Babe for so many years, but in that moment he showed what was truly in his heart all that time…kindness, gentleness, yet a competitive spirit that made him choked up over being taken out of a lineup when he was actually dying.  It still gives me goosebumps every time I see it.  Greatest first baseman of all-time?  Yes.  Is there really any other serious competition?!

-Of course, for a little lighter holiday fare, you could check out the annual SciFi Channel Twilight Zone marathon.  Still a creepy show all these years later!

Preview (42-40, 2nd, 0.5 GB CWS for 2nd): Rick Porcello (8-5, 3.90) vs. Nick Blackburn (6-4, 3.10).  Need to win this series…that is all.

Say It Ain’t So, Joe…

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Well, to put it simply, I was duped…hook, line, and sinker.  During this entire offseason, all Twins fans kept hearing the reports about how Joe Mauer had some sort of kidney problem that required surgery, but that he should (key word) be fine for Opening Day 2009.  Over the course of the past few days, however, it has become painfully (for both Mauer and his fans) obvious that he will not be in the Opening Day lineup come April 6.  In fact, no timetable has even been set for his return, which is a bit scary.

From the very beginning, the entire Mauer situation has been shrouded in mystery, some of which still remains unknown.  All we were told early-on is that Mauer had surgery on his kidney, yet (after talking with my Dad, a doctor) there aren’t too many things besides kidney stones or tumors that need to be surgically dealt with on a kidney.  Plus, the extent of Mauer’s pain was not nearly known until just recently, when it was announced that he has inflamation in his right sacroiliac joint, which I guess is basically where the bottom of the spine meets the top of the pelvis.  Why that information wasn’t released sooner is beyond me.

What I guess I find so interesting about this whole thing is how it harkens back to the old days of reporters covering for baseball players.  For example, Babe Ruth went out and got himself a venereal disease and writers said he just had a “bellyache” from eating too many hot dogs and drinking too many beers.  Now, in no way am I saying that the MN Twins and related media are covering up some sort of indescretion on Mauer’s part, but they are protecting him from the media scrutiny, perhaps to not perpetuate his reputation as “weak” or “injury-prone”.

Personally, I would have like to have seen the Twins be a little more honest about the whole affair.  Sure, some people will criticize Mauer for being injury-prone, but those people are idiots, by and large, as injuries are something that really can’t be controlled.  Instead, why not just level with us and move on from there?

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