Results tagged ‘ Greg Maddux ’

Thanks For The Memories


dome6.jpgDuring the early goings of September of the 2009 Twins baseball season, it looked as if game number 162 (the contest that typically ends the MLB season unless you happen to play in the Midwest) would be a great remembrance of all the baseball that the Metrodome had produced before giving way to Target Field next season.  A post-game ceremony down on the field after that game was both parts touching and entertaining, but there was just one problem…the old Dome wasn’t done; it would go on to host two more games!

Thus, it never really felt as if the Metrodome got that proper sense of ending as maybe it should have…that moment when you just look around and soak it all in.  Obviously, with the New York Yankees celebrating, it wasn’t the time for that feeling.  That is why I would now like to relive my favorite moments of being at the Dome.  Perhaps you will remember some of these as well:

-1990: My first memory of the Dome recalls seeing Kirby Puckett being given the Silver Slugger award for winning the batting title the previous year.  While going through the turnstiles that day, I got a black bat “signed” by Puck that I believe I still have stashed away to this day.

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-1991: Though most fans may only remember the ’91 seaons for Puckett’s Game Six and Black Jack’s Game Seven, there was also quite a heated race (at least for awhile) with the Oakland A’s.  Back then, when both teams were part of the AL West division, the A’s were the powerhouse team of the circuit.  They came into a summer series at the Dome and jumped way ahead of the Twins in every game thanks to the power of guys like Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, and Dave Henderson (looking back, can you imagine all the steroids coursing through those veins?).  However, the Twins scrapped back in every game and won them all.  I was lucky enough to be at the one that everyone remembers, where the Twins rallied against Dennis Eckersley (the Mariano Rivera of his day) on a triple from Chili Davis that RF Canseco played like a pin-ball down in the corner.  As Jose was bouncing around, a fan overhanging right field chucked an unravelling roll of toilet paper down onto the field, only adding to the mayhem!

 
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-1996-2000: I really began following the Twins with a passion in ’96, but from then until ’00 the Twins were perennial cellar-dwellers. Not to be deterred, though, my Dad and I would still get down to the Dome a few times each year to watch guys like Bob Tewksbury, Pat Mahomes, Brent Gates, Rich Becker, and Scott Stahoviak (among others) battle to not lose 100 games.  I didn’t seem to care about the futility, I guess, as I still root-root-rooted for the home team with all I had.  The attendance was so poor during those years that one could (and we often did) guy a cheap ticket and move right up behind the infield.  Believe it or not, there were no users to stop people!

A more specific game from that time period involves a field trip with my sixth grade class.  My exact recollection of the event is understandably a bit hazy, but the Twins were facing Pedro Martinez and the Red Sox.  The game went into extra innings, the Twins loaded the bases with no outs, but then two guys (one of which I’m positive was Terry Steinbach) struck out.  The next batter then singled to win the game (I want to say it was Pat Meares, but I could be wrong).

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-2002: Fifteen innings of baseball against the Atlanta Braves.  Bobby Cox got tossed in the first inning, the Twins roughed up Greg Maddux, and Christian Guzman’s double off the baggy scored Tom Prince (pictured above) to win it.  Once you do the fourteenth-inning stretch, you never forget it!

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-2002: With the Twins already having locked up the division title, they hosted the beaten White Sox to close out the season.  I was at the final two games, both won by dramatic, late-inning home runs from Bobby Kielty.

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-2008: With the Twins needing to sweep the White Sox in the final homestand to stay in the playoff race, they do just that.  I was at all three thrillers, but of course momst remember the final contest when the Twins fell behind early but clawed back into it thanks to a dramatic triple from Denard Span.  A walk-off hit from Alexi Casilla sealed it in extra innings.

So, those are my fondest, brightest memories of the Metrodome.  Though many malign it as a dump and unfit for the National Pastime, it is the only home turf I have ever seen the Twins play on, and no one can take that from me.  Though Target Field may prove to be a rousing success (or a miserable failure, whatever the case may be), it will always be the Dome that holds my childhood baseball nostalgia.

I Think I’m Gettin’ Old

Two hot topics circulating the baseball newswires (especially Baseball Tonight!) right now are really making me feel old…

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First is the notion that no team will sign Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez because he is too old and his skills are declining.  I remember that during Pudge’s prime, he was so good defensively that teams just stopped running against him altogether.  Plus, at least while in Texas, he was ALWAYS good for a .300 average (if not much higher) and 30 home runs.  All told, he could probably challenge the old notion of Johnny Bench being the greatest backstop of all time.  Now no teams want him?!  Heck, if Joe Mauer ever got hurt for an extended period of time, I would take Rodriguez in a heartbeat.

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Secondly, can you believe that Pedro Martinez is not on a major league baseball team right now?!  I know that his “heater” only tops out around 90 mph (if that) these days and his chances of making it through an entire season are slim, but c’mon…it’s Pedro!  An interesting conversation-starter that I like to pose to fellow baseball fans around my age (23) is this: If your team needed to win one game, which pitcher (in his prime) would you want on the mound: Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, or Pedro Martinez?  For me, the answer was always Pedro, as his late 1990s seasons were the stuff of legends.  As long as I live, I will never forget watching Pedro strike out Barry Larkin, Larry Walker, Sammy Sosa, and Mark McGwire in the 1999 All-Star Game in his Carl Hubbell impersonation.

I guess what this means is that, if I were a GM, I would be the type that allows the old guys to hang on a bit too far past their prime.  But seriously…let’s say for a second that the Twins picked up Martinez on a whim.  In Game Seven of the hypothetical World Series, who would you want on the mound…him or Scott Baker (no disrespect to Scotty)?  I thought so.

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.

“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.

My Favorite Pitcher Of All-Time Says Goodbye

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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.

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