Results tagged ‘ Jack Morris ’

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 Hate Roller Coasters

Since the time I rode my first rollercoaster (and got off jelly-legged, terrified, and feeling lucky to be alive…I know, I might be a wimp), I have hated them. One time on the Discovery Channel, I heard that some people’s physiology are actually adverse to large drops, and I truly believe I am that sort of person. Thus, can you imagine my emotional state after this Twins/Tigers series?! I completely gave up on the Twins after the first game, put the foot in the mouth in the next, and after today (although I wasn’t able to watch) I really don’t know what to think.

ecc388b7-3d89-4582-b1f9-bb13a205c434.jpgYeah, you better hang your head when you walk back to that mound, Mr. Baker. Even with guys like Delmon Young, Jesse Crain, and Alexi Casilla on the team, YOU are my choice for “most disappointing Twin” this season. For the past two seasons, you have shown flashes of ace-like stuff out on the mound, but this year you started off in the tank and haven’t found the surface yet. At this point (including the six runs in just over four innings you allowed today) I do not see much hope that you will ever develop into a serviceable “3-4″ starter, much less an ace. I wonder if Baker doesn’t have the same problem that this guy once did…
8418_feature.jpgIn 1991, Scott Erickson won 20 games for the Twins and, statistically, was the best pitcher on the staff. However, Erickson (basically coming out of nowhere) was able to play second-fiddle to veterans such as Jack Morris and Kevin Tapani. Once Scotty became the proclaimed “ace”, though, he fell off the precipice. By 1993 he almost LOST 20 games, and never really became an effective pitcher again after that. I hope that Baker isn’t going down that same path, but so far the tracks are in step with each other.

Preview (54-57, 3rd, 2.5 GB CWS): Kyle Davies (3-8, 6.37) vs. Nick Blackburn (8-6, 3.79). Off tomorrow, back home Tuesday.

3 Up…or 3 Down?

andersoncallingbullpen-739405.jpgI will be very busy in the upcoming days leading up to the Minnesota Twins’ Opening Day on April 6th, so I just wanted to post a few season-preview thoughts before the regular season campaign kicks off.

The way I see it, there are three areas in which the Twins need to excel this season in order to win the division crown.  In all honesty, these areas are pretty much the same for all other teams as well, but the Twins have their own unique challenges:

1. First, the starting pitching quintet of Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano, Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn, and Glen Perkins needs to continue to keep the team in games.  This is the most important cog in the machine, as if the quality starts keep pouring in the Twins will at the very least compete no matter how bad the bullpen or offense stinks.  The old baseball adage that “good pitching beats good hitting” holds as true now as it always has.  I mean, if say Johan Santana faced no one but Ichiro Suzuki all season long, the very best that Ichiro could do is get a hit four times in every ten at-bats.  Thus, the starting rotation is the anchor of every staff, and the Twins’ staff is still a bit of a question mark:

Baker: Has ace-type repertoire but struggles to pitch into the later innings.  Is usually up around 100 pitches by the fifth inning or so, putting a strain on the bullpen.

Cisco: Could dominate, could fall apart due to control issues.

Slowey: This is the guy I think is poised for a huge season.  He is essentially the second coming of Brad Radke, only with a better assortment of pitches.  Just needs to work on limiting damaging situations, as they tend to snow-ball on him pretty quick.

Blackie: As a play-to-contact, ground ball sort of pitcher, Blackburn walks the fine line between Carlos Silva and Jack Morris.  On some days he can be the most frustrating guy in the world to drive the ball off of, while on other days he gets lit up.

Perkins: The great unknown.  Was very up-and-down last season…showed flashes of both excellence and utter failure.

So, the extent to which that rotation comes together is the biggest factor in how the Twins will finish in the standings in 2009.

2. The bullpen, however, isn’t far behind.  Whereas I am confident that the starting five can find a way to hold up their end of the bargain, I’m not nearly as sold on the bullpen, which looks to include:

Joe Nathan: The only sure-bet of the bunch.  Will blow a few (who doesn’t…well, besides Brad Lidge last year), but let’s just say that a “down” year would be an ERA over 2.00.

Jesse Crain: Pretty much the root of all frustration in the world. Was overhyped even when he was good, but does have a glimmer of hope in that now is arm is finally “back” after having surgery a while back.

Matt Guerrier: Will have to prove that last year’s collapse WAS just a fluke (or due to fatigue), not because batters just figured him out.

Craig Breslow: The lefty-lefty specialist.  Will likely do a good job, and is an upgrade over Dennis “Throw One WP And Leave The Game” Reyes.

Luis Ayala: Don’t know much about his guy, only that he came from the Nats (not a good sign) and struggled mightily last year.  Has potential…but so did Mike Fetters.

The final bullpen spot, thought to be filled by Jose Mijares until he came to camp looking like Hideki Irabu, is now up for grabs between newcomer Brian Duensing, Philip Humber (obtained in the Santana trade), and R.A. Dickey, a knuckleballer.

All in all, that is not a very impressive bunch.  Like I said, Nathan is solid, but getting to him will be the difficult part.  Someone is going to have to step up and become the eighth inning man that guys like LaTroy Hawkins and Juan Rincon were in the past.

3. Finally, I would like to quickly comment on the Twins’ offense.  Here is a sample lineup that the Twins could trot out on a semi-day basis:

Denard Span, Alexi Casilla, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Joe Crede, Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer, Delmon Young, Nick Punto.

Essentially, it would likely be the best starting lineup the Twins have had in quite some time (plus Carlos Gomez off the bench).  However, I am very wary of predicting a high offensive turnout from this bunch, as it so rarely happens up here in MN.  It seems as if the Twins are much better at developing pitchers than hitters (perhaps due to the small-ball philosophy that reins hitters in instead of turning them loose?), so even a lineup that looks rock-solid can quickly turn gooey.  Actually, I think the biggest positive this season, as opposed to ’06 or ’08, is that no old fogeys are being counted on to produce.  The days of experimenting with guys like Tony Batista, Rondell White, Mike Lamb, and (cringe) even Bret Boone seem to be behind the Twins, with the lineup now given over completely to the young veterans and just youngsters period.

So there you have it…how the Twins perform in those three areas will go very far in determining their division standings come October.  Hopefully before the season begins I will post an article about my divisional predictions for MLB (if it ever stops snowing here to allow the mail through!).

A Schilling For Your Thoughts?!

curt-schilling.jpgWith the recent retirement of Curt Schilling, there inevitably comes the question of whether or not he is Hall of Fame worthy.  To me, Schilling is one of those guys knocking on the door, but not quite good enough to get in.  I was watching Baseball Tonight the other day and they listed some pitchers (Bert Blyleven, for example) that have good stats but aren’t in the Hall.  However, the name that most intrigued me was Jack Morris, whom I feel had a career very similar to Schilling.  Both won three World Championships, both were great pitchers, but neither really dominated their respective eras or put up really gaudy numbers.  The stat lines for both guys read as follows:

Schilling: 216-146, 83 CG, 20 SO, 3,116 K, three times second in Cy Young voting

Morris: 254-186, 175 CG, 28 SO, 2,478 K, twice was third in Cy Young voting

Though I will always have fond memories of Morris (Game Seven, 1991) and was enraptured by Schilling’s incredible pitching performances in 2001 (World Series Co-MVP with Randy Johnson) and 2004 (bloody sock), I don’t think either of those two are Hall worthy.  Actually, I think that Morris probably has a better case, though Schilling may get many votes right off the bat for playing out East.

So, like I said, I truly believe that Curt Schilling was a great pitcher (at times unhittable), but I don’t think he had the sort of career that gets one into Cooperstown.  His Co-MVP trophy and bloody sock should have their own display, though!

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.

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 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.

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