Results tagged ‘ University Register ’

Watch Out Hall…Here Comes Bert!

First off, congratulations to Roberto Alomar…

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…a very deserving HOF inductee. Alomar was the top second baseman for almost the entire 1990s decade, and could do it all (defense, speed, average, some power).

But, being a Twins fan, I was much more excited to see that this guy…

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…finally got in!!  After years of circling others, Bert Blyleven finally got circled himself where it counted…on the Hall of Fame ballot!

In other posts, I’ve recounted why Bert should be in the Hall (many obvious reasons…just look at the stats, really).  So for now, I would just like to bask in the moment.

A few years ago, while writing for the University Register campus newspaper of the University of Minnesota-Morris, I penned a little tribute for Bert that I would like to share here.  It’s a bit long, yes, but I think it really sums up my feelings about Bert and why I think he deserves to be enshrined.

Heck, this might even mean a trip to Cooperstown this summer…you never know!

The article:

Circle Me Bert

            …the accounts and descriptions of this game may not be disseminated without the expressed written consent of the Minnesota Twins.  During his eleven-year tenure as TV broadcaster for the Minnesota Twins, Bert Blyleven has almost become more famous for that statement than for his prowess as a former All-Star pitcher.  For Twins fans of the current generation, his first name might as well be “Circle Me.”  Injecting his passion for baseball and knowledge of the game into every broadcast, Bert has created a sort of cult following in Minnesota. 

Yet, Bert’s career is somewhat of an enigma.  He has Hall of Fame stats, but is not in the Hall of Fame.  His crazy antics labeled him as a goofball, but he has an extraordinary knowledge of the game.  It begs the question: Who is the real Bert Blyleven?  For younger fans, prepare to learn a little more about your birthday-celebrating, telestrator-hogging broadcaster.  For the seasoned viewers, you can reminisce about that knee-buckling curveball and tongue curling up at the edge of his mouth…

In 1951, Jenny and Johannes Blijleven emigrated from the Netherlands (Holland, to be exact) to the United States with their son Rik Aalbert.  Living in Garden Grove, CA, with his four sisters and two brothers, young “Bert” was introduced to the game of baseball by his father, who took Bert to see Sandy Koufax pitch for the Dodgers.  Enamored with baseball, Bert starred on the Santiago High School baseball team, also running cross country to build up his stamina and leg strength.  In 1969, he was drafted straight out of high school by the Minnesota Twins, where after only 21 minor league starts he found himself called up to the majors at age 19.  Prophetically, the first batter he faced, Lee May, hit a home run.

Blyleven recovered nicely from that first batter, though, and won at least ten games from 1970-1975 with the Twins.  In 1973 he was 20-17, pitching a remarkable 325 innings, 25 complete games, nine shutouts, and posting a 2.52 ERA.  It was with the Twins that Bert perfected his master weapon…the curveball.  Taught to him by Twins scout Jesse Flores and former pitcher Ed Roebuck, Blyleven’s curve was widely regarded as the best in baseball.  Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson once said, “It (his curveball) was nasty, I’ll tell you that. Enough to make your knees buckle.”  Blyleven himself claims his curveball was the result of abnormally long fingers.  Blyleven’s personal catcher in Minnesota, Phil Roof, recalls that Bert spun his curve so hard you could hear his fingers snap together when he released it.

Not only did Blyleven posses a nasty curveball, but hitters couldn’t knock him out of a game very often.  From 1971-1976, he never pitched fewer than 275 innings a season and averaged over eight innings per start.  As one of the last work-horse pitchers in baseball history, his philosophy towards each start was as follows: “These pitch counts,” he once said, “Everybody’s counting to 100. I’m still waiting for that first guy to blow up when he throws that 101st pitch.”

However, those Twins teams of the early 1970s were nothing more than aging remnants of past pennants, going 488-471 during Bert’s first six seasons.  Struggling with terrible run support, Blyleven’s career record to that point was 108-101.  He was averaging 18 wins a season, but because he played on “.500 at best” teams he was also averaging 17 losses.  After years of constant frustration, Bert was traded to the Texas Rangers in 1976.

From 1976 until 1985, Bert spent time with the Rangers, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Cleveland Indians.  He won a World Series championship with Pittsburgh in 1979, but was once again mostly relegated to sub-par teams, skewing his statistics even further, though he threw a no-hitter in 1977 and was a Cy-Young contender in 1984.  In 1986, as part of the first four-team trade in baseball history, Bert was sent back to Minnesota.

By this time, after spending 15 seasons in the major leagues, Blyleven had gained a reputation for something other than his curveball…his clubhouse pranks.  Known as a player willing to stop at nothing for a practical joke, Bert’s most popular trick was crawling under the dugout bench (braving the years of tobacco stains and gum wads) to light teammates’ shoelaces on fire (only after tying them together, of course).  On one occasion at Seattle’s Kingdom, Blyleven found a crawlspace under the bleachers and used it to set fire to the opposing bullpen via some alcohol and a match.  Another time, Bert had a little fun with Twins trainer Dick Martin.  Bert took Martin’s toothbrush, rubbed it over his own posterior region a few times, and put it back.  When Martin went to brush his teeth, he couldn’t understand why the entire clubhouse was cracking up.  While those pranks (along with the obligatory shaving cream pie during a TV interview, mooning the photographer during the team picture, or stealing pairs of pants from random lockers) may have been considered crude to the outside world, in the jocular major league baseball clubhouse they were an excellent way to break the tension of a long, 162-game season and have a little fun.

Blyleven started his second tenure with the Twins in 1986 with a rather dubious distinction: giving up 50 home runs in a single season, the most in history.  The next year, 1987, he did a little better, giving up only 46.  “The year I gave up 50, I think 42 were solo,” Blyleven later recalled to his defense, “One time I gave up five in one game, but we won, 11-7!”  Of course, the Twins did win the World Series in 1987, so Bert was exonerated.

After a final season with the Twins, Bert closed out his career with the California Angels.  He put together a final solid season in 1989 (winning the Comeback Player of the Year Award after a terrible ’88), but had his career screech to a halt by a torn rotator cuff in 1991.

Upon his retirement, Bert Blyleven had put together an impressive resume of career achievements: 287 wins (25th all-time)…3.31 career ERA…4,970 innings pitched (13th all-time)…3,701 strikeouts (5th all-time)…242 complete games…60 shutouts (9th all-time)…one of only three MLB pitchers to win a game before his 20th birthday and after his 40th birthday.  While those numbers would suggest a ready-punched ticket to Cooperstown, the Hall has not called.  Whether it be Bert’s lack of an impressive winning percentage, appearances on sub-par teams, or inability to stick with one team for a prolonged period of time (none of which he could control), Hall of Fame voters have kept him out.

In 1996, Bert Blyleven became the full-time “color man” of the Twins’ TV broadcasting crew, paired with Dick Bremer’s play-by-play.  While at first the duo struggled with adapting to each other’s strong opinions about baseball strategy, they have now managed to create the exciting chemistry you tune in each night.

The last few years, Bert has become famous for his circles.  It is my hope that the sports writers of America will do the same, by circling his name on the Hall of Fame ballot.  I would…and not just because I value my shoelaces, either.

 

Thanks, MLBlogs!

thanks.gifIn the spirit of Thanksgiving, I wanted to say a big “thank-you!” to the MLBlogs community for featuring me on your front page.

Like I say in the blog description, I started this blog because, after graduating college in 2008 and thus no longer being able to write for the University Register campus paper at UMM (University of Minnesota-Morris), I still wanted a sportswriting “outlet”.

I don’t do it to vent (or at least I TRY not to…!), but just because I like the Twins (and baseball in general) and think people might find a little enjoyment in the words I put into a blank text box.

I also write Amazon.com reviews, and one person on that site once said that there are three parts of any experience: the build-up, the event, and the reflection.  With baseball, all those three things are readily apparent, and I try to balance my comments equally between the three.  Some people skip the first and third steps to focus on the event, while others just cut out the reflection and shut the mind down when the primary experience ends.  I savor that reflection and try to be honest in my assessments of what I feel to be the “truth” about baseball and the Twins

So again, thanks for the honor, and keep reading if it strikes your fancy.  I’ll try to hold up my end of the bargain as well!

A Much-Needed Victory

9260ad8b-1ca6-4191-a21d-329a7ce2e299.jpgIf you read my blog post last night, it was pretty obvious that I was angry at the way the Twins (despite picking up the victory) let the game end on Tuesday night.  Thus, I was very glad to see Liriano pitch a good game tonight, as well as the bats coming alive in the late innings (when was the last time THAT happened on the road?!) to get the ball to Joe Nathan in an opposing stadium.

I always just want to add tonight that, no matter what happens the rest of this season, I will be pulling for the Twins all the way.  That sounds like an incredibly obvious thing to say, but it seems as if a lot of negativity has been floating around the Twins this season.  Whether it is hating on the bullpen, the Baker/Liriano early-season disaster, or a few batsmen (Delmon Young, Brian Buscher, etc.), there hasn’t been a whole of positivity so far into the ’09 season.  Though all those areas are ripe for criticism, I think that sometimes we all need (including myself) to remember that this really is just a game.  It’s like little league…you play your heart out on the field, but once the final out is recorded you don’t take it with you whether win or loss.

A few years ago, while writing for the University of Minnesota-Morris campus newspaper, The University Register, I wrote an article entitled “Why We Watch Baseball”.  I would like to copy that into this blog post, as I think it really rings true this season:

Why We Watch Baseball

-With those who don’t give a (hoot) about sports, I can only sympathize.  I do not resent them.  I am even willing to concede that many of them are physically clean, good to their mothers and in favor of world peace.  But while the game is on, I can’t think of anything to say to them. (Art Hill)

If a woman has to choose between catching a fly ball and saving an infant’s life, she will choose to save the infant’s life without even considering if there are men on base. (Dave Barry)…A couple of months ago, a friend of my sister happened to be over at my family’s home for dinner.  This being summer time, my nightly ritual of watching the Twins game was about to commence.  After the meal, she plopped down on the coach next to me and asked: Why do you like watching baseball?  Not being mentally prepared for that kind of question, I gave the typical male answer: “Grunt…Because it’s better than shopping…grunt”.  However, that was not good enough for her inquisitive mind, as she launched into a lecture of how professional sports mean absolutely nothing.  As she mentioned something about starving people in Africa, I realized that I had nothing (at that time) to refute her claims.  The games themselves do mean nothing in the grand context of history and there are more important endeavors in life than stealing second base.  So, why do we watch baseball?  The following argument could be applied to all professional sports, but I am going to keep it confined to a baseball context.

I see great things in baseball.  It’s our game – the American game.  It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism.  Tends to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set. (Walt Whitman)…A young boy idolizes his dad and wants to do everything with him.  The dad, a big baseball fan, teaches his son about the game.  They play whiffle ball in the back yard, watch Twins games together, and talk to each other about the game.  Political events have no bearing on the young boy’s life at this time, but baseball does.  Through the sport of baseball they are able to form a common bond that will last the rest of their lives, through good times and bad. 

Say this much for big league baseball – it is beyond question the greatest conversation piece ever invented in America. (Bruce Catton)…The same boy has a grandfather who is 84 years old.  The grandpa lived through the Great Depression, spent his childhood working on a farm, and served his country during World War II.  The boy grew up playing video games, reading science fiction novels, and the closest he ever came to a battlefield was Risk or Fort Apache.  The binding factor between the two–baseball.  While each came from completely different backgrounds and ideologies, making communication with each other difficult, the love of sports provided a bond.  They may not be able to bridge the generation gap, but it is easy to debate the merits of Johan Santana versus Dizzy Dean (the grandfather’s favorite pitcher as a child) or how Rogers Hornsby (star player of the 1920’s and 30’s) would have fared against today’s pitchers.

Baseball, it is said, is only a game.  True.  And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona. (George F. Will)…Now that same boy has left home for college.  He finds the transition difficult, but smoothened by one thing–baseball.  Getting through the day might be a struggle, but at night he can watch the Twins on TV or listen to John Gordon bring the game alive on the radio.  The games relax him and give him something other than school to think about.  After a while his spirits raise and he is able to do much better in his classes.

People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball.  I’ll tell you what I do.  I stare out the window and wait for spring. (Rogers Hornsby)…At the beginning of his second semester of college, the boy is feeling lonely again.  Spring will be coming soon and he feels trapped, away from his family or anyone to talk to.  He begins writing for the school newspaper–sports, of course.  This gives him something creative to do and a way to meet new people.  He becomes motivated to make himself more physically fit, letting the Twins take his mind off the treadmill he pounds every night.

             Most people are in a factory from nine till five.  Their job may be to turn out 263 little circles.  At the end of the week they’re three short and somebody has a go at them.  On Saturday afternoons they deserve something to go and shout about. (Rodney Marsh)…When the boy goes home on weekends, the last thing he wants to do is talk about the hard week of studying that has transpired.  He is tired from the week and wants to relax with his family.  What a better opportunity than a baseball game?  Whether it means making the trip to the Metrodome or watching on TV, baseball allows the boy to unwind before another tough week.  It transports him (for a few hours at least) into a world where the concerns of real-life seem to melt away.

            Don’t tell me about the world.  Not today.  It’s springtime and they’re knocking a baseball around fields where the grass is damp and green in the morning and the kids are trying to hit the curve ball. (Pete Hamill)… The boy has now passed his love of baseball on to his two younger brothers.  They play in Little League over the summer, as well as endless games of the MVP Baseball 2005 video game.  Once school starts again, emails are sent back and forth about favorite baseball teams and players.

            I don’t love baseball.  I don’t love most of today’s players.  I don’t love the owners.  I do love, however, the baseball that is in the heads of baseball fans.  I love the dreams of glory of 10-year-olds, the reminiscences of 70-year-olds.  The greatest baseball arena is in our heads, what we bring to the games, to the telecasts, to reading newspaper reports. (Stan Isaacs)…So as you can see, the sport of baseball does have the power to enrich a life.  Or, more specifically, my life; as I am the boy.  While on occasion it has made stay up a little too late (darn extra-innings!) or ignore the outside world because “the game is on”, baseball’s positive influence in my life has outweighed the negatives.

You gotta be a man to play baseball for a living, but you gotta have a lot of little boy in you, too. (Roy Campanella)…To further appreciate the impact that baseball can have on one’s life, please see the movie Field of Dreams.  My favorite sports movie of all-time, it focuses on the relationship between father and son and how that relationship can be enhanced through a mutual love of baseball.  At one point in the movie, James Earl Jones (aka Voice of the Baseball Gods) explains how baseball is able to leave its mark on a person.  I leave you with his quote…

            The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time.  This game: it’s a part of our past. It reminds of us of all that once was good and could be again. (Field of Dreams) 

Preview (30-31, 2nd, 4.0 GB DET): Nick Blackburn (5-2, 3.30) vs. Trevor Cahill (3-5, 4.21).  Another no-name Oakland pitcher…the days of Zito, Mulder, and Hudson seem so long ago! 

We Are Family (Minus One)

koskie.jpgI was saddened to hear yesterday that former Twin, Blue Jay, and Brewer Corey Koskie announced his retirement from professional baseball.  As Twins fans, how can we not respect the tenacity that Koskie showed for the game of baseball, as he was one of those guys without much raw talent that needed every ounce of skill in his body to hit .280, 20 HR, and play fabulous defense at the hot corner.  Sadly, however, his strange concussion-like malady has now forced him to leave the game he loves.  Though even he admitted he could probably play through the discomfort, he did not want to put himself through another rough year or two, and with young children growing up at home I don’t know how you can blame him for that.

During my time as a writer for the University Register at the University of Minnesota, Morris, I penned an article about Koskie (and other former Twins) that I thought would be appropriate to share on this blog.  Just remember that the article is a wee bit dated (written just in advance of the start of the ’07 season), but the basic principles of the piece still hold true:

Over the last seven seasons, the Minnesota Twins have become a perennial powerhouse in the American League.  Yet, besides a winning product on the field, the Twins have created a family-type atmosphere that makes them so endearing and fun to watch.  While many baseball teams disperse their own separate ways the minute a game is completed (i.e. the New York Yankees), the Twins stick together, evidenced by the roommate pairing of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau last season.  Journeyman players who have wandered the major leagues or young rookies fresh from the bush leagues can be considered “part of the family” once assigned a Twins uniform.  However, in order to stay competitive in baseball’s current economy, many a fine Twins “family member” has needed to be disowned.  In almost all cases, leaving the Twins’ family produced disastrous results…

Christian Guzman–Endeared himself to Twins fans in 2001 with his unusual goatee and that “bionic sound” he made while scampering to third base with another triple.  Since leaving the Twins after 2004, Guzy batted .219 for the Washington Nationals in 2005 and missed the entire ’06 season due to shoulder surgery.

Matt Lawton–Lawton was the most talented Twins outfielder during the doldrums of the late 1990s.  Never sniffed .300 after leaving the Twins via a trade in ’01 and was busted for steroids with the Yankees in 2005.

A.J. Pierzynski–You know the fan who gets a few beers in him and annoys the heck out of his entire section?  A.J. Pierzynski was that guy’s hero.  Pierzynski is still a quality catcher for the Chisox, but his trade brought the Twins Francisco Liriano, Joe Nathan, and Boof Bonser.

Luis Rivas–A mainstay (admittedly if only because of a lack of depth) at the second base position from 2001-2004 and often single-handedly defeated the Kansas City Royals.  Could not make the Tampa Bay Devils Rays roster in 2006, one year after the Twins released him.

David Ortiz–The one who got away.  The gregarious “Big Papi” was a fan-favorite in 2001-2002, but also quite injury-prone, leading to his departure.  Ortiz latched on with Boston and is now arguably major league baseball’s biggest superstar.

Doug Mientkiewicz–Led the Twins’ surge to prominence in 2001, but is now best remembered for stealing a baseball, not hitting or catching one.

Eric Milton–A solid, if not spectacular, starting pitcher for the Twins who pitched a no-hitter in 1999.  Now regularly leads the NL in home runs allowed.

Joe Mays–Highly-touted Twins prospect who, after one great season (2001) fizzled out.  Was recently cut from LA Dodgers training camp.

Jacque Jones–Teamed with Torii Hunter to create the “Soul Patrol” outfield but could not be afforded after 2005.  Last year, Jacque was a steady contributor (.285, 27 home runs) for the Chicago Cubs.

LaTroy Hawkins–After first succeeding (then failing miserably) as a closer, “Hawk” became a premier middle reliever before pricing himself out of a Twins uniform.  Hasn’t been nearly as dominant since leaving Minnesota (4.48 ERA in 60 innings for the Orioles last season) and still collapses in pressure situations.

Eddie Guardado–“Everyday Eddie” earned his nickname as a middle reliever, but transformed himself into a reliable (if not spectacular) closer.  Recently, Eddie has become anything but reliable due to chronic left elbow problems.

Yet, there is one player who has fallen on especially hard times after leaving the Twins family.  The name noticeably absent from this nostalgic list is Corey Koskie.  In 2001, Koskie banded together with Torii Hunter, Jacque Jones, and Doug Mientkiewicz in order to bring winning baseball back to Minnesota, much like Kent Hrbek, Gary Gaetti, Tom Brunansky, and Kirby Puckett did in the early 1980s.

Koskie debuted with the Twins organization in 1999 where, at third base and right field, he made an immediate splash (.310 batting average) on a punchless team.  However, Koskie struggled mightily with his third base defense, not exhibiting enough quickness or range to play the position.  Yet, on a team where playoff aspirations were nonexistent, Koskie was given the time necessary to develop his fielding skills, eventually molding himself into a perennial Gold Glove candidate, with his diving stops and on-target throws (even if he did have to occasionally bounce them off the old Metrodome turf) becoming commonplace.

After being a key contributor to the Twins’ playoff teams of 2002-2004, Koskie was courted by a number of teams who coveted the slick-fielding, decent power/average third baseman.  Though pursued by the Twins, Koskie was ultimately signed by the Toronto Blue Jays of his native Canada.  Before leaving Minnesota, in a gesture demonstrating his appreciation of the Twins’ organization and fans, Koskie took out full-page ads in both the Pioneer Press and Star Tribune expressing his gratitude for being allowed to thrive in Minnesota.

After a disappointing and injury-riddled season in Toronto, Koskie again changed teams, this time heading to Milwaukee.  With a fast start to 2006, Koskie seemed to be getting his career back on track until disaster struck on July 5.  While chasing a pop-up at Miller Park, Koskie overran the ball, had to bend backwards, and ended up falling to the ground, his neck whip-lashing before impact.  While the incident did not seem overly violent, Koskie’s next at-bat was like something out of the fifth dimension of the Twilight Zone, complete with images coming in and out of focus and spells of dizziness.

Since that day, Koskie has not played an inning of baseball for the Brewers.  A week after the concussion, Koskie tried returning to the Brewers’ lineup, but was overcome by dizziness, fatigue, and nausea, requiring him to leave the field once again.  After visiting a neuropsychologist, Koskie was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome from his fall.  For the rest of that season, Koskie could only work out in small increments without the symptoms returning.  His head injury even affected his family life, as watching his son’s hockey games became impossible due to the bright lights giving him terrible headaches. 

As for 2007 season begins, Koskie has begun rehabilitating both mind and body at his home in Minnesota, hoping to rejoin his team at the earliest possible date.  Though post-concussion symptoms can last for years, Koskie seems to be on track to the major leagues again, as evidence by rising scores on the reaction-time and cognitive ability tests he regularly undergoes.  According to Koskie himself (in an interview with the Star Tribune’s Patrick Reusse), “I’m going to play again.  I’m sure of that.  If I wasn’t, I would have a lot more depression to deal with.”

In 1982, a promising young outfielder named Jim Eisenreich debuted with the Minnesota Twins.  After suffering several mystifying seizures at his left field post, Eisenreich was diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome, putting his major league career in serious jeopardy.  However, after three years of undergoing treatment, Eisenreich returned to the major leagues.  In 1993 he helped the Philadelphia Phillies to the National League Championship by batting .318.  In 1996 he hit .361 with the Phillies, and ’97 brought him a World Series championship with the Florida Marlins.  Hopefully, Corey Koskie can do much of the same.

 

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.

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