Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Twins Broadcaster Fiction Part II

From Tuesday, May 30's Twins-Angels radio broadcast...

Dan Gladden: "(Juan) Rivera's got a little bit of dog in him. He was with the Yankees a few years ago, he was the guy who went into Derek Jeter's locker and stole his glove..."

John Gordon: "Yep... mmm hmmm..."

Gladden: "If that's the right Rivera?"

Gordon: "Yes it is, he's had his share of problems."

Sorry fellas, you're thinking of Ruben Rivera, who last played in 2003. While you are correct that Juan Rivera was at one time with the Yankees, I've never heard of him having any major personality flaws.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Catcher-ing up with the Twins

Just another day at the park for Joe Mauer on Sunday. With three more hits (3 for 4 games are starting to become the norm here) he raised his batting average to .350, moving up the ladder to third place in race for the AL batting crown behind Derek Jeter (.352) and Alex Rios (.351). It is becoming pretty obvious that, barring injury, when all is said and done Mauer will go down as the best catcher in Twins history.

There has been much criticism in the last couple years, and rightly so, of the Twins inability to develop major league hitters, especially power hitters. But at the same time, I have heard virtually no praise of the franchise's uncanny ability to develop quality major league catchers.

A glance at the current rosters reveals eight active big league catchers who made their major league debut in a Twins uniform.

Count 'em up... in addition to Mauer there's A.J. Pierzynski of the White Sox, Damian Miller and Chad Moeller of the Brewers, Javier Valentin of the Reds, Danny Ardoin of the Rockies, Rob Bowen of the Padres, and Matthew LeCroy of the Nationals.

I have to imagine this is some kind of record. It would be pretty exhaustive for me to research it on my own dime, so maybe I'll leave it to an expert like ESPN's Jayson Stark, but I wonder what the previous record was for this, if this in fact a new record.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Great Moments in Baseball History (As Revised by Twins Broadcasters)

I went out to my parents' house tonight to watch the Twins-Mariners game with my dad. It was a historic night in Twins history, as Governor Pawlenty was on hand in his Twins jersey to officially sign the stadium bill into law.

The organization managed to turn the evening into quite an event, parading every ex-Twin they could find onto the field for the pregame ceremony and delaying the start of the game by 30 minutes. The excitement for me, however, was the anticipated pitching matchup between arguably the two most talked-about young pitchers in baseball - the Mariners' 20-year-old "King" Felix Hernandez and the Twins' 22-year-old Francisco Liriano.

The game lived up to the hype, with the Twins pulling out a 3-1 win. Liriano shut out the Mariners through five innings, impressively worked out of jams, and embarassed a Seattle lineup who could only helplessly flail at his 90 MPH slider. Hernandez was nearly as good. After allowing two second inning runs and a leadoff homerun to Joe Mauer in the third, he completely shut down the Twins the rest of the way.

Yeah, it was a good night at the ballpark, and that was not lost on broadcasters Dick Bremer and Bert Blyleven. At one point late in the game, Bremer was waxing nostalgic on the history of the now-doomed Metrodome. They showed a flashback video of former Twin catcher Dave Engle hitting the first regular season homerun at the Dome, against the Mariners in '82. Bremer went on to recall a two-game exhibition series against the Cincinnati Reds which were the first actual games played in the Dome. He reminisced about how even though he finally got a chance to see Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench play in person, it seemed awkward since Bench played the game at third base. (This is true, while Bench was still hanging on at the end of his legendary career, the Reds did experiment with him at both third and first base.) He also recalled Pete Rose leading off the game with a single and said, "To this day, Pete Rose will tell you that he got the first hit at the dome."

Oh, Dick. Pete Rose played for the Phillies from 1979 to 1984. He was nowhere near a Twins-Reds exhibition game in 1982.

This has to be my favorite example of delusion from broadcasters for at least two weeks! At least I believe that's about how long it's been since I tuned in for the radio broadcast of a Twins-Royals game to hear Twins radio announcer John Gordon dish out this nugget regarding the Royals centerfielder that day, 32-year old journeyman Kerry Robinson, a guy who has played in 445 major league games since 1998 for four different teams coming into this year, and who spent all of last year in the Mets minor league system before hooking on with the woeful Royals in spring training this year:

"Rookie centerfielder Kerry Robinson, I mean to tell you the Royals really like this kid! They really think he can be something special!"

Sorry, Gordo, but not even the Royals are that misguided... just a few days later Robinson was designated for assignment.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

7 and 7 Is: LeCroy's Blues

Ron Gardenhire and Terry Ryan have made their share of questionable decisions over the last couple seasons, but I have to give them credit for their decision to remove future beer-league softball Hall of Famer Matthew LeCroy from their catching rotation.

After throwing out just four of 18 attempted base-stealers in 22 games behind the plate in 2003 and only one of 16 in 26 games in 2004, LeCroy only managed one single inning at catcher in 2005. He spent his final year in a Twins uniform as a designated hitter and pinch hitter and appeared in 23 games at first base. Watching just one of those games should have been enough to convince any casual baseball fan, much less any MLB executive, that LeCroy's natural position - his only position - is DH.

When the Twins decided to not bring him back this year, I felt for him. After all, if the affable and beloved human potato make it if not here? As the offseason turned, I started worrying about LeCroy. He still hadn't received a major league contract and all of the American League teams - the only teams who would seem to have a spot for him - appeared set.

Finally, just before spring training he signed a contract with the Washington Nationals. I figured his role on the NL team would be strictly pinch-hitting, with the very occasional game at first base when Nick Johnson needed a day off (god forbid another Johnson injury). Suffice to say, it was pretty surprising when the Nats starting using LeCroy as their backup catcher.

When starting catcher Brian Schneider went on the disabled list a couple weeks ago, Wiki Gonzalez was recalled from the minors, presumably to take over the everyday catching chores until Schneider's return. Shockingly, though, it has been LeCroy getting the majority of the playing time in Schneider's absence. Playing with fire...

Well, that all came to a head this afternoon. The Nationals jumped on the struggling Andy Pettitte for a 6-0 lead over the Astros and should've coasted toward victory. They did hold on for a 8-5 win, no thanks to LeCroy. In seven innings of catching, the Astros stole seven bases off LeCroy - the highest single game stolen base total for a major league team in four years. After the seventh steal, manager Frank Robinson pulled LeCroy mid-inning for backup first baseman/outfielder Robert Fick. I don't know how many times that has happened in big league history, but I can't ever remember seeing a catcher pulled mid-inning for his defensive performance.

For the season, LeCroy has now caught 13 games for the Nationals and has thrown out one of 21 attempted base-stealers. That's a 95% success rate for the runners, if you're keeping track.

Schneider is scheduled to return from the disabled list tomorrow. I have a feeling that that will also mark the end of the Nationals experiment with LeCroy as a catcher.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Can't the Royals just borrow a Tiger for the All Star Game?

Tuesday night's Tigers-Royals game went a long way to solidify the American League All Star team reserve selections.

I realize the All Star game is still a month and a half away, but thanks to MLB's asinine rule that all teams must have a representative, I've always received a perverse amount of enjoyment out of trying to predict the All Star teams before they are named.

The Kansas City Royals brought a league worst 10-32 record into Tuesday's tilt and boasted a roster loaded with guys who have no business on a Triple-A All Star team, much less a major league team. A glance at the roster revealed three guys who have a chance at basking in All Star glory this July, simply because they are the least of twenty-five evils: Mark Grudzielanek, Elmer Dessens, and Mike Wood.

Grudzielanek easily has the most accomplished career of the three. He was an All Star shortstop as the Montreal Expos shortstop in 1996 - his first full-season. The next year he set an Expo record with 54 doubles. The year after that, he was traded mid-season to the Los Angeles Dodgers, where he spent four and a half years before moving on to the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals. He has always been a solid defender and slightly above average hitter. He's a fine complimentary player, and he's doing his best, but he's out of his element as a "go-to guy" in the Kansas City lineup.

Dessens, like Grudzielanek, spent the last decade or so in the National League before signing with the Royals before this season. He has been a serviceable pitcher, but never much more than that. His best year was 2002, when as a starter for the Reds he ranked sixth in the NL in ERA. He's been a long reliever and spot-starter ever since, and last year had a decent but injury-plagued year with the Dodgers. This year, even with the Royals horrendous starting pitching, Dessens had been used exclusively in middle relief until last week, when manager Buddy Bell named Dessens the Royals' new closer following three straight implosions from Ambiorix Burgos.

Wood was once a highly regarded prospect in the pitching-rich Oakland A's organization. He was acquired by the Royals two years ago in the blockbuster Carlos Beltran deal. After a pretty rough 2004 season in the Royals starting rotation, he showed some improvement last year when used as a swingman. This year Wood has made all his appearances out of the bullpen with the exception of one emergency start, and he's been decent. He has nearly as many walks as strikeouts, but he does have three wins and a 3.21 ERA. I'm baffled as to why the Royals are not giving him another shot as a starter, but I suppose that seems about right for the Royals.

Anyway, getting back to Tuesday night. I still view Wood as a long shot because of his role (middle relief) and his less-proven track record. That leaves Grudzielanek and Dessens.

Grudzielanek hit his first two homeruns of the season in helping the Royals jump out to a 4-0 lead over Kenny Rogers and the Tigers, and raised his batting average to a team-best .322. The Royals were holding on to a 5-3 lead going into the eighth inning. In the eighth, Dessens, in his first save situation since being named the Royals closer, gave up three runs in a third of an inning and was nailed for the loss as the Tigers came back to win 8-5.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you your 2006 All Star selection from the Kansas City Royals... Mark Grudzielanek!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

My May 23rd All Star Ballot

It's May 23 and I have just filled out the first of several Major League Baseball All Star ballots that I will place over the next few weeks.

My selections

American League

1B Paul Konerko (Chicago White Sox)

Travis Hafner and David Ortiz are having typical great seasons with the bat, but they are not first basemen. They are designated hitters. They are All Stars, but this year's All Star Game is in a National League park, which means National League rules, which means no DH. Want to be a starter? Get a glove! For me it's a toss-up between Konerko and Detroit's Chris Shelton but I'm voting for Konerko. He's done it longer and his 2005 postseason performance deserves a reward.

2B Luis Castillo (Minnesota Twins)

An argument can easily be made for Chicago's Tadahito Iguchi (and I would guess he'll be the one elected), but this is my ballot and I'm voting for Castillo.

SS Miguel Tejada (Baltimore Orioles)

The AL's three elite shortstops - Tejada, Derek Jeter, and Michael Young - are all hitting in the .340-.350 range, but Young only has one homer and Jeter is an arrogant Yankee prick.

3B Hank Blalock (Texas Rangers)

Speaking of arrogant Yankee pricks, Alex Rodriguez is only hitting about .270. I'm voting for Blalock today, but I think that Eric Chavez, Mike Lowell, Troy Glaus, Joe Crede and Melvin Mora are all more deserving than A-Rod at this point.

C A.J. Pierzynski (Chicago White Sox)

This was a pretty easy choice for me up until Joe Mauer's nine hit weekend in Milwaukee that raised his average to .338. Never the less, A.J. is hitting .341, is masterfully handling the a superior starting rotation, and he had a pretty eventful weekend of his own...

OF Casey Blake (Cleveland Indians), Vernon Wells (Toronto Blue Jays), Alex Rios (Toronto Blue Jays - WRITE-IN)

Speaking of ex-Twins, Blake is leading the league in hitting. Rios is hot on his heels and I can never resist a good write-in vote candidate. Wells is having the best all-around season of any outfielder in the league.

National League

1B Albert Pujols (St. Louis Cardinals)

Ryan Howard, Nomar Garciaparra, Lance Berkman, Carlos Delgado... they're all having great, All Star seasons. That said, anybody voting for anyone other than Pujols at 1B this season needs to have their voting rights terminated.

2B Chase Utley (Philadelphia Phillies)

He's hitting .309 and leading all NL second basemen in homers and RBI.

SS Hanley Ramirez (Florida Marlins)

If he stays healthy, we should be looking at a unanimous winner of the NL Rookie of the Year award. One of the most exciting players in the game!

3B David Wright (New York Mets)

Just beats out Miguel Cabrera, mostly because I can't bring myself to vote for two Marlins. Chad Tracy and Morgan Ensberg have strong cases, too.

C Brian McCann (Atlanta Braves)

The league's leading hitter, and not too shabby behind the plate either. He should have a headlock on this ballot for years to come.

OF Matt Holliday (Colorado Rockies), Andruw Jones (Atlanta Braves), Alfonso Soriano (Washington Nationals)

Holliday's season is mirroring teammate Brad Hawpe... Holliday gets my vote because I think he has a better shot at sustaining his current pace. Andruw's nine homeruns are a disappointing total at this point, but he's driven in 41 and you may have heard something about his defense. Say what you will about Soriano's 'tude in spring training, he's gone out to play left field and is on pace for a 40-40 season. Hell, he's on pace for a 50-40 season!

Looking Ahead

How many members of the current Twins team will still be around in April 2010 when Puckett Park/3M Field/Best Buy Stadium opens?

I'd like to say that Torii Hunter, Joe Nathan, and Luis Castillo will be around, but in today's baseball climate that's not likely.

If I were a betting man I would say that, at most, eight of the 25 current 2006 Twins will be on the 2010 opening day roster.
  • Johan Santana
  • Francisco Liriano
  • Scott Baker
  • Jesse Crain
  • Joe Mauer
  • Justin Morneau
  • Jason Kubel
  • Michael Cuddyer
Of course there's a chance that Boof Bonser or Matt Guerrier will show some staying power, but there's as good a chance that Baker or Crain could falter. Perhaps Nathan will still be closing out games at 35 and Juan Rincon will still be setting him up, but it's also possible that Santana could leave as a free agent in their place.

Maybe the Twins don't trade Hunter this year and are able to sign him to a long-term contract extension, putting the then 34 year old face of the franchise in center field four years from now... and maybe Castillo's knees hold up for a few more years. But maybe Morneau never figures out how to hit a curveball... and maybe Cuddy-bear's May 2006 hot streak that seemed to win him the everyday right field job fizzles out by July and has him in Pittsburgh or Kansas City in 2007.

Four years is a long, long time to hold a team together. Really, it's unheard of in our current era. Looking at the current Twins roster, only five guys - Santana, Brad Radke, Rincon, Cuddyer, and Hunter - played on the 2002 team. In all likelihood, I'm being too generous in guessing eight players will still be around in 2010. I can't argue that the 2006 team is a younger team than 2002 - not with stopgaps like Tony Batista, Juan Castro and Rondell White and older veterans like Shannon Stewart and Castillo occupying the positions that were then held down by twenty-somethings Corey Koskie, Cristian Guzman, David Ortiz, Jacque Jones, and Luis Rivas - but I do think that the upside of the current group of young Twins on the roster (Mauer, Liriano, Baker, Kubel, maybe Morneau) is much greater than the 2002 team from which only Santana and Ortiz have developed into superstars (and of course, only Santana has done that with the Twins).

I also believe that with the certainty of the new stadium now in place, it becomes more likely that the Twins will be able to lock up their young talent to multi-year contracts. The newfound revenue from the new stadium should have the payroll up to around $80-$90 million in 2010, which is a $20 million increase from the present. While I think it's pretty safe to assume the Twins will let go of the guys who will be on the downside of their careers by then (Nathan, Hunter, Castillo), they should be able to lock up Mauer and Liriano for the long haul.

One final prediction:
With Johan Santana, Francisco Liriano, and Matt Garza at the top of the 2010 rotation, the Twins will be right in the thick of the 2010 pennant race.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Mackowiak does rhyme with Stahoviak. I hope that didn't scare the Twins away.

Who knows what the difference is between the Minnesota Twins and the Chicago White Sox? Come on, this is easy... there are so many correct answers! I'm looking for something beyond the obvious, though.

I don't want to hear, "The White Sox have five consistent, often spectacular starting pitchers, including two bona fide aces (Mark Buehrle and Jose Contreras), two more who would easily be the default aces on nearly half of the pitching staffs in the league (Freddy Garcia and Javier Vasquez), and their fifth starter (Jon Garland) was an All Star and 18 game winner last year. The Twins? Well, Johan Santana is the best pitcher in baseball. After that? Brad Radke is having the worst season of his career. Carlos Silva is demoted to mop-up bullpen duty. Kyle Lohse is making 3.5 million in Triple-A. After Santana and Radke, the once feared Twins rotation is now rounded out by three rookies."

Nor do I want to hear, "The White Sox have two guys in the lineup (Paul Konerko and Jim Thome) who, barring injury, will easily hit over 40 homeruns this year and who each have a legitimate shot at 50. They have two more (Jermaine Dye and Joe Crede) who have a pretty good shot at clearing 30 homers. The ninth hitter in their batting order (Juan Uribe) has averaged 19 homeruns and 72 RBI over the past two seasons. The Twins? Well, it's looking like either Justin Morneau or Torii Hunter might become the first Twin since 1987 to have a 30 homerun season (by far the longest such drought in the major leagues)."

And I definitely don't want to hear, "The White Sox are simply made up of guys who know how to win. They have real leaders like A.J. Pierzynski who play the game hard and send a message to the opponents that they have no fear, they are here to win. And that's something the Twins have lacked since they had... uh... A.J. Pierzynski."

Those are fine and safe answers. They are all correct answers. But how 'bout this answer?

Rob Mackowiak.

Mackowiak will more than likely never be a star - hell, he's not even an everyday player for the White Sox - but he has been a solid ballplayer since he first came up to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2001. He generated headlines nearly two years ago, on May 28, 2004, when he had quite possibly the most remarkable combined on-field and off-field day in baseball history. Just hours after the birth of his first child, Mackowiak ended the first game of a doubleheader against the Cubs with a walk-off grand slam. Not quite satisfied, he hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth in the second game of the doubleheader and the Pirates eventually won the game in extra innings. To recap: a newborn son, a game-ending bottom-of-the-ninth grand slam, a game-tying bottom-of-the-ninth homerun and two wins for his team. That, my friends, is a full day's work. (For an encore, Mackowiak hit yet another homerun the following day, driving in a career high five runs while still wearing his hospital wrist band.)

So while I knew who Rob Mackowiak was before May 28, 2004, that was the day when he really caught my eye and since then he's just been one of those players who I've continued to follow. Last year, one of my fantasy baseball leagues was a National League only league, meaning teams could be composed only from players on NL teams. Craving his versatility, I tried all season to pry him from his owner (an indie-rock has-been who eventually beat me by a half of a point for the league championship) to no avail.

This past offseason, during the "Hot Stove League," I figured there was a chance the Pirates would trade Mackowiak. Eligible for salary arbitration, he was due a nice raise and it made sense for the Pirates to unload him for a prospect or two. Being a Twins fan, I naturally thought to myself, "You know who I'd really like to see in a Twins uniform? Rob Mackowiak." I had not heard any rumors about him and have no idea to this day if the Twins were ever even interested in acquiring Mackowiak, but I was pretty bummed out on December 13 when I saw Mackowiak had been traded to the White Sox, straight up, for Damaso Marte. First thought: "Where's he going to play for the White Sox? They already have set starters at every position." Second thought: "Even up for Damaso Marte? Really? Marte's an okay pitcher, but he's a 31 year old middle reliever who seems to be about three years past his prime. That trade might make sense for a contender, but these are the Pirates. They couldn't even get a mid-level prospect for Robby?" Which begs the question, could the Twins have acquired Mackowiak for somebody like J.D. Durbin? Would the Twins have even made that trade? It would have made perfect sense to me.

Rob Mackowiak's value in in his versatility. Coming into this season, his first for the White Sox, he has played in 232 major league games in right field, 167 at third base, 110 in center field, 59 at second base, 46 in left field, and 5 at first base. He has also proven himself to be a pretty decent every-day player. In his three full major league seasons with the Pirates (2002, 2004-05), Mackowiak averaged 144 games played, 14 homeruns, 60 RBI, and 10 stolen bases a year. (To be fair, he did spend half of 2003 in the minor leagues after getting off to a very slow start, but was recalled later in the season and managed to hit .270 with six homers for the year.) Again, not star numbers, but plug them into the Twins current lineup and I guarantee you he would be hitting in the middle of the batting order.

And this is the difference between the Twins and the White Sox in 2006. Rob Mackowiak is a bench player on the White Sox. A utility guy. He has played nearly every day for the last three-plus seasons of his career, and now he's getting about two starts a week. I haven't heard anything about him ruffling any feathers on the south side, though. No complaints about a lack of playing time. That makes sense to me, though. Rob Mackowiak is a team player and a consumate professional. And now, for the first time in his big league career, he's playing for a winning team.

Meanwhile, the Twins are left with Nick Punto and Luis Rodriguez as left-handed options off the bench and Tony Batista at third base.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Hey, Bert! Check out THESE Twins!

True story from the record store, last Saturday afternoon around 4:30 PM.

Three young ladies stumbled out of the Bulldog and into Treehouse Records. They were matching: blonde hair, orange spray-on tans, and too-small Minnesota Twins t-shirts accentuating their excessive boobs. And they were shitfaced.

Girl #1 walks into the store first and immediately spots our free poster bin. She grabs the biggest one she can find and slurs at me, "Can I buy this? How much is this?"

"Uh, the posters aren't really for sale. They're free with a purchase."

"I want to buy this. I'll give you a dollar for it!"

"Like I said, they're not really for sale."

As girl #3 interjects that they are going to the Twins game and are making a "Circle Me Bert" sign (for any of you unfamiliar with Twins telecasts, former Twins star and current color commentator Bert Blyleven likes to use his telestrator to "circle" fans at the game who bring gaudy signs requesting that he do so), girl #2 decides it's time to bargain with me.

"I'll give you 20 cents for this poster!"

She was clearly not the brightest bulb, especially in her current stumbly state, so I thought I would help her out a little.

"You know, that's not really the way bargaining is supposed to work... your friend just offered me a dollar for it. Shouldn't you be raising the offer instead of lowering it?"

She clearly did not hear, comprehend or care what my reply was, though, because before I could even finish me point she made another offer.

"10 cents! I'll give you 10 cents for it!"

I had no idea where this was going, and these women were really starting not only get on my nerves but on the nerves of the five or six real customers in the store at the time. All I could do was offer a stunned, inquisitive stare. It was then that she decided to throw a changeup into her negotiating tactics.

"I'll show you my tits."


"If you give us this poster, I'll show you my tits!"

"No, that's okay."

"You don't want to see my tits?"

"No, sorry."

"Oh my god! I can't believe you don't want to see my tits!"


Girl #3 has a counter offer: "Do you want to see a picture of her tits?"

"No, really, it's okay..."

But before I could finish, a cell phone was shoved in my face, with a camera phone picture of a bare chest. Two massive boobs, presumably Girl #2's.

"Uh... that's great." What else could I say?

Girl #1, the original instigator, pipes in again. "We're really annoying you, aren't we?"


To her friends, "Oh my god, he hates us!"

"No, I don't hate anyone... here, I'll tell you what... you can have the poster."

They thanked me, I offered them a marker to make their sign, and they scribbled on it:

"Hey Bert! Check out THESE Twins!"

Tuesday, May 09, 2006


1984 was a landmark year in my life. Not in a revisionist Replacements/Husker Du/Prince way - I was six or seven years old when most of that was going down - but in a very literal, definitive sense that would shape my life forever.

1984 was the year that I fell in love with the Minnesota Twins.

In the summer of 1982, when I was four years old, I idolized my older cousin Eric. My imitation of him reached its apex when I discovered his baseball card collection. If Eric collected baseball cards, then I needed to collect them, too! He started me off by giving me some of his duplicates from the 1981 and 1982 Topps sets. I remember the first pack of cards that I got of my very own. At the Red Owl grocery store in St. Louis Park, I begged my mom to buy me a pack of baseball cards. She gave in, without possibly knowing the monster she would create. In the car, I ripped open the pack. No Twins. I was crushed. I probably cried, but I don't know for sure. My memories as a four year old are less than crystal clear. I did pull a Cal Ripken, Jr. rookie card out of that pack, which I still have, but having no concept of keeping the cards in mint condition at that age, the card is in pretty rough shape.

I would study the statistics on the backs of the baseball cards, though. Relentlessly. I taught myself how to read the box scores in the newspaper before my 5th birthday, just as I had taught myself to read Little Golden Books a couple years earlier. Despite missing an understanding on how baseball was actually played, I knew everybody's batting average and home run totals. The 1982 edition of the Twins were awful. In their first season inside the brand new Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, the finished with 60 wins and 102 losses. The only Twins club to ever post a 100 loss season, the '82 Twins finished 33 games behind the first place California Angels.

However, there was still reason for optimism. Because of owner Calvin Griffith's all-about-the-bottom-line ownership style, his resistance to pay star players, the Twins fielded a team that featured over 15 rookies! In fact, 9 of the 12 players who reached 200 plate appearances on the 1982 Twins still had rookie status (second baseman John Castino and outfielders Gary Ward and Mickey Hatcher were the only veterans in that group). Many of the rookies on that squad never amounted to anything in the big leagues (Jesus Vega or Paul Boris anyone?) but six of them - Tom Brunansky, Randy Bush, Gary Gaetti, Kent Hrbek, Tim Laudner, and Frank Viola - would be the foundation of a team that would in just five years WIN the World Series!

While 1987 was arguably the greatest year in Twins history, I will argue here that the 1984 team should have given these young Twins their first taste of postseason play. Chances are they would have been swept out of the American League Championship Series just like the Western Division champion Kansas City Royals were, after all nobody was going to beat the Detroit Tigers in 1984, but the Twins should have had that opportunity. But they did not. And I put the blame for this on one man.

Ronald Gene Davis.

Four games into the 1982 season, the Twins traded their best player, shortstop Roy Smalley, to the New York Yankees for Ron Davis and two minor league prospects. As it turns out, without this trade the Twins would likely not have won in 1987 as one of those minor league prospects was Greg Gagne, who would become the reliable shortstop of both the 1987 and 1991 World Champion teams. (Smalley would also return to the Twins in 1985 and became an important role player on the 1987 team as a designated hitter, pinch hitter, and backup infielder in his final major league season.) But Gagne was still in Triple-A ball for all but two games of 1984 while Ron Davis was throwing away the Twins first division championship since 1970, gopher ball after gopher ball.

At the time of the trade, Roy Smalley was just over three years removed from his 24 home run, 95 RBI All-Star season of 1979 - extraordinary power numbers for a middle infielder in that era - and was still regarded, along with Brewers' Hall of Famer Robin Yount, as one of the two best hitting shortstops in the American League. (It was, after all, still early in Cal Ripken's rookie season and Detroit's Alan Trammell had not yet developed the power that turned him into a perennial All-Star throughout the '80s.)

The Davis-Smalley trade was not one of Calvin Griffith's typical cost-cutting deals. Griffith's thrifty ways throughout the 70's, accellerated by the introduction of free agency to the game, had cost the Twins Larry Hisle, Bill Campbell, Dave Goltz, and Geoff Zahn, to name a few, with no compensation. Much like today's Twins, it became a given that the team's best players would eventually price themselves out of the team's budget. This started with 1976's trade of Bert Blyleven to the Texas Rangers (for, ironically, a young Roy Smalley and a few other prospects) and culminated in 1979's trade of franchise icon Rod Carew to the California Angels for prospects Kenny Landreaux, Dave Engle, Brad Havens and Paul Hartzell.

For the next four years, constant rebuilding way the Twins way. Landreaux was the prize of the Carew deal and the investment returned two solid seasons with the bat: a .305 batting average with 15 home runs, 83 RBI and 10 stolen bases in 1979 followed by a 1980 season where, although his numbers slipped across the board (.281-7-62-8, albeit in 22 fewer games) he set a team record that still stands with a 31-game hitting streak and was named to the AL All Star team. The 25 year old star's reward? A trade to the Dodgers for Mickey Hatcher and two other prospects who never sniffed the big leagues.

I hesitate to say the Twins traded all of their "stars" because the fact of the matter is they didn't have many, but here are other examples of the Twins trading their best players for younger and/or cheaper talent from 1979-1982:

  • 12/4/78 ~ "Disco" Dan Ford to the Angels for Ron Jackson and Danny Goodwin
  • 8/23/81 ~ Ron Jackson to the Tigers for Tim Corcoran
  • 8/30/81 ~ Jerry Koosman to the White Sox for Ivan Mesa, Ronnie Perry, and Randy Johnson (no, not that Randy Johnson... this one!)
  • 12/28/81 ~ Hosken Powell to the Blue Jays for Greg "Boomer" Wells
  • 5/12/82 ~ Doug Corbett and Rob Wilfong to the Angels for Tom Brunansky, Mike Walters and cash
  • 5/12/82 ~ Butch Wynegar and Roger Erickson to the Yankees for John Pacella, Larry Milbourne, Pete Filson and cash

Unlike any of these other trades, the Smalley-Davis trade was different because the Twins actually did receive a bona fide major league player. Sure, Ron Jackson and Landreaux were decent enough before they were jettisoned themselves, Pete Filson was a nice left arm out of the bullpen for a couple years, and the Brunansky acquistion would turn out to be one of the better trades in Twins history. But Davis had in fact been named to the American League All Star team in 1981 as a setup man for Goose Gossage. While it's more common today, it was rare back then for a middle relief pitcher to earn an All Star selection, but the Goose had perhaps the finest season of his Hall of Fame-worthy career with a 0.77 ERA and 20 saves in the strike-shortened season and Davis' selection to the All Star team was probably just as much a reward for his combined 23 wins in relief over the two previous seasons and Gossage's remarkable year as it was for his solid 1981 numbers (4 wins, 2.71 ERA, 83 strikeouts in 73 innings, and 6 saves of his own), but clearly R.D. would have been closing on many major league teams.

In 1982, Davis finally got his chance to be a closer when he threw on that #39 Twins uniform. Even if he didn't look the part - with his large bifocals and greasy hair you could have thrown an argyle sweater on him and called him your math teacher... hardly the intimidating look of Gossage's mustache and chops or the bushy black beards and steely-eyed stares of Bruce Sutter and Jeff Reardon - he fared decent. His 4.42 ERA was high, but I've always thought that was an overrated stat, especially for relievers. He did serve up 16 homeruns out of the bullpen, which I suppose should have probably raised a red flag, but in '82 balls were flying over the fences at the Dome at a record pace. (You didn't think it got the nickname "The Homerdome" from the likes of Scott Stahoviak and Pedro Munoz, did you?) But Davis did save 22 games in 27 opportunities for a team that won only 60 games and had NOTHING in front of him in the bullpen.

In 1983, Davis was even better. It was easily his best year as a closer as he finished third in the league with a career high 30 saves, posted a 3.34 ERA (his best as a Twin), cut down his home runs allowed to only six and, most importantly, only blew three save opportunities all season. 1983 may have been the finest season of Ron Davis' career, and he surely would've been given All Star consideration again if he were pitching for a contender. The Twins improved their team record by 10 games in 1983, finishing at 70-92. Still pathetic, but definitely improving. At this point it was obvious that they had a very talented young nucleus of hitters, and while the starting rotation was still full of holes behind a still-unreliable young Frank Viola and the surprising Ken Schrom, the bullpen actually had a pretty solid year with Rick Lysander, Len Whitehouse and Pete Filson all posting respectable numbers in front of Davis.

1984 is most notable in Twins history for two things, and rightly so. #1. May 8, 1984, the Twins insert a skinny rookie named Kirby Puckett into the starting lineup, batting leadoff and playing center field. He ties a major league record by recording four hits in his first game. #2. September 7, 1984, Calvin Griffith finalizes the sale of the Twins to Carl Pohlad.

So why wasn't it also notable for a division championship? Good question. I believe the Twins saw a weak AL Western Division in which they thought they could compete with their hitting and bullpen and that facilitated the trade of All Star left fielder Gary Ward to the Texas Rangers for starting pitchers Mike Smithson and John Butcher. 1984 was Viola's breakthrough year as he posted 18 wins and a 3.21 ERA, established himself as the ace of the Twins staff, and as one of the top left-handed pitchers in all of baseball. Smithson and Butcher both came through with career years in '84 as both accumulated well over 200 innings pitched, both posted double-digit win totals, and both had sub-4 ERAs (15 wins, 3.68 ERA for Smithson; 13 wins, 3.44 ERA for Butcher).

Offensively, Hrbek led the team with the best all-around numbers of his career (career-best .311 batting average, 27 home runs, career-best 107 RBI... I love Kent Hrbek - he may be my all-time favorite player - but he really did waste his talent... these are the types of numbers he was capable of putting up every year). Brunansky led the team with 32 home runs, but Gaetti's power numbers took a mysterious nosedive as he totalled only 5 home runs despite playing in every game. (It was the only season from 1982 to 1988 where Gaetti failed to homer 20 times! Really weird stat.) Gaetti's lack of production, as well as the loss of Ward's big bat, and the forced retirement of second baseman Castino due to chronic back pain was made up for in solid seasons from Mickey Hatcher, Dave Engle, and rookie second baseman Tim Teufel. Puckett was, of course, the catalyst with a .296 average, a team leading 14 stolen bases, and a soon-to-be-golden glove in center field.

The Twins finished with a .500 record in 1984. 81 wins and 81 losses. They tied with the Angels for second place in the AL West, just three games behind the Royals. It was their first finish of .500 or better since 1979 and a record that was unthinkable only two years earlier.

As a seven year old, I was on top of the world. I loved baseball more than anything and I had an exciting, young, competitive hometown team with great personalities like Kirby, Herbie, Bruno, the G-Man, and Sweet Music. But now, as a 28 year old, I'm pissed off. The division was theirs for the taking and Ron Davis cost them the pennant.

How did he do this? Well, Davis finished with 29 saves in 1984 - good enough for fifth in the American League. Ron Davis also blew 14 saves. 14. RON DAVIS BLEW 14 SAVE OPPORTUNITIES IN ONE SEASON! Think about that for a minute! I know I can not assume that the Twins ended up losing all 14 of those games. Giving Davis the benefit of the doubt, when a closer gives up the tying run it constitutes a blown save regardless of if his team comes back to win or not. So let's just assume that the Twins were able to come back and win a couple of those games. The stats tell me that they probably didn't, though. Because Ron Davis tallied 11 losses in 1984. Do you have any idea how difficult it is for a relief pitcher to hit double-figures in losses? The numbers do not lie, though. Davis posted 11 losses in 1984. He gave up 11 home runs as a closer, he led the team with eight wild pitches (I'd like to see a list of closers who have led their teams in that statistic... I can't imagine it's a long one), he lost 11 games and he blew 14 saves. In 1983 and again in 1985 Davis blew only three opportunites each year. Had he been able to keep that pace in '84 and blow only three that year as well, we are potentially talking about 11 more wins for the Twins - a 92-70 record that would have buried the Royals eight games back! And while that is a big hypothetical, let's just imagine if Davis were able to cut his blown saves in half. A 88-74 finish would have still put the Twins four games ahead of the Royals and into the playoffs.

Ron Davis, more than anyone else, is responsible for the Minnesota Twins missing the playoffs in 1984.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

This is a practice test.

My name is Dan and Foul Tips is a blog. In Foul Tips, my intentions are mostly to write about baseball, but I reserve the right to venture outside that world if music, politics, or anything else is dominating my thoughts at any given moment. I encourage you to share your thoughts with me on anything I post. Or on anything else that's on your mind. One of the more intriguing aspects of the "blog world" is the open dialect. Check back frequently, as I hope to be posting several times a week. Enjoy!