Wooden Shoes in the Hall

January 7, 2011

It has been written about at length, but at long last Bert Blyleven got the call from Cooperstown.

Over the past five years, there have been few questions in baseball circles that produce as much debate as Blyleven’s HOF case. It represents, in a way, the line between the traditional baseball press and the new breed of baseball bloggers (who may or may not be writing from mother’s basement). In the end, the “you had to be there” and “he never felt like a HOFer” arguments (which, I believe, were more about his reputation as uncooperative with the media – the gate keepers off the Hall can be a fickle bunch) lost out to the overwhelming statistical evidence.

While Bert’s inclusion feels like a victory for sanity, it may well be a short-lived one. The Hall of Fame voting this year signaled an entirely new wave of voter insanity – the PED witch hunt.

Well, I guess it will continue to give my favorite writers a reason to continue writing.

 


Manager of the Year

November 19, 2010

Tom Kelly was the American League’s Manager of the Year in 1991. It was his first (and only) MOY award; even though he probably turned in his best managing performance in 1988.

That season Kelly’s team finished a distant second to the Oakland A’s, led by MOY Tony LaRussa, who probably could have slept through the summer and still gotten 100 wins from one of the all-time most talented teams. That season, Kelly dealt with high expectations from a championship the year before, an unpopular early-season trade in which the front office exchanged a fan-favorite right fielder with power for a supposedly high on-base second baseman who acted as though he would rather have a root canal than play with the Twins, and a fist fight between two of his players and still managed to improve his team’s won-loss record from the year before. Still, Kelly only managed a fifth place finish.

TK had to wait four more years for his recognition, and he did it by using the formula the MOY voters could not possibly overlook: taking a last place team and making them a first place team. Kelly got all but one first place vote for that performance.

If one were to simply look over the voting results for ensuing years, one might think that TK stopped being a good manager. He wasn’t named on a single ballot for the next decade. That, of course, coincided with a dark age in Twins’ history, one that was just coming to an end when Kelly finished third in the AL MOY vote in 2001.

Ron Gardenhire hasn’t had any such stretches in his career so far. With the exception of 2005 and 2007, Gardy has been either second or third in voting every year. For someone who follows the Twins year in and year out, it is hard to say that Gardy’s managing this season was any better (or worse) than the previous years, and I would argue that he had more talent in 2010 than on any of his other division-winning teams. Most see his recent win as more of a lifetime achievement award for the man who has led his team to six division titles in nine seasons. In that sense, I do think the award is deserved.

It would be wise not to count on such recognition for Gardy next season. Unlike for the Gold Glove award, in which a Gold Glove the previous season is the greatest predictor for success, the MOY award is less inert. Since its inception in 1983, no AL manager has won in consecutive seasons (Bobby Cox repeated in 1995 – the only NL Manager to do so).


1987: Twins Clinch the West

September 29, 2010

Originally posted as part of the Hot Stove 1987 series.

Monday September 28, 1987

Twins 5, Rangers 3

Twins Clinch AL West Title

For 24 out of 31 players on the Twins’ roster, the celebration was completely new. Those players had never won at the major league level before Monday’s clincher in Texas.

For six players, the win had to be particularly sweet. Kent Hrbek, Gary Gaetti, Tom Brunansky, Frank Viola, Tim Laudner, and Randy Bush all came up together in 1982. That season, the Twins lost 102 games, the worst record since the franchise moved to Minnesota. Now, six seasons later, they were pouring champagne on each other in the clubhouse at Arlington Stadium.

It didn’t look as though the celebration would happen early. Joe Niekro allowed three runs in the first inning. That Texas lead held until the top of the fourth. With two on and two out, Steve Lombardozzi launched a drive into the left field bleachers. The score remained tied until the eighth.

Once again, Lombardozzi came through with an RBI single to put the Twins ahead. An insurance run scored on a balk, but the Twins focus turned towards finishing the game before the Royals-Mariners game (a game the M’s led throughout) became a final.

At about 10:35 PM, Jeff Reardon coaxed Geno Petralli to hit a liner to Lombardozzi at second; Lombo relayed to Hrbek for the double play, and the celebration began.

The night’s hero summed it up to Mark Vancil in the Star Tribune:

“We wanted to get it over before they flashed a final on the Kansas City game,” Lombardozzi said. “We wanted to win it ourselves. And we went out and did it. I wanted to make the 1987 highlight film. Now I’m in Twins history forever.”

Though the celebration continued into the night, all eyes now turn to the AL East race that will determine who the Twins play in the 1987 ALCS.


1981: The Final Game at “The Met”

September 27, 2010

Originally posted last year.

Wednesday September 30, 1981

15,900 gathered at Metropolitan Stadium to say goodbye to the place that the Twins had called home since moving to Minnesota in 1961. There had been some controversy about the new domed stadium in Minneapolis, but it would be ready for the 1982 season.

While the game wasn’t a meaningful one in terms of the standings for the Twins, Kansas City was a different story. The Royals needed a win to clinch a playoff berth. More important, however, was the playoff standing. The Oakland A’s had won the first half of the strike-shortened season and would play some other team from the AL West in a best-of-five playoff for the AL West title. Kansas City clinched at least second place with the win over the Twins, but still needed to hold off the A’s in order to keep home field in the series.

The Royals won the game 5-2 powered by a 3-run fourth inning in which Clint Hurdle hit a two-run home run off of Fernando Arroyo. The final Twins’ home run at the Met came off the bat of Pete Mackanin in the second inning, the blast that ended up also representing the last of the Twins’ runs in Metropolitan Stadium.


1981: Gary Gaetti’s Career Starts with a Bang

September 21, 2010

Sunday September 20, 1981

September can either be a month in which a team drives for the pennant, or a time to play the September call ups to see what you have for the future. All to often in the 1970′s and early 80′s it was the latter for the Twins. In 1981, a young third baseman saw his first action.

The Twins had drafted Gary Gaetti with the 11th overall pick in the June 1979 secondary draft. He was signed a few days later. It wasn’t long before, at the age of 22, Gaetti was called up to the majors.

He made his debut in a late September game at Arlington Stadium. Penciled in a third base and batting seventh, Gaetti first came to the plate with a man on and two outs in the bottom of the second inning. Charlie Hough had retired the first five Twins he faced before issuing a two out walk to Dave Engle.

Earlier in the season, both Kent Hrbek and Tim Laudner had homered in the their first major league game. Gaetti did them one better by doing it in his first plate appearance.

Gaetti was retired in his next two plate appearances and the Twins lost the game, but it was the hope in the upper Midwest that the early power showed by some of the young players would translate into wins down the road. It would take some time, but the wins would start coming.


1988: Oakland Clinches the West

September 20, 2010

Monday September 19, 1988

As the Twins close in on yet another AL Central title, it is easy to forget that there was a time when winning the division was not the norm for this team. In 1987, they seemingly came out of nowhere to win a weak AL West. A year later, though the Twins sported a better record than they had in their World Series year of 1987, the AL West was no longer a weak division. The Oakland A’s were on the front end of the dynasty that would last through the early part of the 1990′s, and it can be argued that the 1988 team was the best of those A’s teams.

By mid-September of 1988 it had become clear that the A’s were the better team, so the events of 9/19 seemed like somewhat of a formality.

The torch was passed from the Twins to the Oakland Athletics on a cool Monday night by the bay. More accurately, it was wrested away – yanked from the hands of a good team by a great team.

It shouldn’t have come as a surprise. The Athletics have been preening atop the division in full view of the American League for 150 games. This team is loaded, at least for one season, playing at a dizzying 41 games above .500.

No question, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise. The standings have been right there in hard black and white each morning. Even as Twins fans, remembering the unlikely events of 1987, waited for some miraculous intervention that would turn it all right-side up, the Athletics were flexing those muscles one more time.

The Athletics beat the Twins 5-3 at Oakland Coliseum to clinch the American League West Division title. Fans at the Metrodome can stop leaning toward one another and asking “What’d Oakland do?” every five minutes. Oakland has done enough.

-Tom Powers, Pioneer Press

From the other side of the river:

Even when the clinching was close, the entire matter seemed moot, decided weeks ago and accepted by everyone in both clubhouses. That it happened on the road might have softened the blow for the Twins, but it still stung.

The Twins remembered the feel, the atmosphere of that champagne-soaked clubhouse in Texas 12 months ago and they knew that it all belonged to Oakland Monday night. The Athletics marched off with a 5-3 victory and carried the American League West title with them inside the Coliseum, which started shaking in batting practice.

That the A’s should clinch against the Twins seemed fitting. Oakland general manager Sandy Alderson set out nine months ago to deal the A’s into the playoffs after the Twins stole the division with 85 victories. It worked. All of it.

Unlike Twins manager Tom Kelly, who stayed behind and watched the Twins roll around the Arlington Stadium mound last September, A’s manager Tony La Russa followed the last player off the bench and joined the party in progress.


1987: Don Baylor

September 2, 2010

September 1, 1987

The Twins waited until the morning of September 1 to formally announce the move, but Don Baylor was added to the Twins’ roster before midnight on August 31, the deadline for a player to be eligible for the post season.

The reason for the delayed announcement was that, to make room for Baylor, the Twins needed to let go of somebody. That somebody turned out to be future HOF’er Steve Carlton, whose 6.70 ERA left something to be desired.

Baylor, for his part, was excited about the prospect of playing for the Twins:

“How many games out are we (Boston is 15 games behind Detroit in the AL East)?” Baylor said. “Well, (the Twins) would excite me a lot more. That’s what players play for, being in a championship series. . . . Hopefully, I’ll be able to give them some experience on what the playoffs are all about, and taking one step at a time.”

There was also optimism among the local crowd, though it was somewhat tempered by what the Twins didn’t get before the deadline (from Dan Barreiro’s 9/2/87 column):

Make no mistake: This was a low-risk, solid move by Twins executive vice president Andy MacPhail. But there is one thing Baylor cannot do – and that is pitch. The acquisition of Baylor just before the midnight deadline Monday should not obscure the fact that the Twins have been unable to do much of anything to strengthen their starting pitching. Tuesday night’s 9-0 loss to the Red Sox was a not-so-gentle reminder.

The Twins have tried to improve their starters, but let’s look at the facts: Joe Niekro may have done wonders for the emery board business, and he may have given a four-star performance on David Letterman’s show, but he has not helped much on the mound. Last night, he gave up five runs in four innings. Steve Carlton was worth a look, but it’s time somebody stuck a fork in him. A big one. Shish kebab-size.

Baylor, of all people, should know that. He hit a grand slam home run off Carlton 10 days ago at Fenway Park.

Not that the long ball is the only way Baylor can get on base. “You’ll notice,” said Evans, “that he always seems to get hit in a crucial situation.”

Baylor’s batting average is .239. His on-base average is a robust .355, thanks in part to his well-known propensity for getting plunked by a pitched ball. He has elevated the act into an art form. This year he has been hit 24 times – the entire Twins team has been hit 20 times – to extend his all-time record total to 251. “He always finds a way to help you win,” said Evans.

Eventually he may help the Twins in the clubhouse, too. As Kelly said, “He’s been in the wars before.” In 18 years he has played on pennant contenders in Baltimore, California, New York and Boston. “The first time you get traded, it’s very traumatic,” Baylor said. “But after a while, you realize it’s a business. Two days ago, it said `Red Sox’ across my chest. Now it says `Twins.’ That’s the way it is.”

Baylor’s performance down the stretch did help the Twins – he batted .286/.397/.306 and his WARP3 was 0.2 in just 20 games played. His biggest impact, however, came in the post season. He went 2-for-5 against the Tigers in the ALCS before posting a .385/.467/.615 line in 15 World Series plate appearances, including his game-tying two-run home run in the fifth inning of Game 6.

In return for Baylor, the Twins sent right-hander Enrique Rios to Boston as the PTBNL. Rios had spent the 1987 season in single “A” Kensoha. Rios never made it to the major leagues.


1981: Hrbek’s Debut

August 25, 2010

Monday August 24, 1981

The Twins spent the bulk of the 1981 season platooning Ron Jackson and Danny Goodwin at first base. Both players had come to the team from California in the Dan Ford trade after the 1978 season, the same year that scout Angelo Giuliani signed a young Kent Hrbek to a Twins contract. When the Twins traded Jackson to Detroit for a player to be named later (Tim Corcoran), it opened a roster spot for a local kid who had been putting up some impressive numbers in single A Visalia.

The California League was a hitter’s league at the time, and Hrbek was hardly the only player to put up gaudy-looking numbers; but the Bloomington native stood out enough from the rest to be named league MVP even though he missed the last two weeks of the season due to his call up to Minnesota.

The Bloomington native was penciled in to manager Billy Gardner’s lineup batting eighth in a game at Yankee Stadium. After flying out in his first at-bat, Hrbek found success in the bottom of the fifth when he knocked in the Twins first run with an RBI infield single. Then, with the score tied at two in the 12th inning, Hrbek led off with a solo home run, which ultimately became the winning run.

“I should have slowed down my home run trot, so it would have lasted longer,” Hrbek said, “Right now it’s like I’m dreaming, like I don’t know where I am. It will take a while to sink in.” -Hrbek quoted by Patrick Reusse in TSN

Manager Gardner was at a loss for words:

“I had to get some smelling salts first,” Gardner said, “A home run… we don’t see many of those in this dugout.” -quoted by Patrick Reusse in TSN


All-Franchise Team: 1981-1990

August 20, 2010

C Brian Harper 6.0 WAR (1988-1990) – It is tempting to write Tim Laudner’s name in this spot. His entire career came during this decade, and he was the catcher for the 1987 World Series team. While Laudner logged more time with the Twins in the decade, it is easy to forget just how good Harper was in his first couple of seasons with the Twins. Not largely remembered as a great defensive catcher, the rationale the team gave when he took over for Laudner for good in 1989 was because he was a better catcher.

1B Kent Hrbek 29.9 WAR (1981-1990) – As much of a no-brainer as there is. The team’s starting first baseman in 1981 was Danny Goodwin. The next non-Hrbek regular first baseman for the Twins was Scott Stahoviak in 1995.

2B John Castino 7.7 WAR (1981-1983) – The position was pretty much a revolving door most of the decade, but Castino was one of the few “stars” on the Twins during the lean years of the early 1980′s.

SS Greg Gagne 12.1 WAR (1983-1990) – Gagne was so steady for the Twins at shortstop. While he didn’t provide the offense the team had hoped for, he played excellent defense up the middle for the bulk of the decade.

3B Gary Gaetti 23.8 WAR (1981-1990) – Another no-brainer. Played 1,361 games for the Twins, all in this decade.

LF Gary Ward 8.5 WAR (1981-1983) – The conventional wisdom would probably put Dan Gladden here. While largely credited as the catalyst for the 1987 World Series team, Gladden’s numbers don’t even approach Ward – Gladden posted just 3.5 WAR from 1987-1990.

CF Kirby Puckett 27.9 WAR (1984-1990) – Other candidates for center field include Darrell Brown and Mickey Hatcher. Enough said.

RF Tom Brunansky 14.6 WAR (1982-1988) – He was not the same player after the Twins traded him away, but it’s not like they got much in return.

DH Roy Smalley 2.2 WAR (1981-1982, 1985 – 1987) – Smalley’s inclusion on this list is more of an indictment on the team’s luck with designated hitters in the decade. Randy Bush might have been a better choice, but he played much more in the outfield than at DH in the decade. Perhaps Bush should be the pinch-hitter on the all-decade team.

SP Frank Viola 24.5 WAR (1982-1989) – Easily the best Twins pitcher of the decade. Led the team to one World Series, and his trade was the key to the pitching foundation of a second.

SP Bert Blyleven 9.3 WAR (1985-1988) – While Blyleven was not the same pitcher in his second stint with the Twins, he still provided some valuable innings.

SP Allan Anderson 7.9 WAR (1986-1990) – For two years Anderson looked like he might be the pitcher of the future for the Twins.

RP Jeff Reardon 4.3 WAR (1987-1989) – While I think Reardon tends to be overrated a bit, he doesn’t have a lot of competition for best closer of the decade- a fact that no doubt lends itself to Twins fans seeing him in a better light.

RP Juan Berenguer 5.0 WAR (1987-1990) – Whether as a starter, long reliever, set-up man, closer, or music video star, you could make a case that Juan Berenguer was one of the most valuable of the Twins pitchers for the latter part of the decade.


The Franchise 1990 (Part 2)

August 18, 2010

Roster/Stats (Pitchers)
Bold = Player new to Minnesota in 1990

SP Allan Anderson 7-18 4.53 ERA 93 ERA+ 1.34 WHIP 4.02 FIP -0.8 PW 7 WS 1.2 WAR
Anderson got off to a miserable start, going 2-11 with a 5.63 ERA through June. Most observers believed that the left-hander’s problems on the mound were mental in nature. Anderson did what he could to improve, including some visits with a sports psychiatrist. Whatever he tried seemed to work for the second half of the season. In 14 starts he went 5-7 with a 3.47 ERA, though most of the headlines surrounding Anderson in the last couple of months were about his effort to avoid losing 20 games.

SP Kevin Tapani 12-8 4.07 ERA 103 ERA+ 1.21 WHIP 3.10 FIP 0.4 PW 10 WS 2.4 WAR
In his first year as a major league regular, Tapani got some high praise:

“He gets the ball and throws it, and he is always around the plate. For a young man, he’s got a lot of poise. I think it’s important for a pitcher not to show any emotion on the mound. Tapani gives up a home run and says ‘Give me the ball, lets go.’ That’s the way Catfish Hunter used to be. He reminds me of Catfish Hunter.”

The quote, as pointed out by Jim Caple in The Sporting News, came from umpire Vic Voltaggio. His performance made him one of the mid-season favorites for AL Rookie of the Year Honors. Though he finished fifth for that particular award, Tapani seemed to find a home in Minnesota’s starting rotation.

SP Roy Smith 5-10 4.81 ERA 87 ERA+ 1.55 WHIP 4.29 FIP -1.1 PW 5 WS 0.4 WAR
With the team’s emphasis on young pitching, veteran Roy Smith, who was fresh off of his best season, had a bit of a short leash. By the end of the season Smith saw most of his action out of the bullpen. He was released by the Twins after the season. Smith signed with the Orioles and appeared in 17 games in 1991, his final taste of major league action.

SP David West 7-9 5.10 ERA 82 ERA+ 1.50 WHIP 5.10 FIP -1.3 PW 4 WS 0.3 WAR
David West was considered by many to be the centerpiece of the package the Twins received for Frank Viola in 1989. While he might have had the most potential, he struggled in his first attempt at full-time major league duty.

SP Mark Guthrie 7-9 3.79 ERA 111 ERA+ 1.33 WHIP 2.96 FIP 0.7 PW 9 WS 2.6 WAR
Guthrie ended his first season as a major league regular with 11 consecutive quality starts. Though he was mentioned in several trade rumors during the offseason, Andy MacPhail denied that the Twins organization was interested in trading any of its pitching, saying “we are not that good yet.”

SP Scott Erickson 8-4 2.87 ERA 147 ERA+ 1.41 WHIP 4.39 FIP 1.1 PW 9 WS 2.3 WAR
Erickson was drafted and signed by the Twins in June of 1989. A fourth round pick who had led the nation in victories with the University of Arizona in 1989, it didn’t take long for Erickson to make his way up through the Twins’ system. He skipped triple A all together and made his  major league debut exactly a year to the day after he signed. Erickson’s best pitch was a sinking fastball that tended to force hitters to hit ground balls. Erickson rode that pitch to success in 1990, and by the end of the season he was considered one of team’s best pitchers.

CL Rick Aguilera 5-3 2.76 ERA 153 ERA+ 1.13 WHIP 2.99 FIP 1.4 PW 12 WS 1.3 WAR
At first, Aguilera was not pleased when the Twins wanted to move him to the bullpen to take over the closing role upon the departure of Jeff Reardon. After only two months on the job, however, Aguilera’s success was such that the Twins rewarded his willingness (and success) with a three-year contract extension worth $2 million per year. By season’s end, Aggie was already among the league’s elite closers.

RP Juan Berenguer 8-5 3.41 ERA 123 ERA+ 1.43 WHIP 4.23 FIP 0.8 PW 8 WS 1.2 WAR
Berenguer had another very good year with the Twins. As a result the same collusion settlement that made Gaetti a free agent and Aguilera’s emergence as the Twins’ closer, Berenguer went off seeking ace-reliever money, signing as a free agent with Atlanta for about $1 million more per year than he would have made with the Twins. Had it not been for a lingering injury that kept Berenguer out of the 1991 post season, he might have faced his former team in the World Series.

RP Tim Drummond 3-5 4.35 ERA 97 ERA+ 1.54 WHIP 4.09 FIP -0.1 PW 4 WS 0.6 WAR
Drummond is the forgotten man in the Viola trade. This was really his only year of note.

RP Terry Leach 2-5 3.20 ERA 132 ERA+ 1.29 WHIP 2.81 FIP 0.7 PW 7 WS 1.4 WAR
Like most of the team’s new pitchers in 1989-1990, Terry Leach had recently been traded from the Mets organization. Unlike most of his teammates, Leach was a 36-year-old veteran reliever and he did not come to the Twins in the Viola deal. Leach signed as a free agent prior to the 1990 season after having a couple of mediocre seasons. He turned things around with the Twins, actually pitching just as well if not better than he did at his mid-1980′s peak.


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