Jump to content
Twins Daily
  • Create Account

Why Winning Matters


LastOnePicked

2,689 views

 Share

Twins Video

There’s a great scene in the first season of Ted Lasso. Coach Lasso is sitting and mulling over end of season strategy with his assistant, Coach Beard. Lasso realizes that his approach with his players might not give the team the best shot at winning, but smiles and reassures Coach Beard that “winning ain’t how we measure success.”

Coach Beard turns red. He slams his fist on the table and hollers, “DAMN IT, IT IS!”

Winning matters. Which brings us, ironically enough, back to the Minnesota Twins. In the last 18 years of baseball, only two MLB teams have failed to win a postseason game. One of those teams, the Seattle Mariners, are a virtual lock to win a Wild Card spot. That may soon leave the Twins alone at the bottom of the postseason winning heap for this stretch. Last in success, out of all 30 major league teams.

“C’mon,” you’ll argue. “Stop blowing this out of proportion. Just look at those division pennants waving atop Target Field. One of them is even as recent as 2020. That’s success.” Sure, I know they’re there. I just can’t shake the feeling that they just don’t matter all that much. Sure, the Twins have had some success in a weak division - the children’s table of baseball - building up midseason leads and slipping ahead of marginal competition. But when the heat is on, when the top teams are in town, when the playoff bunting flies, the Twins aren’t much of a ballclub. They don’t win when it really counts, when it would generate excitement, when it would really bring the state together. They are a professional organization run and staffed by what seem to be genuinely decent and otherwise competent people. 

But they don’t win … and that matters.

In 1986, I fell head over heels for the Minnesota Twins. They were a bad ballclub, but I loved the game and I loved the team and I loved the Metrodome (yeah, I know). My dad took me to ten games or so that year, taking time from a very busy work schedule to indulge me. He even took me to Fan Appreciation Night, where Bert Blyleven apologized to the crowd for a disappointing season, adding that he saw the core of a talented club that could bring a World Series to Minnesota in 1987.

My father audibly groaned. “It’ll never happen,” he said. 

“What if it does,” I asked.

“Look, if the Twins go to the World Series next year, I’ll buy us both tickets. But it won’t happen, kid.”

You know the rest. Like magic, it did happen. And we were there. And my father, a serious man, hooted and cheered and waved like a kid. He loved the Twins more than I had realized, and he’d waited his life for this. When they won Game 7, he paraded me through the streets of Minneapolis on his shoulders. We hugged and high-fived strangers and police officers. We celebrated the success of our local team, a scrappy small market underdog. 

“Enjoy it” he told me. “Because it’ll never happen again.”

We did not buy tickets to the 1991 series. We watched all the drama from the comfort of home. But I grew up with an embarrassment of baseball riches. More than that, I have memories of my father - the stoic US Navy veteran and successful man of business - that are priceless. I got to see my father become a kid, just like me, bursting with joy over the game of baseball.

The years are wearing on him now, and it's hard to know how much time we have left together. We don’t talk Twins much anymore, my father and me. He never watches games and rarely reads the box scores. I tried to sit him down to watch the 2019 Twins take on the Marlins on TV. I hyped him up for the “Bomba Squad” and chose an opponent I was sure the Twins could beat. I wanted him back on the bandwagon with me. I thought a special season was coming together again.

Newly acquired Sam Dyson blew the lead. Buxton injured his shoulder. The Twins lost 5-4 in extras. But my dad didn’t see it end - he had gone to the garage to tinker with the lawn mower engine. Somehow, he knew that team wasn’t anything special. “Wake me up when they look like a winner again,” he told me.

So here we are, three years removed from the 2019 season which ended in another postseason whimper. The consolation at the time was that the Twins appeared on the cusp of a breakout - a potential string of AL Central dominance that might lead them deep into the playoffs. Instead, we’ve just witnessed an absolutely epic late-season collapse that will leave them in third place and likely below .500 for the second straight year. Worst to third in the AL Central, particularly after signing the #1 free agent in baseball in the offseason, hardly inspires much hope.

It’s not that these things don’t happen in baseball, or in all professional sports. It would be foolish to expect the Twins - a mid-market team - to win back-to-back championships every decade, or to be angered by occasional rough seasons or disappointing endings. It’s not so much that the Twins lose, but how they lose - and that they lose when it matters most and even when they seemingly have what they need to succeed - that is so hard to stomach. It’s a culture of losing that has essentially destroyed fan morale and widespread interest in the game here in Minnesota. 

Here’s what I’m trying to say: It’s not just that the Twins lose, it’s how losing no longer seems to be a problem for the organization. 

No one who represents the Twins really seems disappointed or upset by what's happened this season. There’s no visible sense of urgency or frustration. The club’s director of communication admonishes critics for any negativity and tells fans to “ride with us,” without acknowledging that the club’s trainwreck bullpen failures made getting back in the fandom car seem like a death wish. “We played our game, we played hard,” is Baldelli’s general mantra after bitter losses, as though professionals being paid hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars shouldn’t be expected to “play hard” as a basic condition of their employment. Instead of playoff wins, we’ve gotten endless strings of excuses: injuries, payroll limitations, called strikes that only seem to pinch our batters, and platitudes about being “almost there” and busy “reloading.”

What’s that old saying? Sound and fury, signifying nothing. Though scratch that - what I wouldn’t give for even a little well-placed fury from this club. They endlessly preach process, but seem to have no real interest in results.

Meanwhile, there is an entire generation of young people who have never once seen a Twins playoff victory. They’ve never seen their friends or family members turn giddy at the prospect of coming out on top, of beating the big boys of baseball in late autumn.They’ve never seen the way a playoff run can pull people together and shake up the routine of life. Winning inspires chatter and energy. It changes dull small talk about the weather into tales of late-inning heroics. The perfect throw to the plate to preserve a close lead. The seeing-eye single that brought in the tying run. The walk-off home run that electrifies a city.

Minnesota is a beautiful state. The Twin Cities represent two vibrant metropolitan centers within a short cross-river drive. Greater Minnesota features majestic beauty and kind-hearted communities. At times, we become two very different kinds of people living in the same state. We sometimes lose a common worldview and a common cause. On top of that, we’ve weathered a pandemic, civil unrest, extreme political division and economic instability. Any of the top professional teams in this state that actually commits to winning - and actually does win when it counts - will find that, beyond their own satisfaction, they’ve added a stitch or two to a sense of unity and pride in the state. 

Winning gives people relief and hope - even in small ways - and it gives them moments and stories with those they love. Yes, baseball is only a sport and maybe even a dying one, but winning is symbolic. Winning inspires.

I know I’m cranky. There will soon be any number of articles coming from people who are less cranky about how the Twins had some positive developments this year, and that the FO gave their trades and signings their best shot, and that some prospects took major steps forward, and that winning at the professional level isn’t the only thing that matters. I’m going to shake my head when I read those stories. I may even pound my fist on the table.

Because damn it, it is.

Winning is how you measure success in MLB. Winning is the only thing that matters at this level (and please don’t counter with “playing the game fairly is more important,” because that, too, is a basic professional expectation that should go without saying). And the Twins don’t win when it counts. And that matters. And anyone who does not make this the top priority for this team should no longer be involved with this organization. Find out why injuries keep derailing promising prospects. Find out why high-leverage situations at the plate and on the mound keep resulting in failure. Find out why the team looks like roadkill when the Yankees come to town. Find out why the team lacks fundamental skills on the bases and in the field. Focus less on mundane processes and more on getting situational results. Put the team through high-stress drills. Get the players ready for battle, rather than stocked with excuses when they fail.

Because Coach Beard is right. Winning matters. And it’s been far, far, far too long since the Twins have won anything when it counts.

 

 Share

20 Comments


Recommended Comments

Absolutely incredible blog.  Thank you for clearly articulating why I have nearly given up on my beloved team after similarly rooting for them for nearly 40 years.  in addition to all of your stellar assessments, I believe the hyper focus on analytics is actually eroding our Twins ability to win in big moments.  Let me explain. 

In an ironic twist, I own a data analytics firm of my own (specializing in private higher education enrollment).  Analytics are designed to allow the decision makers the ability to make decisions without emotion clouding their judgement.  Great.  Wonderful concept.  But, if all that was needed to run or manage a team was analytics, we wouldn't need a front office or even a manager.  We would just need a data analyst to text an operations director in the dugout what they should do.  When every single decision is made without emotion, eventually, the players who are generating that analytical data will similarly become conditioned to play with less emotion...and that's the rub. 

Baseball, nay, sports in general, are designed to be emotional!  That's the attraction - both as a player and especially as a fan.  I don't want to always see 'the right thing'....I want to see 'the thing that moves me'.  I yearn to see the underdog surpass expectations.  I hunger to see a manager assess the player at the moment - does he have it right now?  Do I leave him in to face the order again?  Do I allow a rookie to try to throw a no-hitter?!?!?!?  

Analytics creates a plan....but no plan is perfect.  As I have learned in my business, courageous leadership is about learning how and when to deviate from the plan and how and when to stick to it.  Look at Tito Francona, Dave Roberts, Tony LaRussa, Brian Snitker.  These guys understand how to manage the emotional side of the game...and their teams have been winners in the clutch.  I'm not knocking Rocco.  I just think he needs to learn there is an art to leading a team that far beyond what analytics tell you to do in every, stinking, moment.

Link to comment
51 minutes ago, misaan said:

Analytics creates a plan....but no plan is perfect.  As I have learned in my business, courageous leadership is about learning how and when to deviate from the plan and how and when to stick to it.  Look at Tito Francona, Dave Roberts, Tony LaRussa, Brian Snitker.  These guys understand how to manage the emotional side of the game...and their teams have been winners in the clutch.  I'm not knocking Rocco.  I just think he needs to learn there is an art to leading a team that far beyond what analytics tell you to do in every, stinking, moment.

You compliment me, and yet your reply articulates the Twins management issues far better than anything I wrote in my blog post. Excellent points. Thank you.

Link to comment
2 hours ago, misaan said:

Absolutely incredible blog.  Thank you for clearly articulating why I have nearly given up on my beloved team after similarly rooting for them for nearly 40 years.  in addition to all of your stellar assessments, I believe the hyper focus on analytics is actually eroding our Twins ability to win in big moments.  Let me explain. 

In an ironic twist, I own a data analytics firm of my own (specializing in private higher education enrollment).  Analytics are designed to allow the decision makers the ability to make decisions without emotion clouding their judgement.  Great.  Wonderful concept.  But, if all that was needed to run or manage a team was analytics, we wouldn't need a front office or even a manager.  We would just need a data analyst to text an operations director in the dugout what they should do.  When every single decision is made without emotion, eventually, the players who are generating that analytical data will similarly become conditioned to play with less emotion...and that's the rub. 

Baseball, nay, sports in general, are designed to be emotional!  That's the attraction - both as a player and especially as a fan.  I don't want to always see 'the right thing'....I want to see 'the thing that moves me'.  I yearn to see the underdog surpass expectations.  I hunger to see a manager assess the player at the moment - does he have it right now?  Do I leave him in to face the order again?  Do I allow a rookie to try to throw a no-hitter?!?!?!?  

Analytics creates a plan....but no plan is perfect.  As I have learned in my business, courageous leadership is about learning how and when to deviate from the plan and how and when to stick to it.  Look at Tito Francona, Dave Roberts, Tony LaRussa, Brian Snitker.  These guys understand how to manage the emotional side of the game...and their teams have been winners in the clutch.  I'm not knocking Rocco.  I just think he needs to learn there is an art to leading a team that far beyond what analytics tell you to do in every, stinking, moment.

I agree that Baldelli is somewhat robotic and that the organization smoothing over things continually drains all involved of emotion needed for success!! The move with Ryan after 7 innings was the right move for the TEAM……you needed him ready for his next start in a tight race…….he came back with 3 hits spread over 7 2/3 this weekend. That’s a success. Can’t complain about that! Play to WIN THE GAME not excite the fan base by seeing if Ryan can throw a no-hitter.

Link to comment
1 hour ago, Richie the Rally Goat said:

Winning 101 games doesn’t count as winning, but winning 85 and World Series does?

If the only thing you care about is winning a World Series, good luck!

I'm thinking you missed the general point of the article (winning playoff games should be an absolute imperative for this club), but I'll run with what you might think is a knock on me. Yes, all I care about is the Twins winning the World Series. I wish more Twins fans, players and personnel felt the same. If you don't set ambitious goals, you'll never meet them.

Link to comment

There was a period after Tony O retired, when the Twins donned on the baby blues, they became the Twinkies, I could no longer watch them because they were so terrible. Not until they put the pinstripes back on that I started to watch them again & they won the World Series in '87. 

To me an uniform can be more than an uniform, it can be an attitude. Many are nostalgic about the Twinkies, I am not, I hate losing. 2021 to celebrate the 30 yr. anniversary of the '91 World Series instead of bringing back the pinstripes and the winning attitude, they brought back the baby blues & the lackeldaizical attitude. Is this the attitude they want to promote? It seems like it.

Link to comment
2 hours ago, LastOnePicked said:

I'm thinking you missed the general point of the article (winning playoff games should be an absolute imperative for this club), but I'll run with what you might think is a knock on me. Yes, all I care about is the Twins winning the World Series. I wish more Twins fans, players and personnel felt the same. If you don't set ambitious goals, you'll never meet them.

That’s not really how stretch goals work. If you sandbag it, you frequently meet your goals, but never achieve excellence. If you set stretch goals, you accomplish greater achievements, but rarely meet your goals.

I guess I sandbag my fandom. I volunteer here as a moderator, but keep very open-ended expectations of the team as I don’t have any control over them.

Link to comment
21 hours ago, JD-TWINS said:

The move with Ryan after 7 innings was the right move for the TEAM……you needed him ready for his next start in a tight race……

Respectfully, I disagree. I get that many people agreed with lifting Ryan and Bremer spent a week telling us that Baldelli made the right move. I disagree and believe the players did too. There are times when pitchers have suffered from throwing too many pitches, for sure. The poster for this is Johan Santana when he threw his no hitter for the Mets. Ryan was under zero stress and it is simply an assumption, albeit by many, that Ryan would be harmed going back out to the mound. I understand the point made by the Twins but I disagree.

Winning matters and so does how you win.

Link to comment

Great story! I couldn't have put it any better. I have been a die hard fan since the Twins moved here. There seems to be more and more of an I don't care attitude lately. There is always Rocco saying things that aren't really excuses, but nobody seems to get pissed off by losing anymore. I hear different people talking about an even keel approach but I would like to see somebody get pissed enough over some of the stupid stuff I've seen since the great "choke" started.

Link to comment

Absolutely a great article. There are a lot of things wrong with this organization that you enveloped. The two that I'd like to emphazise are,... winning when it matters and not having a problem with losing. I think those 2 are key to the culture that the Twins have fallen into. When you can't beat a team like the Yankees and then walk away thinking, well yeah, we lost, they're the Yankees, we weren't suppose to be able to beat them anyway, you have a major problem. Even before the injuries decimated this team, they could not beat a good team. Injuries are not an excuse for poor play, poor management decisions and just going out onto the field with an uninspired approach to playing. Sure, they go through the motions and play the game but playing with conviction and the desire to win every game just doesn't seem to be there, but rest assured that the FO and ownership will use the injury excuse to blame away another season instead of the real problem which you explained so perfectly.

Link to comment
45 minutes ago, rv78 said:

When you can't beat a team like the Yankees and then walk away thinking, well yeah, we lost, they're the Yankees, we weren't suppose to be able to beat them anyway, you have a major problem.

I've really been trying to pin down what's wrong with this club in terms of culture, and your reply helped trigger some additional thoughts, so thank you.

I'll have to find the citation, but basically there was a research project a few years back that tried to explore the relationship between mentoring messages and student success on math tests. If I remember correctly, the project drew from a pool of students who had approximately the same strong math aptitude scores. They divided the pool into two groups and separated them: Group A were essentially told that they were average students, and if they worked harder than anyone, they could improve and actually become great at math. Group B were told that they were already high achievers at math, and that all they had to do was simply maintain their excellence.

When tested at the end of the year, Group A outscored Group B by a large margin. That's not surprising. What is surprising is that when it came time to take optional tests - to test their learning along the way - almost every student in Group A took optional tests. Almost no students in Group B did.

Rocco is very good at supportive messages. He's kind, and he sees the best in his players. Sadly, I think that's maybe part of the problem. I don't think he understands how to instill a sense of urgency and hunger in his players. He's stuck in 2019 thinking - that this is still a 100-win team. What he doesn't understand is that the 2019 team really wasn't all that good, and the playoffs proved it.

Link to comment

"Rocco is very good at supportive messages. He's kind, and he sees the best in his players. Sadly, I think that's maybe part of the problem. I don't think he understands how to instill a sense of urgency and hunger in his players. "

Yes, We have seen poor fundamentals in the field by players and poor management such as, the lack of trying to manufacture runs. Rocco accepts not scoring if they can't do it the way they've done it in the past. (Bomba Squad) The acceptance of normalcy or less has become okay and that makes winning when it matters difficult to almost impossible. 

Link to comment
2 hours ago, LastOnePicked said:

I don't think he understands how to instill a sense of urgency and hunger in his players. He's stuck in 2019 thinking - that this is still a 100-win team. What he doesn't understand is that the 2019 team really wasn't all that good, and the playoffs proved it.

I give full marks to Baldelli for 2019.  It's always dangerous to try to guess what's in other people's minds, but I think there's a good argument that the prior edition of the team had been playing "tight" under the supervision of a hall of famer, and an innovation or two like a "nap room", fewer drills, plus letting Nelson Cruz exert a veteran presence, was just the tonic needed.

But I also believe that average managers have a short shelf life, and their approach can't be static.  Baldelli retains the "even keel" approach even when it could be that the players, a few of them anyway, need the proverbial kick in the pants rather than the pat on the back.  If Baldelli doesn't have it in him to tell players that if performance doesn't pick up quickly, changes are coming, then maybe a tough-guy needs to be brought in.  Who, in turn, will wear out his welcome in a season or three, but maybe that's how to get something out of 2023, and let 2024-5 take care of themselves.

Or, preferably, find someone who knows how to play Good Cop / Bad Cop on the appropriate day of the week, and proves to be better than average.

Link to comment

A simply great article. All of it true. When winning is relegated to 2nd place, failure walks in the door and stays there. Making exuses..and touting great things when you lose is a fools game, at least in pro sports it is. Winning actually does bring communities together....strange as it seems. I live close to Buffalo....a city that is rife with losing. What is going on there now, with Josh Allen and the resurgence of the Bills is something to witness. You can only endure losing for so long, before you actually do give up the ship. Small wins are nice...but the BIG wins are the ones that really matter. The Atlanta Braves won a division title every year for a decade....with only 1 WS win to their credit. The result was an empty ballpark.

While there are always exceptions, there will never be an exception to winning in pro sport.  And even if you can't win...you had better 'die' trying with all the grape and guys you can muster.

Link to comment
Guest
Add a comment...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
×
×
  • Create New...