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  1. To tell the story of Matt Walbeck, it goes back to his early days as a baseball fan in northern California. He was able to watch and learn from two really good major-league teams, the Oakland A’s and the San Francisco Giants. As he said, “I liked both. I would go to the Giants and the A’s games with my dad. I was one of those fans that pulled for both of them.” He wasn’t the biggest kid, but he had a lot of support and kept working, and growing. “I wanted to be a Major League Baseball player ever since I was five. I had to fight for everything that I had. I was never the biggest or strongest kid on the team. My dad was my coach and used to practice with me a lot. By the time I got to high school, I was still considered too small to catch. So freshman and sophomore years, I played other positions like second or third base.” An opportunity arose during his junior year. “The catcher in front of me didn’t get good grades, so I took over the spot. I started to lift weights and got bigger and stronger. I always knew I was going to play in the Major Leagues, but it wasn’t until that point that I realized I had a chance to get drafted. The scouts were coming and looking at one of my teammates, Wayne Weinheimer, who played in the minor leagues with the Cubs.” He became a very good, highly-touted high school player in Sacramento and became the eighth round draft pick of the Chicago Cubs in 1987. “I was going to sign no matter what out of high school because I always wanted to get to the big leagues, and I figured there was no better way than to learn how to play professional baseball as a youngster. I was 17.” As a high school draft pick, he gradually made the move up the minor leagues, though there was some extended missed time. “When I was 19, I blew my knee out. I had a career-threatening ACL/MCL injury.” The injury cost him part of the 1989 season and most of the 1990 season. But you could say that he made the most of the time off, adding another aspect to his game. He said, “During the time it took me to rehab my knee, I taught myself to switch-hit. So I came back as a switch-hitter.” He spent the entire 1992 season at Double-A Charlotte. He had hit .301/.358/.418 (.776) with 22 doubles and seven homers. He went to spring training with the Cubs in 1993. Ryne Sandberg broke his arm and started the season on the Disabled List. That opened up a roster spot. Just days before the season was set to begin, GM Larry Himes and manager Jim Lefebvre called him over during batting practice. “I walked over. I thought they were going to send me down, but they said, ‘Hey, Congratulations! You made the team.’ So, that was pretty exciting.” I’d say so. He played in 11 games for the Cubs at the start of the season and hit .200. However, he had two doubles and a home run (off of Jose DeLeon) among his six hits. He spent the rest of that season in Triple-A. Following that 1993 season, the Twins traded right-hander Willie Banks to the Cubs for Walbeck and right-hander Dave Stevens. The Twins hoped they had their catcher and closer for the next several years. “It was really exciting. Baseball is a business, and I understood that deals had to be made. It opened up a spot for me to really learn from Tom Kelly, and play alongside Kirby Puckett. To learn to play the game like that, having watched the Twins as a minor leaguer, watching them win the World Series in 1987 and again in 1991. I knew quite a bit about their organization and the importance they placed on the fundamentals of the game, to always play hard and get the most out of what you had.” Of course, he was a young player who played for Tom Kelly, who was very well known for not being real patient with rookies.. “My Tom Kelly experience was... I learned a great deal from him. He was very difficult on younger players, and I had it coming. Sometimes I spoke more than I listened. I was young, inexperienced. I didn’t really understand what it was like to play in the Major Leagues. At the same time, even as a young player, you have to be very confident. Sometimes you walk the line of being overly confident. He was very hard on me. I think he respected me. I respected him.” Walbeck continued, “It was a tough time for him, trying to rebuild. And, trying to fill the shoes of Brian Harper isn’t an easy task. He was an amazing player. It was very difficult to fill those shoes. The city welcomed me. The teammates were great. TK was great, but sometimes he had very little patience, and understandably so.” Minnesota Twins The Twins had the two World Series titles, but things went downhill fairly quickly after the 1992 season. “It was a tough time for the Twins and for baseball in general. “Our teams weren’t very good. Our winning percentage wasn’t very good. It was tough losing more than winning, and rebuilding. There were a lot of great moments, but certainly a lot of not great moments.” Across the league, things were changing as well. “We went on strike in 1994, and we came back later in 1995. So the game was somewhat going through some growing pains. We broke it apart for a little bit. Owners and players alike. It became a challenge from that point too. The game had changed. They did some re-alignment. They added a division, the Central. I can remember Hrbek saying he was disappointed because we didn’t play the A’s in the same division anymore because they were rivals.” He made the Opening Day roster in 1994 and spent three seasons with the Twins. In 275 games played, Walbeck hit .230 with 40 doubles and eight homers. Walbeck said, “(TK) stuck with me, and he gave me more chances than I probably deserved, to be honest. The whole organization did. I was so fortunate to have that opportunity, and looking back on it, getting to play with Kirby Puckett and Chuck Knoblauch, and to catch Scott Erickson and Rick Aguilera.” He added, “I mean, I remember hitting behind Dave Winfield. That was just surreal. Kent Hrbek. All those guys.” He was there for Dave Winfield’s 3000th hit, “Molitor too. I was there for Paul Molitor’s 3000th hit.” But his favorite memory? “ My biggest memory, my happiest moment playing for the Twins, was catching Scott Erickson’s no-hitter. By far. That was my career highlight.” He really grew to love the Twin Cities too. “The city itself is just a wonderful city. I really learned to fish there, and get into the great outdoors. Man, what a great experience!” His playing time lessened in 1996, and after that season he was traded to the Detroit Tigers. He spent a season with the Tigers before spending three seasons with the Angels. “Playing in Anaheim was great because it was closer to home. It was my first multi-year contract. That was awesome. I got to play for Mike Scioscia, Terry Collins and even Joe Maddon a little bit.” He spent the 2001 season in the Phillies organization. “I was in Philadelphia for a long time. That was when 9/11 hit. I didn’t have an at bat for three weeks or so. My wife was getting ready to give birth, so I had to leave pretty soon too. We were making a playoff run, and I didn't have any at bats. It came down to the point where I had to literally beg Larry Bowa to get me in there. It was in Florida, on the road, game was out of hand, and he was somewhat hesitant but then finally gave in. I realized that at-bat was going to be my only at-bat for the entire year. Reflecting on my baseball card, with my stats, this was it. I didn’t know if I was ever going to play again. I was fortunate enough to get a hit in that at bat, so I batted 1.000 that year. Oh man, talk about a career highlight. It really doesn’t mean a lot but to me it was pretty special.” He ended his career with two more seasons in Detroit. “2002 was a rough season. Then 2003 was really rough. We went 43-119 which was … we almost broke the record for the all-time losingest season.” Upon retirement, Walbeck went into the world of coaching. He had a ton of success, winning a couple of league championships, as a minor league manager in the Tigers organization. He spent a season coaching for the Texas Rangers in 2008. Then he went back to managing. After 11 seasons, “that was enough.” “I look back on it very fondly. At the end of the day, I’ve worked for ten of 30 major-league teams as either a player, coach or a manager. That’s over 25 years of professional experience in organized baseball. I”m only 50, but I still look back on it and think, ‘Wow! I’ve accomplished a lot.’ Half my life I was in pro baseball. Pretty cool.” --------------------------------------------------------- He went back home to Sacramento. He did some lessons, but he was able to be a dad and a husband, helping his wife as their three children were growing up. Walbeck’s son is now 21 and just got his first ‘real’ job. He’s got a daughter who just finished high school and is headed to college soon. He’s also got a daughter in eighth grade. In 2011, his lessons developed into a business, the Walbeck Baseball Academy. Walbeck offers training classes. Players come into his facilities and warm up. They choose classes like hitting, pitching, or the catcher position. They have memberships or training plans. They would enroll and come in to train. Well, that was before COVID. Walbeck had to let some staff go since students can’t come into the facilities for indoor training.. Now Walbeck is at the office nearly every day handling online training. He offers Zoom classes, three to five classes a day, up to five days a week. He has up to 15 players in each class. He says over the past, he’s done 250 Zoom classes and reached about 1,400 students. “It’s pretty amazing to see the improvements the kids are making, and the different areas they work around their house, such as the garage or the living room, or kids will go to the park. We do drills, and I focus on each kid, and I help them with their technique and their concentration and their confidence.” Walbeck lives in a suburb of Sacramento, and his facility is in Rancho Cordero, California. Most of the players who have attended the facilities are from within a 50-mile radius. However, with the online training and camps on Zoom, you can sign up and participate from anywhere around the country. For more information, be sure to bookmark Walbeck Baseball Academy. Check out the training opportunities and the camps. Check out the schedule of training coming up. Hey, there are even training sessions for adults. --------------------------------------- One more fun story from Walbeck. We talked a bit about how the Catcher position has evolved since he was a big league catcher. “That position has changed dramatically over the years. When I was trained to play professionally, your job was to block pitches and be in a position to throw guys out, as well as receive the pitch. But you also had umpires back in those days that would come down on you if you tried to frame pitches.” “In fact, Paul Runge was my first umpire in a spring training game, and he literally told me he would have my (butt) if I ever tried to frame another pitch for the rest of my career.” “I couldn’t believe it. I went to Tom Trebelhorn and said, ‘Hey get a load of this…I’m not supposed to frame pitches.’ “He said, ‘Hey, you get back out there and tell him you’re paid to do this.’ OK. This guy is a veteran ump in the major leagues, so I had to deal with that.” “The umpire catcher relationship was very strong. You had to have their trust. You didn’t want to try to steal anything from them. Nowadays, you’re literally trying to steal pitches from them. Yeah, you’d try to steal pitches, but you didn’t want to embarrass yourself by pulling pitches too far. Now there’s so much emphasis on trying to pull pitches.” ---------------------------------------------------------- I’ve got to say, this was a fun phone call for me. I think the interview portion was about 15-18 minutes, and then we just talked baseball for another 20-25 minutes. It was fantastic, and you can just hear and feel Matt Walbeck’s joy and passion for the game of baseball. If you get a chance, please take a look at the Walbeck Baseball Academy website, and consider signing up for one of his training sessions.
  2. Both Kirby Puckett and Michael Jordan made their professional debuts in 1984 and both were joining teams that had struggled in recent years. The Twins had a record of 171-262 (.394 W-L%) during the three seasons prior to Puckett’s debut. The Bulls were even worse in the years leading to Jordan’s arrival. The Bulls went 89-157 (.361 W-L%) in the three seasons before Jordan suited up in the red and black. Winning did not come instantaneously for either franchise because it takes a while to build a supporting cast after years of losing. Minnesota finished second in the AL West in Puckett’s first year, but then the club finished fourth and sixth before breaking through for the team’s first title in 1987. Jordan would have to wait even longer as the Bulls made the playoffs every year, but it took until 1991 for his first championship. Jordan made it very clear in the documentary that he needed a player like Scottie Pippen to be alongside him because Jordan couldn’t do it alone. Many of the Twins supporting cast was already in Minnesota before Puckett arrived. Kent Hrbek, Frank Viola, Gary Gaetti and Tom Brunansky were just a few of the key World Series players who debuted ahead of Puckett. Pivotal coaching changes also drastically altered the career paths of both Jordan and Puckett. In fact, within one year of coaches switches, both franchises would clinch their first title. Phil Jackson took over as the head coach of the Bulls for the 1989-90 season and Tom Kelly took the reigns in 1986. It’s not hard to imagine a scenario where the legacy of Jordan and Puckett would have been vastly altered with different coaches at the helm. The championships came, both cities were energized, but the lasting legacy for both players might have been “what could have been” situation even though they are Hall of Fame players. Back in 2016, ESPN named both players as part of a series on unfulfilled potential. Jordan’s minor league baseball career could have cost the Bulls a chance at eight-straight titles. Twins fans are well aware of Puckett’s career being cut short due to lost eyesight. Fans might still ask themselves, “What could have been?” Puckett’s legacy in the Twin Cities and upper midwest is well established, much like what Jordan’s legacy means to Chicago. In the book Puck by Chuck Carlson, Twins President Dave St. Peter said, “There’s a great sense of community pride with Kirby Puckett. He’s our Michael Jordan, our Larry Bird.” There are connections between the two metropolitan areas and the two players that redefined their individual organizations. For Twins fans, Kirby Puckett was the player that revitalized the franchise after years of ineptitude. For the NBA, no player may have meant more to any league than what Michael Jordan and the Bulls did in the 1990’s. Players like these are once in a generation and it’s hard to ignore their greatness. One player born in Chicago that provided more than one heroic World Series moment. One player born in North Carolina that provided more than one heroic NBA Finals moment. Two players connected in more ways than one. Who do you think meant more to their city? Michael Jordan to Chicago or Kirby Puckett to the Twin Cities? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
  3. “The crowd was crazy,” said 2019 starting pitcher Jake Odorizzi. “I played in Tampa Bay, so this was pretty much the polar opposite of that. Not that it bothered me. What bothered me was Herbie. You have to tip your hat to him.” Hrbek had plenty of opportunities to tip his own hat to the 55,426 full-throated fans, most notably after a third inning grand slam put the 1991 Twins up 8-0. “Right place, right time,” laughed Hrbek. Getting Hrbek into the right place at the right time involved juggling the lineup. With Dan Gladden out tonight with an undisclosed leg injury, Kelly shifted some players around – and raised some eyebrows. Kent Hrbek batting second instead of his traditional cleanup spot? What is this? 2020? “We might know a few things in 1991,” smirked Kelly. Like maybe he wanted his best left-handed hitter getting to face the right-handed Odorizzi a few extra times? “Maybe that,” deadpanned Kelly. “Herbie can swing the bat. He can hit anywhere in the lineup.” Last night it could not have worked better. By the time the third inning had ended, Hrbek had three hits, two home runs, six RBI and had scored three runs. He had the first hit of the game - a single - in the first inning and came around to score on a Chili Davis single. In the second inning he blasted a line drive over the left field wall that also brought home Mike Pagliarulo and stretched the lead to 4-0. The big blow came in the third inning. Odorizzi, who struggled with his control the entire night, started the inning by walking Brian Harper and Gene Larkin. After striking out Greg Gagne, he also walked Pagliarulo, loading the bases. That ended his night. Still, the 2019 Twins nearly escaped. Ryne Harper was brought in to face the top of the order and struck out Chuck Knoblauch on three pitches. That brought up the second spot in the order….and Hrbek? “No, I don’t remember ever hitting second, or at least not starting a game there,” Hrbek said when asked about his spot in the order. “Maybe as a pinch-hitter?” But he was there last night, with the bases loaded, two outs, and a chance to turn this first game of the series into a laugher. Turn he did, on a 1-1 pitch, lifting a majestic fly ball over the baggy in right-center field. The party in the Metrodome stands began. It was a little different in the 2019 Twins dugout. “I have never heard sound like that in my life,” said Odorizzi. While he said the crowd noise didn’t bother him, Odorizzi never did get on track. He didn’t give up the backbreaking second home run, but he kept setting the table with walks while falling behind in the count. He lasted just 2 1/3 innings and walked six. He also gave up five hits while striking out two. The first seven runs of the game were charged to him. The early fireworks paved the way for, and overshadowed, a gem by 1991 starting pitcher Keven Tapani. Tapani nearly pitched a complete-game shutout. After striking out the first two batters in the ninth inning, a ground ball to second base should’ve ended his night. But Hrbek dropped a throw from Knoblauch, allowing Jorge Polanco to reach. Luis Arraez followed that with a double, bringing Tapani to 101 pitches and ending his night before the final out. "We'll need to turn to him again soon," said Kelly. David West came in and got the final out, but only after giving up a three-run bomb to Nelson Cruz that provided a little balm to an otherwise shell-shocked 2019 Twins squad. They’ll attempt to rebound tomorrow night with their ace Jose Berrios on the mound. But the 1991 Twins will have their own ace, Jack Morris, attempt to put them up 2-0 before they travel across downtown to Target Field for Game 3. You can find the boxscore and pitch-by-pitch results for Game One attached below. If you would like to learn more about Out of the Park 21, please click on this link. If you would like to try it, you can also download it for 10% off the regular price using the code TWINSDAILY. MLB Box Score, Minnesota 2019 Twins at Minnesota 1991 Twins Game 1.pdf Minnesota 2019 Twins @ Minnesota 1991 Twins Game Log Game 1.pdf
  4. Like six other teams, the Twins enter 2019 with a manager looking to complete their first full season with the team. Of the seven new bosses, only one has completed a full MLB season for another team – Brad Ausmus, whose time with the Tigers he’d likely prefer to be stricken from the record – and while the expectations for Cardinals manager Mike Shildt are notably higher than they are for the Rangers’ Chris Woodward, it’s good to have a frame of reference for how first-year managers typically do. Rather than wading through the entire universe of MLB managers, then trying to make judgments about how similar a given era is to the modern game, I’ve looked at the current managerial cohort, all of whom joined their current teams this decade…except Bruce Bochy, who will be stepping aside at the end of this season. (Some managers go out on top, but Bochy – who owns three World Series rings and took the Padres to a fourth – looks set to do the opposite as the Giants are not exactly well-positioned in the NL West.) Managers making their true debut do reasonably well, but generally unremarkably so, in their first season. Their median record, 82-80, in those maiden seasons is unlikely to produce a playoff run; it’s also unlikely to get them pelted with rotten fruit in the streets. Extend that pace over the course of 20 years, however, and you end up in the company of venerable managers like Jim Leyland and Buck Showalter. But what happens when a manager takes over a new team, irrespective of whether they’ve managed before? Virtually nothing: Managers in their first season with a new team pilot them to a median mark of 80-82. No playoffs, no fruit in the streets, live to manage another day as long as you don’t make a habit of it. Still, .494 is a better career winning percentage than Tom Kelly, Eric Wedge, or Larry Bowa had. Mentioning Kelly as a manager who produced below-average results might get you run out of Minnesota on a rail, but it illustrates a meaningful point: If Baldelli wants a long managerial career, he’s better off having up and down stretches rather than being consistently mediocre. Kelly’s highs are obvious and memorable – Flags Fly Forever as the saying goes – but his lows are probably worse and more frequent than most would guess. Of his 13 full seasons as Twins manager – dropping strike-shortened 1994 and ‘95 and his partial season in ’86 – Kelly had 88 or more losses in six of them. Obviously there are myriad factors at play in any manager’s record, many of which are out of their control, and a managerial platoon of Joe McCarthy and Charlie Comiskey couldn’t have redeemed the 1999 Twins, but it’s proof that high enough highs will buy almost any manager the margin they need to have a few abject failures in their career. Assuming he ends up near the median for first-year managers, Baldelli can be expected to win about 81 games. On Opening Day Eve, PECOTA has the team projected for 82 wins, as does Fangraphs, and that feels about right given what the team showed in Spring Training. It would take a miracle of no small scale for him to best Alex Cora’s 108 wins in his first season as manager and a disaster of equivalent size for Joe Maddon’s 101 losses with the 2006 Rays to be in play. This doesn’t mean Baldelli won’t have an impact on the Twins’ performance this year, but what he has will largely determine where in the middle third of the bell curve he falls rather than whether the team is a success or a failure.
  5. Kelly told reporters following the announcement that he has known for a couple of weeks. They are currently working on the pose, spending a lot of time on which uniform he'll be in. There was no timeline given for completion. Kelly joins several legendary Twins figures to be honored with a bronze statue including Kirby Puckett, Rod Carew, Harmon Killebrew, Kent Hrbek, Calvin Griffith and the Pohlads (Carl and Eloise). Five years ago, Kelly's #10 was retired by the organization. As per usual, Kelly remained humble in talking about the honor, noting even his hesitance to promote it happening in previous years. He prefers to point out that the game is about the players on the field not their manager. And likely, that is why he was as successful as a manager and leader as he was. Here is a live twitter feed of the announcement as well as some of the conversation with Kelly afterward.
  6. The Situation The situations are eerily similar. The year before, the 1984 Twins had a very successful year, raising hopes. In fact, they competed for a postseason spot right until they were swept in their last series of the year. ***This is an excerpt of one of several features from the Twins Daily Offseason Handbook. To read this and more, be sure to download your FREE Twins Daily Offseason Handbook now.*** (P.S. In fact, they lost their last six games, a streak which started when they were just a ½ game from the division lead. That included perhaps the two most heartbreaking losses between the years 1970 and 1992, and they were back-to-back. One was yet another blown lead by Ron Davis and then the Twins blew a 10-0 lead with Frank Viola on the mound. After that game, Gary Gaetti offered his appraisal of his own throwing error that led to a seven-run inning: “It’s hard to throw with both hands around your neck.”) (P.P.S. “Twins Worst Losses.” How did Twins Daily not produce that series in this year of all years? Apparently, it’s also hard to blog with both hands around your neck.) The success in 1984 raised hopes, because the team was filled with promising youngsters. Kirby Puckett had debuted that year. Kent Hrbek had been snubbed for the All-Star team. Seven of the nine starters in the lineup were 26 years old or younger. But 1985 started poorly. After winning their first two games, the team fell into a nine-game losing streak. (Again – sound familiar?) They rebounded with a 10-game winning streak, but on June 20th, they were only 27-35 and in sixth place in the division. Like this year’s team, a change was made, but in their case it was the manager who was fired. Billy Gardner was replaced by Ray Miller, and the team limped to a fourth place finish in the division, fourteen games back. By then, the new owner, Carl Pohlad, had determined that the organization needed to modernize from the decades-old management structure that Calvin Griffith had in place. But rather than fire team “interim” president Howard Fox, he looked for young blood to help evaluate things first. That included interviewing the relatively inexperienced MacPhail. MacPhail was probably best known for his father, Lee MacPhail, who built the Orioles powerhouses of the 60s and 70s. Andy didn’t exactly have high hopes about the interview. In Doug Grow’s book “We’re Gonna Win Twins”, MacPhail admitted, “I’d never managed anything. I was flattered they wanted to talk to me. I came in, I met with Carl and Jim, answered a series of questions, and went back to Houston.” Sure enough, the Twins didn’t get back to MacPhail for months. But in June, they interviewed him again once they got a better feel for how the baseball-side was (or wasn’t) working. In August, MacPhail was hired, but not as General Manager. The Organization MacPhail was the Vice-President of Player Personnel. That position still reported to Fox, but ultimately his position was closer to the one Falvey will inaugurate: examining, organizing and overhauling the ball club with a long-term view, instead of paying attention to the more immediate roster needs. MacPhail started with the scouting department, and that’s when the Pohlad’s fears were confirmed. Again, in “We’re Gonna Win Twins”, MacPhail recalled his reaction to seeing the Griffith-era scouting reports: “They had their scouting reports on little 3 x 5 cards,” MacPhail said. “And I don’t mean a 3 x 5 card for each player. Each card was for a whole team. It was just incredible. I don’t mean to put them down. That organization came up with great players over the years. But things were changing in baseball. I think the median age for their scouts was about seventy-three. They had two scouts living in North Dakota, which is not exactly rich in baseball talent. But they didn’t have anybody in Texas.” To clean up that mess, MacPhail plucked someone from another organization. He tapped the New York Mets midwest scouting supervisor: Terry Ryan. Ryan was also only 32 years old, but that wouldn’t be the most controversial of his younger hires. Adding New Blood At the end of the 1986 season, the Twins decided to make another change at manager. Ray Miller had never really worked out and so Fox designated third base coach Tom Kelly to hold down the position for the rest of the year. MacPhail was charged with finding the next manager for the 1987 season. ***To read the rest of this feature and more, be sure to download your FREE Twins Daily Offseason Handbook now.***
  7. It seemed that all of America came to a standstill as the events unfolded in New York, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania. The professional sports world took a time-out as people realized that there were more important things in life than the sports that can consume people's lives. MLB stopped all of their games for over a week in the middle of the pennant races. At the time, it was the right thing to do as the nation tried to piece itself back together. The Twins were in Detroit on September 10th and they found themselves in second place and only six games out of first place. It would be the last year Tom Kelly would manage the team. It was also the first year the team would finish higher than fourth in the division since 1992. For eight days, the Twins waited to get on the field again and all of America waited for relief that might not appear. "The only two things that got my mind off of [9/11] were baseball and my son's football games"- New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani The nation needed to get back to some semblance of a normal life and for many that meant the return of America's Pastime. The Twins took the field on September 18th for the first time since the tragic events of September 11th. There was a pre-game ceremony in the Metrodome where two hot air balloons were inflated. One bore the image of the American Flag and the other was black and white to honor prisoners of war and others still missing in action. Donnele Burlingame, the cousin of the pilot of the hijacked plane that crashed into the Pentagon, held an eagle at home plate during the pre-game ceremony. Brad Radke was masterful for the Twins after the long layoff. In front of a small crowd of 10,878 fans, Radke took a no-hitter into the eighth inning and he had a perfect game through six innings. At the end of the night, he would finish with a 7.2 IP, 2 H, 2 ER. The Twins offense pounded out 18 hits including three hits from Corey Koskie and Luis Rivas. The team also got home runs from Koskie and Christian Guzman and three RBI from Torii Hunter. The final score was 8-3 and many of the players expressed their emotions after returning to the field: "I don't know how I did it. I don't think anybody's mind was on baseball."- Brad Radke "I was hoping he'd get [the no hitter]. It would've meant a lot with all that's been going on."- A.J. Pierzynski Radke was not perfect during this game but in a way that was a fitting tribute to the heroes of September 11th. There was much that still needed to be accomplished at Ground Zero and a perfect game from Radke might have taken some of the light off of the things that were left to accomplish. The focus of the nation was on recovery from the events of that day and rebuilding the crumbling parts of our lives. Baseball offered fans a glimmer of hope at the end of a dark tunnel. After being the team to watch in the first half of the season, the Twins struggled through some rough patches in the second half to finish in second place in the AL Central. On this night, it was not about playoff races, multi-million dollar contracts, or winning and losing. Baseball's return brought hope back to nation struggling to find it's identity. It brought groups of people together to celebrate something that is truly American and it allowed players and fans to pay homage to those that gave the ultimate sacrifice.
  8. However, on a bigger level, it’s about celebrating baseball and philanthropy. The event sets out to raise money for the University of Minnesota’s innovative research and patient care focused on ALS, ataxia, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s Disease. A lot of tremendous work has been done by the doctors and nurses and research personnel over the years. The Twins and this event have raised millions of dollars over these 11 years. Progress has been made, but as they are quick to point out, much more needs to be done. In a feeble attempt to tie that greatly important research to the game of baseball and the Minnesota Twins, I think that Brian Dozier said it best. He told the crowd gathered in the Legends Club that 2015 was a good year. He said that was “a better year, but it’s not where we want to get. We’ve got work to do.” Along with celebrating 2015, the event also allowed discussion of 2016. There was a segment of the program where emcee Cory Provus invited GM Terry Ryan and Manager Paul Molitor to come to the stage and discuss 2016. Those same sentiments were echoed again. 2015 was a good year, but we need to be better in 2016. Molitor said, “We set the bar higher last year. There will be higher expectations this year, and that’s OK.” Later, Provus brought Dozier back to the stage along with Korean slugger Byung Ho Park. Through his interpreter Jay, Park talked about the adjustments he will need to make, but more important, he talked about how it has always been his dream to play over here and he is incredibly excited to get things started next month at spring training. When Provus asked Park if he can dance, no interpreter was needed. Park immediately smiled shook his head and said, “No!” The evening started with Minor League Director Brad Steil presenting the Jim Rantz Award for Minor League Pitcher of the Year. It was the second straight year that Berrios was the recipient of the award, and deservedly so. Berrios, as you would expect made if very clear that his goals for 2016 remain high. For someone so confident, he remains humble, giving all the credit to God and saying that he will patiently wait for that call. Mike Radcliff presented the Sherry Robertson Award for Minor League Player of the Year. As we learned yesterday Kepler was unable to attend because he was sick. He hopes to make it to Target Field later in the weekend for part of Twins Fest. Asked about comparisons physically to former MVP Justin Morneau, Radcliff said, “That is certainly the story we tell when telling Mr. Pohlad that we’re spending some of his money on a 16 year old!” The crowd laughed. Scout humor is great! The Kirby Puckett Award for Alumni Community Service was presented to Julio Becquer. He played for the Senators and came to Minnesota with the Twins in 1961. He retired after the 1963 season. For 30 years, he worked with the Twins Youth Clinics, working 30-50 clinics a year. I remember seeing him still working in the kid zones. He played in just 58 games for the Twins (57 in 1961, and one pinch-running appearance in 1963), but his impact in the community has been amazing. He spoke about how much he enjoyed working with the kids. He also talked about how he’s been retired from baseball for over 50 years which he said can’t be right because the 84-year-old said,”I still look good!” Tony Watson, Pittsburgh Pirates lefty reliever took home the Dick Siebert Award for Upper Midwest Player of the Year. He is from a small town north of Des Moines. He played in the 2014 All-Star game at Target Field and in 2015 he went 4-1 with a 1.91 ERA out of the Pirates pen. He wasn’t in attendance, but he spoke with great gratitude for the honor, especially considering some of the Hall of Fame names who have won the award. Likewise Aaron Hicks wasn’t in attendance. He won the Charles O. Johnson Award for Most Improved Twins player. In a video, he thanked the writers. He also thanked the organization for giving him opportunities and showing patience. Craig Anderson was presented the Play Ball! Minnesota Terry Ryan Award for being a Friend of the Game. He has been coaching baseball at Pine Island High School for 40 years. He also has been a director of summer baseball there. He has twice served as president of the Minnesota High School Baseball Coaches Association and a meber of their advisory board since 1994. And much more. Brian Dozier was presented with the Carl R. Pohlad Award for Outstanding Community Service. Jim Pohlad pulled out a list of all that Dozier and his wife Renae do in the community and it was extensive. He provides many tickets to National Guard members through his Dozier’s Heroes program. He also talked a little about working with Amigos for Christ, the organization he and his wife work with when they travel to Central America and help build schools and provide clean water systems. Torii Hunter was presented with two awards. He was named the Bob Allison Award winner for Twins Leadership. He also won the Mike Augustin Media Good Guy Award for the fourth time. As you can imagine, his speech and time on stage was good for a lot of laughs, but he also said a lot of very good things. He talked about his relationship with the media, and he talked about how he and Mike Berardino are good now. In fact he said that they’re probably going to go skinny dipping together sometime. (Note - I talked to Mike afterward, and he denied that report!) Hunter was also asked who the leader will be in 2016. He talked about the qualities of a leader, and how a leader must first serve before he can lead. He talked about how leadership can’t and shouldn’t be forced. He then said that he spent a lot of time talking with Brian Dozier throughout the season last year and that he can and will be a strong leader. The winner of the Jim Kaat Award for Twins Defensive Player of the Year was Eddie Rosario. The outfielder was terrific wherever he played and talked about throwing runners out. He was unable to answer whether he enjoyed hitting a home run or throwing out a runner at home plate more. When asked about his debut, and the first pitch home run off of Scott Kazmir, Rosario made the crowd laugh and cheer. He said “Ever since I was a little boy, I wanted to play in the major leagues. Since then I’ve always told myself that when I get there, I would swing at the first pitch.” Kyle Gibson won the Joseph W. Haynes Award as Twins Pitcher of the Year. He talked about being out on the caravan and kids telling him they would want to hit against him and that he couldn’t strike them out. He said he told them “Yeah, but I bet I can get you to hit a ground ball!” Always humble, Gibson talked about needing to continue to improve. When asked about his dancing and whether he was the team’s worst dancer, he said, “No! (Mike) Pelfrey was by far the worst dancer, but I was right down there at the bottom. You can ask my wife. I’m a really bad dancer.” Miguel Sano was also presented with two awards. He was named the Bill Boni Award winner as the Twins Most Outstanding Rookie. He also won the Calvin R. Griffith Award for Most Valuable Twin. He talked a lot about how happy he was when he finally got that call, and how it was a dream come true. Provus talked about his first big league hit, and whether we’ll all remember that - as big as he is - that his first hit was an infield single. The final award of the evening was presented by Patrick Reusse. Tom Kelly was given the Herb Carneal Lifetime Achievement Award. Reusse talked about his first - and only - home run in his career as a Twins player. He spoke of his coaching and managerial career, obviously highlighting those Twins championships in 1987 and 1991. He talked about all the really bad pitching he managed for the next eight seasons and how he didn’t leave the team then. He talked about how the team started getting good and competing again before he turned the team over to Ron Gardenhire ready to compete. He also talked about the opportunities that Kelly had to manage other teams, but that he turned them down. He has been helpful to Gardenhire and now Paul Molitor, not only instructing at spring training and in the minor leagues, but when they have needs. It’s obviously a well-deserved recognition. Kelly, as you would expect, told stories and made people laugh. His theme when talking about the 2016 season, or any season, was that he - or now Molitor - sure look a lot smarter when the players, and specifically the pitchers, are good! But again, the evening is about baseball, but also about philanthropy. It’s an opportunity to raise money for the University of Minnesota’s Bob Allison Ataxia Research Center (BAARC). As noted, there has been progress. How can you help? Well, if you want to make a gift or volunteer your time, you can visit give.umn.edu/neuro to learn more about the University of Minnesota’s resarch on brain, nerv, and muscular disorders, and to find out how you can help. You can also check out the Diamond Awards website for more. It was a tremendous night at Target Field. I spent the evening with my dad and my brother. We had a good meal and talked to a lot of people. We learned a bit about some of the great research that the University of Minnesota is doing. We heard from a lot of terrific Twins players and personnel. We laughed and enjoyed an evening thinking about baseball. Speaking of thinking about baseball, Twins Fest starts tonight at Target Field and goes throughout the weekend. It is a great opportunity to see Target Field, and parts of Target Field that you have not previously seen. It’s a chance to rub elbows and interact with Twins players. It’s a chance to be in a place and talk about baseball with hundred of other Twins fans. It’s also an event in which funds raised go to the Twins Community Fund which does really terrific things throughout Twins Territory. Finally, Cory Provus emceed the event last night and did a terrific job. Dick Bremer emceed all of the previous Diamond Awards but was unable to attend this time. Bremer’s mother-in-law passed away a couple of days ago. So we certainly send out best wishes and thoughts to the Bremer family.
  9. The Twins have been in a losing funk for such a long time that it can be difficult for fans to remember just how quickly fortunes sometimes turn. But it can happen, and it has. The dramatic shifts that have coincided with the last two managerial changes provide evidence enough of that. Kelly originally stepped in midway through the 1986 season, with the Twins on their way to 91 losses. At the time, they had not finished above .500 in eight years, but the club experienced a renaissance under Kelly, capturing two championships in his first five seasons. After this successful stretch, they fell back into a rut, and by the end of the 90s they were caught in an extended losing spell similar to the one they are presently trying to escape. The Twins lost 90 or more games every year from 1997 through 2000, and while it appeared they were headed for a division title in 2001, they collapsed in the second half and fell short. Gardenhire took over the following year, and we all know the rest of that story. In light of this history, Molitor shouldn't feel too intimidated as he takes the reigns and seeks to steer the Twins out of the darkness. Despite the timing, it likely wasn't the changes in leadership that primarily drove these last two turnarounds, but rather influxes of prospect talent and emergences of young star players, as well as savvy veteran additions. The team is in a comparable position now as Molitor embarks on his journey, so it's not hard to draw a parallel and envision a similar outcome. It stands to reason that the new skipper himself -- uninterested in sitting through multiple years of stagnation -- is doing so. Will the resurgence be as abrupt as it was in those aforementioned instances? Of course, the answer is 'probably not.' The Twins need to get back to the .500 range before a deep postseason run becomes a consideration. Talk of a worst-to-first swing in the Central is mostly just rosy optimism that always tends to manifest at this time of year. Mostly. It's hardly unthinkable that the Twins could find themselves in contention for the division late in the season. Obviously they need to stay healthy and get a lot of good individual performances. But, in a broader sense, two things need to happen: 1) Fast start. The team needs to put itself in a competitive mindset with a surprisingly strong start, and a record at or above .500 heading into July. This would set them up as "buyers" at the deadline, allowing them to upgrade in areas of need midway through the season. It would also make more urgent the calling up of prospects who could make a positive impact (e.g., Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano). 2) Weak division. This part, unfortunately, isn't really in the Twins' control. During his Q&A at the Winter Meltdown event, team president Dave St. Peter opined that the AL Central might be the strongest division in baseball. Well... that needs to be not the case. Not so much because the Twins need to be able to come out on top -- the addition of an extra wild-card spot somewhat negates that aspect -- but because they need a team or two they can beat up on and pile up wins against. In 2010, when the Twins won the division, they went a combined 26-10 against Chicago and Kansas City. In 2009 they went 24-12 against those same two clubs. Between '02 and '03 they won 29 of 38 games against the Tigers. With baseball's unbalanced schedule, taking care of business against the division's bottom-feeders is critical to contending for October. For the last few years, the Twins have been that bottom-feeder; they need to swap out of that role. It's a little difficult to envision such a scenario this year -- the Royals and Tigers ain't what they used to be, and the White Sox and Indians both look pretty good on paper -- but you never know. What do you think? What will it take for the Twins to be competitive in the division and in the American League this year?
  10. It turns out there actually is a very strong step up in average winning percentage for each incremental All-Star a team has. Roughly this: one All-Star – average winning percent of .458; two All-Stars, .501; three All-Stars, .542; four All-Stars, .557, and so on. The problem with using this information is the incredible market bias in All-Star selections. To be able to evaluate Yankees managers and Twins managers on common ground, each team’s positive or negative bias in All-Star selections has to be compensated for. To do this, I counted the number of All-Star selections each year and totaled the number of league wins. I then computed each year’s average wins per All-Star and applied this to each team’s winning percentage to determine the equitable number of All-Stars each team should have had. Summing the actual number of All-Stars each team has had through its history and dividing this by the sum of equitable All-Stars creates an index value per team than can be used for the aforementioned manager evaluation. Which team has the biggest bias in All-Star team selection? Do I really have to ask? Of course, it’s the Yankees with nearly 52% more All-Stars than a fair distribution suggests, given the team’s success. This is far and away the highest bias, as the closest team, the Cardinals, are at +23%. Rounding out the top 5 are the Red Sox at +21%, and the Dodgers and the Reds both at 13%. Conversely, the Rodney Dangerfield teams of All-Star selections are led by the Rays at -20%, the A’s and Astros at -19%, the Pirates at -18%, and the Royals at -17%. The Twins, if you’re curious, are at -15%, which is 9th worst. If you’re curious about which managers overachieved or underachieved in their careers relative to the number of All-Stars their teams had, adjusted for All-Star bias, here are looks at the top 10 and bottom 10 calculated during today’s lunch hour between bites of a Waldorf salad. Results are based on average seasonal difference between actual wins and expected wins. And the manager had to be the manager for the majority of a team’s games to be credited for that season and had to manage at least 5 seasons. The Good: 1. Joe McCarthy +12.7 wins per season. 2. Billy Southworth +11.2 wins 3. Joe Girardi +9.9 wins 4. Bobby Cox +7.8 wins 5. Al Lopez +7.7 wins 6. Earl Weaver +7.7 wins 7. Walter Alston + 7.7 wins 8. Pete Rose + 6.7 wins 9. Billy Martin + 6.6 wins 10. Jimy Williams +6.5 wins The Not So Good: 1. Connie Mack -12.2 wins 2. Jimmie Wilson -11.8 wins 3. Billy Meyer -9.7 wins 4. Preston Gomez -9.7 wins 5. Buddy Bell -9.3 wins 6. Ossie Bluege -8.1 wins 7. Fred Haney -7.7 wins 8. Del Crandall -6.5 wins 9. Manny Acta -6.1 wins 10. Mary Marion -6.0 wins Twins managers: 1. Billy Martin +6.7 wins 2. Frank Quilici +3.2 wins 3. Ron Gardenhire +1.5 wins 4. Gene Mauch +0.7 wins 5. Ray Miller -0.3 wins 6. Sam Mele -1.2 wins 7. Tom Kelly -2.4 wins 8. Cal Ermer -2.6 wins 9. Billy Gardner -3.9 wins 10. Bill Rigney -5.4 wins * pastrami, prosciutto, provolone, peppers, poupon and pickles on pumpernickel
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