Truth well told

"As a taxpayer, I don't want to pay for a roof so a family from Fargo
can be guaranteed to see a game."

-Chad Doughty



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Tuesday, April 13, 2010
No Roof For Rubes

They say that a story is only as good as its sources. Which means that a piece in today's WSJ on Target Field by Mark Yost called If They Build It You Will Pay should be journalistic gold:

For the past six months, I've had a friendly online debate with some blogger friends in Minnesota: Would the Twins get snowed out when they opened their new outdoor stadium?

Actually a good part of our debate consisted of Mark speculating how funny it would be to see Twins fans in parkas when it was forty-five degrees on opening day and us explaining to him that when it's forty-five in the spring, Minnesotans wear shorts. On to the impeccable sources:

"The question is would the Twins have paid Mauer $184 million if the taxpayers hadn't paid for the stadium?" asks King Banaian, chairman of the St. Cloud State University economics department and a candidate for the Minnesota Statehouse. "I don't think they would have."

Prof. Banaian is absolutely right. Target Field cost $545 million, according to the Twins. The Hennepin County taxpayers are on the hook for $350 million of it. Since money is fungible, it's fair to argue that the taxpayers are paying Mr. Mauer.

So not only are us hard working taxpayers in Hennepin County paying for the stadium that Twins fans from across the metro area, state, and region get to enjoy, we're also the ones responsible for ensuring that Joe Mauer remains a Twin? The least you non-Hennepin County free riders could do is buy us a beer or two. Preferably at a Hennepin County watering hole of course.

Then there's the issue of a roof. While the Metrodome was a horrible place to watch baseball, it would have been wise to put a retractable roof on Target Field, as the Milwaukee Brewers did at Miller Park. A dome allows smaller-market teams to draw from a larger geographic area. That's because a family in, say, Fargo, N.D., is more confident buying tickets to a Twins game four hours away when a dome guarantees it won't be rained out.

"As a taxpayer, I don't want to pay for a roof so a family from Fargo can be guaranteed to see a game," said Chad Doughty, a lifelong Twins fan who blogs at Fraters Libertas.

There was local pressure to get the team itself to pay for a roof. It would have cost the team $200 million, a rounding error compared with the Pohlads' estimated net worth of $3.6 billion. Instead, they opted for heat lamps on the concourses.

If there's anything worse as a Hennepin County resident and baseball fan than being forced to pay for a stadium that Twins fans everywhere benefit from, it's hearing this silly bellyaching about how we should have also ponied up for a retractable roof so that people who come from out of town can be assured that they see a game. Guess what? There are no guarantees in baseball or life. You want to come down to "the Cities" to see a Twins game? Fine. But no one here's going to guarantee you that the game won't be rained out (although rainouts at the old Met were rather infrequent so the odds are in your favor). Make alternative plans. Go to a museum. See a play. Get your hair cut. Gawk at the tall buildings. Better yet, go to the Mall of America and buy a bunch of stuff to help us pay for the stadium. Just quit yer whining.

In the interests of accuracy, I should also point out that my actual quote about the roof was: "As a taxpayer, I don't want to pay for a roof so that some rube from Fargo can be guaranteed to see a game." Obviously, Mark though that changing this to "a family" would better serve to portray me as some sort of outside the mainstream, wide-eyed, anti-tax extremist (why do you hate families from Fargo, Chad?). Mission accomplished.

And like all good journalists, Mark knows how to close it out:

So if the false economics of stadiums are so well known, why do city councils and county boards continue to finance them? And why aren't taxpayers more outraged?

I think Jim Styczinski, a lifelong Twins fan who blogs as "Sisyphus" at The Nihilist in Golf Pants, gave me the answer. "Fundamentally, I was against the stadium," he said as we shared a beer after the game. "But I'm glad I lost this argument."

This is disturbing on two levels. Firstly, as someone who does not live in Hennepin County, the price that Sisyphus will have to pay for losing the argument is minimal. Secondly (and most importantly), for contributing a quote to Mark's piece and being portrayed as a voice of reason in the debate, Sisyphus received liquid remuneration courtesy of a WSJ expense account. Me? I got nuthin' for being presented as the cold-hearted bastage who wants to leave North Dakota children out in the rain. Who says no one is outraged?

SISYPHUS ADDS: I don't know what the Elder is complaining about. He received a free 2010 Twins Media Guide courtesy of the Wall Street Journal. We were even sure to give him the guide that happened to absorb some of the spilled liquid remuneration he missed out on. More than someone who hates families from Fargo probably deserves.

Anyway, thanks to Chad and the Nihilist in Golf Pants for paying Atomizer to build me a nice ballpark.


Monday, April 05, 2010
The Way God Intended

The last outdoor major league baseball game I attended in Minnesota was on September 30th, 1981 at Metropolitan Stadium. It was also the last Twins game at the Met. After the contest ended, I joined the mob that clambered on to the field in search of souvenirs. Somewhere in my sport memorabilia archives, I have a jar that still contains some infield dirt that I scooped up that day and a ripped piece of the canvas that covered the outfield wall.

I also had the "privilege" of attending the first regular season Twins game at the Metrodome the following spring. Between then and now I've suffered through all the indignities of indoor baseball. At times, I grudgingly put up with these artificial conditions as the price to be paid for seeing the local nine in action. At other times--especially on those all too few splendid days of summer--I chose not to spend my time indoors watching baseball as it most certainly was not meant to be played.

It's been a long drought, one that I am happy to say came to end last Saturday. Thanks to Atomizer and his well-placed connections, my eldest son and I were able to attend the exhibition game against the Cardinals at Target Field. Saint Paul and his lovely bride were also the beneficiaries of Atomizer's privileged position as one of the architects of the ballpark and they shared the view from seats next to ours:

Okay maybe they were a little close to the Bob Uecker section, but under the blue skies and warm sunshine at Target Field, there truly ain't a bad seat in the house. With temps in the fifties and bit of a brisk wind, being in the sun definitely made a difference. And our vantage point of downtown was better than in other areas of the ballpark.

The only downsides were that our view of the big scoreboard was skewed:

And the left fielders would disappear from view on well-hit balls. Which at times might be a blessing when Delmon Young is fielding the position for the Twins. It also probably was better not to be within actual earshot when Atomizer and the other members of the "Mortenson Construction Choir" belted out the National Anthem before the game:

The park itself is a beauty. Good aesthetics and attention to detail create a pleasant visual atmosphere. It's not a cookie cutter stadium and definitely has character. Most of all it's built for baseball, which means not only that the dimensions of the field flow seamlessly into the stands, but that the seats are actually set up to watch the game. From a practical standpoint, the open concourses, comfortable seats, good variety of food at plenty of concession stands, and easily accessible bathrooms make for a enjoyable fan experience.

It was my son's first ball game ever and he seemed to have a great time, even if he really didn't know what was going on down on the field most of the time. Four-year-olds aren't exactly renowned for their attention spans and the fact that he last through seven full innings without getting too antsy is a testament to the ballpark's appeal. Rumors that he chucked an empty water bottle in the deck below us are greatly exaggerated. If anyone in our section would be capable of such loutish behavior, past history would tend to point to Saint Paul as the prime suspect.

There's been some whining about the parking situation, but we found it more than manageable with just a modicum of planning. After consulting a map of downtown parking options, I chose the ramp on 11th and Harmon. Yes, it's a bit of a hike, but on a nice day what's wrong with walking downtown? You get a bit of exercise, have an easier exit after the game, and save a spot of change. We paid just $4 to park as opposed to the thirteen clams that Saint Paul shelled out to park in one of the ramps near Target Center. I also saw surface lots charging $5 and then $10 and $15 as you get closer to field. Now, this was a Saturday and I imagine it will be dicier on weekdays, especially for day games. But still, if you do your homework and come up with a couple of parking options beforehand, it should not be a big deal.

My only complaint from Saturday--other than the limited selection of good beers--is that you run into some "can't get there from here" frustration at Target Field. Once you're safely inside the turnstiles, it's fairly easy to move about the ballpark. But before you gain admittance, it can be challenging to get from point A to point B or in our case on Saturday from Gate 34 to Gate 6. Some of this comes with the territory of having a ballpark built on a small footprint in an urban area. It's not going to be as easy to get around the outside as the Dome was. But again, with a bit of planning and forethought, this shouldn't be a big deal to work around.

And work around it I will. After twenty-seven years inside, Twins fans can finally enjoy baseball outside in all the natural elements again. Saturday afternoon reminded me once more just how much fun that can be.

UPDATE: Yes, we did boo the legislators before the first pitch. On a bipartisan bias too, we didn't hold back for the Republicans. Sadly, we seemed to be among the few fans who cared about the legislators one way or another. I suppose when you're in a beautiful ballpark anticipating an afternoon of baseball, abject apathy to politicans is only natural.


Saturday, April 03, 2010
To Boo or Not to Boo?

I see from Chad's post that today's festive Twins exhibition game at the sparkly new Target Field will be turned into a bona fide boopportunity.

1:02 p.m. -- Ceremonial first pitches by legislators who contributed to the
creation of Target Field

Far be it from me to interject negativity into what should be a grand day at the ball park, rain or shine. But I didn't invite these ego tripping politicians into what should be an entirely non-political event.

The legislators responsible for funneling hundreds of millions in tax dollars to subsidize the Twins are now being given a once in a lifetime honor and special access to the game by the Twins. This is what people with common sense call "the appearance of impropriety". Even if you like the idea of public money going to professional sports stadiums, the spectacle of those who made it happen personally benefitting from their decisions is malodorous. For a politician to gleefully accept this offer, this flaunting of ethics in front of tens of thousands of the public, tells you how much they think the voters care about what happens to the public's money.

It also remains to be seen who the "legislators who contributed to the creation of Target Field" are specifically. The greatest credit has to go to the four members of the Hennepin County Board of Supervisors who provided the barest 4-3 majority to let the countywide sales tax to kick in. Ladies and gentlemen, please give a warm welcome to: Peter McLaughlin, Mike Opat, Randy Johnson, and Mark Stenglein.

As they're not technically legislators, maybe they're saving their rapturous curtain calls for a World Series game or something.

The Minnesota state legislature did provide a key vote in approving this funding source. The results from the House of Representatives are listed here. The results from the Senate here.

Among the noteworthy names voting yes, please give a hardy Minnesota cheer to current gubernatorial candidates: Matt Entenza, Margaret Anderson Keliher, and Tom Rukavina.

Note that two other gubernatorial candidates will not be invited by the Twins to take bows and receive special favors. They voted "no" and are relegated to watching from the stands along with the hoi polloi: Tom Emmer and Marty Seifert.

Also of note to 6th District voters, voting yes for the government to take hundreds of millions of dollars from the public and channel it to a preferred special interest, DFL endorsed candidate Tarryl Clark. Voting no, let the people keep their money and spend it on the entertainment they chose: Michele Bachmann.

That's not to say that support for Twins funding was a purely partisan affair. Among the "yes" votes, and potentially taking their bows Saturday afternoon, are Republicans like Laura Brod, Dave Senjem, and Steve Sviggum. In terms of booing options, there's something for everybody.

Will the people boo or just sit on their hands, or even applaud these legislators, while the political class stinks up this place of honor takes their bows and throws out the first pitch? Knowing Minnesotans as I do, I predict the latter.

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Friday, April 02, 2010
Boo Birds?

On Monday, Saint Paul had a post on politics and first pitches that closed with him wondering:

On the local front, I've not seen any reports about politicians making appearances at the Twins opener in Target Field. I can only image the reception an Al Franken, Betty McCollum, or Jim Oberstar might get. It might be worth them trying to horn in on the limelight, just to hear the reaction. I doubt they will be there though. Not a good fit and they know better than to openly subject themselves to public opinion like that. For them, the people may have to save their boos for the next time they encounter them on a ballot.

Since both Saint Paul and I will be attending tomorrow's exhibition game against the Cardinals, I was curious about who might be tossing the opening ball at Target Field before the tilt:

1:02 p.m.--Ceremonial first pitches by legislators who contributed to the creation of Target Field

Ah yes, those brave legislators who helped make it all happen. Usually those folks are so humble and retiring that it's difficult to get them to come forward and take credit for anything so it's nice to see them get a chance to be recognized for all their hard work. They are the real heroes.

Of course as a taxpayer in Hennepin County who happens to be, you know, ACTUALLY PAYING for the stadium I might have chosen a different crew for opening pitch duty. Such as a randomly selected group of residents of Hennepin County who have and will continue to, PAY FOR the beautiful little ballpark that all Twins fans will surely enjoy.

As to our noble and wise legislators, maybe instead of basking in the glory and getting kudos for the role they played in making Target Field happen, they could spend a little time on the other side of the equation for a change. Instead of throwing out the first pitch at Target Field, how about standing next to a cash register at one of the many Target stores in Hennepin County and explaining to shoppers why they should be happy to pay more sales tax to fund Target Field? Don't think we'll see that happening any time soon.

One final question: would it hypocritical to boo the legislators who contributed to the creation of Target Field while personally enjoying the ambience and atmosphere of the ballpark at the same time? I have a hunch that tomorrow we may just find the answer.

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Thirty-Four Bottles of Beer...

It's hard for a local beer lover not to get excited when you see a story with the headline Target Field opening day roster includes 34 beers. Thirty-four beers to choose from to enjoy at the beautiful new outdoor ballpark? Can't get much better than that, can it?

However, as is so often the case, the devil is in the details:

Budweiser, an Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc. brand, has sponsored the Twins for more than two decades, and it's no surprise that the stadium carries Budweiser, Bud Light, Bud Select, Bud Light Lime and Bud Light Wheat.

I've yet to try Bud Light Wheat, but based on past experience with the brand I'm pretty confident in saying that we're off to an 0-4 start.

Other Anheuser-Busch-owned brews will be available, such as Michelob Golden Draft, Michelob Golden Draft Light, Michelob Ultra, Michelob AmberBock, Rolling Rock, Shock Top and O'Doul's Amber.

Shock Top is decent. So where does that get us, one for eleven?

There's plenty of room for other brands in the stands, and Miller and Coors products aren't verboten. Fans can purchase Miller Lite, Coors Light, Miller Genuine Draft and MGD 64.

Four more whiffs. Out of fifteen beer varieties listed so far, ONE is drinkable.

Local brews are also available: Finnegans, Schells Seasonal, Summit EPA, Summit Seasonal, Grainbelt Premium and Grainbelt Light. There's also Leinenkugel's Original, Honey Weiss and Summer Shandy.

Sigh. Local brews? From Wisconsin? Obviously, this grouping is an improvement to the previous beers mentioned. Finnegans, Schells Seasonal, Summit EPA, and Summit Seasonal are solid selections, although that could vary depending on what the seasonals are. I still like to quaff an occasional Grain Belt Premium, but I won't try to pretend that it's a good beer. Leinie's Original and Honey Weiss do nothing for me. I am partial to the Summer Shandy, although I'd prefer the Sunset Wheat for a summer offering.

The bigger issue though is what's missing. I know that Surly was considering tapping into Target Field, but they were worried about the price they would have to charge. Looking at what's currently available, I'd be more than happy to pay more for a better beer. Not that the current offerings will exactly be cheap:

Domestic beers are priced at $6 for 12 oz. glasses, $7 for 20 oz. taps and 16 oz. bottles and $8 for aluminum bottles. Premium drinkers will pay an extra 50 cents. Domestic 24 oz. cans are priced at $9.

In addition to Surly, how about Flat Earth, Lift Bridge, and Fulton's? The Twins attract a lot of outstate fans, so why not also offer selections from Lake Superior, Brau Brothers, or Mantorville? Support the local team and enjoy local beer.

Rounding out the beer list is Landshark, Guinness, Heineken, Heineken Light, Stella, Corona, Dos Equis, Samuel Adams and Amstel Light.

While I'm always happy to have Guinness as an option, it just doesn't seem the right fit for a ball game. Stella and Dos Equis are decent imports and the classic Samuel Adams Boston Lager is another solid brew. Again, considering the venue maybe Sam Adams Summer Ale would be a better choice.

So yes, Target Field does indeed offer thirty-four beers for thirsty fans. Unfortunately, according to my calculations, only about ten are actually feasible options for the more discriminating beer drinker. And of those ten, the majority are solid utility beers, not packing the kind of power to knock it out of the park taste-wise. More is clearly not always better.

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Monday, March 29, 2010
Sound Off Like Ya Got a Pair

Breaking news out of the Department of Obama Approval Rating Reclamation. Next week the President will be immersing himself in America's national past time. No, not deeply bowing to foreign princes and potentates. That's what he likes to do while he's on the clock. We're talking about something fun, one with deeper roots in American history:

President Obama will throw out the ceremonial first pitch on opening day at Nationals Park, continuing a tradition that began 100 years ago and making him the second sitting president to throw the pitch since baseball returned to Washington in 2005.

To paraphrase our distinguished vice president, that's a big f***ing pitch. Most politicians never risk getting in front of an audience that hasn't been handpicked for undying fealty to their ideology. To say nothing of an audience with direct access to alcohol. And foam fingers. Most importantly, this is mere weeks after Obama orchestrated the passage of highly controversial legislation, in the face of disapproval from a majority of Americans. For a population that feels its politicians are actively refusing to listen to them, these may be the ingredients for the mother of all booing opportunities. A "boopportunity", if you will.

We of course condemn any violence, or the shouting of epithets and obscenities (real or imagined). But booing poorly performing elected officials is a legitimate exercise in free speech, as American as baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and bailing out Chevrolet. If a politician is going to attempt to trade on his position in order to grab the spotlight at non-political public events, then those in attendance get to provide immediate feedback on his performance. That may mean cheers, that may mean boos. That's the chance you take when you step into the arena.

Of all possible public audiences, the Washington DC crowd is as sympathetic as Obama could ever hope to find. With the number of government employees and clients residing the area, it's possible he will get cheered. But then again, who knows? There have to be some people in DC who aren't net tax consumers or who like their health insurance. If nothing else, this particular crowd owes a few boos in order to at least appear to be bipartisan. See President Bush in 2005:

On the local front, I've not seen any reports about politicians making appearances at the Twins opener in Target Field. I can only image the reception an Al Franken, Betty McCollum, or Jim Oberstar might get. It might be worth them trying to horn in on the limelight, just to hear the reaction. I doubt they will be there though. Not a good fit and they know better than to openly subject themselves to public opinion like that. For them, the people may have to save their boos for the next time they encounter them on a ballot.

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Friday, November 27, 2009
Statistical Separated At Birth

Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer was named the American League MVP earlier this week. It is now almost impossible to find someone who doesn't acknowledge Joe Mauer's greatness, but as recently as this spring I've found myself having to defend Mauer and his credentials as a number three hitter.

My case was based on the uncanny statistical similarity between Mauer and another great number three hitter for the Twins, Hall of Famer Rod Carew. Both Mauer and Carew broke into the majors at age 21. Through their first 5 seasons (that is, up to but not including Mauer's MVP season) they produced the following numbers:

Mauer 561 2059 653 128 14 44 325 301 30 .317 .856

Carew 585 2201 675 107 26 23 306 225 46 .307 .764

Mauer and Carew have similar numbers with Mauer showing more power and Carew more speed. (Carew's stolen base numbers increased considerably after his first five seasons and Mauer's home run power looks to be doing the same.)

Rod Carew won the AL MVP award in 1977, his eleventh season. Joe Mauer won the award this year, his sixth season. Once again, their MVP season numbers are similar with a power edge to Mauer and a speed edge to Carew:

Mauer 26 138 523 191 30_ 1 28_ 94_ 96_ 4 .365 1.031

Carew 31 155 616 239 38 16 14 128 100 23 .388 1.019

At this point in their careers, an edge would have to be given to Mauer. His power is more valuable than Carew's speed. Mauer also gets a big edge defensively. But, it should be remembered that after his fifth season, Carew continued to improve -- winning the batting title in six of the next seven seasons.

One area where I hope their careers differ: Carew left the Twins for greener pastures a year after winning the MVP award.


Friday, November 06, 2009
Damn Liberal Yankees

If you need another reason to hate the Democrats, here it is. Union workers, welfare queens and and illegal aliens thrive under Democratic administrations, but not as much as the New York Yankees.

In this, the first year of the Obama Administration, the Yankees won their first World Series since . . . the last year of the Clinton Administration. You can blame George W. Bush for a lot, but you can't blame him for a Yankee World Championship. While Clinton was having relations with Monica Lewinski, Derek Jeter was adding four rings and an untold number of venereal diseases.

Under GHW Bush and Reagan, the Yankees won no world titles and only one American League Pennant, in 1981 as America was still suffering from Jimmy Carter malaise. In Carter's four years, inflation, unemployment, and Reggie Jackson's # of rings rose exponentially (2 titles in four years).

During the Ford/Nixon era, the Yankees added no World Championships and no pennants. The Yanks must have thought LBJ was a war mongering Republican; during his term they added two pennants but no championships.

JFK saw 2 Yankee World Championships in his two years as President, until a Red Sox fan named Lee Harvey Oswald could stand it no more.

You have to go back to Ike in 1958 to find the last Republican President to see a Yankee world title. Ike saw six pennants and three world titles. Then he waxed on about the military/industrial complex and gave birth to the modern left.

Truman and FDR held the White House for two decades. During that time the Yankees won eleven titles and and twelve pennants.

The first four Yankee titles took place under two Republicans. 1932 under Hoover, 1923, 1927 and 1928 under Coolidge. They won seven pennants in that time. However, that's ancient history.

Cross-posted at Nihilist In Golf Pants


Go-Go Gone

Twins trade Gomez to Brewers for shortstop Hardy:

With one swift move, the Twins addressed two important needs today, trading center fielder Carlos Gomez to the Brewers for former All-Star shortstop J.J. Hardy.

The move gives the Twins a shortstop to replace free agent Orlando Cabrera and clears up an outfield logjam.

Don't know how much of player Hardy is these days, but I'm relieved that we won't have to watch (and wince) through another year of Gomez's futility as a hitter.

Sisyphus Adds:
Here are the numbers:

J.J. Hardy (age 27)
2007 151 592 89 30 1 26 80 2 .277 .463
2008 146 569 78 31 4 24 74 2 .283 .478
2009 115 414 53 16 2 11 47 0 .229 .357

Carlos Gomez (age 24)
2008 153 577 79 24 7 7 59 33 .258 .360
2009 137 315 51 15 5 3 28 14 .229 .337

J.J Hardy is also one of the better defensive shortstops based on this scientific study (note that it has Derek Jeter rated dead last defensively and Orlando Cabrera in the middle of the pack).

I endorse the trade. Even if Hardy plays more like he did last year than he did in 2007-2008, he will still be an improvement. With the emergence of Span, Gomez is expendable. The Twins now have six players with 20+ home run potential, Morneau, Cuddyer, Kubel, Mauer, Young (I said potential) and Hardy.

UPDATE-- Brewers fan Learned Foot e-mails to add:

Write it down now: if the Twins bat JJ Hardy before Mauer or Morneau in the lineup (ideally, #2 before Mauer rather than #3 after him) and he stays healthy, he will have a .290 / 20-25 HR season.


Saturday, October 10, 2009
Go-Go To Go

There's a lot to ponder in the aftermath of the Twins loss to the Yankees last night. One thought that kept coming back as I tried to drift off to sleep with visions of blown calls, blown saves, blown opportunities dancing in my head is that the Twins can't afford to continue to keep players on the roster who can't play--and don't seem to understand the concept of--fundamentally sound baseball.

Last year, Carlos Gomez was a novelty who seemed to have great future potential. This year, he's a joke who should have no place in the future plans of the organization. He's shown little discernible improvement in his approach to hitting (his weakest area) and although he's a great fielder and fast runner, he's still prone to making boneheaded mistakes in the outfield and the base paths. At what point do the Twins decide that his obvious talent is not matched by his baseball instincts and attitude and never will be? Twins fans too need to get past dreaming about what Gomez might be--a trap I fell into--and accept him for what is he is now and likely will be in the future: a talented baseball player who just doesn't get it.


Wednesday, October 07, 2009
It Is Better To Live

No rest on the recently wicked Minnesota sports scene as the Twins open their ALDS playoff tonight at Yankee Stadium. On paper the Twins as currently constituted have no business being on the same field as the Yankees. And given their team's past playoff futility against the Bronx Bombers, Twins fans will likely once again have to witness their team's season come to end at the hands of New York. But, what the hell? No one expected the Twins to get here and at this point it's best to simply sit back and enjoy this improbable and almost unimaginable ride.

Last's night's classic contest was another reminder that when it comes to high drama and suspense, nothing in sport is quite like a baseball playoff game. Yes, a hockey playoff game that goes into overtime--especially if it's the deciding one--has you on the edge of your seat (or barstool) with nerves on end and stomach churning. And the intensity and tension during that overtime is unmatched. But in a great baseball playoff game--like last night's--you have many such moments of tension and drama that start with the first pitch. Yesterday's game lasted four hours and thirty-seven minutes yet it kept you riveted to the screen for the entirety. With all the ups and downs and emotional swings from certain doom to unbridled elation, merely watching the game was a draining experience. I can't even imagine what it must have been like to play in it.

With the Twins not-quite-ready-to-let-go-just-quite-yet Metrodome farewell fling and the Favre fanfare blotting out the local sports sky, the Wild's snappy third period comeback from a three goal deficit in the home opener against hated Anaheim last night has received scant attention. Even here in the State of Hockey it's a tough time to be playing third fiddle on the Twin Cities sports scene with the Twins and Vikings. About the only consolation that the Wild can take is that at least they're not at the bottom of the local professional sports barrel. Save your true pity for the woeful Wolves.

UPDATE: As much as I respect his political commentary at Power Line, I have to respond to Paul Mirengoff's Let the playoffs begin post thusly: Bite me. So sorry that the Twins might spoil your plans for a "decent" and "respectable" playoffs and World Series.

The beauty of the playoffs is that once you get in your regular season counts for naught (other than home field obviously). Like all sports, baseball has had its share of teams that barely made the post-season dance yet went on to achieve ultimate success. Conversely, teams with great regular season success have come up short when it counts. And it's not necessarily true that series between teams with excellent regular season numbers will necessarily be better than series that feature teams with less than stellar regular season stats. Often the "dream" matchups end up being busts while the less anticipated series produce the most drama.


Monday, October 05, 2009
Normal Distribution

After a weekend spent taking in a lot of sports on television and in anticipation of further viewing over the course of the next two days, I've come up with the following observation:

On average, almost any "normal" regular season NFL football game is more compelling and interesting to watch than any "normal" regular season MLB contest. However, when the two sports are played at the peak of their meaning and importance, most of the time a baseball game will be more compelling and contain more drama than the football game.

Watching the Twins close out their season over the last week was better than watching any Viking games in some years (including last year's playoff game). Conversely watching the Vikings in weeks one, two, or three this year was better than watching the Twins in April, May, or June.

Obviously it's difficult to compare the sports directly because of the vast difference in number of games played. But the fact that any given NFL game will provide at least decent watchable partially helps explain the league's popularity. Yesterday, I caught parts of the Bears-Lions, Ravens-Pats, and Broncos-Cowboys and followed each with interest. And I don't play fantasy football or bet on games. I doubt if I would spent any amount of time watching early season baseball games not involving the Twins.

But I will watch as much of the MLB playoffs as possible. Because baseball at its best and most important is unbeatable to watch. That's probably partly because the gap between your average regular season baseball and your meaningful late or post-season games is huge.

Not so much so for football. While there's a significant quality viewing difference between the regular season and the playoffs, it's not as substantive or striking as with baseball. And even at its worst, regular season football is still pretty good.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Why They Play The Game

Yesterday's rainout in Detroit provides an opportunity for some last minute (the first game of today's twin bill starts in just over two hours) thoughts on the how the Central Division race will play out. There seems to be a fair amount of optimism among Twins loyalists about the squad's chances of catching or even passing the Tigers before the regular season comes to a close on Sunday. This is largely due to the improved play that the Twins have demonstrated down the stretch and the belief that the Tigers aren't that formidable an opponent.

While both of those sentiments have merit, I am not so sanguine about the Twins prospects. When you step back and look at the last seven games from the Tigers perspective, the situation is very favorable. They're essentially playing a seven game series at home and, as in a playoff series, need to win four games to avoid elimination. In fact, if they win any combination of four of their last seven games, the worst case scenario would be facing the Twins in a one game playoff to determine the division champion.

If they win three (or four) games against the Twins at home it's over.

If they win two against the Twins and two against the White Sox, they win the division.

Even if they only take one of four from the Twins, if they sweep the Sox the worst that could happen would be to tie the Twins (if the Twins swept the Royals).

So when you look at like that, you gotta like the Tigers chances. They have seven games at home. If they go 4-3 in those games, they likely win the division.

The Twins meanwhile have to win at least five of their last seven and really need to take three of four from Detroit to have any chance. They're fortunate enough to be able to face the Tigers head on so they at least have the opportunity to control their fate. But the odds are definitely stacked against them.

UPDATE: Twins squeeze (figuratively, not literally) out a win in game one 3-2. If they can find a way to beat Verlander tonight, they could turn the outlook for who wins the division on its head.


Monday, September 28, 2009
Tell Us Something We Don't Know

Over the years, JB and I have had many a conversation on the frustrating inadequacies--sometimes bordering on maddening incompetence--of most television sports commentators. Across the sports world what you encounter more often than not with television commentary is obvious observations, irrelevant anecdotes, inane analysis, banal banter (with the play-by-play announcers), and a deluge of shopworn clichés particular to whatever sport you happen to be watching.

What's especially galling about the crummy level of commentary you usually get is there is a definite audience demand for informed, appropriate, and yes even entertaining television sports commentary. We're not at the game so we can't see everything that's going on. Most of us haven't played the sport at the highest level so we don't know all the intricacies of the game and what's really going on in the huddle, on the bench, or in the dugout. That's why the commentators are often former professional athletes who should be able to offer us a window into the world beyond what we can see taking place on our television screens.

Unfortunately, as Skip Rozin astutely observed in Saturday's WSJ, instead of meaningful insight we usually get drivel:

Don't misunderstand; I love good talk, talk that draws back the curtain separating fans from athletes and their games. Have you ever watched a baseball game and seen a batter hit a single and then visit with the first baseman? I want to know what they're discussing. Or in football, when receiver and safety lock up chasing a pass that barely eludes their outstretched hands, then jaw at each other as they trot back up field--what are they saying? When a manager blows up at the umpire, is he really angry or just supporting his player? These are the secrets from which fans are barred; that's the talk I'm eager to hear, not drivel.

Exactly. I don't want to hear a rehash of what just happened on the field. I saw it too. I want to hear a perspective from an angle that I can't see or wouldn't think about. Rozin continues:

Since television gives us all the action, commentators are most valuable when they provide information that fans cannot discern for themselves. We want more than a tedious dissection of the previous play, canned facts from press releases or trivia about an athlete's childhood.

Again spot on. We can easily access all the publicly available information we want about a team or a player. What we want is for you to go behind the facade a bit and enlighten us about aspects of the game that remain hidden.

Everyone can probably cite their own examples of the most egregious offenders when it comes to poor sports commentary on television. My personal bete noire in this area is Twins television commentator Bert Blyleven. There are a couple of factors that probably exacerbate my exasperation with Blyleven. One is simply the sheer number of baseball games televised over the course of the year. This translates into hundreds of hours for Bert to bore and annoy us with his insipid commentary. The other is that he's paired with Dick Bremer, a play-by-play announcer who combines casual arrogance with actual cluelessness. That fact that neither one of them has a real sense of humor or any discernable personality at all also contributes to the level of anguish one experiences when watching a game with the sound on.

Given Blyleven's twenty-three year major league baseball pitching career--which included All Star Game and World Series appearances--you would think that he would bring a lot to the table in terms of colorful stories, inside baseball insights, and understanding of what's really going. But you would be wrong. Instead of drawing on his past experiences in baseball and current contact with the team to enlighten and entertain the audience, Blyleven is content to stick with regurgitating the same clichés, well-worn references, and observations of the obvious that he's been throwing out for the last thirteen plus years as a color commentator.

Over the many months of this year's baseball season, there have been scores of examples of Blyleven's failings in this regard. One particular one that stuck in my craw was a few months ago. I can't recall all the details, but the Twins had a new pitcher who was making his first start of the season, at Texas I think. He managed to work into the fourth or fifth inning without too much trouble. Then, he allowed runners to reach first and second with no out. The next batter laid a bunt down the third baseline which the pitcher stumbled off the mound to field. He picked up the ball, spun, and underhanded it to third not realizing that the third baseman (a rare appearance by a healthy Crede I believe) was not on the bag. The ball went into leftfield, a run scored, and the other runners advanced an extra base.

A key turning point in both the kid's outing and the game. And what do we hear from Bert after seeing the replay? "He picked up the ball and threw it thinking someone was at third." Really? Wow, I would have never realized that's what had taken place without that stunning insight. Even worse, Blyleven added nothing more on it afterward. Nothing about how important it is for a pitcher to field his position. Nothing on how a pitcher can learn to become a better fielder (a skill that Blyleven is not shy bragging about himself). Nothing about what a team might work on with a new pitcher who just came out to the bigs to make sure he was prepared to handle various fielding scenarios. Nothing interesting for the fan that might help better understand and appreciate what I had just witnessed.

The key is to balance entertainment and information. Commentary should be interesting but also advance fans' understanding of the game or its players.

A combination that you rarely receive when listening to Blyleven. Another shortcoming of commentators that Rozin does not mention is one-sided homerism. There's not necessarily anything wrong with the broadcasters on a team's network being homers. But if they're going to side with fans they need to embrace the way fans truly feel about their team's performance. When you're winning, everything is great and your players are the best in the world. When you're losing, the sky is falling and they're a bunch of bums. A good homer announcer or commentator is one who's not afraid to admit that the team is playing poorly and point out players who aren't performing as they should.

Bad homer announcers and commentators like Bremer and Blyleven do a disservice to fans by pretending that the things that we're seeing aren't really happening. Errors by infielders are bad hops. Weak ground outs to second come at the end of a "good" at bat. Pitchers who are getting hammered are "just missing" hitting their spots. Managerial decisions are almost never questioned. And anyone who might even deign to argue against the wisdom being imparted by this enlightened pair by presenting statistics that show a contrary viewpoint are mocked as "geeks" who have never played the game.

One question that JB and I have never answered to our complete satisfaction is why? Why do some many commentators choose the route of bland generalities and rehashed drivel instead of drawing on their own experiences and knowledge to educate and entertain the audience? A few possible theories:

1. The commentators are simply ignorant of what passes for good. They think that what they're doing now is entertaining and educating and see no reason to change.

2. They believe that audience is too ignorant to understand anything more than the superficialities. They know a lot more about the game, but we're too stupid to understand it so they would just be wasting their time.

3. They're still trying to live up to some locker room "code" from their playing days. This means that they can't reveal too much about the secrets of the game or what happens off the field (or screen). This also impacts how honest they can be about individual players as they don't want to be appear to be disloyal to the group that they're retired from, but still active among.

In the case of Blyleven, I believe it's actually a combination of all three.

Rozin's close:

That's what commentary should do: Open the door to the secrets from which fans are usually barred. If it can't do more than tell me what's on the screen, shut it down and let me enjoy the pretty color pictures.

Shut down the sound. Advice that Twins fans would do well to heed as they closely follow this week's season ending stretch on television.

JB "The Rug Doctor" Adds:

And what makes it worse is both Bert and Dick have plugs! Guys, come on. It's obvious.


Monday, August 17, 2009
With A Whimper

A week after I officially stuck my fork in 'em, Aaron Gleeman--a man far more versed in the subject matter than I ever could hope to be--arrives at the same conclusion regarding the Twins:

Michael Cuddyer homered, Justin Morneau and Carlos Gomez each had two hits with an RBI, Scott Baker tossed eight innings of one-run ball, and Joe Nathan closed out a road victory over the Rangers on July 18 as the Twins moved to a season-high three games above .500 at 47-44. Since then they've gone 9-17 despite averaging nearly 5.5 runs per game, as the pitching staff has imploded to the tune of 6.5 runs per game while allowing double-digit runs eight times.

During those 26 games Joe Mauer hit nearly .400 with an OPS over 1.000, Morneau and Jason Kubel both provided a .900 OPS with plenty of power, Denard Span got on base at a .380 clip, and Orlando Cabrera hit safely in all but two games since coming over from the A's. Yet here we are in mid-August and the Twins are in the midst of an awful funk that has seen every starter except Baker get rocked on a nightly basis and the bullpen cough up nearly a run per inning when Nathan or Matt Guerrier aren't in.

Detroit and Chicago are mediocre enough that the Twins aren't completely out of the playoff picture yet, but at 56-61 and six games back in the AL Central it's tough to imagine this team making a serious run down the stretch. Sure, their remaining schedule is favorable, but the Twins just lost four of six home games to the fourth-place Indians and fifth-place Royals, and now travel to Texas for a four-game set against the Wild Card-leading Rangers.

The pathetic nature of the Twins most recent homestand should have removed any remaining doubt about where this team is going.


Monday, August 10, 2009
Over and Out

One of the long-standing traditions here at Fraters Libertas is my annual "Stick a Fork In the Twins, They're Done" post (a.k.a. The Elder's Divine Tine). Admittedly at times these "all hope is lost" posts have been proven to ridiculously premature. In these instances, my doom saying was doubtlessly driven more by emotional frustration resulting from the club's recent pitiable performances rather than a carefully calculated analysis of the situation at hand.

However, it is with a high level of confidence that I say today that the Twins prospects for 2009 have now been officially dashed. They're finished. Kaput. Over.

The Twins are now five-and-a-half games out of first place with a mediocre record of 54-57. They've gone 2-7 in their last nine games. And when you take a closer look at how they've lost those games, you'll see why you too should abandon all hope of a resurgence this year.

In that nine game swoon, the Twins scored 53 runs. That's an average of 5.8 runs per game. Now, their two wins were lopsided blowouts (10-1, 11-0) so take them out of the mix. You're still left with 32 runs in seven games, which is close to 4.6 runs a game. In fact, in five of these seven losses, they scored four or more runs (4, 5, 6, 7, 8). That kind of run production should get you more than two wins in nine games.

The problem is that they've given up 64 runs in the last nine games. In six of those games, their opponents scored EIGHT or more runs. The starters have surrendered 38 of these runs and the bullpen 26, numbers that neither group should be proud of.

At this time of season, if your hitters are in a slump, you can still realistically hope that they'll break out of it. Hitting does tend to come and go at times, but if your lineup is fundamentally sound you should be okay. If you have pitching.

The problem for the Twins is that they don't have the pitching now and there really is no reason to expect it to get much better before the end of the season (unless Carl Pavano performs miracles). The starters are shaky and the bullpen (with the exception of Nathan) unreliable. The pitching performances that we've suffered through over the last nine games are probably what we're going to see the rest of the way. The Twins pitching is what it is and it's not very good.

The Central Division title was up for the taking this year. The Twins unfortunately have now proven themselves to not be up for that task. It remains to be seen if the White Sox or Tigers are.


Thursday, June 11, 2009
Just a Bit Outside

In honor of Mitch Berg throwing out the first pitch at last night's Saints game, I direct you the video library of the Top 10 Most Embarrassing First Pitches of All Time.

I trust Mitch's effort was a little better than the likes of what Mariah Carey, Carl Lewis, and the guy in the dinosaur suit pulled off. Then again, that oversized foam rubber AM1280 the Patriot anthropamorphic Bill of Rights with the 50 inch biceps costume he was wearing is a tad constricting. Hopefully video of his performance will surface soon.

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Thursday, May 14, 2009
Sod Off

You know it's bad enough that a Colorado news station is rubbing our face in the turf because we have to outsource our grass supply from the Rocky Mountain state, but at least they could have gotten their facts straight:

In recent years, the family-owned sod farm that opened in 1979 has provided the sod for Coors Field, Invesco Field at Mile High, Wrigley Field, and Busch Stadium. Its location near the South Platte River and sand composition gives its grass an opportunity to drain much faster than other turf. Target Field is set to have a retractable roof and will have heat cables to potentially melt snow making drainage essential.

According to a well-placed source who is very familiar with the Twins stadium project (and gin), Target Field is not in fact set to have a retractable roof. We regret their error.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Sock Up

Ever wonder about the origin of the stirrup socks that baseball players wear? The background is revealed in a WSJ story on how Stirrups Hang On in Minor Leagues:

On July 4, 1905, the Boston Globe dropped a hint of its origins, reporting that Napoleon Lajoie, of the Cleveland Napoleons, was down with "blood poisoning" after being spiked by a shortstop named O'Leary. The Globe said, "some of the dye in his stocking got into the wound and affected it." The next December, the Washington Post reported that Cleveland players "will hereafter wear pure white stockings to avoid the possibility of blood poisoning."

Before long, players were wearing two socks on each foot, one to show team colors, and a "sanitary" sock to guard against poison dye. Two socks in one shoe made for a tight fit, so somebody cut out the toes and heels of the team socks, and the stirrup was invented.

Sock dye didn't, in fact, cause blood poisoning or any other infection. Germs did. "It had nothing to do with the dye," says Tom Shieber, curator of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. "The point is they thought it had to do with the dye."

The stirrup is definitely a classy look, one that I wish more big leaguers would try today. The whole pants over the shoe thing makes is more fitting for the softball field. Don't even get me started on the uni-color practice jersey top that some MLB teams still insist on wearing.


Monday, April 20, 2009
The Great Outdoors

Last Friday, we had the opportunity to get a sneak peak at a new facility under construction in downtown Minneapolis. I'd love to be able to tell you all about it, but we're operating under a strict gag order to reveal nothing of what we saw. Therefore, we're collectively taking a Sergeant Schultz approach to the matter. All I will say at this time is that when 2010 comes around the grass will be real and it will be spectacular.

After the construction tour, we adjourned to the Little Wagon to revitalize ourselves. The Little Wagon is the "other" establishment in bar baron Terry Keegan's Minneapolis empire and it's a great pre and post game location for those taking in a Twins game as we were that night. We happened to be there for The Wagon's 5pm trivia and discovered that although it's been a while since we partook in trivia at either Keegan establishment, little had changed. Marty was as unfunny, off-color, and insulting as ever and the questions were as ambiguously worded and incorrectly judged as ever. Just for the record, "Hannah Montana" was the #1 movie for April 10th through 16th and Steven Seagal just turned fifty-eight, not 53, 55, 57, or 59 (the options given by Marty). Not that we're bitter or anything. Finishing third was enough to get us each a free drink ticket which is the real goal of these trivial pursuits.

Despite the atrocious conditions in which it was played (plastic seats, Teflon ceiling, fake foul poles, artificial turf, etc.) the game itself was entertaining. For the first seven-and-half innings, the Twins looked likely to continue their recent swoon. Poor pitching, hapless hitting, and sloppy fielding left the home squad on the wrong side of a 9-4 score as they prepared to bat in the bottom of the eighth against the Angels. At which point, Saint Paul and JB Doubtless--who were sitting twelve rows below the rest of the group in the prestigious King Banaian seats--began demanding that we cut and run. "The game is lost," they said, "We've already invested too much of our treasure and time in a futile cause. This was the wrong game, at the wrong time, in the wrong place..."

Fortunately Atomizer--who had the painful consequences of a premature withdrawal seared into his conscience years earlier--remained Churchillian in his resolve and was adamant that we never give in. Well, actually it was more like "let's at least see the Twin bat this inning," but nevertheless he refused to cave in to the pressure. Which proved fortuitous as the Twins scored seven times in the eighth, capped off by Jason Kubel's cycle completing two-out grand slam home run. After Joe Nathan closed out the Halos with seven pitches in the ninth, the Twins had an improbable 11-9 victory on their way to a three-game weekend sweep.

It ended up being a great night at the ballpark, which would have been even better had it been under a starry sky. Just wait until next year.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Let Them Play

So I'm watching Game 1 of the World Series, the sacred American ritual of baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet. During the last commercial break I get smacked in the face with back-to-back negative ads pissing on Michele Bachmann and Norm Coleman. Ads which are particularly insulting to one's intelligence, even by negative ad standards. Paid for by outside agitators trying to manipulate who we Minnesotans and 6th CD denizens choose to represent us.

Hey Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee - bleep you! Your actions are anti-American and I question your patriotism.

Throw in Fox Sports too for that condemnation. The World Series broadcast should be a politics free zone, no matter how much money they can make off of the ad sales.

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Monday, October 20, 2008
Rays of Light?

The choice for which team to cheer for in the World Series should be an easy one. After all. the Rays are the Cinderella story of the 2008 season. They're a scrappy bunch of youngsters who came together to overcome their franchise's pathetic history and best the the big bad Yankees and defending world champion Red Sox to win the AL East. Then, they dispatched the White Sox with ease and, leading the ALCS 3 games to 1, were seven outs away from putting the Red Sox down. We all know what happened next. After the historic game five collapse and game six lose, many wondered how the less experienced Rays would hold up in the pressure cooker of a Game Seven to go to World Series. Quite well it turned out. Now, they try to complete the fantastic journey against the Phillies in the World Series. Who doesn't want to see the Rays realize their improbable dream?

Me for one. It's nothing against the players. They seem like a good group of guys who are having a blast proving that they're for real. And you have to respect the work of Joe Maddon and the organization, especially the way they hornswaggled the Twins to get Garza and Bartlett (but hey, we got Delmon "Never Seen A First Pitch I Didn't Like" Young). No, my problem is that I just don't feel that the city or the fans deserves to win the Series.

There have been too many of these "one hit wonder" towns of late that win a championship that they don't deserve, don't appreciate, and don't build anything on. In the NHL alone, we have the Ducks in 2007, Carolina in 2006, and Tampa Bay in 2004. Seeing the Stanley Cup paraded around in those towns just wasn't right. And it won't be right to see the World Series trophy in Tampa Bay this year either.

The playoff images of the bandwagon-jumping clowns at Tropicana Field holding up signs saying "We Love Our Rays" turns my stomach. You love your Rays, huh? Then why did your team--which won ninety-seven games--finish 12th out of fourteen American League teams in attendance this year? You don't deserve this team and you most definitely don't deserve a World Series championship. Go Phillies.


Wednesday, October 01, 2008
Tails We Lose

A few thoughts after watching Danks, Thome, and the White Sox put an end to the Twins season.

* It seems a little silly to play one-hundred-sixty-two games and then decide who gets home field for the one playoff game to decide the division title by virtue of a coin flip. Yes, this sounds like sour grapes, but the even most diehard Sox fan would have to admit that had tonight's game been played at the Metrodome, the results would likely have been very different.

* If anybody on the Sox was going to do the Twins in, it's not surprising that it was Thome. He's killed the Twins over the years both with the White Sox and previously with the Indians.

* Tonight's game reminded me of many of the Twins past post-season failures against the Yankees. Both team get good pitching, but the Twins can't quite scratch out enough runs and eventually the other team wins the game with power. It's also why I wasn't optimistic about the Twins chances this year if had managed to win tonight. This team is not built for the playoffs. They've got five good starters, but no horses to ride in the post-season. And although they did a great job scoring runs in the regular season (especially considering their lack of power) in the post-season--where hits are at a premium--you can't rely on small ball (walks, stolen bases, moving the runner over, etc.) to produce runs. You need to have more than two legitimate power hitters in your lineup.

* No one expected the Twins to get this far this year and if they can hold it together, this team should have a bright future. It was great to see Blackburn step up and pitch tough in the clutch. Let's hope he and the other young arms can carry over their experiences this year into the next.

* As for the MLB playoffs, my hopes can now be simply broken down into ABC: Anybody But Chicago. And that includes the precious Cubs too. I'd love to see a Rays-Brewers Series.


Monday, September 29, 2008
Spoiling For A Fight?

Year not over as Detroit visits Chicago:

One would just have soon been done a day earlier. One is just trying to stretch the season by one more day. It's a fascinating contrast when the White Sox and Tigers play a makeup game at 2:05 p.m. ET on Monday.

Chicago has everything to play for. If the Sox win Monday's game, they force a one-game playoff for the American League Central Division championship, which would be at home on Tuesday against the Twins. Win that, and it's on to the AL Division Series against Tampa Bay. Detroit has nothing to play for in the standings, but there's always pride and the opportunity to spoil a rival's season.

Two words come to mind that I haven't said much in the past, "Go Tigers!"

UPDATE-- White Sox force one-game tiebreaker:

CHICAGO -- A full 162-game schedule will not be enough to decide the American League Central title.

The White Sox forced Tuesday's one-game tiebreaker on Monday by virtue of an 8-2 victory over the last-place Tigers following a three-hour, four-minute rain delay and then a contest that lasted even longer. The South Siders can thank Alexei Ramirez, Gavin Floyd and a shoddy Detroit bullpen for the chance to host the Twins on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. CT on TBS and MLB.TV with a playoff berth on the line.

D'oh! No-good, lousy Tigers. Thanks for nuthin'.

Oh well. The Twins will just have to take care of business for themselves. Who's taking the hill tomorrow anyway?

Blackburn? Yikes. Well, at least we have Bonser rested and ready in the 'pen. That ought to strike fear into the hearts of the Pale Hose.

Any chance for rain tomorrow?


Saturday, September 27, 2008
You stole the love right out of my heart

Remember what I said the other day about baseball breaking your heart? No sooner did the Twins rally to complete a dramatic sweep of the White Sox--putting them in first place with a chance to do no worse than tie for division lead if they were able to win out--than their offense goes dormant and they drop their first two games of a three game season-ending set against the Royals. Today's loss was especially tough as the Twins--trailing by two in the bottom of the ninth--had runners at first and second with no out and Mauer and Morneau coming up. A double-play and fly-out later and the game was over. That one hurt.

The only thing keeping Twins fans from complete despair is that the White Sox have been gracious enough to choke like dogs too. They now have dropped the first two games of their home series against the Tribe meaning the Twins haven't lost any ground in the last two days. Now, it all comes down to tomorrow. If the Twins win and the Sox lose, the Twins win the division outright. If both teams win, the Sox will play a make-up game against Detroit on Monday. If they win that, the Twins and Sox will have a one game playoff on Tuesday at Chicago. If the Twins lose and the Sox win on Sunday, the Sox will still need to beat Detroit on Monday to avoid the Tuesday playoff. Got that?

All I know is that I'm glad that we're close to resolution. My ol' heart can't take much more of this.


Thursday, September 25, 2008
This Great Game

No sport toys with your emotions quite like baseball. Over the course of a long season you can have your spirits lifted and your heart broken many times over. Not to go all Costas on you, but in a way the baseball season is like life in that things are probably never as bad or as good as they seem at the time. There's always another game (at least during the season) or another day tomorrow that offers a chance for redemption.

A week ago most Twins fans had probably given up hope after a number of recent gut-wrenching late-inning losses. Sure, they still had three games left with the White Sox at home this week, but what were the chances that they could pull off the needed sweep?

Even after the Twins took the first two games of series, it still looked bleak tonight when they trailed 6-1 in the fourth. But then the much-maligned bullpen stopped the bleeding and the offense chipped away until they were able to tie it at six with two runs in the bottom of the eighth. Then a dramatic game-winning single in the tenth plated Nick Punto and the improbable had occurred. The Twins had swept the White Sox and are now in first place.

The division is by no means won. There's more drama to be played out and the Twins still need to take care of business this weekend against the Royals. But this series and especially tonight remind Twins fans once again why this is such a great game.


Monday, June 23, 2008
We Enjoy The Error

There was a classic moment during yesterday's Twins radio broadcast (a 5-3 win over the D-Backs--completing a three-game sweep). John Gordon, Dan Gladden, and Jack Morris were filling time between pitches by talking about an upcoming open tryout the Twins are having. They mentioned some familiar names who have gone through said tryouts in years past. One of those named was Charley Walters, long-time sports columnist for the St. Paul Pioneer Press who used a similar tryout as a springboard for a seven-year professional baseball career as a pitcher, including some time up in the bigs with the Twins.

Since all three of them were familiar with Walters, they began speculating on what his baseball career might have been like. Gordon informed the others that Walters played for the Twins during the 1983 season. They brought a surprised reaction from Morris and Gladden, especially Morris who was in his prime with the Tigers during that time. Gladden was needling Morris that maybe Walters had beaten him at some point during that season.

Unlike all three of these gentlemen, I have never met Charley Walters and know next to nothing about him. But listening in yesterday, I was quite certain that given his age, there was no way in hell that Walters had played for the Twins as recently as 1983.

When the next inning began, a somewhat chastened though still upbeat Gordon informed the audience that indeed he had the wrong Walters. It was MIKE Walters who pitched for the Twins in 1983. Charley Walters had his cup of coffee with the Twins back in 1969. Gordon only got the first name wrong and was off by a mere fourteen years. We enjoyed the error.

UPDATE: Upon further reflection, I realized that this is also a classic example of the "code" of the broadcasting booth: Thou shall not contradict your cohost no matter how inane, ignorant, or ill-informed their remarks may be (a credo by the way that is carved in stone in the marble-walled studios of AM-1280 The Patriot). Gladden and Morris had to know that Gordon was wrong and yet they went right on along with him.


Tuesday, May 27, 2008
All for Nothing, Nothing for All

A few weeks ago, there was much behind the scenes discussion among contributors to this site about attending the Minnesota Twins "All You Can Eat" promotion. Inexhaustible quantities of hot dogs, peanuts, popcorn, nachos and non-alcoholic beverages for one low, low price. Needless to say, there are those among us for whom the siren call of something for nothing is irresistible.

As a long time aficionado of Dollar Hot Dog Night, I admit I was intrigued. But my experience with that discount wiener promotion has taught me some valuable lessons. Primarily, that the notion of inexhaustible supply is an illusion. The dynamics of security and market demand constrict how much you can actually eat.

First, the Twins dictate that you can only get two hot dogs per trip through the concession line. (A prudent decision, based on Sadr City-like civil insurrection when distribution was unlimited).

Second, demand is so great that the lines to get the dollar hot dogs are very, very long. In practical terms, this limits those who actually want to watch the game to maybe two trips through the line and four hot dogs. True, that should be enough for anyone. In fact, they should change the name of the promotion to "All the Hot Dogs You Should Eat" Night. But even during the most acute suffering and regret after finishing that fourth dog, in the back of your mind you're feeling a little hacked off that you couldn't get more even if you wanted to.

These were my concerns with the Twin "All You Can Eat Night." What would be the per trip quantity limitations imposed by management? What would be the demand/capacity ratio for food distribution? Based on past Metrodome experience, I figured these would place unacceptable restrictions on by ability to acquire All I Could Eat, the Fraters Field Trip was scuttled.

We now receive a report from Mike, at Mooshka's Mind, who believed in the dream and attended this promotion. Excerpts:

The first thing we noticed when we hit the concourse was the all-you-can-eat food line. It was insane. We walked approximately 6 or 7 sections in the direction that food line was forming and it was still going. Absolutely nuts. This is still half and hour before the game and the line is that long. And my favorite part is that they still had only the one "Field Fare" location open, serving all of these people. Brilliant. *******

After a couple of innings, the guys next to us decided to go for another round of food. Rather than go down and find out how long the line was, we instead decided to time these guys and see how long it took them to come back. Half an hour later, a couple of the guys come back. Half an hour! That's at least an inning and a half, and might have been two full innings. Crazy talk!

Mike notes that this was the Twins first attempt at this promotion and they may improve conditions as time goes on. We will be monitoring this situation and alert you with all breaking news on this story.

His reference to leaving the game for food and coming back a half an hour later actually brought back memories for me of the other baseball option we have in town. I was a regular attendee of St. Paul Saints games in their first few years of existence. The promise of outdoor baseball and Mike Veeck inspired fun was enough to draw capacity crowds from the beginning. Ask anyone what their primary memory of those days were and I'd bet they'd answer the same thing: the lines for the bathroom.

The little municipal stadium the Saints play at on Energy Park Drive was not built the notion of 6,000+ beer swilling fans in attendance. In-house plumbing could at best accommodate the typical crowd for a Minnesota Vixen game.

So they compensated by putting a couple of outhouses behind the bleachers, down the base lines. Even then the lines were huge, a trip to relieve yourself would cost you at least an inning or two of the game. Luckily, there was a beer stand flanking the outhouse, so you were not actually deprived access to the primary reason you were at a Saints game. Although fueling up in line also increased the urgency of the moment for all involved. Any dawdlers in the Satellite were subject to a chorus of cat calls and derision. I recall one drunken agitator suggesting the best way to start a riot would be, when you got to the front of the line, pull out a copy of the Sunday New York Times for all to see, sit down, and slam the door.

In recent years, the Saints have upgraded their facilities and the gargantuan bathroom lines are a now a part of history. I see this past Sunday the Saints had a promotion that was officially a reference to Sen. Larry Craig's bathroom antics. From the looks of it, I take it as a tribute to all those brave outhouse line denizens in days gone by.

UPDATE: Speaking of Northern League baseball, idea for the next MOB get together. Road trip to Wichita.


Monday, May 19, 2008

Story in today's WSJ on how Omaha is Divided Over Plan For Pricey New Ballpark:

For nearly 60 years, the College World Series has helped define this midsize former railroad town on the west bank of the Missouri River, mythologizing it as a special home for baseball at its purest.

But now a plan to build history's most-expensive minor-league ballpark has strained relations here, dividing those loyal to the event's traditions--and who think the new stadium is a waste of money--from folks who want to see Omaha turn the event into another glitzy sports stop. It also has alienated the city's longtime minor-league franchise.

The proposed stadium plan turned town meetings into shouting matches. Opponents even launched an effort to recall the mayor. Now, though, Omaha is on the verge of approving $100 million in city spending for a $140 million, 24,000-seat downtown stadium that would serve as the home for the College World Series for the next 25 years, and possibly for the Omaha Royals, Kansas City's top minor-league franchise.

Of course, this leads to the inevitable question: if Omaha fails to build a new stadium will the city become nothing more than a warm Minneapolis?


Thursday, May 08, 2008

Dave Golokhov provides his list of the Top 10: Worst franchises in pro sports:

Every fan wants to cheer for a team that has the championship history of the New England Patriots, New York Yankees or Detroit Red Wings. Unfortunately, many get stuck with a long string of bad luck, like the Chicago Cubs; thrifty ownership, like the now-defunct Montreal Expos; or a dim-witted front office that is unable to make logical personnel decisions, like the current New York Knicks.

Here is a list of the top 10 worst sports franchises currently in operation.

10. Los Angeles Clippers
9. Vancouver/Memphis Grizzlies
8. Atlanta Hawks

Three eternally crappy NBA teams. So far so good.

7. Minnesota Twins

"Moneyball" is to baseball what frugal is to cheap; it's a creative way of saying, "we're not going to pay for our stars or reward our veterans who have earned their keep." Sabermetrics and scientific stats are used to evaluate players and give a better indication of their worth, but teams like the Minnesota Twins use this strategy to kiss their superstars goodbye at the trade deadline or the first day of free agency. The Twins constantly sell proven veterans for prospects and draft picks, but when those youngsters finally develop, they get shipped away to start the cycle again. The Twins incessantly look to the future and winning now is not a priority. Translation: the Twins care more about the dollars than about winning.

Are you kidding? Sure, the Twins have made some questionable moves of late. Letting Hunter go. Trading Santana. Allowing a guy like Atomizer to help design their new stadium. But you can't seriously claim that they're the seventh worst franchise in all of pro sports. They're only the third worst franchise in Minnesota. Has Golokhov missed the clown show that plays at Target Center or the NFL team that's letting its Super Bowl dreams ride on the arm of Tavaris Jackson?

How about the Brewers? The Cubs? The Florida Panthers? The Phoenix Coyotes? When's the last time any team from Cleveland's won anything?

Worst list ever. Yes, that IS saying a lot.


Wednesday, April 09, 2008
I Don't Care If I Never Get Back

With all due respect to The Elder, the hockey playoffs are nice and everything but baseball is still the only game around.

I just bought the MLB Extra Innings package from my local cable provider. That means every single televised baseball game is available on the 42" digital TV in my basement from now until October.

Blogging will be lighter than usual until the season ends.

The Elder Comes Inside: Nothing wrong with a little baseball. I actually like watching baseball on TV because if you're quick with your remote, you can watch a ball game and two other shows at the same time without missing anything.


Saturday, March 29, 2008
Pay The Skipper Or The Crew?

An article by Darren Everson in yesterday's WSJ asks Is Joe Torre Worth the Money? (sub req):

Joe Torre, who makes his debut with the Dodgers on Monday, ranks eighth in all-time wins. He won four World Series titles with the New York Yankees during a 12-year career there, which ended last season after the team's third straight first-round playoff loss. He became renowned for his ability to handle star players' egos and navigate crises. But his actual, quantifiable skill as a skipper is debatable.

In close games, in which a manager's decisions in baserunning, pitching and substitutions tend to make the most difference, Mr. Torre's teams have struggled in recent years. Over the past three seasons, his record in games tied after the sixth inning is 23-31 -- a .426 winning percentage, compared with .588 in all games. Several of his peers, including Ron Gardenhire of the Minnesota Twins and Willie Randolph of the New York Mets, have performed better in close games.

It's interesting that the East Coast media starts asking questions about Torre's managerial abilities AFTER he leaves the Yankees for LA. Funny how it works that way.

The story went on to say that it's very difficult to objectively rate the performance of baseball managers. There was also an accompanying piece to this story that attempted to do just that (sub req):

To assess how Joe Torre compares to his peers, we used three criteria to measure the performance of baseball managers: how their teams perform in close games when the manager's strategic decisions have the most impact, how many games their teams win compared to how many runs they score and allow (a formula known as Pythagorean wins) and whether they get more out of players than other managers, measured by additional games won per season. (For more on our methodology, please see below). We ranked 20 current managers by all three criteria and averaged the results:

The top five?

1 Ron Gardenhire Twins
2 Bruce Bochy Giants
3 Ned Yost Brewers
4 Charlie Manuel Phillies
5 Bob Melvin Diamondbacks

And the bottom:

16 Terry Francona Red Sox
17 Joe Torre Dodgers
18 Eric Wedge Indians
19 Jim Leyland Tigers
20 Clint Hurdle Rockies

Obviously, there is not necessarily a correlation between a manager's rankings here and the team's success on the field as amply demonstrated by the Red Sox-Rockies World Series last year. One final word on that:

"I think managers are a bit overrated in terms of the impact that they have on their players," says J.C. Bradbury, an economist and associate professor at Kennesaw State University and author of "The Baseball Economist." To make a team better, he says, "get better players."

Better players make better teams? Funny how it works that way.


Saturday, March 01, 2008
Early MVP Candidate

The Star Tribune reports on Brendan Harris, the new second baseman for the Twins:

Harris spends his winters in Washington D.C., and he's keeping close tabs on the presidential race while competing for his team's second base job. "It's a big year," he said. "I love following the issues and seeing what everyone has to offer."

In politics, Harris said, he leans "heavily to the right."

In the words of former Twins owner Calvin Griffith, upon hearing rising star Butch Wynegar liked playing baseball so much, he'd do it for nothing: I really like that kid.


Sunday, February 03, 2008
Destruction Over Distraction

The real reason why the Minnesota Twins traded superstar Johan Santana to the Mets for a bag full of diamond dust finally comes out. From today's St. Paul Pioneer Press, Twins general manager Bill Smith sets the record straight:
"It would have been a distraction. ... Every day the home media, the visiting media, every day, wants to know where you're going to be next year," the Twins' general manager said. "It would have been a little bit of a distraction, I think, for everybody on the team."
Tell me something, Billy, what's the bigger distraction...the media hounding a multi-Cy Young award winning pitcher with 12 wins in July about where he's going to play next year or the media hounding every member of a team with 12 wins in July asking them why their pitching staff sucks rocks and their GM has his head so far up his ass he could wear it as a hat? I'm picking the latter.


Thursday, January 31, 2008
The Biggest Lohser

The ESPN piece about the snag in the Johan Santana deal that St. Paul links to below is the talk of the town here in Minneapolis. The part that should be the talk of the town in New York is the very last paragraph which begins:
In the meantime, there are signs that the Mets continue to express interest in free-agent pitcher Kyle Lohse. Lohse was viewed, essentially, as the Mets' backup plan in case they weren't able to trade for Santana.
Yeah, that sounds about right. If you can't steal the best pitcher in baseball from the Twins the next best thing has to be signing a consistently underperforming right handed piece of trash Twins castoff.

If the Santana deal doesn't go through, all I can say is good luck to all of you Mets fans out there. Good luck.


Losing and Laughing

ESPN reports the Johan Santana trade may not be a done deal. Santana has the right to nix the whole thing and his agreement is conditional on them signing him to a new contract. Apparently negotiations are continuing and there is a remote chance Santana's $150,000,000 salary demand (yes, larger than the GDP of the nations of Kiribati and Sao Tome and Principe) may be too much for even the New York Mets to afford.

With the kinds of revenue streams the Mets are able to extort from the fans and taxpayers of New York, I can't believe they're going to quibble over a few paltry tens of millions of dollars. So I still expect to see our man Johan at a press conference donning the blue and orange within days. [bobcostas]Ironically enough, those team colors, a tribute to the two teams that left New York City decades ago when they couldn't extort massive tax subsidies of their own.[/bobcostas]

Yesterday, Bill Simmons discussed the Santana trade on an installment of his highly entertaining podcast, The BS Report (archives here). Silver lining to all of this, with the current state of all Minnesota sports, he's declared that we have edged past Buffalo on the Sports Fan Mass Suicide Index. We're number one! We're number one!

The podcast from January 15 is also good as it dealt with the speculation over the not yet consummated Santana trade. Also, more local interest with gratuitous ripping of the movie Juno and the the byline of Star Tribune sportswriter Lavelle E. Neale III.

As long as we're going back into the BS Report archives, I should point out the September 4 edition. It's one of the funniest half hours of anything I've heard in a long time. Simmons and Adam Corolla talking about Los Angeles, fantasy football, and Corolla's ideas for a couple of sports based movies.


Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Meet The Mets

Twins and Mets agree to Santana trade

Multiple major league sources familiar with negotiations are confirming that the Twins and New York Mets have agreed to trade two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana for four prospects.

The deal is pending physicals and a contract extension for Santana that?s expected to be for at least six years and more than $20 million a season.

In return for Santana, the Twins will receive four of the Mets best prospects -- outfielder Carlos Gomez and righthanders Phillip Humber, Kevin Mulvey and Deolis Guerra.

Time to "get to know 'em" all over again.


Thursday, December 13, 2007
I Want A New Drug

Twins fans can hardly be blamed for being surprised to learn that Rondell White ever did anything to enhance his performance:

The 311-page report, along with page after page of copies of canceled checks, also cited current and former players such as Chuck Knoblauch, Lenny Dykstra, Mo Vaughn, Paul Lo Duca, David Segui, Rondell White, Eric Gagne, Jason Giambi and Barry Bonds, the career home-run leader who was indicted on charges of obstructing justice when he denied using steroids before a U.S. Grand Jury.


Say It Ain't So, Rondell

The Mitchell Report on steroid use in Major League Baseball has been posted. Some interesting reading, lots of big names alleged to have been users, many of whom seem to be connected in some manner with the Orioles or Yankees.

Of local interest, guys connected with the Minnesota Twins who appear in the report are: Rondell White, Chuck Knoblach, Denny Neagle, Chad Allen, and Dan Naulty. Although most of the allegations concern activity when they were no longer with the local nine.

My skim reading so far reveals these Twins stories to be largely pathetic. Players on the downsides of their careers, or not ever good enough to begin with, doing anything, including the illegal and unethical, to stay competitive with major league standards.

Human weakness on display, I suppose. Baseball players aren't immune. Still I wonder if I'll ever be able to wolf down 9-10 hot dogs on Dollar Hot Dog Night at the Dome with the same innocent, carefree gusto again.


Monday, October 29, 2007
And All The Banners Waving

Twin peaks: Sox are champs:

DENVER -- A scintillating seven-game winning streak that began in Cleveland with the season on the brink of elimination ended Sunday night with the Red Sox mobbing each other in the thin air of Coors Field of all places, culminating in a World Series championship that didn't take even close to 86 years this time around.

By sweeping the Rockies with a 4-3 victory in Game 4, the Red Sox are champions of Major League Baseball for the second time in four seasons, once again doing it by giving their National League opponent the broom treatment. It was the seventh -- there goes that number again -- time the Red Sox have won the World Series.

Congrats to the Red Sox. They clearly were the better team. Their relatively easy sweep also shows just how much of an aberration last year's Series was. The American League--like the AFC and the Western Conferences in the NHL and NBA--has a disproportionate edge in talent and is much stronger top to bottom than the National League.

Thanks to the Rockies for embarking on their unlikely postseason run. It was a fun ride while it lasted.

UPDATE-- Tim from Colorado e-mails:

Congrats to the Red Sox. I will now have to avoid ESPN's Sportscenter for the next week or so because they are such homers for the Boston and New York teams. For the next week to ten days, we will now be over-exposed to the drama of whether or not A-Rod will go to the Red Sox.

To borrow a bit from football coach John McKay, the Rockies didn't pitch well but they made up for it by not hitting. As much as they won't admit it, the eight day layoff was too long and it took the edge off the Rockies bats. I'm not sure what the excuse is for the Rockies pitching; it completely disappeared after doing so well down the stretch and through the NLCS. With the exception of Aaron Cook's performance last night, no Rockies starter went longer than 4 innings in the World Series.

However, we are not as disappointed as some may think. The Rockies are a young team, they made an unprecedented run to get into the playoffs, and this experience will help them next season. Remember the name Ian Stewart; he is a solid player coming up through the Rockies farm system and he will probably be teaming up with Troy Tulowitzki at second base next year.

Pitchers and catchers report in four short months.


Thursday, October 25, 2007
But won't we all parade around and sing our songs

Beckett, bats come out blazing vs. Rockies in Game 1:

BOSTON -- Two days, it turns out, was the perfect amount of time for the Red Sox to recharge and reload for the showcase known as the World Series.

In fact, the Sox looked like relentless world beaters on that stage in Wednesday night's Game 1, putting on a hitting and pitching clinic in a 13-1 romp over the Colorado Rockies on Wednesday.

Eight days, on the other hand -- which is how long the Rockies had to wait around for their first appearance in the World Series -- looked like way more than they wanted or needed.

Ouch. The best thing about last night's game was that it was over early, so there was no need to stay up late to know the outcome. This is the first bump in the postseason road for the Rockies and how they respond tonight will say a lot about how long the series will go.

The good news is that bats can go cold just as fast they get hot. The Red Sox have been hitting lights out for the last four games, which means they're due for a slump. And tonight the Rockies will be facing a well-past his prime Schilling rather than the dominating Beckett. That dude is one mean SOB. Exactly the kind of intimidating attitude you want from your staff ace.

No time to get off the 'wagon now.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007
You Don't Know What You've Got 'Til It's Gone

Like seventeen of my fellow Americans, I tuned in to Versus last night to catch a bit of the Canadians-Bruins hockey game. And lo' and behold, who was playing between the pipes for the Bruins but former Wild netminder Manny Fernandez. It wasn't Manny's night as Les Habitants put six past him and crushed the B's 6-1. But seeing Fernandez backstopping for Boston made me realize just how strong the Boston-Minnesota sports connection has become.

Twins fans have long followed the success of David Ortiz at Boston with a mixture of envy and bitterness at what might have been. Since joining the BoSox in 2003, Ortiz has clubbed 208 homers, driven in 642 runs, helped them win a World Series in 2004, and get back to the Fall Classic again this year.

Meanwhile, in the same five-year span, Twins designated hitters have hit twelve home runs, driven in thirty-two, and led to team to three first round playoff exits. Okay, I'm making those DH stats up, but the reality isn't much better.

Now, in addition to having to watch Ortiz warm the hearts of the Boston faithful with his powerful bat, Minnesota fans must also helplessly look on as ex-Viking Randy Moss lights up the NFL (again), this time wearing a Patriots jersey. Watching Moss effortlessly haul in long touchdown passes evokes memories of '98, made even more painful when compared to this year's anemic Viking aerial attack.

That's two game-changing players who once played here helping make Beantown the current center of the sports universe. You ready for a third? Don't look now, but just a little over a week from today, the new-look Celtics--featuring Kevin Garnett--begin their NBA season. If KG blows up in Boston and leads the Celts on a deep playoff run, it will be another bitter pill for Minnesota sports fans to swallow.

The only solace at this point is that the Wild are doing just fine without Manny. Bringing the Cup to Minnesota would do a lot to ease our Beantown envy.


The Whole World Is Jumping

Tobin from Indonesia e-mails to join the Rockies 'wagon:

Ok, ok, I'll finally climb on. I'm not sure why, but it took until their opponent was the Red Sox for me to actually cheer for Colorado. Of course, had their opponent been the Yankees, that would have done it too.

Hope the rest hasn't cooled them off - the last thing this sports world needs right now is Boston winning the World Series.


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