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Tonight, the Minnesota Twins rewrote the history books, becoming the first team to lose 100 games in a season, then qualify for the postseason the next. If I had a $100 bill for each time I’ve heard a player on a championship-winning team tell the TV interviewer that ‘nobody except those of us in our locker room believed in us’, I’d be a wealthy man. It’s the type of thing that’s clichéd and discounted all the time. It’s like the interview with the football GM about their top draft pick saying ‘I can’t believe he dropped to us. He was our top-rated player on our board.’ It’s ok to discount people saying that.

Tonight, Fox Sports North’s Audra Martin interviewed the players after they clinched their playoff spot. Several Twins, including Byron Buxton, the team’s MVP, Brian Dozier and other players said, sincerely, that others didn’t believe in them. This time, in this situation, it’s true that people outside the Twins organization didn’t give them much of a chance to finish with a winning record, much less win the second wild-card spot. Why should they? They’d just finished the 2016 season with a 59-103 record. This year, they’ll finish with at least 83 wins. That’s a 24-game improvement from last year. Minimum. This video has as much to do with why the Twins made the playoffs as anything:

Twins manager Paul Molitor has made some mistakes but he’s been a great teacher, too. During his Hall of Fame career, Molitor was known as having great instincts. The timeless adage about good sports teams taking on their manager’s personality fits with this team.

While the Twins have holes on their team, so do the other AL playoff teams. If I had to pick a favorite going into the AL playoffs, I’d pick Cleveland. Any team that puts together a 22-game winning streak while not allowing more than 5 runs in any of those wins is a formidable team. The Twins, meanwhile, just got swept by the Yankees, their likely wild-card playoff opponent, meaning that the Twins are facing an uphill fight. Regardless of whether they’re eliminated in Game 163 or they make a playoff run, it’s been a fun season. Joe Mauer appreciates how special of a season it’s been:

Twins GM Thad Levine summed up the Twins’ attitude towards winning in the playoffs pretty well:

Good luck to the Twins. It’s been a fun season to be a Twins fan.

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In 2009, Joe Mauer won the AL MVP award, the Gold Glove for defensive excellence and the AL batting title, he was considered one of baseball’s brightest stars. Just as quickly as he gained notoriety, though, his career went downhill after he suffered a series of concussions. Those concussions quickly led to reduced offensive productivity and defensive reliability.

This year, that’s changed. Joe is back with a vengeance. And then some. Joe’s health (and swing) are back. He’s the Twins’ most consistent hitter. He’s become the American League’s best defensive first baseman. This past weekend, the Twins’ opponent was the Toronto Blue Jays. Toronto’s first baseman, Justin Smoak, has had a good year, hitting 38 home runs. He’s considered one of the best defensive first basemen in all of baseball. What I saw this weekend in that matchup was the difference between a highlight reel guy (Smoak) and a consistent professional (Mauer).

In Sunday’s game, Smoak didn’t make the defensive play on a Jason Castro base hit. Dick Bremer, the Twins TV voice for a generation, called it a 7-hop bleeder. It was a ball that should have been caught. Castro likely would’ve beaten out the infield hit. Instead, the ball got through and the Twins runner, Eduardo Escobar, went from first to third on the hit.

Prior to this year, Kent Hrbek was the Twins’ best defensive first baseman of my lifetime. He spoke once about his mindset defensively. He said that his first instinct was to be like a hockey goalie by not letting the ball get past him. After that, his goal was simple. Save the extra base. Save runs. Sometimes, it meant he stole outs and rallies from the other team. Before that, though, he didn’t let the ball get past him.

This year, Joe Mauer has used his 6’5″ frame and his athleticism to not let balls get past him. His range (statistically) isn’t that impressive. Ask his infielders whether Joe’s range has saved their bacon and they’ll tell you that he’s saved them lots of throwing errors. Ask Joe’s pitchers whether he’s saved them outs. They’ll tell you that he’s been the glue that’s held the infield together. Whether he’s making a diving backhanded stop or picking a short-hopped throw, his teammates, pitchers and coaches will tell you that he’s the most consistent defensive first baseman in the league. In fact, this year, Joe Mauer has committed 1 error all season. His fielding percentage over 937 chances is .999.

The Joe Mauer of early in his career is back. The elite-level defensive play has returned. His offensive productivity is back. Perhaps the most overlooked statistic is Joe’s batting average with runners in scoring position, aka RISP, is .321, one of the highest batting averages in the league. Consistently, he puts together great at-bats.

Minnesota has some impressive young 2-way talent. It’s impossible to not think of Eddie Rosario and Byron Buxton when that’s the subject. Still, Joe Mauer’s quiet leadership and productivity have been instrumental in making the Twins a highly competitive team with a very good shot at making the playoffs.

It isn’t often that Drudge Report links to a sports article. Drudge linked to this article because there’s a long-simmering feud that’s threatening to boil over. It started when the Detroit Tigers’ Ian Kinsler finally had had enough with the umpiring. Specifically, Kinsler criticized umpire Angel Hernandez, saying “It has to do with changing the game. He’s changing the game. He needs to find another job, he really does.”

According to the Detroit Free Press article, the animosity towards Hernandez is widespread. The article said “One American League executive who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about umpires performances said about Kinsler’s comments, ‘He said what 90% of every other player thinks.'” Later in the article, it said “In a 2010 players survey conducted by ESPN, 22% of those polled counted Hernandez as baseball’s worst umpire.”

The umpires have a major problem on their hands. This weekend, Hernandez is part of the umpiring crew working the Minnesota Twins-Arizona Diamondbacks intra-league series. Earlier in the day, MLB announced that Kinsler would pay a fine but that he wouldn’t be suspended. Prior to the game, umpires said that they’d wear a white wristband in a supposed show of unity with Hernandez. When the game began, only 2 umpires of the 4-man umpiring crew working the Twins-Diamondbacks game wore the white wristband.

The problem Major League Baseball has isn’t just that Hernandez is a bad ump. It’s that too many umpires think that the game revolves around them. Too many umpires have tried upstaging the players after making bad calls. MLB implemented instant replay reviews because umpires made the wrong call too often. In my opinion, there’s a significant drop in the level of professionalism amongst umpires.

The late Steve Palermo, the gold standard for umpires, was disappointed with himself if he missed 5 balls-and-strikes call a month. Umpires like Hernandez frequently miss more than that per game. Let’s look at some epic Hernandez fails, starting with this one:

Then there’s this one:

This isn’t a bad call on a baseball play. This is Hernandez throwing a fan out because he’s thin-skinned:

At some point, MLB needs to address these umpires’ lack of professionalism. Angel Hernandez is a symptom, not the disease.

Saying that this decision is startling is understatement. Minutes ago, the Twins announced that they’d fired Terry Ryan as their GM. Jim Souhan, the longtime Strib sports columnist and former Twins beat writer, summed it up best when he wrote “The Twins’ firing of Terry Ryan feels shocking, but only because of his personality and the organization’s longstanding commitment to loyalty among its most visible employees.”

This isn’t Carl Pohlad’s team anymore. It’s Jim Pohlad’s team. Though they’re father and son, style-wise, they’re miles apart. Carl Pohlad hated paying big money on free agents or to retain the Twins’ own free agents. Jim Pohlad hasn’t hesitated in signing free agents. (Think Ervin Santana, Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes.)

The truth is that the Twins haven’t been competitive in almost a decade. While their farm system has done a decent job of producing position player (decent, not great), their farm system has utterly failed at producing starting pitching or relief pitching. While that appears to be turning around, it’s clear that the Twins’ farm system should’ve produced more All Stars considering the fact that they’ve been drafting in the top 10 in the draft pretty much every year.

TR is a man of integrity but that isn’t justification enough to keep him as the Twins’ GM.

Torii Hunter, one of my all-time favorite athletes in any sport, announced his retirement this week. It’s a sad week for Minnesota sports fans, especially coming so soon after Flip Saunders died way too young of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

Officially, Torii retired without winning a World Series Ring or even without reaching the Fall Classic. Hopefully, though, Paul Molitor will hire him as a coach or Terry Ryan will hire him as a minor league instructor to teach young Twins prospects the Twins way. Torii’s outgoing personality and Torii’s commitment to being the consummate professional were instrumental to the Twins’ revival this season.

If you’re a Torii Hunter fan, then you’ve got a lengthy list of Gold Glove-worthy plays that he made. To the national audience, though, there’s only one play that people are likely to remember. This is that play:

In the first inning of the All Star Game in Milwaukee, against Barry Bonds, Torii soared over the fence to steal a home run away from Bonds. Still, there were other plays that Twins fans will remember besides just that catch. Lifelong Twins fans won’t forget Torii barreling through White Sox catcher Jamie Burke in the opening game of a series in Chicago. After that collision, the White Sox played like a timid team. After that collision, the Twins played like they were the home team while sweeping the series.

In December of 2001, Major League Baseball tried to contract the Minnesota Twins but were unable to dissolve them thanks to a judge’s ruling. In February, 2002, I attended Twins spring training. After the workout, I got Torii’s autograph, which I still have. Though Torii was still young at the time, he was respectful of the fans. He carried on a conversation for over 45 minutes while signing autographs. Throughout the autograph session, Torii’s infectious smile shined brightly.

The thing about Torii isn’t just that he was a great athlete or that he was a charismatic leader. Certainly, he’ll be remembered as both of those things. It wasn’t just that he knew how to play pranks in the clubhouse or have fun with his teammates.

The thing I’ll remember most about Torii now that his playing days are over is that he was stubbornly professional. This year, he was essentially the father of the Twins outfield. At season’s end, Torii had taught Aaron Hicks, Byron Buxton and Eddie Rosario a ton of lessons on how to play the game right, to have fun and to be a professional. Aaron Hicks finally became a major league hitter. In 2013 and 2014, Hicks’ batting average was .201. This year, with Torii’s arrival, Hicks’ batting average improved to .256 with 11 home runs.

Thanks to Terry Ryan’s drafting and Torii Hunter’s leadership, the Twins outfield should be in good shape for years.

In 2012, the Houston Astros gave the Twins a gift when they drafted Carlos Correa. That isn’t a criticism of Correa, who just started his major league career last week. He looks like a fantastic player. When Houston picked Correa, Twins master scout Deron Johnson took little of the Twins’ allotted time to draft Byron Buxton. Asked after the draft why he picked Buxton, Johnson said he’d never seen a player that fast, citing the fact that he watched Buxton score on a sacrifice fly. That isn’t a big deal until Johnson said that Buxton was on second base at the time.

Today, Byron Buxton flashed his speed 3 times. The first time was during his second at-bat, when he hit a one-hop smash to Joey Gallo, the Rangers’ third baseman. Despite the fact that Gallo picked the ball cleanly and made a strong, on-target throw, Buxton nearly beat it out for a hit. The second time Buxton flashed his speed was on his only putout. Playing a normal depth and being positioned in straightaway center field, he made a running catch on Robinson Chirinos’ fly ball in the right centerfield power ally look routine. It wasn’t a highlight reel/Web Gems catch but he went a long way to get to the ball. Buxton made it look easy.

Here’s the third time Buxton flashed his speed:

Why Eddie Rosario hitting with 2 out, Buxton was off with the crack of the bat. Despite the Rangers playing a no doubles defense, Rosario’s drive hit the ground on the warning track. Buxton was past the shortstop when Rosario’s drive hit the warning track. He was at third when the centerfielder, Leonys Martin, fielded the ball. From there, Buxton just glided into the plate standing up.

Yet again, the Golden Era Committee screwed up. Yesterday, they kept the most dominant hitter of the 1960s and early 1970s out of baseball’s Hall of Fame. This year, Tony Oliva fell one vote short of election into Cooperstown.

Think of Tony’s credentials. They’re significantly better than any of the other candidates for the Hall of Fame. Tony Oliva is still the only player in baseball history to lead the league in hitting as a rookie and in his second season. As a rookie in 1964, Tony finished with a .323 batting average. In 672 at-bats, Tony struck out just 68 times or once every 2 1/2 games. Tony wasn’t just a slap hitter, either. That year, Tony finished with 43 doubles, 9 triples, 32 home runs, 374 total bases and a .557 slugging percentage.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg with Tony. Rod Carew won 8 batting titles during his Hall of Fame career. While they were teammates, Tony Oliva was Rod Carew’s batting coach. The man who once hit .388 in a season has often spoken of Tony as the greatest hitting instructor he’s ever known.

This would all be academic if Tony hadn’t torn his knee in August of 1968, the so-called Year of the Pitcher. For more than half of his career, Tony played with a knee that was little more than bones. In 10 full seasons, Tony collected more than 1,800 hits. If not for that knee injury, Tony easily would’ve banged out close to 3,000 hits in his career. He probably would’ve won more than 3 batting titles.

Let’s remember that Sandy Koufax, the man most baseball experts call the best southpaw in baseball history, only won 165 games in his 12 year career. This shows that Hall of Fame voters have made exceptions based on a player’s impact on the game in a brief period of time. There’s no reason not to apply that same exception to Tony.

The Golden Era Committee got this badly wrong. They should be ashamed of themselves. During an interview on MLBNetwork, one of the voters said the problem was that this was a strong class and that each voter could only vote for 4 players. That’s spin and then some.

The problem was that some committee members made a big mistake in not recognizing Tony’s incredible accomplishments.

Twins fans are celebrating today. That’s because Torii Hunter signed to play with the Twins yesterday. In his press conference, Torii emphatically emphasized some typical Torii things:

Torii emphasized the fact that he’s still “got some bullets left”. Anyone that watched him the last 2 years in Detroit knows that Torii’s got plenty left. Whether he’s hitting second or fifth in the batting order, Torii will be a strong veteran presence for the Twins. He’ll also be productive. This isn’t just about Torii returning to the place he started his career.

It’s about Torii mentoring players like Byron Buxton, Danny Santana, Oswaldo Arcia and Kennys Vargas. That includes teaching them how to be consistent, reliable professionals both offensively and defensively. Torii doesn’t have the range in the outfield that he had during his Gold Glove years but he’s still a better than average outfielder. Most importantly, his fundamentals are still outstanding.

When Torii and Michael Cuddyer played center and right field respectively, there were seasons when their throws never missed the cutoff man. At that time, the Twins had the best defensive team in the game.

Another point that Torii emphasized was that Minnesota is his last stop in the majors. MLB’s Jeff Nelson made the point that it’s quite possible that Paul Molitor would invite Torii to join his staff when his playing days are done. I can easily picture that. In fact, I’ll state right here that I hope that’s already been agreed upon. Having Torii coach the outfielders would be outstanding.

The Twins have an outstanding offensive lineup. The 2014 Twins had the second highest on base percentage in the AL, the fifth best OPS (on base percentage + slugging percentage) in the AL, too.

Clearly, the Twins will use the Winter Meetings, which start this Sunday, to fortify their starting rotation. If they accomplish that this offseason, there’s no reason why the Twins can’t contend for the playoffs in 2015. I know that’s a bold statement but the talent is there or arriving soon.

Yesterday was a fantastic day for Twins fans because Torii has returned. He’ll make them stronger offensively and he’ll help the Twins young talent mature quickly into the team they should be.

Anyone who’s known me knows that I’m unabashedly a sports fanatic. Those people know that my first love is professional baseball. This afternoon, I saw Dawn Mitchell’s interview of Erin and Dan Murphy:

They’re neighbors of Twins great Tony Oliva. They started “the Official Tony Oliva Fan Group”, which they say “was started in 2011 by a group of 12 fans in a suburban kitchen.” Their “mission is to get Minnesota Twins Legend Tony Oliva inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.” It’s great to see them putting this campaign together. It’s a disgrace that Tony Oliva isn’t enshrined in Cooperstown already.

Tony Oliva is one of a handful of dominant players I’ve had the privilege of watching in person. The best way I know how to illustrate Tony’s dominance is to explain that Rod Carew thought of him as his hitting instructor. While they were teammates. Rod Carew won the AL batting title 8 times. His best season was 1977, when he was the AL MVP. He won it by hitting .388, the highest batting average at the time since Ted Williams hit .388 in 1957.

What other player or coach could Rod Carew turn to that knew more about hitting than he did? That’s right. The only other player with that type of credibility was Tony Oliva.

Let’s take it a step further. In 1964, Tony became the first rookie to lead the league in hitting. That year, Tony finished with a .323 batting average. In 672 at-bats, Tony struck out just 68 times or once every 2 1/2 games. If you’re thinking that’s decent for a slap hitter, you’re right. That’s pretty good for a slap hitter. Tony Oliva wasn’t a slap hitter, though. That year, Tony finished with 43 doubles, 9 triples, 32 home runs, 374 total bases and a .557 slugging percentage.

That’s what a dominant hitter does. Tony Oliva fits that description perfectly. After his playing career, he worked with another Twins outfielder that turned into a great hitter. His name was Kirby Puckett. Kirby started as a slap hitter. He didn’t hit his first home run until his second season. After Tony suggested Kirby start lifting his front leg, Kirby started hitting home runs while hitting for a high average.

When good hitters hit a hot streak, their batting average for 5 games might shoot up to .450 or so. When Tony Oliva, Rod Carew, Kirby Puckett or Joe Mauer got locked in, their batting average for a series looks like the batting champion’s batting average in a slow pitch softball league. We’re talking about these gentlemen going 15-for-17 in a 4-game series or 11-for-12 in a 3-game series.

It’s time for the baseball gods to smile on Tony O. If Cooperstown doesn’t have room for a 3-time batting champion who played in 8 All Star games while winning a Gold Glove for defensive excellence, then Cooperstown’s reputation deserves to take a hit.

Add in the fact that Tony’s been one of baseball’s best ambassadors for the last 30+ years and that he’s worked with Twins hitters since the 1970s. Those credentials deserve to be enshrined in Cooperstown, NY.

That’s where you come in:

The Hall of Fame announced on October 30th that Tony Oliva and 9 others (Dick Allen, Ken Boyer, Gil Hodges, Bob Howsam, Jim Kaat, Minnie Minoso, Billy Pierce, Luis Tiant and Maury Wills) will be considered for election into the Hall of Fame. The Veterans Committee is considering the Golden Era (1947-1972) players and will be judging them based on their Record, Ability, Integrity, Character, Sportsmanship and Contribution to the team.

The 16 Voters are: Hall of Famers Jim Bunning, Rod Carew, Pat Gillick, Ferguson Jenkins, Al Kaline, Joe Morgan, Ozzie Smith and Don Sutton; baseball executives Jim Frey, David Glass, Roland Hemond and Bob Watson; and veteran media members Steve Hirdt, Dick Kaegel, Phil Pepe and Tracy Ringolsby. The vote will take place on Monday December 8th 2014 in San Diego CA at the Baseball Winter Meetings.

The best way to influence the voters is by writing them a letter. Click HERE to find out more information!

Please consider sending a letter or postcard to the Hall of Fame telling them why Tony Oliva should be inducted into the Hall of Fame!

Let’s get Tony into the Hall of Fame. He’s earned it and then some. While we’re at it, let’s get Jim Kaat in, too.

Major League Baseball’s annual entry draft got started Thursday night, with the Houston Astros picking Brady Aiken with the first pick in this year’s draft. It was the third straight season Houston had the first pick in the draft.

The Twins have had high picks in the last three drafts, too, though I’d argue that they’ve added more talent to their team in those years than Houston has. This year, the Twins drafted Nick Gordon with the fifth overall pick. Here’s what CBSSports said about Gordon:

The son of long-time big leaguer Tom Gordon and brother of current Dodgers second baseman Dee Gordon, Nick has a quick left-handed swing and drives the ball to all fields. His power is mostly into the gaps for doubles than over the fence at the moment. Quick feet, reliable hands, and a strong arm makes him a natural at shortstop, plus he is an excellent athlete, as you might expect given his bloodlines. Gordon, who stands 6-foot-0 and 180 lbs., has legitimate All-Star potential and a very high ceiling. He has hit 94 mph off the mound and pitching could always be a fallback option if things don’t go as planned on the infield.

Gordon was considered by many scouts to be the top position player in this year’s draft. If that’s true, the Twins drafted a kid with the physical tools and the bloodlines to be a special player.

Things were just getting started for the Twins, though. In the second round, the Twins took Louisville’s closer, Nick Burdi. Here’s the Pioneer Press’s take on Burdi:

The Twins weren’t able to sign Nick Burdi three years ago out of high school, but they figured it was worth giving the Louisville closer another shot.

Armed with a fastball that has been clocked as high as 103 mph, Burdi is the all-time saves leader for the Cardinals after spending the past three years in their bullpen. His slider has been clocked as high as 92-93 mph and regularly sits at 87-90 mph.

Simply put, Burdi has the ultimate power arm, throwing his fastball as fast as 103 mph. That’s just insane. That’s before talking about his slider, which tops out at a brisk 93 mph. If Burdi has command of his pitches, he could be in the majors by 2016.

Having him set up Glen Perkins would give the Twins an unstoppable bullpen.

Back to the Twins last 3 first round picks. This year, they got the kid rated the top position player in the draft. Last year, they picked Kohl Stewart, a top of the rotation righthander, with the fourth overall pick. In 2012, the Twins picked Byron Buxton with the second overall pick. At the time, Buxton was considered by most scouts as being the best player in the draft. When Houston picked Carlos Correa, the Twins must’ve thought they’d just moved Christmas to early June. He and Miguel Sano project to be the next dynamic duo for the Twins.

With any luck, Gordon and Burdi will be Buxton’s and Sano’s teammates for years to come.

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