Archive for the ‘Minnesota Twins’ Category
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.
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.
There are times when words simply aren’t necessary to make a point. This video tells quite a story:
Minnesota Twins slugger Chris Colabello has turned into quite the RBI machine this season. Wednesday night, Chris’s parents were at the Twins game against the Tampa Bay Rays. When Twins sideline reporter Marney Gellner caught up with Chris’s parents, she found out that Wednesday’s game was Sylvana Colabello’s, Chris’s mother, birthday. Then Marney said “Let’s hope Chris gives her a nice present this at-bat.”
After the ball hit off the wall behind the centerfield fence, Twins TV announcer Dick Bremer chimed in “Happy Birthday, Mom.” All the while, Sylvana Colabello was screaming, knowing that her son had hit it out of the ballpark.
What wasn’t captured on the video, though, was what Chris’s mother said right before the clip. When Gellner asked her what Chris was like, she said that “Chris was perfect”, adding that he was always a gentleman. Another thing that wasn’t captured on the video was what Bremer said after Colabello’s home run. He said “Well now, when your mom says you’re perfect, the least you can do is hit a home run.”
I’ve watched tons of great Twins moments, including their Game 6 heroics in the 1987 and 1991 World Series. I watched as Gene Larkin lifted that fly ball over the Braves’ outfielders’ heads in the 10th inning of Game 7 that provided the game-winning RBI that clinched the Twins’ second World Series championship in 4 years. I watched the night before when Kirby Puckett hit the game-winning home run off the Braves’ Charlie Liebrandt in the bottom of the 11th inning.
I recall watching Bert Blyleven talk after the final game of the 1986 season. Specifically, I remember him saying that he hoped, with the right moves, the Twins could bring a World Series championship to the Metrodome. Until tonight, that was the best ‘call’ in Twins history.
Tonight, Marney Gellner’s call topped Bert’s call.
I’ve been watching Twins baseball since August of 1966. I’ve seen the best that the Twins had to offer. I’ve experienced all of the chillbump moments in team history. Tonight’s home run call rates near the top of those chillbump moments. It was splendid TV.
Saturday afternoon was a special afternoon for Kyle Gibson, the Twins’ highly touted rookie righthander. Making his major league debut against Kansas City, Gibson’s first pitch was hit by Alex Gordon. The good news for Gibson is that Oswaldo made a nice catch down the left field line. One pitch, one out. Two pitches later, Gibson got another out, this time on a routine grounder to Brian Dozier. After a line drive single by Eric Hosmer, Gibson faced Kansas City’s Twin-killer, Billy Butler.
Butler entered the game with 14 hits in 27 at-bats against the Twins this season. Gibson got ahead on 2 breaking pitches away. After another pitch, this time a ball, Gibson struck out Butler on a nasty 94 mph fastball that ran in on Butler’s hands.
After getting out of the inning, an inning where he threw 13 pitches, 10 for strikes, Twins hitters staked Gibson to a 5-0 lead. Justin Morneau doubled in Joe Mauer and Brian Dozier, who had walked. Trevor Plouffe, the Twins DH, fouled off several 3-2 pitches before hitting his sixth homer of the season.
Staked to a big first inning lead, Gibson did what he’s done his entire career, attack the strike zone. Though he gave up 2 runs in the third, Gibson dominated the Royals, striking out 5 while giving up 8 hits in 6 strong innings.
What Twins fans saw Saturday was a poised power pitcher. They saw a young man whose fastball topped out at 94 mph most of the day. They saw his nasty slider and an effective change-up. At 6-foot-6, they also saw a power pitcher who throws a straight over-the-top 2-seamer.
It’s foolish to predict what type of career he’ll have with the Twins. That said, it’s clear he’s got some tools that Twins faithful haven’t seen in a pitcher. It’s also foolish to think the Twins will catch the Tigers this year. They’ll likely be sellers as the trade deadline approaches.
Those in the know think the 2015 Twins will be a very good team. By then, the Twins rotation will be anchored by Alex Meyer, Travis May and Mr. Gibson. By then, Miguel Sano will likely be the Twins third baseman and Byron Buxton will be the Twins starting centerfielder.
Saturday afternoon, Twins fans got a brief glimpse of that future. By next season, they might be looking at more of that future. That works with me.
WCCO is reporting that the Minnesota Twins fired GM Billy Smith. Terry Ryan will take over as the interim GM effective immediately.
I’ve been a Twins fan since attending my first game at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington in August, 1966. I didn’t see this coming at all. I doubt anyone did. That isn’t to say the Pohlad family liked the results from Smith’s trades. Obviously, in retrospect, they thought he did a lousy job.
Terry Ryan will step in and not miss a beat. He’s a better talent evaluator than Smith was, which is important going forward. The Twins’ farm system, long the envy of baseball, is depleted & in desperate need of a talent infusion.
The good news for TR is that the Twins will have 4 of the top 50 picks, including the 2nd overall, in next summer’s entry draft. Drafting 2nd in each round of the draft won’t hurt either.
That can’t a minute too soon.
As a passionate, lifelong Twins fan, it was difficult to read this news:
Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew said Friday he will no longer fight his esophageal cancer and is settling in for the final days of his life.
The Minnesota Twins released a statement on Friday from Killebrew, who said he has “exhausted all options” for treatment of the “awful disease” and that the cancer is incurable.
“It is with profound sadness that I share with you that my continued battle with esophageal cancer is coming to an end,” he said. “My illness has progressed beyond my doctors’ expectation of cure.”
The 74-year-old Killebrew said he will enter hospice care.
“I am comforted by the fact that I am surrounded by my family and friends,” he said, thanking fans and well-wishers for their support and encouragement. “I look forward to spending my final days in comfort and peace with (wife) Nita by my side.”
One of my favorite memories as a teenager is thinking back to the night I met Mr. Killebrew. He was the featured guest at the grand opening of the St. Cloud Crown Auto store on Division Street. Every kid that played Little League or sandlot baseball was there. (Or so it seemed.)
Harmon wore as big a smile that night as he did throughout his illustrious career. Throughout his illustrious career, Harmon was as great an ambassador to the game as has ever lived. Simply put, Harmon wasn’t just one of the 5 greatest home run hitters of all time (behind Ruth, Aaron & Mays). Harmon was a true fan of the game. Besides, he was one of the greatest gentlemen to ever play the game. (In that respect, the Twins have his modern-day equivalent in Jim Thome.)
Let’s remember that Harmon essentially played his entire career in spacious outdoor stadiums. As spacious as Target Field is, it would be swallowed up by Old Met Stadium with room to spare. Just to the right field side of center field was 430 feet. The power allies were 365 feet in left, 370 in right. Down the lines were 343 in left, 330 in right.
Had he played in the Metrodome, I’d argue that you should’ve tacked at least another 100 onto his home run total.
Typical Harmon home runs weren’t the type that just landed 6-7 rows deep in straightaway left. They were “no-doubters” as Herb Carneal used to say. I remember watching Harmon shatter a seat in the upper deck at the Met on the nightly news. It was estimated that that ball travelled 535 feet. Suffice it to say that the wind wasn’t blowing out that day.
Joe Garagiola had a saying reserved for the biggest mashers. He’d say [fill in the name] can hit the ball out of any park in America, including Yellowstone. That would’ve fit Harmon to a Tee.
Now baseball is losing one of its greatest ambassadors, one of its great gentlemen. It’s a sad, sad day for this over-grown teenager-at-heart to think that the man who provided so many great memories will soon be leaving us.
If baseball had more Harmon Killebrews, it’d still be the most popular sport in America. In fact, America could use more decent, straightforward people like Harmon.
Harmon, I’ll miss hearing you in the Twins booth twice a year. May God pour out His blessings on you.