Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Favorite Sports Phrases: Baseball

*This is the first in a four-part series detailing some of my favorite sayings in the sports world. Each entry will have the meaning behind it (for those who don’t know it) as well as a personal anecdote to go with it.

As I was watching the Twins game on TV this weekend (yes, I’m still watching and holding out hope), I noticed just how many slang terms and phrases are used to describe the actions and events taking place. It led me to try and come up with a list of my 10 favorite phrases in the game, so here they are, in no particular order:

“A Great Piece of Hitting”
This is a phrase that is used by the Twins broadcasting team ad nauseam (and the reason for this four-part series). Any time a player works a count, fights off some pitches, or hits the ball the other way, someone in the FSNorth broadcast booth will tell us that it was “a great piece of hitting”. Despite the overuse by those gentlemen, it’s still a great phrase. As a bonus, if you’re hanging out with peers who have a limited knowledge of baseball (not recommended), using this saying at the right time will make you sound more baseball savvy—even if you’re not.

“The Golden Sombrero”
The term given to a player who strikes out four times in one game. The background to this one is the best part about it in my mind. It starts with three strikeouts being referred to, ironically, as a “hat trick”, which was shortened to “the hat”. A sombrero is a giant hat—as is striking out four times. The golden part tells you just how special this accomplishment is. There’s nothing I like better than calling a friend and saying something like “Did you see A Rod got the Sombrero last night.” Classic.

Time for a new hat, Alex

“Pulled the String”
This is a term that describes a slow pitch known as a changeup. The imagery associated with this phrase is what led to it being included on the list. If you’ve ever seen a really good pitcher, who throws a hard fastball, confuse and embarrass a hitter by changing speeds by upwards of 20 mph, then you understand why this saying is so appropriate. There was no one better in recent history at “pulling the string” than Johan Santana. Man, that guy was fun to watch.

“Punch and Judy Hitter”
One of the many nicknames given to scrappy, light hitting players (usually middle infielders) whose only hits seem to be bloop hits and infield singles. Using this phrase to describe a hitter means you probably think very little of their ability at the dish. See: Punto, Nick.

This picture should be next to "Punch and Judy Hitter" in the dictionary

“Taking the Collar”
This refers to a player going hitless in a game. The background to this phrase comes from the belief that if you’re a professional baseball player you should be able to get a hit at least once each game and if you don’t, you choked. That’s where the “collar” comes from—it represents the tightening around the neck. Of course, even the best hitters in the game occasionally go 0-fer, but it’s still a fun saying. I love it when someone on Baseball Tonight tells me “Derek Jeter took the collar tonight”.

“Duck Fart”/“Dying Quail”/“Groundball with Eyes”
All of these phrases are used to describe a weak/lucky hit. The first two are in reference to a soft hit that lands just past the infield. If you can actually picture a quail flying through the air, dying, and then falling to the ground, you have an image of what one of these hits looks like. The third phrase describes a groundball that seems to know where it’s going and can avoid your glove. For me (copyright Randy Jackson), these phrases will forever be immortalized by Kevin “Crash Davis” Costner’s speech in Bull Durham.

He hit the bull...

“Human Rain Delay”
This describes a pitcher or batter that takes too much time in between pitches. Whether it’s the pitcher wandering around the mound after each pitch and taking his time once he’s actually on the mound or a batter who steps out after every pitch to readjust every part of his equipment (Nomar Garciaparra was the worst at this), this player causes the game to come to a standstill. It’s as if the game is in a rain delay and not being played at all—hence the phrase.

“Get Me Over”
This refers to a pitch that is meant to simply get over the plate for a strike so that the batter isn’t walked. Most pitchers throw “get me over” fastballs with runners on and a 3-0 count, though some will throw a “get me over” curveball as well. This has always been a favorite saying of mine for a couple reasons. One, it’s often a recipe for disaster: middle of the order hitters feast on “get me over” fastballs, and there’s nothing cooler than a long home run. Two, the phrase itself makes me smile. It kind of implies that the pitcher is talking to the ball and trying to will it over the plate (which might have actually been the case when Mark Fidrych was pitching).

"Bat Sh*t Crazy" personified

“Throwing Peas”
If a pitcher is “throwing peas”, his ball is moving so fast or cutting so hard that it makes the batter feel like he’s seeing/swinging at peas. This is another phrase that relies on visualization to really understand what is being said. One can imagine just how hard it would be to hit a pea thrown at 90+ mph. Plus, just saying this phrase makes me feel cool—“Man, Verlander was throwing peas last night.” Try it...told ya.

“Uncle Charlie”/“Deuce”/“Hammer”/“Hook”
All of these are nicknames for a curve ball. I just love the fact that one pitch can have so many different names (there are plenty more where this came from). This variety of terms allows you to be repetitive without sounding redundant:
“Zito’s got his hook working tonight.”
“Yeah, his deuce is nasty.”
“Did you see the hammer he threw Tulowitzki?”
“Yeah, that thing fell off the table.”

Well, that’s my list. I know there are a ton of other phrases out there, especially in baseball. Did I leave your favorite off the list? Then post it in the comments section. Coming later this week: basketball phrases.

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Picture of the Week

Ok, so I'm going to try a new thing here at TKOT. Every Sunday, I want to post a picture and corresponding commentary. It doesn't have to be from the biggest/most important story of the week--just something funny or interesting. As loyal readers, you can help me out with this task. If you find a picture that you deem worthy of Picture of the Week status, email it to me at tkontoast@gmail.com. Your contributions are greatly appreciated and you will be given credit if the picture is used.

Today's picture shows you exactly why women's sports will never gain the respect and adoration that men's sports do (and this coming from a guy who coaches girls basketball). The Solheim Cup is the women's version of the Ryder Cup: a US vs. The World golf competition. Don't worry, you probably haven't ever heard of it. The point of posing this picture (and this rant) is to show you why women's sports are rarely taken seriously. The members of our US team have their faces painted like they're a bunch of 5 year olds at the circus. Would any male in any professional competition ever do this? No, they wouldn't.

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Thursday, August 20, 2009


By now you’ve all heard the news. You’re probably sick of the news. As KFAN’s Dan Cole brilliantly put it, “The Ego has landed.” It’s been a whirlwind couple of days with both local and national media fawning over the Vikings’ newest quarterback. The consensus opinion seems to be that a) this is the biggest signing in the history of the NFL, and b) the Vikings are now the favorites to win the Super Bowl.

The second statement is, of course, preposterous. The whole circus surrounding #4 is ridiculous in and of itself, but the hype Vikings fans have talked themselves into is insane. Everyone seems to believe that a 40 year old man who recently had his bicep detached and has a tear in his rotator cuff is going to be the savior of the franchise. That a guy who almost single-handedly played the Jets out of a playoff spot last year is going to send the Purple to Miami in February.

My favorite part of the argument for Captain Wrangler is that “he’s better than Sage or T Jack.” Well my little brother is a better quarterback than Tarvaris, so that argument holds no weight. The question I have: is The One That Shall Not Be Mentioned really better than Sage Rosenfels? Think about this seriously for a second. Forget about the name, the MVP’s, the Super Bowls, the records—everything from the past. Can the BrettBackers honestly say that the player #4 is right now is truly better than Sage? If you ask me, it’s pretty much a draw. Both guys will make the occasional amazing pass. Both guys will have the occasional brilliant game. Both guys are prone to forcing passes when they’re not there. Both guys are very apt at throwing interceptions, especially late in games.

Nice kick, dork

The Purple colored glasses that Vikes fans have put on since Tuesday morning is hindering their ability to rationalize and admit to themselves the truth: this Minnesota Vikings team, with Sage or #4, is likely to win the Central and has an outside chance to make a run in the playoffs. The crazy part to me is that most people understood these expectations up until two days ago. Now we add Brett from Mississippi and all of a sudden we go from a playoff team to a Super Bowl team. Why? Consider the following stats from Gray Beard in recent years:

--In 2001, he threw six interceptions (three for TDs) in a 45-17 playoff loss to the Rams.
--In 2002, his heavily favored Packers team lost to Mike Vick’s wild-card Falcons (Favre had three turnovers).
--In 2003, he basically gave a playoff game away to the Eagles with a classic Brett Favre here-you-go interception.
--In 2004, Favre threw four picks to the eight-win Vikings in a wild-card game loss.
--In 2005 he was the 31st-rated QB in the NFL and missed the playoffs.
--In 2006 he improved, to the 26th-rated QB in the league.
--In his 2007 “bounce-back” season (an anomaly compared to everything surrounding it) he ended the Packers season with an interception in OT against the Giants at home.
--In 2008, his Jets team went 1-4 in the final 5 games to miss the playoffs.

That, my friends, is an ugly playoff résumé from the previous eight seasons. Yet the rubes in this town think that this guy is going to be the final piece of the puzzle for playoff success in Minnesota? C’mon. In the past four seasons, Favre has thrown 88 TDs and 84 INTs. Take out his ‘07 “bounce-back” season and those numbers dwindle to 60 TDs and 69 interceptions. In fact, '07 is the only year in the past four where Favre threw more TDs than picks. He led the league in interceptions in ‘05 and ‘08, while being in the top 5 in ’04 and ’06.

Yeah, he's great in the clutch...

This is the guy that everyone rushed to Winter Park to see get out of a car and was followed by local news helicopters. Keep these stats in mind when YOUR new favorite quarterback fails to deliver once again and the Purple are at home wondering what happened.

*Special thanks to friend of TKOT Nate Baraga (and the website he used) for the statistics used in this article.*

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

All Metrodome Team: Visitors

As odd as it seems, the Minnesota Twins have been spending all season trying to make its fan base nostalgic about the Metrodome—even though it’s a dump of a stadium with uncomfortable seats that don’t always face the action. They’ve done promotions, give aways, countdowns, etc. to try and convince everyone that we should feel sad about leaving the Big Inflatable Toilet, before they hype everyone up on Target Field. One of the ways they are doing this is by naming the All Metrodome Team. This team is supposedly comprised of the best (and most liked since it’s voted on by the fans) Twins players at each position from 1982, when the Dome opened, to 2009. Well, I believe that any make believe team needs to have a make believe opponent. So after the jump, I will unveil my All Metrodome Team…the visiting team, that is. This team is made up of players who have absolutely destroyed the Twins during the Metrodome era.

Let me preface this by saying that I don’t have official stats for any of these guys (I tried, believe me, but I’m not so great on the Internets). I’m basing my selections based solely on my knowledge and watching 150+ Twins games a year for the last 10-15 years. This should explain why everyone on this team played post-1990: I don’t have the memory or the stats to include anyone from the 80’s.

*UPDATE: Thanks to a loyal reader, I have now added some statistics to go with my selections. These are their career numbers against the Twins.

First Base: Jim Thome
185 G, .313 BA, .632 SLG, 57 HR, 142 RBI, 1.044 OPS, 202 H

Whether he was playing for the Indians or the White Sox, Thome has spent most of his career in the AL Central and has been punishing Twins pitching the entire time. With his patented aim the bat at you pose and giant uppercut swing, Jim is in the top 3 or 4 for homeruns hit against the Twins in team history. If it was a key situation where a homerun would tie or give the other team the lead, and Thome was up, you may as well have walked away from the TV so you didn’t have to see the inevitable.

Second Base: Ray Durham
105 G, .280 BA, 22 2B, 17 SB, 112 H

This was one of the easiest selections in my mind—and one of the most frustrating opponents during his time in the bigs. Durham was never an elite player. Sure, he made a couple of All-Star teams, but for the most part he was a stop gap: a player brought in for a year or two because a team thought they were going to make a run or had a younger player who wasn’t quite ready yet. However, I vividly remember Ray hitting double after double against Twins pitching, whether he was in an Oakland uniform, or playing for the hated White Sox. It always sucks when a glorified role player consistently destroys your favorite team.

Shortstop: Carlos Guillen
108 G, .305 BA, .843 OPS, 26 2B, 116 H

If there’s one thing Guillen is, it’s a professional hitter (and a below average fielder). Never was that quite so evident than when he would come up against Minnesota late in a close game. It was a virtual certainty that he would find a way to bleed a ball through the infield or rip a double down the line to give the Mariners/Tigers a lead, and likely a victory. A career .288 hitter, I’d bet he’s closer to .350 against the local 9.

Third Base: Casey Blake
97 G, .285 BA, .801 OPS, 23 2B, 110 H

Blake is a very important part of the visiting All-Metrodome Team because not only did he crush Twins fans souls, but he represents a very common theme: former players coming back to Minnesota and dominating. Even though he was an unimpressive minor leaguer before the Twins gave him a couple of shots at being an everyday player in the early 2000’s, Blake seems to have some sort of vendetta against the team. If someone told me that half of his career homeruns came against the Twins, I wouldn’t even bat an eye.

Outfield: Ken Griffey Jr.
137 G, .287 BA, .941 OPS, 42 HR, 116 RBI, 151 H

To be fair, Junior kills just about everybody. There’s a reason why he’s a lock to be a first ballot Hall of Famer and was every kid’s favorite player in the 90’s. But he didn’t have to prove it every time he played against Minnesota? You expect the best players in the league to play well against your team and come up with big hits: that why they’re the best. Still, there wasn’t one pitcher on the Twins staff who wasn’t guaranteed to give up a long ball to Griffey. And if it was a Radke-Griffey Jr. matchup? I don’t think Vegas would even put odds on an HR—it was going to happen. Even now, at the tail end of his career, Griff still destroys the Twins, as evidenced by his short stint with the White Sox last year, and his power resurgence during opening weekend this year.

Outfield: Tim Salmon
105 G, .272 BA, .915 OPS, 25 2B, 100 H

Salmon is the only position player on this list who has never played in the AL Central, which makes his inclusion on this team all the more impressive. From his Rookie of the Year campaign in ‘93 until his retirement in 2006, he consistently tore up Twins pitching whenever he got the chance (though he did conveniently stink up the joint in the 2002 ALCS). To be fair, I could include a number of Angels players from that era as well since they, along with the Yankees, were one of the teams the Twins could never beat. But Salmon nudged out Garrett Anderson to get the spot.

Outfield: Albert Belle
107 G, .315 BA, .994 OPS, 38 2B, 97 RBI

Speaking of teams that killed the Twins in the late 90’s, here’s the representative from the Cleveland Indians. With a lineup that also included Kenny Lofton, Carlos “One if by land, two if by sea, three if” Baerga, and Manny Ramirez, it was easy to see why they were the class of the American League at the end of the century. Though all of the players listed were studs, no one found the seats more often than Joey. With his big, hulking frame (likely enhanced by steroids) and huge, powerful swing (using a bat that was likely corked), Al spent a lot of time in the Dome lightly jogging around the base paths. And yes, I’m still bitter.

Designated Hitter: Frank Thomas
186 G, .290 BA, .969 OPS, 42 2B, 52 HR, 142 RBI, 194 H

If my memory serves me right, Thomas is in the top 3 for homeruns against the Twins. That alone gets him on this team. As a kid, he was the scariest, most intimidating player I ever saw. He was a 6’5”, 250+ lbs homerun hitting monster. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who was scared of him—so were Twins pitchers who were more than happy to guide pitches over the middle of the plate just to appease him (or so it seemed). They were even kind enough to groove one for him to get his 500th career homer. Frank will likely go into the HOF at some point, but if he had played his whole career against the Twins he’d have 800+ HR’s and be considered the greatest player of all time.

Starting Pitcher: Mike Mussina
33 G, 22-6, 3.10 ERA, 7.3 K/9, 3.51 K/BB

His career record against the Twins was brought up every single time he pitched against us (thanks Dick and Bert), thus deflating any hope that I’d ever have that we had a chance to finally beat him. Like most of the players on this team, he did damage against the Twins with multiple organizations, but I remember him best when he was in Baltimore. I used to hate Moose as a little kid because I thought the way he dipped his shoulders to look at the runner on first was a balk every time (still do), yet it was never called. Then as a teenager/adult I hated him because seeing that knuckle-curve meant that there was no chance for my favorite team to win the game.

Starting Pitcher: Mark Buehrle
39 G, 23-15, 4.00 ERA, 5.7 K/9, 4 CG

Don’t let the last couple of starts against the Twins fool you: Buehrle has owned us ever since he came into the league in 2000. Even during that run of division titles earlier in this decade, we would always lose to the White Sox when he was pitching. Granted, any tall, imposing lefty usually killed the Twins, and maybe it’s because we faced him so often, but when I saw Buehrle’s name as that game’s starting pitcher, I started looking at the matchups for the next day to see if we would be able to get the game back that we were about to lose.

Closer: Mariano Rivera
34 GF, 26 SV, 1.20 ERA, 8.9 K/9, 5.36 K/BB, 0.850 WHIP

I know, I know: this one isn’t really fair. Mariano is arguably the best and most dominating closer of all time. But I don’t care. I’ve seen way too many Twins hitters freeze looking at that nasty cutter for strike three in the ninth inning to not include him on this team. The Twins have a well publicized awful record against the Yankees, and it’s not because we get blown out all of the time. Quite the contrary actually. We usually hang in against the Bronx bombers, only to have Rivera step on our throats at the end of the game every time.

Manager: Ron Gardenhire

Gardy beat out a very tough field to gain this honor. Guys like Mike Scioscia, Joe Torre, and Mike Hargrove were all considered, but none of them has done more to defeat the Twins than Ron has. His pitching selections, terrible use of the bullpen, unjustifiable lineups, insane pinch hitting choices (Luis Rodriguez anyone?), refusal to let lefties hit against lefties, playing AAA call-ups immediately, and so on make this a very simple choice when you really look at it.

Again, this is all based on my memory of watching games. I tried not to include players just because they achieved a milestone hit against the Twins, which happened often (see: Ripken Jr., Cal, Murray, Eddie, etc.). Did I miss someone? Do you disagree with a selection or five? Post it in the comments section…

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Man with a Plan

Maybe I’m an optimist. Maybe years of watching The Ostrich have diluted my senses. Maybe I just like seeing the Timberwolves in the news all the time. Whatever the reason might be, I like the way David Kahn has taken control of this franchise and is beginning to mold it into his vision. Is it guaranteed to work? Of course not. But Kahn seems like a man with a plan and he is determined to carry it out. Compared to the way the Wolves (or any other Minnesota sports franchise) have gone about business in the past, this is a welcomed change—be it successful or not.

Great player; No clue how to run a team

This new approach all started with the decision not to bring back Kevin McHale as head coach (or any other front office position for that matter). McHale, who could easily be described as the most hated man in the history of Minnesota professional sports, had long been blamed by the fan base for the team’s failures. Much of this blame was deserved. McHale botched draft picks, gave out horrific contracts (some illegal), had no eye for talent, and was unable/unwilling to surround the franchise’s greatest player with even serviceable teammates. Though his time as VP of Basketball Operations had been over with since midseason, Kahn decided that the team needed to rid itself of his services entirely. I’d say this is a brilliant move: distance the team from its unsuccessful past while endearing yourself to the fan base by getting rid of their villain.

The start of a new beginning

The next step revolved around the draft. The Wolves entered the 2009 NBA Draft with four first-round picks: one from their 08-09 record, two from previous trades, and one from Kahn getting rid of core players Randy Foye and Mike Miller. If you’re starting a major rebuilding project, a gluttony of early draft picks is a great way to begin. On top of that, Kahn was getting rid of failed McHale-era players and basically starting from scratch. With their picks, the team selected the draft’s most marketable player (Rubio), a stud point guard (Flynn), another talented point guard (Lawson), and a deadly three-point shooter (Ellington). They then traded Lawson for an additional 2010 first-round pick (likely giving them three total in next year’s draft). While the results on the court are yet to be determined, you’d have to say that the draft was a success. The team got the new potential face of the franchise in Rubio, and a couple of young guns who will get plenty of playing time to prove their merit. They also rid themselves of anything linking the “new” Wolves with anything from their unsuccessful past. Additionally, they set themselves up to add a lot more young talent in next year’s draft.

A concern for all NBA teams

As a fan, I would have been very content if that was the end of our offseason movement. But Kahn’s plan was not over yet. Sure, he’d cleaned house and was starting anew with a very young team, but that’s only one side of running an NBA franchise. The other side deals with money. One problem that a ton of franchises have is that they’ve paid too much money for inferior players and are in risk of having to pay a luxury tax because of it. Kahn (wisely) decided that a team that struggles to get fans to come to games and sell season tickets probably shouldn’t be wasting its money on luxury taxes. So he dumped serviceable players such as Sebastian Telfair, Craig Smith, Mark Madsen, and Etan Thomas (acquired in the Foye/Miller trade) for Quentin Richardson, Damien Wilkins, and Chucky Atkins—all of whom have bad contracts that expire after the season and free up a lot of money for the team to sign free agents (be them their own or others). While these aren’t front page/SportsCenter type moves, they are intelligent and necessary for properly running a franchise (something McHale never quite figured out).

Crunch will lead us in the right direction

So are the Wolves done making moves? Is Kahn is eyeing a couple of free agents that he’s hoping to sign on the cheap (or use the mid-level exception on) or planning on bringing in some veteran presence to have off the bench and mentor the Timberpups? Are there more cap-friendly moves on the way? Will he be able to work out a deal and get Rubio to come and be the new face of the franchise? Most importantly, will any of this actually work? Only time will give us the answers to these questions. What we do know is that Hurricane Kahn has swept through a doormat of a franchise that was loaded with bad contracts and underachieving players and has left in its wake a young (albeit rebuilding) franchise that is monetarily sound and set to add more young talent in the future. And I, for one, am excited about the direction this franchise is moving.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

That Time of Year

The Major League Baseball trade deadline awaits less than two weeks from now. As in any sport, the deadline is a big deal on two fronts: one, which (if any) big name players will be moved? And two, what moves can “my” team make to elevate us into the playoffs? Maybe it’s because I’m such a homer when it comes to the Twins, but every year I feel like we are one move away from winning the division and/or having playoff success. Two years ago I was sure that we needed a powerful right-handed bat in the middle of our order to put us over the top, which is why I wrote about the virtues of Dimitri Young (a bit ridiculous in hindsight). Last year, I just knew that one more dominant arm in the bullpen would make all the difference in the world and get us into the postseason, which is why I opined about a trade for Brian Fuentes (given his stats this year, that one looks legit). Once again in 2009, I think one move could make the difference in the Twins winning the Central Division, and that move is to get a high average, quality defensive middle infielder. As it just so happens, one of those has been rumored to be on the block over the last couple weeks: Freddy Sanchez.

The yearly final piece of the puzzle

For those of you who don’t know, Sanchez is currently the second baseman for the Pittsburgh Pirates. As the 2006 NL batting champ, he brings a much needed presence to the Twins lineup. So far this year the Twins have trotted out Alexi Casilla, Nick Punto, and Matt Tolbert as their second baseman. Not one of those guys is hitting above .225 and they are all relatively average when it comes to defense (or completely overrated, as is the case with LNP). For the first time in years, the Twins lineup is legitimately dangerous—save for one spot basically. The team has Span, Mauer, Morneau, Kubel, and Cuddyer all hitting around or above .300. They have quality, albeit streaky, hitters at the bottom of the lineup (Harris, Crede, and Gomez—who’s been on a tear the last couple weeks). What’s missing is the bridge that connects our leadoff hitter (Span) from the big boys in the middle of the lineup. For some reason, Gardenhire insists on hitting guys like Casilla and Tolbert there, despite their awful batting average and on base percentage. Adding a hitter of Sanchez’s ability would give the Twins one of the most complete lineups in all of baseball.

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2006 NL Batting Champion

As previously mentioned, Sanchez won the NL batting title two years ago, and is hitting .313 this year with an on-base percentage of .353 and he is slugging .471—not bad for a second baseman. Having his bat in the two hole would make a huge difference in our run scoring potential. Now, when Span gets on, you have a legitimate threat behind him. Or if he happens to get out, you have a guy who will find a way to be on base for Mauer and Morneau. To some, his presence might not seem like much, but when you’ve watched as many Twins games as I have, you realize the huge difference it would make.

On top of his outstanding ability at the plate (definitely his biggest asset), Freddy, a 3 time all star by the way, is a top tier defensive player. He is part of a Pirate infield that has a combined for 100 double plays this year—second most in the majors this year. Pairing him up with Harris (or occasionally Punto) up the middle would shore up a relatively weak defensive infield. Don’t let Dick Bremer fool you; this team is not as sound defensively as Twins teams in recent years. All in all, Freddy Sanchez is the perfect player to add to the roster and make the Twins the favorites in the AL Central.

An outstanding double play combo

Of course, as with any trade scenario, it isn’t as easy as simply finding a player that would work well on your team and getting him. First, he has to be available. This seems increasingly more likely with each passing day. The Pirates have been clearing house for the better part of two seasons (see: Bay, Jason; Nady, Xavier; McClouth, Nate; Morgan, Nyjer). They had initially said that they would like to keep Sanchez and Wilson as the cornerstones of their franchise. However just the other day, both players rejected contract extension offers from Pittsburgh. If the team is afraid they are going to lose him to free agency and get nothing in return, they’ll be far more likely to deal him. The second obstacle is the assets you’ll have to give up to obtain such a high caliber player. Even though recent transactions make it seem like you don’t really have to give up much to get the top players from the Pirates organization, you do still have to give them something in return (the days of TR fleecing teams seems to be over). Unfortunately the Twins farm system is seriously lacking in talent these days. So what are the options? Well, if there’s one thing that the Twins have the other teams covet, it’s young starting pitching. All five of our starters are under the age of 28, and we have guys like Duensing, Mulvey, and Swarzak who could likely step in and fair pretty well in a starting role. So if you could build a package around a guy like Glen Perkins (a young, left-handed starter who seems likely to leave anyways) with a couple of prospects, you would seem to have the makings of a potential deal. Yet there is a third aspect to making this trade that needs to be considered as well—money. Sanchez is going to be a free agent in 2 years and will command a pretty decent amount of money considering his ability and the position he plays. The Twins have already committed a sizeable amount of money to keeping guys like Scott Baker, Joe Nathan, and Justin Morneau, not to mention the giant contract they’re going to have to give Joe Mauer soon. Can we really afford to pay Sanchez? If not, are we ok with getting rid of a 26 year old starting pitcher for 1 ½ seasons of Freddy? Those are the questions the organization must ask itself.

If he has to leave to get us an All Star 2B, so be it

Obviously as a fan, I’d say it’s worth it. Even if we don’t end up keeping Sanchez long term, he gives us the best chance to win in the next year or two. Plus, there’s always the chance that he’ll love playing here (players constantly rave about how much they love the clubhouse and atmosphere in Minnesota) and want to continue to do so. And if that happens, there’s the pipedream possibility that his current teammate, best buddy, and shortstop Jack Wilson will want to join him here too (they’ve both said they’d like to play together for their entire careers). Of course that’s way too optimistic of a viewpoint considering we are talking about a Minnesota sports team here. Realistically though, I’d still pull the trigger if possible. Make the team as competitive as possible for as long as you can, even if that’s only a couple of seasons. It only takes one magical run to bring a title to a town that hasn’t seen one in 18 years…

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Smorgasbord of Sports

Ok, so there’s not much of an introduction needed. Yesterday (the 15th) was the worst day of the year for sports fans. It’s the only day of the year where there isn’t a major sporting event taking place. It’s a day that drives me into depression and drinking. Due to this lack of relevant sporting news, here are a few tidbits that will have to suffice as “news” until we get back into the swing of things this weekend. Be warned: this is the first ever post on TK that includes NASCAR and poker. Told you it was a slow week.

• According to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein (so take it with a grain of salt), the Wolves have narrowed their coaching search to three candidates: ESPN NBA analyst Mark Jackson, Lakers assistant Kurt Rambis, and Rockets assistant Elston Turner (though there are rumors that Dallas assistant Terry Stotts is still in the mix). If this is true, and that’s a big if, I would prefer Rambis. He’s a big name, he’s been a head coach (albeit briefly), and he is/was being considered for the Lakers head gig. That should be enough right there. I guess as long as it isn’t Jackson, I’ll be fine with the choice. Because if Mark Jackson can get an NBA head coaching job, then so can I. Hey, I used to play in high school. I watch NBA games and analyze them (in my head) all the time. Those are basically the qualifications he has and I’ve actually coached basketball for the last 10 years, so I’d say I have a leg up on him. Maybe I’ll send my resume over to Target Center tomorrow…

• One story that has received a ton of national media attention is the contract that the Kansas City Chiefs gave to their newly acquired quarterback, Matt Cassel. After trading for him from New England prior to this spring’s draft, the team now has signed him to a 6 year, $63 million deal, with $28 million guaranteed. For some reason, this has sent many experts and analysts into a tizzy. Sure, it’s roughly the same amount that the Ravens just gave Terrell Suggs, a 6-time Pro Bowl linebacker. But everyone knows that QB’s get paid more than any other position in the league. And I know that he’s only done it one year, with a very good team, blah blah blah. The fact is that he has actually performed well in the NFL—unlike, say, Matt Stafford, who got a 6 year, $78 million ($41.7 million guaranteed) deal and he hasn’t even taken one snap yet. Look, the point is that all sports contracts are ridiculous and it’s high time that we stopped talking about them, because that’s never going to change.

• Yesterday the Twins made a roster move to add a 12th pitcher for their upcoming 10 game road trip to start off the second half of the year. I like the idea of the move a lot. With the overload our bullpen has already endured, and is likely to be burdened with during this stretch, having another arm available is the smart thing to do. As usual, though, the execution of the move is something I disagree with. The team called up Kevin Mulvey (one of the spare parts we got in the Johan deal) who, despite his 3-6 record, is having a decent season and has an ERA under 4. The problem I have is that we sent down Jose Morales…again. What does this kid have to do to stay up with the big club? In his multiple call-ups this year, Morales is hitting .343 with adequate defense behind the plate. Apparently this is not as good as Mike Redmond’s .236 average and inability to throw out even the slowest of runners. It’s widely known that Gardy plays favorites (just one of my many issues with him)—see Punto, Nick and Cuddyer, Mike—and Red Dog is one of them. The fact is that he’s no longer a capable backup and the team needs to move on and keep Morales up. Who knows, if he keeps hitting well, they could possibly deal him and get something valuable in return.

• I saw a note in the paper yesterday that Antoine Walker is wanted in Vegas for over $800,000 in gambling debts. It was over $1 million, but he has paid off roughly $200,000 of it. The debt comes from a series of bad checks that Walker apparently wrote to Caesar's Palace, Planet Hollywood (they still exist?), and the Red Rock Resort. First of all, this is a guy who in his NBA career earned roughly $110 million. Now he's having trouble writing checks that won't bounce? Second, who still writes checks? Hasn't Employee #8 learned from Randy Moss that rich people don't write checks? Get with the times.

• If there’s one thing that the local media is good at, it’s taking small, relatively useless notes and turning them into big stories. Call it the Favre Method of writing. This has been on display for quite some time now with the possibility of seeing #4 in purple, and now it’s permeated itself into the Timberwolves. It seems that any minor bit of news or quote about Ricky Rubio is suddenly front page news over the last few weeks. All it does is lead to confusion. Take yesterday, when it was “reported” that Rubio apparently isn’t opposed to coming to Minnesota and that the only thing keeping him from being here already is his buyout in Spain. This, of course, is not news, because everyone has known this was going to be a major hurdle since well before the draft. Basically, you should treat the Rubio situation the same way as the Favre situation: until something definitively happens one way or another, it’s best to just ignore everything else.

• There is a disturbing trend popping up in sports over the last few weeks: athlete/woman relationship issues. While this is by no means a new phenomenon, it seems to have increased in volume recently. It started with Steve McNair, who was shot and killed by his 20 year old mistress. While it is an incredibly sad story, it does show the dangers that can befall athletes who partake in extra marital affairs. Then, a couple weeks later, came the story of the boxer Arturo Gatti, who was stabbed and strangled to death by his wife. On a bit lighter side, NBA star Richard Jefferson abruptly canceled his $2 million wedding just days before it was to take place—only he forgot to tell most of the guests about his decision. Now today, there’s a note in the paper that former Viking Hassan Jones was arrested on domestic assault charges. To quote Vince Lombardi, “What the hell is going on out there?!”

• I don’t play, follow, or especially like the game (not sport) of poker. That said, there’s a lot of buzz being generated by the fact that Phil Ivey, arguably the best player in the world, has made it to the Final 9 of the World Series of Poker. You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t get too fired up over this. It says a lot about your “sport” when the best player actually makes it to the final of your biggest event and everyone goes nuts. Shouldn’t he be doing this all the time? Can you imagine if everyone told you that Tiger Woods was the best golfer in the world, but he only got into the final group of the Master’s once in his career? Ridiculous. Besides, the final table doesn’t start until November, so there’s absolutely no reason to care right now.

• In case you care, the All-Star Game on Tuesday was predictably boring. The AL won 4-3. Some guys pitched for one inning, some guys hit once, and some guys didn’t play. It was enthralling.

• Let’s get one thing straight—I hate NASCAR. I know that there’s skill required and that I could never do what they do, but it’s not a sport and it’s one of the most boring events on the planet. Despite all of that, I can’t help but to be fascinated by the Jeremy Mayfield story. The guy was suspended from racing for testing positive for methamphetamines, had the decision reversed by a judge, only test positive once again this week. What an idiot. Not only is he jeopardizing his life by being a meth head that drives a car 200 mph, but he’s endangering the lives of every other racer as well. He claims that NASCAR’s testing policy is terrible, but he doesn’t give details as to why. Then his step mother comes out and says that she’s seen him doing meth over 30 times in the past 10 years (and didn’t think it was a good idea to stop him). Mayfield fires back by saying that she killed his father in 2007 (which has already been ruled a suicide). Highly entertaining.

• Just when it seemed like Kevin and Pat Williams were going to get off the hook for testing positive for a banned substance and not be suspended by the NFL, there was a new and intriguing twist to the story this week. The other three major sports leagues (NBA, MLB, NHL) have come to the NFL’s defense and tried to help them win their case, presumably because they don’t want this to set a precedent that will be followed in all leagues and hurt their drug testing policies. Personally, I’m with Shawn Bradley Guy of Deep Thoughts on MN Sports (deepthoughtsonmnsports.blogspot.com): these guys just need to take their punishment at the beginning of the season and get it over with. We can win at least three of those first four games without them. If they end up getting suspended during a more crucial stretch of the season or the post season, the reaction locally will not be good.

• The Philadelphia Phillies signed Pedro Martinez to a one year deal yesterday. The baseball world is acting like this is some sort of huge, pennant race altering move. I politely disagree. We’re talking about a guy who hasn’t had an ERA under 4.5 in three years, hasn’t pitched in a meaningful game other than the WBC all season, and was immediately placed on the 15 day DL upon his signing. Just because he used to be good doesn’t mean that this is an important signing (do you understand Vikings fans?).

• The British Open teed off this morning, and the early leaders include Miguel Angel Jiminez and Tom Watson, with guys such as Tom Lehman and John Daly just a few shots back. You gotta love this tournament; it's so completely wide open that I'm pretty sure I'd at least have an outside chance at making the cut (ok...maybe not me, but some friends of mine...naw, but you can imagine what it'd be like).

• Lastly, the Minnesota Wild released their 09-10 schedule and there are two important dates that immediately jump out. The first is October 30th, when Marian Gaborik returns to Minnesota. Though he’ll likely be on the DL, I hope he can at least make an appearance at the X for all of those fans he allegedly cares about. The second big game is January 2nd, when former Wild/current Devils coach Jacque Lemaire returns. I’m sure all of the puck heads who read this site are glad to know this information.

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Great Cuedini

Despite what you might have gathered from my last post, I am actually quite a fan of all-star games and the festivities that surround them (which is why I was passionate enough to complain about it). This applies to every sport other than football because, well, the Pro Bowl sucks. Anyways, I thought I’d try my hand at this predicting thing that all of the analysts on TV seem to be so fond of. So without any further ado, I present to you predictions for Monday’s Home Run Derby and Tuesday’s All-Star Game, courtesy of The Great Cuedini (wow that’s a lame made up name).

Home Run Derby

First of all, let me make the easiest prediction of all time: the National League will absolutely destroy the American League as far as total home runs go. A player by player breakdown:

Brandon Inge (DET): Great ball player, can play just about any position in the field 1-9, having an absolutely stellar first half, received the most votes ever for an American League player in the Final Vote. There, now that’s out of the way. Every year there’s one guy who just can find his swing and/or handle the pressure. This year, that guy is Inge. Predicted finish: 8th (0 HR’s).

Adrian Gonzalez (SD): Despite the oversaturation of stories about Adrian (he had features written about him in SI and ESPN the Magazine, along with being profiled on SportsCenter/Baseball Tonight in the last couple weeks), I really like him as a baseball player. That said, he will not perform well in this contest. Much like a local catcher, most of his power comes from driving the ball to the opposite field—not the best strategy for a home run hitting contest. Predicted finish: 7th (2 HR’s).

Prince Fielder (MIL): Without fail, there always seems to be one slugger whom everyone thinks is going to perform well in this contest and then falls flat on their face. That leads to the awkward conversation with Stuart Scott on the field where the guy claims to just be happy to be allowed to participate (which is BS). That guy will be Fielder on Monday. Predicted finish: T5th (3 HR’s).

Joe Mauer (MIN): I’m sorry, but there’s no way I can predict that Mauer, with his career high 15 HR’s at the break, will do well in this competition, no matter what his teammates try to tell us. He just doesn’t have a home run swing and the dimensions in St. Louis (375’ to left and right, 400’ to center) do not help him at all. Mark my words, in about 2 weeks you’ll be reading an article in the Star Tribune about how the Derby messed up Baby Jesus’ swing when his average drops 15 points. Predicted finish: T5th (3 HR’s).

Carlos Pena (TB): I was very glad to see that Pena was named as Dustin Pedroia’s replacement for the All-Star Game. For one, I think he was more deserving than Inge for that final spot anyways, and two, it gave the AL an actual home run hitter in the competition. He will rake in the first round, but run out of steam in the second. Predicted finish: 4th (7 HR’s in the first round, 1 in the second).

Albert Pujols (STL): Ah yes, the hometown hero. Al has two major advantages over the rest of the field: he’s hitting in his home ballpark, and he’s the best power hitter in the game. Those two facts will lead him to an impressive first round, followed by an unspectacular and disappointing second round. Predicted finish: 3rd (15 HR’s in the first round, 3 in the second).

Nelson Cruz (TEX): Whoooooo? All I know about this guy is that he has 20 HR’s at the break and plays for Texas—a very hitter friendly park. Since everyone and their mother is predicting Pujols to win this thing, I feel like I need to go out on a limb and either boast my ass off on Tuesday or live with the shame of a terrible call. So here’s my bold prediction: he’ll surprise people by making it to the finals. There won’t be a spectacular round that everyone will remember, but he’ll be consistent enough to fall just short in the final round. Predicted finish: 2nd (9 HR’s in the first round, 6 in the second, 4 in the third).

Ryan Howard (PHI): This is by no means a bold prediction. But Howard has experience and, more importantly, past success in this contest. Plus, lefties always seem to fair better in the Derby than righties. I just get this feeling that he’s going to put on a show from round one through the finals. Predicted finish: 1st (12 HR’s in the first round, 10 in the second, 7 in the third).

All-Star Game

Who effing cares? This “game” is worthless and usually boring. But make sure you stay glued to your TV so that you can see (enter home team representative here) get a chance to show he belongs with the best of the best in baseball (which he doesn’t). Hooray. Final score: 7-4 National League.

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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

All-Star Issues

On Sunday afternoon the 2009 Major League Baseball All-Star rosters were released, which brings up the yearly exercise of complaining about guys who made the roster but shouldn’t have, guys who didn’t make the roster but should have, one team having too many players, etc. It gave me an opportunity to bemoan the fact that pitching wins are incredibly useless, but still used as a barometer for success and play way too big of a factor in determining things like All-Star roster spots (which would explain why Nick Blackburn wasn’t even considered for the team). However, today I’m going with a different approach. I have a couple of issues with the MLB All-Star game format and festivities that I want to get off my chest.

I am not the first, nor will I be the last, to have a problem with the Mid-Summer Classic, but the problems need to be voiced as often as possible until they get it figured out at least a little bit. The main issue I have is that Major League Baseball is the only professional sports league that doesn’t view its all-star game as an exhibition. Every other league uses this game as a way to showcase their best players (or 5th best players in the NFL’s Pro Bowl) in an entertaining, fan-friendly format. Not baseball.

First, let’s start with the fact that the rosters aren’t even made up of the best players from each league. Oh sure, they want you to believe that they are, but that’s definitely not the case thanks to the rule that every team has to be represented. Why? If your team is so bad that not one player is deserving of a spot on a 30 man roster of the best players from your league, then so be it Maybe this will cause more outrage among fans to pressure their owner to spend more money or for MLB to impose a much needed salary cap. Sure, this could lead to a team of 15 Yankees and 15 Red Sox, (again, a salary cap issue) but if those are the best players in the league, then they should be the ones playing in the game.

The “every team gets a guy” rule is like the “every player has to play 3 innings” rule in Little League, only the latter one makes sense because you’re talking about small children, not (supposedly) the best players on the planet. This rule is why you can start a sentence “Former All-Star Ron Coomer…” and have it be factual, rather than sarcastic like it should be.

That's MR. Former All-Star to you, buddy

Is Major League Baseball really that naïve as to think that fans in Atlanta are only watching the All-Star Game because they’ll get a chance to see Brian McCaan get one at bat in the 6th inning, only to be replaced by a pinch runner? C’mon.

As I said before, this exhibition is, by definition, supposed to be an entertaining showcase of the best of the best from your sport. It should look more like the NHL and NBA all-star games, which usually feature tons of highlight reel plays and little or no defense. This game should always finish with a score like 17-14, not 3-2. Of course that kind of thing would never happen because Bud Selig’s brain trust decided that it would be a great idea to make the game “count” and give the winner home field advantage in the World Series. Yes, how your league fairs in this game could determine whether or not you win the ultimate title in the sport. Brilliant.

As it stands now, you hurt the game with this rule on so many levels. First, you’re giving fans the opportunity to alter the final outcome of your sport: if they vote in terrible players, that league loses home field, which is HUGE in baseball. Second, you make being the All-Star Game manager the least enviable position, when it should be considered an honor. With so much on the line, those guys are under a ton of scrutiny. Did they overuse some team’s star pitcher? Did they play someone out of position and cause an injury or shake their confidence? Manager of an all-star game should be an honorary title, and not an actual job.

Not it to be the AL All-Star Manager

So how do we fix all of this? Pretty easily, actually. First, get rid of the rule that every team needs to be represented. You can still have fan voting determine the starters, though. They may not get it right all of the time, but this game is supposed to be for them, so let them watch who they want. Then you still have the managers and players decide who should fill in the rest of the roster spots. The second thing you do is have home field advantage in the World Series go to the team with the best overall record at the end of the year. I know this may sound shocking, but it’s actually a good idea to reward a team for being the best over a 162 game season. Those two very simple changes would make the game twice as good instantly.

Ok, so admittedly this isn’t as big of a deal as the problems with the actual game, but why isn’t there some sort of skills competition during the all-star break? I know, I know: there’s the Home Run Derby, possibly the most hyped skill competition this side of the Slam Dunk Contest. But should there be more? Aren’t you trying to showcase all of the talented players in your sport? What about the guys who don’t hit for a ton of power (or those who don’t hit at all)? Where is their chance to show off?

It doesn't look like much, but at least he gets a chance to show off his skills

In the NHL and NBA, they have a day where all different types of players have a chance to show the world what they do best. Hockey has events like fastest skater, hardest slapshot, shoot accuracy, and so on. The NBA has contests for point guards skills, three-point shooting, and the aforementioned dunking ability. Why not have a skills competition on the Monday of the All-Star Break (yes, MLB, you can even televise it and make money)? You could have competitions for speed (fastest around the bases), pitching accuracy, outfield throwing accuracy, etc. and still cap it all of with the HR Derby. You can even make it open to all players, not just All-Stars. That way when Pittsburgh doesn’t get a player in the actual game, the organization can still take solace in the fact that Andrew McCutchen wins the title of fastest player in the league.

This all seems so simple to me. Can someone explain why any of these things are even issues still? Am I just that much more intelligent than the people running Major League Baseball? Figure it out.

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