Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Clearing the coaches

The Twins didn't make any official announcments, but the Star Tribune reported Tuesday that most of the coaching staff under Paul Molitor won't be back.

Specifically gone are:

  • Third base coach and infield instructor Gene Glynn
  • Pitching coach Garvin Alston
  • Analytics liason and outfield instructor Jeff Pickler
  • First base coach and catching instructor Jeff Smith
  • Bullpen coach Eddie Guardado

Returning are the two hitting coaches, James Rowson and Rudy Hernandez. And while management reportedly wants to retain bench coach Derek Shelton, who was a finalist for the managerial job that went to Rocco Baldelli, Shelton is apparently a candidate for the manager;s job in Texas.

I'm most surprised to see Pickler and Alston axed; they were brought into the organization by the Derek Falvey-Thad Levine regime, and Alston got just one year in the job. Glynn, Guardado and Smith were in the organization before Falvine arrived, and in that sense their departure two years in is of a piece with Molitor's ouster. But Guardado is a longtime fan favorite, and Glynn is from my part of the state, and I dislike seeing either ousted.

But just as managers are hired to be fired, so are coaches. Glynn has been a coach or manager, in the majors or minors, with five organizations (Montreal, Colorado, San Francisco, Cubs, Minnesota); his reputation is such that I suspect he won't be jobless for long.


The Twins officially declined their options on Logan Morrison and Ervin Santana, two veterans who had injury-wrecked 2018s. Neither move is any sort of surprise.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Phasing out Blyleven

With the World Series wrapped up, teams are now free to start making moves and announcments.

The Twins had already replaced their manager. They still have a coaching staff to name and a bunch of roster moves to make. And the question of Joe Mauer -- retiring or returning? -- remains unanswered.

But the big news of Monday was about the TV broadcasts. Bert Blyleven is being phased out as the main analyst -- 80 games in 2018, 50 in 2019, 20 in 2020.

That news actually came from the 67-year-old Blyleven, who first tweeted that he's putting his condo in downtown Minneapolis up for sale, then explained that the Twins and Fox Sports North "offered me less games for the next 2 seasons because they said they are going in another direction. I agreed to their request."

I am too old to be part of FSN's target demographic, and a captive audience anyway. Nobody is picking analysts to try to get me to tune in. But as fond as I am of Blyleven the pitcher, I long ago wearied of  his constant complaints about how the game has changed since his day. The same applies to Jack Morris.

I've suggested a few times here that a quality local broadcast reflects the outlook and priorities of the organization. I don't believe the Twins broadcast analysts, TV or radio, have consistently met that standard since the Terry Ryan era ended.

Monday, October 29, 2018

A deserving champion

And thus ends the 2018 major league baseball season, with a deserving champion. The best team won October's torunament. The Boston Red Sox won 108 games in the regular season and went 11-3 in the postseason, defeating two other 100-win teams in the AL playoffs. The only loss they had in the World Series took 18 innings.

There should be no quibbling about the Series. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts took a lot of heat (and will continue to do so) for his pitching moves, but with the exception of that 18-inning Game 3, it really didn't matter much who he used. The Red Sox hit them, and the Dodgers bats couldn't keep up.

What stood out in the pitching line was how heavily Alex Cora leaned on his starters to relieve between starts. Each of his four nominal starters relieved at least twice during the tournament, with Nathan Eovaldi being worked so hard in relief he didn't actually make a World Series start.

Eovaldi is an ... interesting ... topic. He's had a injury-plagued career, with two Tommy John surgeries. He has a career ERA of 4.16. He has always had outstanding velocity but lower strikeout rates than one would expect from a starter who can hit 100, but he seems to have finally developed secondary pitches that can miss bats.

He's not yet 28 and headed into free agency. And I am curious how that will play out this winter. His willingness -- even eagerness -- to put his career at risk during the Series was apparently inspirational to his teammates, and was matched by David Price who was similarly hard-used/abused by Cora. But Price is getting paid and will get paid for years to come. Eovaldi's future is nowhere near as secure.

Friday, October 26, 2018

People persons and managers

Rocco Baldelli, 37, is the youngest manager
in baseball. Derek Falvey, background,
who hired him, is younger.
Rocco Baldelli's introductory press conference as Twins manager on Thursday played well with this audience of one.

I particularly liked his fencing with Patrick Reusse about his former team's innovative pitching strategy, which Reusse said is "ruining baseball as we know it." Baldelli led into his response by observing that "openness and curiosity" are good things in any field.

But as I watched a replay of the presser later I found myself thinking about the internal tensions built into the job. Baldelli spoke at length of the need to build relationships and how much he values and enjoys that. I think it's clear that he wants to be a "people person." I also think it's clear that that's a big part of why he got the job.

I am less certain that that's a valuable necessairy trait in a dugout manager. I can rattle off a number of managers of sterling accomplishment who insisted on keeping an emotional distance from his players. Earl Weaver, who may well be my notion of the ideal skipper, would be one such. He spent years managing in the minors before getting the Baltimore job, and a big part of that experience was, in his words, "stomping on dreams." 

Guys with Weaver's background aren't getting a lot of major league opportunties right now, although Brian Snitker has the Atlanta job and Toronto just tabbed Charlie Montoya. but, having noted those exceptions, today's new wave front offices seem to prefer younger candidates who can "relate" to the players. That's Baldelli.

And that's also Alex Cora in Boston, and Dave Roberts in Los Angeles, and Aaron Boone in New York, and Craig Counsell in Milwaukee, and A.J. Hinch in Houston. To a large degree, front offices want the manager to be a conduit between the analytics department and the athletes. That's more likely to work if the manager has good people skills. And obviously, that approach is successful right now.

People skills can't mean simply being agreeable. The manager has to establish authority in some manner, or the whole thing runs aground. Conflict is inherent in sports (and other endeavors, to be sure), and no manager can long afford to try to avoid it. Baldelli, as a manager, has yet to deal with that necessity. 

Which doesn't mean he can't. Pretty much the worst thing a manager can do to his career -- and his team -- is get a reputation among the players for "blowing smoke." Managers can't shy away from honest confrontation with players. That's the people person challenge. 

Thursday, October 25, 2018

What's at second?

The Red Sox now carry a 2-0 lead in the series across the continent. And a dilemma.

Mookie Betts is the likely MVP in the American League. Mike Trout is still the best player in the game, but the MVP voters are very much behaving these days as a different set of voters did in the 50s and 60s -- who can we find to give the award to other than Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle?

This year the obvious non-Trout option is Betts. True, he didn't hit as many homers or drive in as many runs as teammate J.D. Martinez, but Betts plays a brilliant defensive outfield (Martinez seldom sees the field) and had superior on-base and slugging percentages. Betts does well the things Martinez does well, and he does well the things Martinez does poorly. Betts is clearly the better player.

Betts and Martinez are clearly the two best hitters in the Boston lineup, and that poses a World Series problem. There will be no DH in Games 3, 4 and 5, which means (at least according to some voices on the internets) they either

  • bench Martinez, or
  • sharply weaken their defense in both the infield and outfield by moving Betts to second base and putting Martinez in the outfield.

There is a middle ground, which involves sitting Jackie Bradley Jr. and moving either Betts or Andrew Benitendi to center to fit Martinez in an outfield corner. I think option "C" is the more likely approach, even if JBJ was deemed the MVP of the championship series. It would weaken the outfield defense, but not the infield defense.

Then there's this aspect, gleaned from listening to the Red Sox radio feed for Game 2: The announcers said Martinez isn't moving all that well on the bases after rolling his ankle running the bases in Game 1. That, they suggested, might serve to dampen any enthusiasm for wedging Martinez into the outfield for the Los Angeles games.

The question is, which is more valuable, Bradley's glove or Martinez' bat? That is a challenge for the Boston analytics department. And I don't know that there's an answer that is clearly correct for one or three individual games. It can be a different answer on Friday than on Saturday.

I'm a bit curious about what that analytics department makes of the Betts-to-second idea, but this probably is a case in which the analytics won't matter. Yes, Betts was a second baseman in the minors, and a highly regarded one; he wound up in the outfield because second base was blocked by Dustin Pedroia. But it's been years since Betts played second on anything more than an emergency basis. How comfortable would he be to return to second for the biggest games of the season?

Alex Cora might consider the move if Betts, unprompted, came to him and volunteered. Short of that, or sheer desperation because of injuries, I can't see the manager taking that risk in the middle of the World Series.


Late reports Wednesday/this morning that the Twins have settled on Rocco Baldelli as their new manager.

I'm neutral. I like the age (37) but don't particularly care for the complete lack of managerial experience. He's been a player, a front office exec and a coach, all with Tampa Bay, but hasn't managed in the minors or, I believe, in winter ball.

It's a good bet that he's analytics friendly. Everything else about him as a manager is, like an iceberg, submerged and out of my view.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

#OldFriends (Infielders)

The Twins traded Eduardo Nunez to the Giants soon after he made the All-Star team in 2016. He was traded in midseason by the Giants to the Red Sox last year and is likely to be a free agent after the World Series. There is a team option, but I suspect the Red Sox will figure they can find a bench alternative they like more.

It's been a weird year for Nunez. He hasn't played all that well. His OPS+, a rough measurement of how productive his season was at the plate, was a career low, and his fielding has always been deemed subpar. But he still got more than 500 plate appearances for a 108-win team, so he couldn't have been holding the Red Sox back that much.

Alex Cora didn't fit the right-handed Nunez into the starting lineup against the left-handed Clayton Kershaw. He played the left-handed hitting Rafael Devers at third and right-handed Ian Kinsler at second. Kershaw was pulled in the fifth, and the Dodgers didn't use a lefty again until the seventh, when Alex Wood entered to face Devers with two on.

Except, as you probably know, Nunez pinch-hit and clubbed a three-run homer to break the game open.

Had Nunez started at third, it might have been Devers pinch-hitting for him in the seventh, but against a righty. Or, possibly, Devers might have replaced Nunez sooner, and the pinch-hit matchup might have disappeared.

Not a bad way to make his World Series debut.


Brian Dozier, seldom seen in the postseason for the Dodgers, was not only in the starting lineup for L.A. in Game One, he was the leadoff man. He drew a walk, he scored a run and he was unable to turn a critical double play pivot in the fifth inning.

The Dodgers obviously sought to load their lineup with righties against Chris Sale. They could have had someone like Chris Taylor, who led off for them throughout last year's postseason run, in the leadoff spot. I wonder if the fact that Dozier has three career homers off Sale entered into the decision to put him in the maximum at-bat spot.

I would think that the Dodgers analytics department is sharp enough to know that batter-pitcher matchup numbers aren't a reliable indicator. Dozier isn't the same hitter in October 2018 that he was when he hit those homers. And Sale probably isn't the same pticher right now, either.


Finally, a former Twins infielder who isn't involved in this year's Fall Classic. Eduardo Escobar reupped Monday with the Arizona Diamondbacks -- three years, $21 million.

That feels a bit light to me, but Escobar probably didn't want to get frozen out in the marketplace, as happened to a number of veteran free agents last winter.

The story on the signing says the D'backs don't have a specific position for Escobar right now, but his versatility gives them a variety of alternatives as they remake their roster.

Here's the thing: He's not quite as versatile as they apparently think. Age -- he turns 30 this winter -- has made him less playable at shortstop. His outfield experiences were rough enough that the Twins quit trying that pretty quickly. And supposedly he's not comfortable playing second base, although that might be his second-best fit (behind third base).

I had hoped to see Escobar return to the Twins, but he never actually reached the free agent market. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Beantown vs LaLa Land

Boston vs. Los Angeles. East Coast vs. West Coast. Highest payroll in the game vs. the third highest (the Giants are second).

This is certainly the series Fox was hoping for (and anything Fox wants I almost reflexively oppose). And while it's not necessarily the best agains the best, it's pretty close to that.

Boston, as we know, won 108 games in the regular season and really didn't have much trouble dealing with a pair of 100-win teams in the division and championship series. We can find flaws if we want, but the Red Sox were pretty clearly the best team in the American League, and the AL seems to be superior to the National League.

Which, in my AL-centric way of viewing thing, makes the Red Sox the favorite to win the World Series.

But I've been watching baseball since 1969, and the one thing I'm absoutely certain of is that the lesser team always has a good shot at winning a short series. This is why the best records so seldom even reach the World Series in this era of multi-layered postseasons.

And we should remember about the Dodgers: This is basically the same team that won 104 games last year and looked until the last month like an historically great team. It is basically the same team that took Houston to the seventh game of the World Series and could easily have won it.

They won "only" 92 games in the regular season, but their run differential suggests they "should" have won 102, which would look a lot like 2017's record. They didn't have the best record in the National League, but they easily could have.

It should be a good series. I don't find either franchise particularly fun to root for, and I won't have any emotional investment in the series, but I'll turn the TV sound off, put one on the radio feeds on my iPad and enjoy two outstanding teams going for the title.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Managerial scuttlebutt

Two managerial openings have been filled already in this brief gap before the World Series commences: David Bell gets the Cincinnati Reds job, and Brad Ausmus gets the Anaheim job.

Neither figured to be a factor in the Minnesota job search.

Ausmus is, in my eyes, a curious choice because he didn't exactly cover himself in glory in the Detroit job. To be fair, he inherited a team on the downcycle and didn't have much of a chance to win there. He's recycled and he's not particularly analytic. I rather expected the Angels to go a bit more modern in replacing Mike Scoscia.

Bell is a better fit for the current trend. He has managed in the minors and coached in the majors, but he spent last season in the San Francisco front office, and that last seems to be something the new era GMs value.

Bell didn't play for the Reds during his 12-year major league career, but his grandfather (Gus) and father (Buddy) did. Third generation player, second generation manager. As a player, David Bell wasn't as good as Gus or Buddy; as a manager, he almost has to be more successful than Buddy, who managed three teams in nine seasons with a total winning percentage of .418.

As for the Twins, I have no real idea of who or when they'll name their new man. I expect it to be Derek Shelton, last year's bench coach, but I also somehow expect to be surprised. I can live with that cognitive dissonance.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Pic of the Week

Yasiel Puig celebrates his game-breaking homer Saturday.

Love him or hate him (and the Dodgers), Yasiel Puig is a talented and exuberant baseball player.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Pretty good, Boston

For a 108-win team, the Boston Red Sox seemed rather vulnerable.

Chris Sale clearly isn't himself. David Price's postseason record is unimpressive, to say the least. There are -- were -- playoff squads with more daunting bullpen depth. Relief ace Craig Kimbrel appears broken.

They released their cleanup hitter, Hanley Ramirez, in May. Star second baseman Dustin Pedroia, a former MVP, never really got into the lineup, and rookie manager Alex Cora had to cobble together two infield spots.

And two other 100-win teams, one of them the defending champions, stood in their way to the World Series.

Well, guess what? The Red Sox beat 'em both. They were the best team all season, and they remain the best team in October.

Nobody in the National League field matched up on paper against any of the American League playoff teams. Somebody will be in Boston next week to play the Red Sox in Game One, and simply on that basis the Dodgers and Brewers have a chance to come away with the crown,

But the Red Sox are the best team, period, full stop.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Blast from the past

Craig Counsell took a page from the ancient past of the Twins, or at least the Twins' Washington predecessor, on Wednesday by starting left Wade Miley for one batter, then bringing in a pitcher of the opposite hand to negate the rival's platoon advantage.

Perhaps you know the story of Game Seven of the 1924 World Series. It was still pretty famous when I started following baseball in 1969, but at that point 1924 was "only" 45 years earlier (1969 is further away from today) and there were plenty of fans who had a living memory of that famous contest.

But ... Washington Senators vs. New York Giants, the series knotted at three games apiece. New York manager John McGraw was platooning the young Bill Terry (who would hit .401 in 1930 and is now in the Hall of Fame) in a complex arrangement that had fellow future Hall of Famer George "Highpockets" Kelly shifting from first base to center field against righthanders.

Terry's 1924 season doesn't look like much, but he was absolutely wearing out the Senators' top right-handed pitchers, the great but aged Walter Johnson and early relief ace Fred "Firpo" Marberry. Johnson had started twice -- Games 1 and 5 -- and been beaten twice; Marberry had started once and taken the loss as well. So the expectation was that Washington manager Bucky Harris would start George Mogridge, a lefty and his second-best starter, in Game 7.

But Harris had a plan, to which he tipped off Johnson after Game 6. Johnson, according to family lore, went home and told his wife he would be relieving in Game 7, drawing a gasped: "Walter, you mustn't!"

Harris started Curly Ogden, a righty who had gone 9-5, 2.58 in 108 innings during the season but had battled a sore arm and hadn't appeared in the Series. McGraw took the bait and started Terry at first base. Odgen retired leadoff hitter Freddie Lindstrom (yet another future Hall inductee) and started off the mound; Harris, suspecting that Odgen might have a big game in his arm, waved him back to the job. But when Ogden walked No. 2 hitter Frankie Frisch (yes, another HOF inductee), Harris brought in Mogridge, who had been warming up in secret under the bleachers.

Mogridge pitched through the fifth, but when McGraw finally pinch-hit for Terry, the trap was set. In came Marberry, then Johnson. The game went 12 innings, with Johnson twice walking left-handed hitting Ross Youngs (HOF) in jams so he could strike out the right-handed Kelly, who had 126 RBIs that year. The Senators scored two runs in the eighth to tie it on a grounder that hit a pebble and bounded over Lindstrom's head, and scored the winner on another grounder that hit a pebble and bounced over Lindstrom -- legend has it, the same pebble.

A great and legendary game. It remains the only World Series title won by a Washington team. Twelve participants, counting the managers, have plaques in Cooperstown. And if I had a time machine and could go back in time to see any one game, it might be the one.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Notes, quotes and comment

I came into the ALCS not really caring which team advanced to the World Series. In my mind:

  • the Red Sox and Astros are the two best teams in baseball;
  • the Red Sox fan base has become essentially insufferable;
  • the Astros management burned away its good will with its hypocritical trade for accused woman-beater Roberto Osuna. "Zero tolerance," my left nostril.

The pleasure I felt when Osuna gave up a grand slam to Jackie Bradley Jr. on Tuesday settled matters. Go Red Sox.


The garish "home run sculpture" in Marlins Park is, somehow, to be moved out of the stadium.

Considering the difficulties in doing so -- it is seven stories high, connected to plumbing and hydraulics and exists to fill a Miami-Dade County requirement for art in public buildings -- I would probably have left it in place.

I can agree with Derek Jeter on the aesthetics of the thing. But it's not the ugliest thing playing in that ballpark since Jeter's consortium bought the team and sold off a brilliant outfield.


Manny Machado is a marvelously talented player. He has also in this series repeatedly jogged on ground balls, twice made questionable slides into second (and was called on it once) and, on Tuesday, took a cheap leg-whip shot at Milwaukee's first baseman.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

A comment on bullpenning

The bullpenning trend has, let us say, not been universally welcomed, but the resistance has been most vocerifious from the broadcasting booths, which generally have at least one seat filled by somebody whose glory days are a decade or more in the past and frequently talk as if convinced that the game has deteriorated since then.

We in Minnesota have become inured to the blunt force opposition of Bert Blyleven and Jack Morris. Short starts? One-inning openers followed by the primary pitcher? I wouldn't have stood for it, they huff, as if they hit the majors already wielding their Cooperstown credentials. 

John Smoltz, doing the NLCS for Fox, takes a seemingly objective view: It won't work, he says. Even in October's off-day riddled short series, he opines, relievers will be overworked and ultimately fail. The evidence to date contradicts Smoltz; the Rays bullpenned pretty much all season and reached 90 wins; the A's bullpenned a lot as they reached the playoffs. If you can bullpen for six months, you can probably bullpen for seven.

James' objection is different. It's subjective. His point is aimed at the audience experience, not at the final tally on the scoreboard. 

The game has always evolved. James himself years ago noted that, with the exception of an upward blip in the 1970s immediately following the arrival of the designated hitter, the innings pitched by individual starters has steadily dropped. 

It evolves in the direction of what works. Success is measured in wins and rings. We have seen in recent Octobers that a dominant bullpen is more likely to survive and advance than a dominant rotation. 

And I don't know how that trend can reverse, short of something impractical such as pushing the fences back 30 feet in every stadium to make home runs drastically more rare. Pitching is simply more difficult today than when Blyleven, Morris and even Smoltz were starring. One example, given by the pseudonymous chief data architect of MLBAM:

Right now, bullpenning is generally not being imposed on established starters, although the way Gio Gonzalez has been used by Milwaukee this month may be crossing that line too. 

Monday, October 15, 2018

Notes, quotes and comment

I've been quiet here for few days, which is unusual. But I haven't felt that I have anything useful to say here. and as long as that persists, I expect to post less frequently than has been my norm.


One of my colleagues asked me about the report that the Twins had interviewed Hensley "Bam Bam" Meulens for the managerial job. My response: "I don't really understand what the Twins are looking for, so I don't know if he's got what they're looking for."

Besides a great nickname, Meulens' resume includes being the hitting and bench coach for the San Francisco Giants, including during their three World Series titles earlier in the decade. He wasn't a particularly successful player, not that that's a managerial imperative.

He's about a decade younger than the departed Paul Molitor, but not really young as managerial candidates go. And the Giants might be the least-analytically inclined organization in the majors right now, so he's not bringing a background steeped in sabermetrics to the table.

Conclusion: I don't think he's particularly likely to land the Minnesota job.


The current issue of Baseball America features the Top 10 prospects in the short-season leagues. For the Twins, that means the Fort Myers team in the Gulf Coast League -- the lowest in-the-states rung on the ladder -- and Elizabethton in the Appalachian League.

Nobody was listed from the Twins in the GCL piece. Trevor Larnach, the Twins' first-round pick in the June draft, came in at No. 5 in the Appy League; he didn't spend much time in E-Town before moving up to Cedar Rapids. Two other Twins showed up in the second 10 listing: Luis Rijo, a right-handed pitcher they got from the Yankees for Lance Lynn, and Ryan Jeffers, their second-round pick in June who also was rapidly promoted to CR.

But the Twins also have the No. 1 player in the New York-Penn League, without having an affilate in that circuit. Gilberto Celestino was that league's top prospect while playing for the Astros' affiliate, and then he was traded to the Twins for Ryan Pressly.

The NY Penn league is probably a half-step  above the Appy League and a half-step below the Midwest League, and the Twins had Celestino finish the year at E-Town. They had enough outfielders to find playing time for at Cedar Rapids, and he's only 19.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

A quality field

Baseball in the 21st Century is not set up for the best team to win the World Series. October has evolved from a pairing of two teams that survived the summer marathon -- combined, one-eighth or one-tenth of the franchises -- to a mob of 10 teams -- one third of the franchises.

On Tuesday the 2018 field was whittled down to four. And in a rarity, the four are almost certainly the two best squads in their respective leagues: Boston and Houston in the American League, Milwaukee and Los Angeles in the National.

It doesn't take a lot of analysis to recognize that the AL teams, each of which won more than 100 games during the season, are both superior to either of the NL teams. That doesn't mean the AL survivor is certain to triumph at months' end.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Notes, quotes and comment

Miguel Sano is apparently in the clear legally in his native Dominican.

The broader point remains. Nothing good happens outside nightclubs at 3 a.m. in any country.


Angel Hernandez set some sort of umpiring record by having three calls overturned by replay in the first four innings Monday night in the Yankees-Red Sox series.

The consensus worst umpire in MLB is to call balls and strikes tonight. Lord knows why he's still umping in the majors much less involved in any postseason series.


I am far from the first to note that both the (Cleveland) Indians and (Atlanta) Braves were eliminated on Columbus Day -- or, as it's now officially recognized by the city in which I reside, Indigenous Peoples Day.

When I decided by process of elimination, to root for Cleveland in the AL after Oakland was ousted, I did not realize that the Tribe was going to once again exclusively wear Chief Wahoo caps in the postseason.

They didn't lose this series because of their logo, of course. They lost this series because Houston is a better team, and because Cleveland's bullpen is no longer the deep and effective unit that pulled it to the brink of winning the 2016 World Series.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Oh no, Sano

Miguel Sano was apparently detained and released by police in the his native Dominican Republic after a hit-and-run early Sunday morning in which a policeman's leg was broken.

The Twins issued a statement saying they are "aware" of the situation and trying to learn more about it.

There's a lot of unknowns about this incident. But I'm probably not getting too far over my skis to say the Twins expect better from the troubled slugger. His midsummer exile to the minors was supposed to be as much, or more, about revamping his lifestyle and improving his professionalism as getting his swing back.

Friday, October 5, 2018

RIP Dave Anderson

Roger Kahn's The Boys of Summer sits at the intersection of my adult occupation (newspapering) and preoccupation (baseball). While it has been years since I last re-read it, it literally took me less than a minute to find this story about Dave Anderson, the great sportwriter whose death was announced Thursday. This is from 1953, long before Anderson acceived fame as a New York Times columnist:


Through the hot months, the Dodgers played phenomonal .800 baseball. They clinched the pennant in Milwaukee on Saturday, September 13, when (Carl) Erskine defeated the Braves 8 to 3, in a game punctuated by three Milwaukee errors. Dave Anderson, a young reporter who had succeeded Harold Burr on the Brooklyn Eagle, wrote the best lead. "The Milwaukee Braves," he began, "died with their boots."

"Two-to-one they change it on you," (Dick) Young said.

"If not the deskman, then the printer," I said. "I've tried to get 'cerebration' into the Tribune four times this season and it's always come up 'celebration.'"

Anderson grinned, but turned less cheerful when he saw a copy of the Eagle. Someone had indeed murdered his pleasant pun. His published story read, "The Milwaukee Braves died with their boots on." On. Not even Dante conceived an inferno for sodden copyreaders.


I am, and have been for more than three decades, the modern equivalent of what Kahn calls here a "deskman" or a "copyreader," although the adjective "sodden" probably doesn't fit. That ancedote has been a cautionary tale down the years, but making that kind of mindless editing blunder would first require a writer with Anderson's skill and inventiveness. It's not an insult to my Free Press colleague to say few of them qualify.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

The wild card games

One game and done, thanks for playing, Cubs and Athletics.

One of the games (National League) went the way of my rooting interest, the other (American League) did not. One of the games (National League) was tight and compelling, the other (American League) was not.

In terms of who I want to see win, which is different than who I expect to win, we're running out on AL teams. I am habitually unwilling to root for the Yankees, and the Red Sox fan base has become almost as insufferably entitiled. The Astros damaged themselves in my eyes by trading for Roberto Osuna while continuing to declare themselves to have "zero tolerance" for abusers. That leaves Cleveland, to whom I have no real objection other than that they play the Twins 18 times a season.

That's why I really wanted to see the A's knock off the Yankees Wednesday. Didn't happen, of course, and I saw the jeering on social media over the failure of opener Liam Hendriks (former Twin). Yep, the tactic didn't work that night for Oakland. I guess they should have started their Cy Young candidate.

That last was, to be clear, sarcastic. The A's pitching staff is emphatically bullpen-heavy. Hendriks and, later, fellow former Twin Fernando Rodney, didn't get it done.

So now its Yankees-Red Sox -- 100 regular season wins vs. 107 in one ALDS -- and Astros-Indians in the other. It should be good baseball; the only problem is, I want everybody to lose.

I also want both teams to lose in the Dodgers-Braves NLDS, the Dodgers on basic rooting principles and the Braves because their ownership, with the connivance of the government of Cobb County (sururban Atlanta), essentially defrauded the taxpayers of that county to get their new stadium. On the other hand, at least somebody will emerge from the Rockies-Brewers series I can root for.

But know this: Every team in the AL field (including Oakland) is probably better than any team in the NL field (including Chicago).

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Goodbye, Molitor

It's easier to fire the manager than to fire 25 players. The Twins might spend a lot of this offseason doing both.

Starting with Paul Molitor, relieved of his managerial duties Tuesday.

Not everything that went wrong for the 2018 Twins can be fairly blamed on the manager.

It's not on Molitor that Ervin Santana's finger didn't heal with an offseason of rest or recover from surgery. Nor is it his fault that Jorge Polanco got busted for steroids or that Jason Castro's knee gave way.

But ... this was a team with the highest payroll in club history, it was expected to contend, and it didn't. The fielding was poor and the baserunning worse. And, perhaps most crucially, the young core at the heart of the roster did not develop. Even Eddie Rosario and Jose Berrios only duplicated their 2017 performances. The Twins enter this offseason far less certain of what they have than they were a year ago.

Dumping Molitor was always a possibility once Terry Ryan was ousted as the head of the Twins baseball operations. Molitor was forced on the front office duo of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine two offseasons ago; now they get to hire a manager of their own choosing.

Still, I was a bit surprised at the news Tuesday. Not only did Molitor still have two years left to run on his contract, he seemed -- with the possible exception of whether Polanco is a bona fide shortstop -- to mesh well with their new front office's analytic bent.

The Twins on Tuesday also dismissed their longtime major league strength and conditioning coordinator and a number of minor league coaches. It seems likely that there will be further changes on the major league staff. Slowly but surely, the Ryan-era figures -- players, managers, coaches -- are giving way to the new regime. In some cases, it seems, they are being ousted simply because they were there when the new guys showed up.

That may not be fair, but that's pretty routine around baseball. We're just not used to that in Minnesota.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Minor matters

The Twins have in recent years maintained rather stable minor league affiilations, but Double-A has been the exception.

That, they presumably hope, is about to change.

On Monday it was announced that Minnesota would affilate with the Pensacola (Fla.) Blue Wahoos of the Southern League. They had been paired with the Chattanooga Lookouts in the same league, but that connection ran out at season's end and the Lookouts reunited with Cincinnati.

I'm not sure if Cincy or Atlanta is the dominant major league team in that part of Tennessee, but my guess is that there are considerably more Reds fans around "Nooga" than Twins fans. So this probably makes some economic sense to the Lookouts ownership.

Pensacola, which had been affiliated with the Reds, provides the Twins with

  • better facilities than Chattanooga and
  • a location theoretically more convenient to their high A farm team and spring training complex in Fort Myers. Well, it's in the same state, but it's at the west end of the Florida panhandle. It might be easier to sail to Pensacola from Fort Myers than drive.

This will be the Twins third affilation in Double A in six years. Minnesota has a reputation for really good relationships with its affiliates, but that rep was earned during the Terry Ryan years, and the people responsible for building those relationships are pretty much gone now. Still, I would expect the Twins would want to have a long connection with Pensacola because of Point No. 1 above.

Monday, October 1, 2018

A season's, and maybe a career's, end

An emotional Joe Mauer caught one, presumably final,
 major-league pitch in the ninth inning Sunday, five years
after a concussions forced him to abandon the position.
The final day of the regular season is always one of the saddest of the year for me. Some years I'm eager for the postseason, but even in those years I know I'll miss the rhythm of the schedule -- and winter is coming.

On Sunday we got a glimpse of how much Joe Mauer misses being a catcher. His postgame description of having put the gear in a bag five years ago and never opening it until Saturday night, when he put it on over his clothes -- that helped explain the tears as he stood on the field one more time in the "tools of ignorance" to receive one more pitch.

I was unenthused about the stunt while it was happening, just as I frowned at the one-pitch return to third base by Jim Thome in 2011.  But it clearly meant a lot to Mauer, and apparently to Mauer's family.

It occurred to me in these past few days of trying to ferret out of Mauer's deeds and words what his intentions are that much may hinge on how he defines "Joe Mauer" to himself. If his first thought is "baseball player," it's a lot less likely that he'll retire than if it's "husband and father," and vice versa.

Sunday made me wonder if "catcher" isn't still top shelf in his self-image, more than five years after he last caught a competitive pitch.

And I wonder, too, if the theatrics the Twins worked into Sunday's game -- his daughters visiting first base for the usual Sunday kids starting lineup (which he didn't know about before hand), the one-pitch return to catching (which he had know about), the old promo commercials on the scoreboard -- if all that was intended to nudge Mauer in the direction of retirement.

Mauer will decide what he deems best for himself. It's not for me to substitute my judgment for his. I expect him to walk away, but it's certainly plausible that he'll decide he wants to live baseball's rhythms at least one more season.