Friday, February 17, 2006
Welcome to the Blogosphere, BoysI remember a time not so long ago when my dream was to become a national sports columnist. The respect, the audience, the opportunities, the money -- it has always seemed to me like the perfect job for someone who loves sports and writing. Actually, it still does. On the way there -- in August of 2002, to be exact -- I became a blogger.
I suppose they're technically the same thing -- writing about sports for audience, sharing your opinions and analysis rather than reporting -- but that's sort of like saying Jessica Alba and Janet Reno are technically both women. It's true and they each have their strong suits, but in reality they're far enough apart that they don't even seem to be in the same species. Well, no longer. We've officially entered into some kind of a bizarro world, where suddenly Alba actually wants to be Reno.
As of yesterday, ESPN.com now hosts blogs written by Peter Gammons and Jayson Stark, in addition to Buster Olney. It used to be that people within the mainstream media would focus on the negative aspects of blogging, like not having an editor and not having a code of standards in place. These days the focus of those same people seems to have shifted to the positive aspects of blogging, like being able to speak to an audience in a much more informal manner and being able to publish immediately.
I used to become annoyed reading Olney's columns, in part because I felt his analysis was often lacking. However, since he began blogging last season I see him in a somewhat different light, as his personality is able to come across more and his strengths as a writer are more apparent. Blogging allows him to show a side to his audience that being an old-school columnist kept hidden away. (Olney told a story on his blog about Deion Sanders earlier this week that's a perfect example of this.)
The main reason I enjoy reading blogs is not just that the writing is good, it's that the writing is good and it comes along with a personal touch. I quickly grow tired of cookie-cutter articles that you can get in the average newspaper, and my favorite bloggers are the ones who are able to go well beyond that. They are able to speak to their audience like human beings, rather than like writers or columnists or reporters or whatever label you want to slap on them.
I'm glad ESPN.com sees the value in that as well, and I'm glad they're willing to take what is a pretty large leap for a major media outlet. Of course, I do have a major criticism, which is that as far as I can tell none of the dozen or so blogs ESPN.com hosts actually link to other blogs. For instance, Olney's blog is made up primarily of links to outside stories and his brief comments on them, but in nearly a year I can't remember a single link that wasn't to a mainstream newspaper.
I know from personal experience that ESPN.com has always had a somewhat stringent policy against linking to outside sites, but embracing the blogosphere is an essential step if they're going to call what Gammons, Stark, and Olney are doing "blogs." The value of blogs is in not always having to be like everything else, and while ESPN.com is going along with some of that concept they are still holding back on a crucial element.
Right now ESPN.com is like a high-school jock who has the guts to join the drama club because he truly loves acting, but still makes jokes about the "losers" in the club to his buddies on the football team. You're either in or you're out, and if you're in then you can't be too good for the club when it suits your needs. I'm proud of ESPN.com, but it'll be even better when they really make the jump.
Gammons' "reading" page includes a link to The Hardball Times (which was quite a thrill for me), but what I'm talking about is linking to a good Dodger Thoughts entry when Jon Weisman has something interesting to say about Ned Colletti or turning readers on to USS Mariner when David Cameron breaks down the greatness of Felix Hernandez after King Felix puts together a string of brilliant starts.
The line between old-school and new-school is blurring all the time and I commend ESPN.com for accepting a relatively new medium when many of their fellow mainstream outlets have been amazingly resistant to do so. We're not quite "there" yet, but for now being able to call myself a "blogger" and have Peter Gammons and Jayson Stark be included in that same club is pretty cool. Even if they probably still call us losers behind our backs.
Thursday, February 16, 2006
Open Chat: Lohse Wins!For the second straight year Kyle Lohse beat the Twins in salary arbitration, this time securing a $3.95 million salary for 2006. The entire arbitration process is fairly confusing to me, so I don't have a whole lot to say about this other than that there doesn't seem to be any sort of rhyme or reason to who wins and who loses.
Lohse winning his case doesn't impact much aside from possibly making him slightly less appealing to another team as a midseason acquisition. It also means that the Twins have about $500,000 less to spend on a potential midseason trade of their own, but considering the money they've invested in Nick Punto ($690,000) and Juan Castro ($1 million) to corner the market on banjo-hitting utility infielders I doubt they're all that concerned about a half-million bucks.
And yes, this means that over the past two years Lohse is 2-0 in arbitration and 18-26 on the mound.
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
Krivsky's First MovesIt's wonderful to know that we can be sure about Wayne Krivsky, and not Terry Ryan, being behind those nasty Timo Perez-to-the-Twins rumors that popped up last month. Krivsky's first real move as general manager of the Reds was to sign Perez to a minor-league deal. It's not quite showing up to a new job drunk on the first day, but considering Perez hit .235/.272/.322 over the past two years and Krivsky is being paid to put together a baseball team, it's reasonably close.
I read an interview Krivsky did with his new hometown newspaper, the Cincinnati Enquirer, and came away from it impressed. He showed a sense of humor, said some very intelligent things about such topics as sabermetrics and organizational philosophy, and generally just came across very well. I was starting to get nervous that Krivsky was more important to the Twins' recent success than most people (myself included) know.
Then I saw the Perez signing, followed by the Scott Hatteberg signing, and began to wonder. Perez and Hatteberg are low-impact signings, but it's not encouraging that a GM felt the need to ink them within his first 72 hours on the job, as if he couldn't hold back the urge for crappy veterans any longer. Imagine your new boss ordering everyone in the office to wear sombreros and bowties every Friday. It's not really all that important in the grand scheme of things, but it's not a great sign for things to come.
Of course, Krivsky's next move was signing Adam Dunn to a three-year contract that buys out his first season of free agency, which likely would have been the first thing I'd have done in Krivsky's shoes. It not only locks up the best player on the team for the foreseeable future, it should put an end to any Dunn trade rumors and also shows that Krivsky isn't afraid of a slugger who strikes out a ton.
Krivsky also showed some creativity by signing Tuffy Rhodes to a minor-league contract yesterday. Rhodes hit just .224/.310/.349 in six big-league seasons, but then became a star in Japan. He's 37 years old and didn't have a very good year in 2005, but I'd take a flier on him long before I wasted time on someone like Perez (or Quinton McCracken, who also got a minor-league deal from Krivsky and the Reds yesterday).
Basically I'm just as in the dark about Krivsky's real value to the Twins as I was last week, although I suspect he'll make a significant trade that we can properly judge sometime between now and Opening Day. After all, someone so intent on bringing in Perez, Hatteberg, and McCracken (which sounds like a really crappy law firm) right away must have a few players on the inherited roster who he desperately wants to get rid of. The first major mark in Krivsky's favor is that Dunn isn't one of them.
I haven't given an update on my weight loss in a while, so bear with me while I do that today. I've now had an elliptical machine and been on a diet for 35 days, and as of last night I've dropped a total of 26 pounds. The first 10-15 pounds basically melted off immediately and it's been a much more gradual loss since then, but I'll be happy as long as the number keeps going down every few days.
I notice myself eating slightly more and working out slightly less than I did during the first couple weeks, so I've got to be careful about that. The good news is that my cravings for "bad" food have decreased significantly. I haven't really been craving chips or donuts or cookies too much, although I still occasionally miss simply pigging out on McDonald's or getting really full on a pizza.
Anyway, for the one percent of you who are interested, that's how the weight-loss effort is going. I'm down 26 pounds in 35 days, the cravings aren't bad, I often miss the actual sensation of eating a lot, I've yet to slip up once with bad food, and my stamina on the elliptical machine is about a thousand times better than it was a month ago. All in all things are going very well, but the second 25 pounds are the key.
Monday, February 13, 2006
Top 40 Minnesota Twins: #35 Steve Braun
STEPHEN RUSSELL BRAUN | 1B/2B/SS/3B/LF | 1971-1976 | CAREER STATS
Braun's entire time with the Twins actually came in a very poor offensive environment, which is part of the reason why he's one of the most underrated players in team history. His raw numbers show a guy who got on base extremely well (.376 on-base percentage), but had almost zero power (.381 slugging percentage). However, if you adjust his performance to account for the pitcher-friendly era he played in, Braun suddenly looks like an offensive force.
Looking at adjusted OPS+ totals while in Minnesota, Braun's mark of 116 ranks ahead of Corey Koskie (115), Chuck Knoblauch (114), Brian Harper (110), Tom Brunansky (108), David Ortiz (107), A.J. Pierzynski (105), Shannon Stewart (104), Roy Smalley (104), Cesar Tovar (103), Paul Molitor (103), Marty Cordova (103), Doug Mientkiewicz (103), Randy Bush (102), Jacque Jones (101), Pedro Munoz (101), Torii Hunter (100), and Matthew LeCroy (100), among many others.
Those are some of the best position players in team history, most of whom are known for their hitting, and Braun was arguably more effective offensively with the Twins than all of them. He certainly wasn't in the elite class of hitters, but he was safely in the "very good" group. Interestingly, if you adjust their respective numbers with the Twins to today's offensive environment, Braun and Knoblauch look nearly identical:
AVG OBP SLG OPS OPS+
Braun was remarkably consistent after his solid rookie season, hitting above .280 while getting on base at least 36 percent of the time in each of the next five years. His best season came in 1975, when Braun hit .302/.389/.428 (130 OPS+) with a career-high 11 homers while ranking among the league's top 10 in on-base percentage. Adjusting those numbers to today's environment spits out something like .315/.390/.480, which is the sort of year everyone is hoping to see from Joe Mauer in his prime.
Braun served as the Twins' primary third baseman in 1971, 1972, and 1973, and was their primary left fielder in 1974 and 1975. In 1976 he was the team's regular designated hitter (while also seeing time at third base and left field), and hit .288/.384/.353 while once again ranking among the league leaders in on-base percentage. In November of that year the upstart Seattle Mariners plucked Braun off the Twins' roster in the expansion draft, ending his time in Minnesota after six very productive seasons.
After a disappointing stint with the Mariners Braun was traded to the Royals for Jim Colborn in June of 1978, after Colborn won 18 games with a 3.62 ERA in 1977. That move signaled the end of Braun's days as an everyday player, and was the beginning of his time as one of Whitey Herzog's bench bats. Herzog was Kansas City's manager when Braun arrived at midseason, and obviously took a liking to Braun when he hit .263/.380/.350 in 64 games and tied a team record by reaching base 11 straight times.
Braun gave Herzog another productive season as a part-time player in 1979, and when Herzog moved on to the Cardinals he brought Braun in as a free agent. Braun served as a supersub and pinch-hitter for the next five seasons, hitting .258/.382/.348 while rarely starting a game. He was a key contributor on two National League pennant winners, including the 1982 World Series champs, but retired two seasons before the Cardinals eventually met up with the Twins in the 1987 World Series.
Braun has stayed in baseball after retiring, serving as a minor-league hitting coach with the Cardinals, Yankees, and Red Sox. He currently sells "hitting clinics, summer camps, and baseball trips" through a company called "Steve Braun Baseball," which offers to help you "train like a pro with a pro!" You can read more at his infomercial-esque personal website, which features more exclamation points than Seth Stohs writing on speed.
While Braun is likely the least-known player among the Minnesota Twins Top 40 and his inclusion in this countdown probably raises a few eyebrows, I have little doubt that he belongs. Six seasons of consistently outstanding top-of-the-order hitting and versatile defense made him an impact player, even if it wasn't apparent to everyone at the time. Had he played today, rather than 30 years ago, Braun's power would appear a lot more acceptable and his ability to get on base would be more properly appreciated.
TOP 25 ALL-TIME MINNESOTA TWINS RANKS: