Friday, March 17, 2006
A scout charting the Royals for another team this spring suggests Mientkiewicz could have the greatest impact this season among all of [general manager Allard] Baird's veteran additions.You'll notice that some careful and misleading wording ("two of his final three full seasons") allows the writer to conveniently ignore Mientkiewicz's .246 batting average with the Twins in 2004. Also, there's really nothing fluffier than a piece that talks about all the wonderful things that can happen if a player bats .300 when that player has hit .238 and .240 over the past two years.
For Twins fans, here's the most interesting quote from the article:
"I respect Terry Ryan more than any man in the world behind my old man," Mientkiewicz said. "He never lied to me. He always spoke the truth."That seems to be a pretty common theme when it comes to ex-players talking about Terry Ryan.
Twins director of baseball operations Rob Antony refers to Van Mil as "a project."As the article points out, if Van Mil were to make it to the big leagues he'd be the tallest pitcher of all time. In fact, only five pitchers who were 6-foot-10 or taller have ever won even a single game in the majors. Who are the five? I'll post the answer at the bottom of this entry.
I need to be more ready because I know I'm going to play on turf. Once I start playing on turf, it could be hard for me.While Twins fans seem to be optimistic about the turf helping Castillo offensively and defensively, an overlooked factor may be how it impacts his health. I don't expect him to steal a ton of bases, but Castillo does need to preserve his speed in order to remain an effective hitter. So while the playing surface may help a few more of his grounders turn into singles, it may also make things tough on his legs. Between Castillo, Shannon Stewart, Torii Hunter, Joe Mauer, Rondell White, and Jason Kubel, there will be an awful lot of attention paid to legs this year.
If healthy, Mauer will hit .300 this year, if not .310.The difference between Mauer batting .300 and Mauer batting .310 would be no more than five hits over the course of the entire season. Souhan is basically saying, "If healthy, Mauer will hit .300 this year, and he might even get five more hits than that." Coming from a guy who struggles to include any sort of worthwhile, substantive analysis in his columns, such an exact prediction is amusing.
But hey, thanks to Souhan we did learn that Morneau "is remindful of Kent Hrbek on Slim-Fast" and Mauer has "sirloin-sized sideburns." I've decided that each of Souhan's columns should conclude with a reminder to enjoy the veal and tip your waitress, just so we can get the full effect.
Thursday, March 16, 2006
Guest Column: Doing Arizona RightMy uncle and I have taken a trip to Arizona for baseball five times -- four times for spring training and once for the Arizona Fall League. Each trip was among the greatest times of my life. This year my uncle took the same trip with my little cousin, who is now old enough to truly appreciate the experience. What follows is my uncle's guide to spring training in Arizona.
By Jon Gallop
March Madness is generally synonymous with NCAA basketball, but this madness in March describes a smaller, whiter, harder ball. True nirvana occurs every March in Arizona. The Cactus League trip is one of the great thrills for any real baseball fan. Although the Tucson area has three teams -- Rockies, Diamondbacks, White Sox -- it's the Phoenix area that's the Mecca.
With nine teams playing every day there are enough games to keep even the most extreme fanatic happy. The Giants in Scottsdale, the Cubs in Mesa, the A's in Phoenix (virtually in Tempe), the Angels in Tempe, the Brewers in Maryvale, the Padres and Mariners share a park in Peoria, and the Rangers and Royals share a park in Surprise. The setup beats the heck out of Florida, because the teams are all within a 30-mile radius.
A trip to Arizona means a game every day at 1:05 p.m., with an occasional night game. Throw in the Arizona State Sun Devils every other weekend and you have an all-you-can-watch baseball buffet. Watch major leaguers in the cozy confines of an 8,000-seat park, which means there are no bad seats and players can hear every word from hecklers.
If you like talking to players and getting autographs, go early -- gates open at 11 a.m. By the way, a 10-year-old kid with a glove will be far more successful in garnering player signatures then a 40-year-old, pot-bellied, crack showing, inebriated, over-the-hill loser.
Of course, planning to see baseball is only a small part of the must-do trip. Read on to make the perfect trip ... well, more perfect.
First and foremost, rent a convertible. Only an idiot would drive to a ballpark in Arizona during spring training with sun shining at 75 degrees in some hard-top grandpa-mobile. Your goal is to never put the top up. This may require utilizing the car's heater at night, but you gotta do what you gotta do.
Meal planning is also essential. While ballpark food may get you by and that first concession hot dog will taste great, let's be honest: We don't eat to live, we live to eat. In addition to great baseball, this area offers some great food.
One of the best places -- and Aaron's personal favorite -- is Greasy Tony's. Incredible Philly cheese steak sandwiches, it's open until three a.m., and it's located right on the ASU campus (east of Scottsdale Road and across from the Improv). As they proudly state: "No charge for the extra grease." Throw in some New York-style pizza and you're set for lunch, dinner or late night. The ambiance is akin to an open, festering sore, but the food is great. Eat it outside on their dirty tables or take it to go with napkins they stole from another restaurant.
For a little classier option, try Don & Charlie's for ribs and baseball memorabilia. This place has autographs from everyone who was ever anyone. Bats, pictures, balls, programs, and any other thing that can contain ink make this a paradise for the fan. Plus, you're bound to run into a player or five eating inside. Aaron once stood next to Willie Mays for a good five minutes before realizing it, so make sure you take the time to browse -- for memorabilia and people.
If you don't drool over the incredible array of signatures you will drool over the ribs, which are the best in the world. Get the double-baked potato and the house dressing on a salad. The inside is quite nice especially compared to Greasy Tony's, but I make sure all my meals are eaten outside, so "to go, please." Don & Charlie's is located on Camelback Road, just two blocks east of Scottsdale Road.
Mexican food is a must in Arizona. Go to Julio's, Too, located one block west of Don & Charlie's. Eat on the outdoor tables (are you noticing a trend here?), order the shredded beef or spicy shredded beef burro enchilada-style with rice and go to heaven. If you want a beautiful setting under the stars and fancier food, try El Chorros on 55th and Lincoln in Paradise Valley.
No baseball game at night? It's okay, go to a drive-in movie. The Scottsdale 6 drive-in on McKellips Road has first-run movies starting at 7:30 p.m. in March. Take a pillow from your hotel room and watch a bug-free, alfresco double feature for $5.75 in your convertible (or even on your convertible).
If you insist on being active, go climb a mountain (Indianhead on 32nd and Lincoln or Camelback) or find a golf course (Fiddlesticks miniature golf for those who like windmills on holes instead of 520-yard dog legs). For real baseball fun, bring your glove, a bat, and 100 tennis balls. Then find a field and play one-on-one fast pitch. I could go through the details of the rules, but you can be commissioner of your own two-person league.
Jump in a pool, have a beer, bring your glove, and enjoy real March Madness. Spring Training in Arizona beats the hell out of spring training in Florida.
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
The Culpepper TradeIn a move that has been anticipated in one form or another for months, the Vikings traded Daunte Culpepper to the Dolphins for a second-round pick yesterday. From the early reactions I've heard the deal has generated some very strong opinions, both positive and negative. I happen to think it was a decent trade.
For a pessimistic Vikings fan it's easy to think of Culpepper as the MVP-caliber quarterback from 2003 and 2004, but the fact is that he was a horrible player in 2005 even prior to his season-ending knee injury. He was also really bad in 2002, turns 30 years old on his next birthday, and is far from assured of being physically ready to play when the season starts.
The Vikings didn't trade a great quarterback; they traded a big question mark who has been a great quarterback. There's a big difference. If Culpepper is healthy and plays up to his potential going forward, a second-round pick isn't even close to equal value for him. However, if the knee injury lingers and/or he plays like he did last season, the Vikings will have done well to clear cap space, get rid of a headache, and acquire a valuable pick.
I question how the Vikings plan to address their long-term need at quarterback, because I'm not much of a Brad Johnson fan (and even if I was, he's 37 years old) and none of the second-tier quarterbacks available in this year's draft excite me much. Ignoring that for a moment -- I know it's tough, but try -- I like what they've so far done this offseason.
Chester Taylor is a legitimate three-down running back who has been waiting for an opportunity to show that for the past two seasons. He's big enough to run inside the tackles and versatile enough to thrive catching the ball out of the backfield. I suspect new coach Brad Childress had his eye on Taylor since the moment he got the job, because he's exactly the sort of running back who should thrive in Childress' preferred style of offense.
Ryan Longwell will be an upgrade over the assortment of mediocre kickers the team has trotted out in recent years and Ben Leber is an underrated addition to what was a very weak linebacking corps. If the Seahawks are unable to match the Vikings' massive, tricky contract offer to Steve Hutchinson, then they will also have significantly upgraded the offensive line, which was a huge weakness in 2005.
All in all, the Vikings have lost a lot of star power over the past two years, but that's not necessarily what wins games in the NFL. Culpepper and Randy Moss were an extraordinarily exciting combination, but the Vikings don't need that to be successful. I think they're a much deeper team now than they have been in a while, and assuming they draft well and have a plan at quarterback they're in better shape now than they were before the Moss deal.
Of course, that's a big assumption.
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
Does anyone know exactly how they were able to film the scene where the guy hung himself? Now, I realize we're at the stage where just about anything is possible with special effects, but it seemed to me that the entire scene was shot with a single camera and there wasn't any breaking away. Was it some sort of trick photography or is there a way to pull off the stunt without the stunt guy actually killing (or at least significantly injuring) himself? I am fascinated by this, as if it were a major plotline.
Here are some specific details:
Arbitrend ratings released yesterday show that in January, Roth's first month, WFNY's morning share among its target audience of 18- to 34-year-olds fell from 13.8% to 1.3%.In other words, he lost about 90 percent of the audience. Even that seems high, because I'd like to see the 1.3 percent of people who actually listened to Roth's show. I'm guessing most of that number came from people who forgot to change the settings on their alarm clock and kept waking up to Stern's old channel out of habit.
Ex-Gophers receiver Tony Levine has gone from being an assistant coach at Southwest Texas State, to Auburn, to Louisiana Tech and to Louisville, and now he has become an NFL assistant coach with the Carolina Panthers. He takes the place on the Panthers staff for new Vikings special teams coach Paul Ferraro.Fun fact: Tony Levine is the only referee to ever slap me with a technical foul.
I'm looking for the right word here. I don't like to speak from a frustrated mind, But you're playing one of the best teams in the damn league and you're not hyped, you're not up. The atmosphere in here is like we won. This s*** hurts, y'know what I mean?I am always the first person to defend Garnett when it comes to just about every criticism and I certainly agree that the rest of the team has really let him down. Through a series of questionable front-office decisions the supporting cast simply is not there for the Wolves to be a contender, regardless of how well or with how much passion Garnett plays. Too many people fail to understand that, which is why I think much of the criticism Garnett gets is misdirected.
With that said, some of the blame does fall on Garnett's shoulders. Back in January I wrote that he needed to take more shots, because lesser players taking them instead was hurting the Wolves' offense. He still refuses to take a larger role in the offense, and in fact has shot less as the season has gone on. The Wolves aren't going to be very good with this roster regardless of how often Garnett shoots, but there is no excuse for one of the best, most efficient offensive players in the league taking 15.8 shots per game on a horrible team.
There are 25 players who shoot more times per game than Garnett and 31 players who use up a higher percentage of their team's possessions, which is an absolute joke. The Wolves' defense this season has been just fine, but the offense has been one of the worst in the league. As long as Garnett continues to pass up shots like he's a second or third option, I won't have nearly as much sympathy for his frustrating situation. If you're going to go down, at least go down swinging.
Monday, March 13, 2006
Top 40 Minnesota Twins: #31 Butch Wynegar
HAROLD DELANO WYNEGAR JR. | C | 1976-1982 | CAREER STATS
That was enough for the Twins to bench Glenn Borgmann, skip their stud prospect past Double-A and Triple-A, and enter the 1976 season with Wynegar as the starting catcher despite the fact that he celebrated his 20th birthday during spring training. Wynegar was an immediate success, starting 137 games behind the plate and another dozen at designated hitter while batting .260/.356/.363 with 10 homers, 21 doubles, 79 walks, and 69 RBIs.
Wynegar began the year batting sixth in the lineup, spent some time hitting fifth, and ended up in the cleanup spot for much of the season. His raw numbers may not look like much, but for a 20-year-old catcher in 1976 they were amazing. In fact, if you adjust Wynegar's numbers to today's offensive environment, his rookie season looks an awful lot like the year Mauer had in 2005:
YEAR G PA AVG OBP SLG OPS+
Wynegar missed out on winning the American League Rookie of the Year award because Mark Fidrych turned in one of the greatest rookie seasons in baseball history, but did manage to receive the only two first-place votes that Fidrych missed. He also became the youngest player ever to make an All-Star team, serving as the AL's third catcher behind Carlton Fisk and Munson, and even found himself on one voter's AL MVP ballot.
Wynegar turned in a nearly identical sophomore season, making his second All-Star team by throwing out 44 percent of would-be base stealers while hitting .261/.344/.370 with 10 homers, 22 doubles, 68 walks, and 79 RBIs. A switch-hitting catcher who played great defense, could hit, and made two All-Star teams by the age of 21? It doesn't get a whole lot better than that, and many observers around baseball saw great things in Wynegar's future.
A June 8, 1976 article in the Los Angeles Times called Wynegar "this year's Fred Lynn" and quoted Twins owner Calvin Griffith as saying that Wynegar was "going to be so good it's fantastic." Within the same article, Oakland manager Chuck Tanner said Wynegar had "one of the best swings for a young kid that I've ever seen."
Here's an excerpt from an article that appeared in the Washington Post on June 5, 1977, midway through Wynegar's second season:
"He's the most complete catcher in the American League," said Houston scout Harry Craft. "He doesn't hit yet like Thurman Munson or maybe Carlton Fisk, but considering everything, he's the best of the three."Unfortunately, by his 22nd birthday Wynegar's best days were already behind him. He threw out 45 percent of attempted base stealers in 1978, but hit just .229/.307/.308 with four homers in 135 games to rank 39th among major-league catchers in VORP during his third season. And while Wynegar's apparent bounceback .270/.363/.351 line in 1979 looks close to the numbers he put up in 1976 and 1977, the levels of offense in the AL had risen quite a bit since then.
Wynegar dropped off again in 1980, hitting just .255/.339/.335 with five homers in 146 games, but managed to start 130 or more times behind the plate for the fifth straight season and gunned own 45 percent of steal attempts to keep his defensive contributions extremely strong. Despite looking so promising offensively early on, he had essentially become your typical good-glove, no-hit backstop.
In 1981 Wynegar's durability left too, as he hit .247/.322/.280 while playing just 47 games. The Next Big Thing at 21, Wynegar was suddenly 26 and hadn't improved one bit. That swing never produced the big batting averages people expected and his power actually declined at a time when the rest of baseball's soared. After hitting .209/.292/.291 in 24 games to begin the 1982 season, the Twins traded Wynegar to the Yankees along with Roger Erickson for John Pacella, Larry Milbourne, Pete Filson, and cash.
The Twins had traded Roy Smalley to the Yankees in April, and dumping another high-priced veteran wasn't a popular move. Ron Davis, who came to the Twins from the Yankees in the Smalley deal, told the Washington Post: "If anybody should be traded, it's the owner. All he's worried about is money. There ain't no future for this team." Griffith's response was to call Davis "a New York counterfeit," which probably stung quite a bit considering he had just blown a game against the Red Sox the day before.
Only Filson provided any sort of value to the Twins, while Wynegar stepped in for an injured Rick Cerone and hit .293/.413/.393 in 63 games in New York. Not only was Wynegar better than ever for the Yankees after the trade in 1982, he hit .296/.399/.429 for New York in 1983 (catching Dave Righetti's no-hitter) and .267/.360/.342 in 1984. He spent a total of six seasons with the Yankees, and ended his career with two seasons as a backup catcher after being traded to the Angels in December of 1986.
Wynegar's career was an odd one and there are certainly plenty of interesting things that can be learned from it. The lesson that seems important for Twins fans these days is that young superstars in the making -- especially young catchers who catch over a thousand innings a year right away -- don't always turn out that way. In fact, if there is a specific cautionary tale in all of baseball history to be told alongside the sky-high expectations for Mauer, Wynegar's career is it.
It's not that he was bad -- in The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, Wynegar ranks as the 65th-best catcher in baseball history -- but rather that he peaked early and then suffered from not living up to the substantial hype. Had Wynegar's career been shaped differently, with his poor seasons coming at 20 and 21 and his peak years coming at a more typical age, he would likely be viewed in a much different light. Instead, he'll have to settle for being one of those "what could have been" players.
TOP 25 ALL-TIME MINNESOTA TWINS RANKS: