My favorite part is the seriousness with which television color commentator Jerry Remy breaks down the incident via slow-motion replay, all while play-by-play man Don Orsillo struggles to contain his giggling.
During his ESPN.com chat earlier this week, Paul Shirley called Kobe Bryant "the biggest douche I've ever met," only to see the ESPN censors quickly erase it from the record. I've been known to use the phrase "douche bag" to describe people occasionally, so I approve, but that wasn't even my favorite part of the chat. No, I liked this question and answer, which led off the multi-hour festivities:
Anthony (Chicago, Illinois): Are there any advantages to playing over in Europe as opposed to the NBA?
Paul Shirley: 1. Good wine is cheaper here. 2. I actually get to play. 3. I constantly get to see uncircumcised dudes in the shower.
I'd almost be willing to forgive Kevin McHale's many sins as general manager of the Timberwolves if only he'd at least sign Shirley to the same type of long-term deal that he's handed out to guys like Troy Hudson and Mark Madsen.
Former Twins blogger Ryan Maus (the guy on the far left in this picture that appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune a few years ago) is now writing for the St. Olaf College student newspaper and recently penned an excellent article analyzing new trends in sports media.
The Chicago Sports Review recently published an interesting interview with one my all-time favorite writers, Rob Neyer, who discussed topics like blogging, life at ESPN, print versus online, and why the Baseball Writers Association of America is misguided.
At a press conference promoting his upcoming boxing match against Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweatherresponded to a question about how boxers compare to mixed martial artists:
UFC's champions can't handle boxing. That's why they are in UFC. Put one of our guys in UFC and he'd be the champion. Any good fighter, he'd straight knock them out.
I'm not surprised that a world-class boxer would think that, but I'd be willing to bet a large sum of money that he's very wrong. Because they're both combat sports, it's natural to compare boxing and MMA fighting. However, the reality is that they're very different. Mayweather no doubt feels like he has to stick up for his sport, but there's no more reason for him to do that than for Johan Santana to say that any great pitcher could be the best quarterback in the NFL.
Both sports involve throwing a ball and require many of the same skills, but greatness in one is not dependent upon greatness in the other. The same applies to boxing and MMA fighting. Just as Santana would likely be a terrible NFL quarterback and Peyton Manning would likely be a terrible MLB pitcher, Fedor Emelianko and Chuck Liddell likely aren't capable of being great boxers. On the other hand, world-class boxers like Mayweather would likely get demolished in top-level MMA competition.
All of which isn't to say that I'd pass up the chance to see someone like Mayweather put his money where his mouth is against a world-class MMA fighter, because I'd gladly shell out $50 to see that on pay-per-view. I doubt something like that will happen any time soon, but with MMA fighting's popularity rapidly growing at the expense of boxing, I wouldn't be surprised to see a showdown of the two sports at some point.
If that ever happens and the fight takes place under MMA rules, it might be the tipping point for MMA fighting as a mainstream sport and the final nail in boxing's coffin. Whether or not it's a fair comparison, seeing an elite boxer get taken down and submitted would be an eye-opener for hardcore boxing fans who aren't yet familiar with MMA fighting or don't consider it as legitimate a sport. Assuming it's a matchup between an elite boxer and an elite MMA fighter, I'll take the guy who "can't handle boxing."
Now that I'm officially moved into my new house and somewhat unpacked, I've resumed shooting a weekly video report for NBCSports.com in addition to my twice-weekly call-in segments on the "Fantasy Fix" show. This week's "Gleeman Report" is about the MLB-wide lack of scoring so far this season, but if that topic doesn't interest you it's also worth watching to see my new Ikea bookcase in action or guess the identify of the bobbleheads displayed behind me.
UPDATE: One of my bosses sent along this still picture from the video to entice you to watch it:
I fear there may be some confusion about the meaning of "entice."
Aside from the fact that no movie that prominently features Jessica Biel in a bikini (and in a pool, but without a bikini) can truly be considered "awful" in my eyes, I mostly agreed with this ranking of "Awful Sports Movies" written by longtime AG.com reader Richard Matthes.
It sounds likeTorii Hunter might be a little lighter in the wallet after traveling to Kansas City this weekend:
When the Royals closed last season by sweeping the Tigers in Detroit, it enabled Minnesota to win the American League Central Division. That prompted a promise from Twins outfielder Torii Hunter to send each of the Royals a bottle of Dom Perignon. The Royals are still waiting.
"Nothing yet," Mike Sweeney said. "We're still waiting for Torii to come through. And Torii is making good money, so he can afford it."
Hunter makes approximately $75,000 per game and some quick-and-dirty work on Google suggests that 25 bottles of Dom Perignon would cost him something in the ballpark of $5,000, depending on the year. So yeah, Mike Sweeney probably has a point, although the idea surely sounded a lot more worthwhile to Hunter before the Twins were swept out of the playoffs.
You can take the girl out of Boston, but you can't take the Boston out of the girl. New St. Paul Pioneer Press Twins beat writer Kelsie Smith, who previously covered the Red Sox for the Boston Globe, described seeing the ball through the Safeco Field shadows yesterday as "wicked tough." No word yet on whether she's been involved in any pizza-throwing incidents during her first month on the job.
The Star Tribune ran an interesting article earlier this week about the lack of success "abstinence programs" have had, with various people debating exactly what a recent study on the topic shows. The piece is filled with argument-inducing stuff, but the thing that really floored me was this: "The federal government now spends about $176 million annually on abstinence-until-marriage education." Whether or not the programs "work," that strikes me as about $176 million too much.
Back in October, I created a WhatIfSports.com "Hardball Dynasty" league for readers of this blog to join me in. I was overwhelmed by the response, as about 200 of you expressed interest in grabbing a franchise, but unfortunately there were only 31 other spots available. We recently completed Season 2 of "Gleeman World"--my Minnesota Fatboys followed up a 91-win Season 1 with 95 wins--and it looks like there will be a handful of open franchises this offseason.
The league is filled with a bunch of friendly AG.com readers who fill the message board with daily chatter, but it's also extremely competitive. Because of that, any new owners would have to convince me that they're capable of devoting a decent chunk of time to maintaining their team on a near-daily basis. If you're interested in claiming a spot and aren't worried about real-life responsibilities getting in the way of managing a fake baseball team, drop me an e-mail.
Not only did Jeff Weaver let the Twins knock him around for seven runs Tuesday night, he provided an amusing quote afterward when asked about the slider Torii Hunter hit for a fifth-inning grand slam:
That's the pitch that made the difference tonight. I've faced Torii a bunch of times, and I've had some success with the slider.
I won't waste time quibbling over the definition of "some success," but it's worth noting that Hunter has hit .480 with an .880 slugging percentage in 27 career plate appearances against Weaver. Given those numbers, I'd love to see who Weaver doesn't think he's had "some success" against with his slider.
Justin Morneau returning to the scene of last season's supposed epiphany in Seattle means that stories about his turnaround haven't been hard to find this week. The two best versions that I've read are Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports with the national angle and the Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com, LaVelle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, with the local angle.
One of the best local sports columnists in the country, Larry Stone of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, tells the interesting story of how good scouting and a little luck helped both the Twins and Mariners get their hands on Venezuelan aces. I'm hoping that the Mariners also have a little luck when it comes to Felix Hernandez's elbow injury last night.
It's nice to know that Scott Ullger isn't the only third-base coach in the league making questionable decisions in key spots, but how many more jams can a suddenly hittable Joe Nathan wriggle out of thanks to the other team's baserunning? Opponents batted .158/.212/.242 in 262 plate appearances against Nathan last season. So far this year, they're at .419/.455/.548 in 33 plate appearances.
For as much credit as pitching coach Rick Anderson deserves regarding Ramon Ortiz's strong start--and I'm willing to nominate him for sainthood if it continues much longer--it's interesting to note that Kyle Lohse has thrived away from Anderson's tutelage. Lohse tossed eight shutout innings while racking up a career-high 12 strikeouts Sunday, giving him a 2.53 ERA and a 19-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio this season. Since being dealt to the Reds last year, he has a 4.06 ERA in 84.1 innings.
As you might expect, I don't anticipate having to make that nomination. Within Ortiz's 3-0 record and sparkling 2.05 ERA are signs that his improvement is far from sustainable. For instance, Ortiz has managed to strand 87.2 percent of the runners he's allowed to reach base through three starts, which is simply not going to last. To put that in some context, consider that Johan Santana left about 78 percent of his runners on base over the past three years, while Ortiz stranded about 72 percent.
Similarly, Ortiz has seen 80 percent of the balls put in play against him converted into outs thus far. The Twins' defense is good, but no defense is that good. Over the past three seasons, the Twins turned 70 percent of balls in play into outs and Ortiz himself also had about 70 percent of his balls in play find gloves over that span. If a team is able to convert 72 percent of balls in play into outs during a given year, it's typically good enough to lead all of baseball. Eighty percent is not even close to sustainable.
None of that takes away from what Ortiz has already done, of course. In fact, for as much as I hated the decision to sign Ortiz, what he's done through three starts goes a long way toward making it a successful move regardless of what happens from here on out. With that said, all the talk of Anderson working a miracle and Ortiz turning into a new pitcher is extremely premature, because the underlying numbers within his performance suggest that he's been extraordinarily, unsustainably lucky.
For the second straight year Terry Ryan spoke to a sports law group at the University of Minnesota's law school, for the second straight year Ryan said a bunch of interesting, revealing stuff while there, and for the second straight year longtime AG.com reader Barry Metropolisblogged about being there to hear it.
At 7-5, the Twins are one win ahead of where they were at this same point last year. Past records through a dozen games under Ron Gardenhire: 6-6 in 2006, 8-4 in 2005, 8-4 in 2004, 6-6 in 2003, 7-5 in 2002.
The Twins have hit a combined .254/.310/.372. That looks pretty bad, especially when compared to the .287/.345/.425 they hit last year, but it's important to note that offense is down throughout baseball. The AL as a whole has hit just .250/.321/.390, which is way down from .275/.339/.437 last season and means the Twins are just slightly below the league average in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage.
Of course, the flip side is that while the Twins have somehow managed to post the exact same 3.95 ERA that they had while ranking second in the AL last season, it's good for just ninth in the league this time around.
In 2006, AL teams averaged 4.97 runs per game while the Twins averaged 4.94 runs scored and 4.22 runs allowed. So far this season, AL teams have averaged 4.39 runs per game while the Twins have averaged 4.08 runs scored and 4.00 runs allowed.
The Twins have hit .264/.340/.372 against right-handed pitchers, .239/.262/.371 against left-handed pitchers, .250/.302/.353 with runners on base, and .258/.302/.342 with runners in scoring position.
After ranking fourth in the league with 34 triples last season (one every 165 at-bats), the Twins have yet to hit a three-bagger in 390 at-bats. The only other AL team without a triple is the White Sox, who've gone 351 at-bats without one after ranking 12th in the league with just 20 last season.
On the other hand, after ranking 11th in the league with 275 doubles last season, the Twins already have 25 two-baggers to rank second in the AL behind only the Blue Jays. Torii Hunter leads the team with eight doubles, which puts him on a record-shattering 108-double pace and explains how he's slugging .523 despite just one homer. Hunter's career-high is 37 doubles, set in 2002 and 2004.
The Twins rank 10th in the AL with seven homers and only Justin Morneau has gone deep more than once. Morneau leads the team and ranks tied for third in the league with four long balls, while Hunter, Michael Cuddyer, and Luis Rodriguez have each gone deep once. Incidentally, if you take out Morneau's contributions, the Twins are hitting .249/.298/.339 as a team. For his career, Juan Castro is a .232/.271/.339 hitter.
Not only do the Twins lead the league with 12 steals, they've yet to be thrown out. By comparison, the Devil Rays rank second with 11 steals, but have been thrown out 11 times.
With 30 walks in 12 games, the Twins rank tied for 12th in the AL. The Mariners are the only team with fewer walks than the Twins, in large part because bad weather has limited them to just eight games. The Indians, who've played just nine games, have drawn 13 more walks than the Twins. Ryan Howard of the Phillies has drawn 16 walks by himself.
Dennys Reyes has the worst ERA on the team at 11.25, yet has appeared in a team-high seven games. Joe Nathan ranks second on the team with six appearances, followed by Matt Guerrier, Pat Neshek, and Juan Rincon with five each. Guerrier leads the team with 8.2 relief innings.
Joe Mauer is hitting .325, but has just two RBIs thanks to a modest .375 slugging percentage and just seven at-bats with runners in scoring position. Luis Castillo and Nick Punto sport OBPs of .304 and .214 in front of Mauer. Mauer sports a .400 OBP in front of Cuddyer and Morneau, which is how he leads the team with nine runs scored.
As you can see, the "piranhas" aren't doing a whole lot.
Nathan faced 262 batters last season, going 7-0 while allowing 38 hits. He's faced 28 batters this season, going 0-1 while allowing 10 hits.
Ramon Ortiz and Carlos Silva have yet to serve up a homer in 22.2 combined innings after allowing 63 homers in 371 innings last season (one every 5.9 innings).
Jason Bartlett has committed four errors in 87 innings at shortstop, but the rest of the position players have combined to play errorless defense. The only other error on the team belongs to Reyes.
After walking 24 batters in 100.1 innings last season, Boof Bonser already has eight walks in 15.2 innings this year.
Cuddyer has gunned down three baserunners in 102 innings in right field after totaling 11 outfield assists in 1,227 innings last season.
Among AL hitters, Morneau ranks third in homers (4), fifth in slugging percentage (.622), total bases (28), and RBIs (10), sixth in extra-base hits (7), and ninth in OPS (.982). Cuddyer ranks fourth in hits (16), seventh in runs scored (9), and eighth in batting average (.356). Hunter leads the league in doubles (8) and steals (4), and ranks second in extra-base hits (9).
Among AL pitchers, Johan Santana leads the league in strikeouts (25), ranks second in wins (2), and fifth in innings (20). Bonser leads the league in homers allowed (5) and ranks ninth in strikeouts (15). Silva ranks third in ERA (0.77). Ortiz ranks second in wins (2). Nathan ranks fifth in saves (3).
Note: Some real-life stuff has me short on time, so unfortunately this write-up of the Twins' weekend series against the Devil Rays doesn't contain anything from Sunday's game and is a little short on material, period. I'll try to make up for it tomorrow, but until then I figured something was better than nothing.
Coming into Friday's matchup with the Devil Rays, Johan Santana hadn't lost a regular-season game at the Metrodome since August 1, 2005. During that 20-month stretch, Santana was 17-0 at home and the Twins were 24-0 when he took the mound. Toss in the team's 10-game home winning streak against Tampa Bay and the Devil Rays were seemingly the least likely opponent to break his historic streak.
Instead, Scott Kazmir shut the Twins' lineup down and the defense behind Santana let him down, ending his amazing run with a 4-2 defeat. Despite the loss, Santana again bucked his career-long trend by pitching well in April, racking up 10 strikeouts over seven innings. He's 2-1 with a 3.60 ERA, 25-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .194 opponent's batting average in 20 innings. Those numbers fit perfectly with Santana's career totals, but they stick out compared to what he's done in April.
Through three starts in his first Cy Young-winning season, 2004, Santana was 0-0 with a 6.46 ERA and 10-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 15.1 innings. Through three starts in his second Cy Young-winning season, 2006, Santana was 0-2 with a 5.71 ERA and 12-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 17.1 innings. For his entire career, Santana was 6-5 with a 4.42 ERA in 132.1 April innings coming into this year. Home loss or not, to see Santana pitching this well so early is unique.
Following the same strategy employed earlier this season by Sam Perlozzo of the Orioles and Ozzie Guillen of the White Sox, manager Joe Maddon stuck three left-handed hitters in the Devil Rays' lineup against Santana. Maddon even laid out his plan to reporters prior to the game, quoting the same "backwards" splits that I've discussed here, which show that show Santana's been significantly better against righties than lefties during his career.
Carl Crawford, Akinori Iwamura, and Carlos Pena didn't have much success against Santana, going 1-for-8 with a walk and three strikeouts, although it was Crawford's sixth-inning single that Josh Rabe turned into an inside-the-park homer. Santana has held lefties to a .179 batting average thus far, but has allowed a .710 OPS against them, compared to a .534 OPS against righties. Of course, it's so early that Rabe's misplay alone raised Santana's OPS allowed against lefties over 100 points.
Once upon a time--after he hit just .208 in his first 255 at-bats against left-handed pitchers and was beaned by lefty Ron Villone--there were concerns about whether Justin Morneau would ever learn to hit southpaws. Suffice it to say that question has been answered. After launching a mammoth homer off Kazmir Friday, Morneau is hitting .316 with a .789 slugging percentage against lefties, which follows a .315/.345/.559 line against southpaws last season.
After the Yankees knocked him around for eight runs in his Twins debut last week, I wrote that Sidney Ponson "pitched reasonably well" despite "being squeezed by the home-plate umpire," and suggested that "with a little help from the defense ... Ponson could have ... turned in five or six decent innings." Quite a few readers understandably scoffed at that notion, but that's exactly what happened against the Devil Rays Saturday night.
Ponson pitched much like he did against the Yankees, yet turned in a start that fits perfectly in the "five or six decent innings" category. He allowed two runs over 5.1 innings, although to be fair it took some help from both the defense and the bullpen for him escape without further damage. Ponson also benefited from a much more liberal strike zone, which helped limit the potential for trouble. His 8.18 ERA remains ugly, but Ponson's actual pitching has been somewhat encouraging.