A Little Bit About a Lotta Things

I took a bit of a break from most things related to baseball over the Holidays. As a result, I haven’t posted much lately. I’d feel more guilty about that if it weren’t for the fact that the Twins front office apparently also took the Holidays off and if they can take a few days off, why shouldn’t I?

It doesn’t mean I’ve hibernated, of course. There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on in the world, so I’ll spend a little time today touching on some of those things.

Anthony Slama

Let’s start off by congratulating Twins 3B Danny Valencia P Anthony Slama on getting engaged. At least that’s what we can deduce from the Tweet he posted Sunday, “On a flight home with my fiancé. It feels good to say both of those things!!” (See… this is what I get for trying to be the Knuckleballs’ social secretary. I only pay half attention to stuff and get it wrong. – JC)

In other news, Danny Valencia will be sporting a new number next season… he’s changing his uniform number to #22.

The White Sox apparently didn’t get the same memo that the Twins did about taking a couple of weeks off. Sox GM Kenny Williams dealt relief pitcher Jason Frasor to the Blue Jays and outfielder Carlos Quentin to the Padres over the past few days. I think they got a handful of minor leaguers in return. I’m not sure if Williams is rebuilding the Sox or just wants to have a better AAA team. Then again, I could say just about the same thing about Terry Ryan.

There’s still a fair amount of starting pitching on both the free agent and trade market. Names like Roy Oswalt, Edwin Jackson, Matt Garza, Hiroki Kurda, Hisashi Iwakuma, Paul Maholm, Joe Saunders and Kevin Millwood are all still available (I think… unless there are deals I have missed somewhere). The interesting thing is that we seem to read more about which teams aren’t likely landing spots for many of these guys than we do those where they may end up. It seems that everyone is waiting for Jackson to sign and Garza to get dealt, to set the market for the rest of the signings and trades. But with the Red Sox and Yankees both apparently concerned about taking on salary obligations that would have luxury tax implications, the two teams with the deepest pockets may be out of the bidding. It will be interesting to see which, if any, of these pitchers have to settle for less money and/or fewer guaranteed years than they and their agents expected. Of course, selfishly, I’m still hoping someone useful still falls in to the Twins’ lap before Spring Training gets in to gear.

The Vikings season is over. Thank God. I’m not sure there’s ever a good time to have a season as bad as the one they just wrapped up, but performing that bad at the same time you’re trying to get the locals to cough up a few hundred million dollars for a new stadium is pretty bad timing. Then again, they do get that nice high draft pick. I kind of feel the same way about their high draft pick as I do about the Twins’… that is, I’d be more enthusiastic if I was confident that either team’s front office had an intelligent plan.

The Hawkeyes‘ football season has also mercifully drawn to a close with their loss to the Sooners in the Insight.com Bowl. Between their last game of the season and their bowl game, they lost their top two RBs and a defensive coach (to Nebraska). Norm Parker, their Defensive Coordinator is also retiring. Yes, there is definitely a sense of “rebuilding” going on around here, as well. The good news is that the men’s hoops program seems to be heading in the right direction. Winning on the road at Wisconsin was a big step.

There’s still a little time left to cast a vote in our Hall of Fame Poll, over in the right-hand column. As I right this, it looks as though Knuckleballs readers aren’t going to give anyone the 75% of the vote necessary to get in to the HoF. As I’ve written elsewhere, I’m really surprised that Jeff Bagwell doesn’t get more respect. Anyway, you’ve got another week or so before the BBWAA announces their choice(s). We’ll close the poll then.

Over at The Platoon Advantage, The Common Man put up a post explaining why he writes under a pseudonym. Maybe it just struck a chord with me because I have my own reasons for doing the same. Frankly, with employers and potential employers (not to mention government types) all using various ways to check up on our backgrounds, hobbies, friends, political views, relationships and other personal information online, using a pseudonym is just good sense. The only reason I can think of for NOT doing so would be if a blogger is hoping to get a paying gig in the mainstream media. I think that ship has sailed, in my case.

The Iowa Caucuses are Tuesday night. I’ve attended every such caucus, where the Republican Presidential nomination was being contested, since 1980. I’ll also be attending this year’s. Unlike in the past, however, I haven’t chosen a candidate to support long beforehand. I’m not going to get all political here, so suffice to say that if things go as they usually do, I will end up supporting someone who does NOT win the Iowa caucuses, but DOES eventually become the GOP Presidential candidate. 1980 was the last time I supported the winner of Iowa’s caucuses. However, 1980 and 2000 were the only contests where my preferred candidate did not eventually become the GOP candidate.

Since the future of my chosen political party and, perhaps the entire country, relies on me choosing wisely, I’m obviously feeling a lot of pressure. Ah well, I have another day to think about it. No worries… I’ve got it all under control.

I hope you all had a good Holiday. I know I did. As usual, my family went overboard on the Christmas presents. I received some clothes (all of which fit), a number of DVDs (none of which I already had), a custom made mug and calendar (both with various snapshots of my loving family) and a set of the Jacqueline Kennedy interviews with Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. (great for a history buff like me). In addition, I also received a couple of Twins-related gifts. One was Doug Grow’s excellent book, “We’re Gonna Win Twins” (at least the first few chapters are excellent… still reading the rest) and a new Twins road jersey.

The jersey requires some explanation. I got it from my son and it clearly is intended to be payback for the grief I still give him about how every player whose jersey he buys goes in the tank or gets traded (or both) immediately thereafter. I find his Albert Belle Orioles jersey particularly amusing. Unfortunately, his magic touch seems to be contagious. My daughter-in-law’s favorite Twins player was… yes… Michael Cuddyer.

In any event, next time you’re at a Twins game and you see a middle aged man with a grey beard sporting a XXL sized Twins road jersey with “NISHIOKA” and the number 1 on the back, stop me and say “hi”.

– JC

Hall of Fame Ballot (Poll)

Over on the right, we’ve added a poll that allows visitors to cast your own votes for this year’s Hall of Fame. The ballot there lists the players in the same order that the official BBWAA ballot lists them. Those players that received enough votes last year to qualify to be on the ballot again this year are listed first, in the order of their vote totals. Then those players who are on the ballot for the first time are listed in alphabetical order.

A year ago, I ranted a bit about the Hall of Fame voting (and the BBWAA voters). I won’t do that again this year, but if you care about my views on the subject, by all means click here and to go back and read what I wrote a year ago. My feelings on the subject haven’t changed.

Suffice to say that I would not withhold my vote from a player on the basis of his known or suspected use of Performance Enhancing Drugs. I don’t feel morally superior to those players, given the lax views of MLB itself concerning PEDs while those guys were playing ball and I certainly don’t feel that members of the BBWAA are in any position to assume the role of guardians of morality for baseball. Yes, this means Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro both get my vote.

I’m a “Big Hall” guy, as anyone who read my post last week knows. That means I want Jack Morris in the HoF.

Will Barry Larkin be the sole BBWAA choice for HoF?

I also believe Barry Larkin and Alan Trammell belong. They may have been the best shortstops of their era, if not of all time.

To my mind, there is no excuse for anyone not to support Jeff Bagwell and I feel just about as strongly about Tim Raines. While I did not support Edgar Martinez a year ago, I’m voting for Martinez this year. If we’re going to have the DH in baseball, it’s wrong to consider those who make a living at that position ineligible for the HoF.

Dale Murphy gets my vote again, too. I understand that I’m in the minority on this vote, but I’ve always felt Murphy has been under-appreciated.

That leaves me one remaining vote to cast and I’m checking the box next to Brad Radke. No, I don’t honestly believe his career was HoF-worthy, but I believe it was better than most people (outside of Twinsville, anyway) give him credit for. I think he deserves a better fate than to be eliminated from future consideration after just one year on the ballot.

I realize that Bernie Williams is quite likely to be the only newly eligible player on the ballot to get the requisite 5% of the vote to remain on the ballot next year. I just can’t vote for him for much the same reason you won’t fine Don Mattingly’s name checked on my ballot. Yes, it has everything to do with the team they played for and the fact that they’ll both get more votes than they deserve simply because of where they played their home games. They don’t need mine, too.

What say you? We’ll leave the poll up over in the right-hand column until the BBWAA gets around to making the official announcement of who, if anyone, gets the necessary 75% support to garner election to the Hall this year. (I’m betting it will be Barry Larkin all by his lonesome.)

And with that, have a wonderful Christmas everyone!

– JC

Getting to Cooperstown

Now that the whole Michael Cuddyer/Josh Willingham drama is resolved, we wish Cuddyer well in Colorado and move on to other things. Today, for me, the “other things” include a discussion of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

I’ve never been to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. I guess you’d say it’s on my “bucket list”, but I can’t honestly say it’s high on the list. It seems like it’s one of those things you should do with your dad, especially when your dad is primarily responsible for having instilled in you a love for baseball. Anyway, my dad’s been gone for over 20 years now, so I guess that ship has sailed. I’d like to visit the HoF with my son someday, though.

There has been no shortage of Hall of Fame chatter around Twinsville this offseason, with former players Tony Oliva, Jim Kaat and Luis Tiant being considered for, but ultimately falling short of, selection by the Veterans Committee. Going forward, we will continue to discuss the likelihood of Jack Morris getting the votes necessary to be selected for enshrinement.

One of the things that makes discussions regarding HoF credentials fun is that there’s very limited formal criteria established. There’s a pre-screening process for players to be placed on the BBWAA ballot, but once a player is on the ballot, the voters get just the following guidance with regard to how they should evaluate candidates: Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.

That leaves an awful lot of room for debate with regard to whether this player or that player “deserves” enshrinement.

There was a lot of discussion about Bert Blyleven’s credentials over the past decade-plus. A number of writers have held up Blyleven as an example of the dilution of the Hall of Fame resulting from election of players who were very good, but didn’t measure up to the level of excellence that some felt the standard should be. How many times have we heard, “it’s not the Hall of Very Good”?

That’s a good point. Then again, it’s also not the “Hall of Statistical Excellence” either. In fact, a player’s “record” is just one of the listed criteria for voters to consider. Yes, “playing ability” can arguably be measured statistically, but such “ability” can extend beyond the numbers, whether certain statistic-bound segments of the baseball community want to admit it or not.

My criteria for judging whether a player should be in the HoF is as much art as science. It’s not just an “eyeball test”. It’s more of a memory test. Certainly, statistical excellence over a period of a player’s career should be a consideration, but not the sole consideration.

It’s the Hall of FAME. So tell me what these players accomplished during their careers that stood out, that was remarkable, that made an impression on baseball in their era, that made memories, that fans of that era and beyond still talk about and recognize, that made the player famous or added to the general level of fame bestowed upon the game of baseball itself.

My personal memories of Big League baseball go back just over 50 years, to 1961, and when I think about players from that era who stood out for remarkable careers, I think of Killebrew and Mantle and Aaron and Mays. They and many of their peers have been rightfully elected to the HoF.

But the specific memories that leap to mind include Roger Maris and his “61 in ’61”. I think of Denny McLain and his 31 wins. I think of Carlton Fisk waving that ball fair in 1975, followed by Reggie Jackson’s three home runs in the World Series a year later. I think of Kirk Gibson’s pinch hit home run in the ’88 Series one year after the 1987 Twins’ World Series heroics. I think of the night Cal Ripken moved past Gehrig.

And I think of Jack Morris’ ten-inning shutout in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series.

It bothers me that so many of the players that made my greatest baseball memories are not recognized for what they did. You could certainly argue that a guy like McLain fails the “integrity” and “character” tests, but baseball’s FAME has been built just as much on the unforgettable performances of Maris and Gibson and Morris as it has on Fisk, Jackson and Ripken.

Why shouldn’t players that found something in themselves that allowed them to rise above their otherwise good-but-not-excellent career performance levels to give the baseball world something remarkable to remember for a lifetime be recognized for their contributions to baseball’s fame?

I’m happy for the family of Ron Santo and for Cubs fans everywhere that Santo was chosen by the new “Golden Era” Veterans Committee to be honored with HoF enshrinement. It’s sad that it didn’t happen while he was alive to enjoy the honor. I hope some day Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat will live to realize the same honor. I think they deserve it.

But what I can not understand is why Roger Maris wasn’t even on that ballot. With all due respect to Santo, Oliva, Kaat and the others, there was NOBODY on that ballot more worthy of recognition… more famous… than Roger Maris. Yet he wasn’t even on the ballot?

And then there’s Jack Morris. This may indeed be his last best chance to be voted in to the HoF by the writers, as pointed out in North Dakota Twins Fan’s excellent blog post this week. It’s his 12th year of eligibility and there aren’t many truly statistically exceptional players on the ballot this year, so maybe writers who feel they want to vote for at least one player will choose Morris. But it’s not likely he’s going to gain enough votes to make the grade and in the remaining years of his eligibility, we’ll see several more famous players qualifying for consideration for the first time, meaning Morris could actually see his vote total slip after this year.

But I don’t care what anyone says, what Morris accomplished makes him Hall of Fame material in my book. On baseball’s biggest stage, with fans around the world tuned in, he gave the most remarkable pitching performance I’ve ever witnessed and, in the process, delivered a World Series Championship to the Minnesota Twins. It’s not like it was a fluke. Morris was not a mediocre pitcher who got lucky one night. He was an accomplished starting pitcher who had produced in big moments before… and would do so again after… that night.

But that performance made him famous. It added to the greatness of Major League Baseball… to its lore. And it should make Jack Morris a Hall of Famer.

If there isn’t room for Jack Morris in Cooperstown, then I propose they rename the museum the “Hall of Statistical Accomplishment over the Course of Many Years of Playing Baseball” and see how many fathers and sons bother to visit the place.

– JC

Three “Golden Era” Twins on HOF Ballot

On the heels of Bert Blyleven’s induction in to Baseball’s Hall of Fame, three more former Twins have renewed chances to join Bert, Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew and Kirby Puckett in Cooperstown. Tony Oliva, Jim Kaat and Luis Tiant have been nominated for consideration by the Baseball HOF’s new “Golden Era Committee”.

Tony Oliva

The Committee, made up of 16 voters consisting of executives, veteran media members and existing HOF members, will be choosing from among ten players and executives that made their greatest contributions to the game of baseball between the years 1947 and 1972.

The committee will be meeting during MLB’s winter meetings in December and each member can vote for anywhere from zero to five candidates. It takes being included on 75% of ballots cast to gain election. This committee will be holding similar elections just every three years, so anyone who doesn’t gain election this year will have to wait another three years just to find out if they’ll be considered again. Given the age of most of these guys, that could literally be a lifetime.

Jim Kaat (photo: S. Grile/Palm Beach Post)

Oliva, Kaat and Tiant are joined on the ballot by Ron Santo, Buzzie Bavasi, Ken Boyer, Charlie Finley, Gil Hodges, Minnie Minoso and Allie Reynolds. For a fan in his mid-fifties like me, those names bring back a flood of memories and it’s hard to believe that none of them are in the HOF already.

Luis Tiant

Interestingly, the three former Twins all played together, along with Blyleven, Carew and Killebrew, on the 1970 team that won the AL West Division. Think of that for a moment… it could very well turn out that the 1970 Twins included SIX future Hall of Famers!

At a time when many of us are trying to figure out how the Twins should rebuild their roster in an effort to regain some level of competitiveness, take a look at some of the numbers that members of that 1970 team put up:

Tony Oliva: .325/.364/.514 .878 OPS, 23 HR, 107 RBI in 157 games.

Harmon Killebrew:  .271/.411/.546 .957 OPS,  41 HR, 113 RBI in 157 games.

Rod Carew:  .366/.407/.524 .930 OPS, 4 HR, 28 RBI, in just  51 games.

And just to prove they weren’t the only guys hitting the ball…

Cesar Tovar: .300/.356/.442 .798 OPS, 10 HR, 54 RBI and 30 stolen bases in 161 games.

The pitchers had some pretty decent seasons, too:

Jim Kaat: 14-10, 3.56 ERA, 34 starts, 4 complete games, 230.1 IP

Bert Blyleven: 10-9, 3.18 ERA, 25 starts, 5 complete games, 164 IP

Luis Tiant: 7-3, 3.40 ERA, 17 starts, 2 complete games, 92.2 IP

Not bad, but not one of those pitchers was even the ace of that staff in 1970. That honor went to…

Jim Perry: 24-12, 3.04 ERA, 40 starts, 13 complete games, 278.2 IP… and a Cy Young Award.

Congratulations to Tony-O, Kitty-Kaat and El Tiante on their nominations and here’s hoping the voters recognize that all three of these guys are deserving of the honor to stand with their peers as among the best to ever play the game.

– JC

Bert Blyleven – #28 – HOF

Bert Blyeleven #28 HOF: That’s how Bert will get to sign his autograph for the rest of his life. If you think that’s not a big deal, you’re wrong.

I wrote a post last week in tribute to Blyleven getting his number retired by the Twins, so I won’t duplicate that effort today, but I can’t let the day of Blyleven ‘s induction in to Cooperstown go without a mention.

This has been such a long time coming, with the annual disappointment of coming up short, that it almost seems like today’s induction is anticlimactic. And that’s too bad.

In my post last week, I wrote that I felt Bert had become almost a parody of himself as a result of his broadcasting career. His somewhat corny approach in the booth has endeared himself to legions of Twins fans, young and old, even if his schtick is not universally appreciated by self-appointed “hard core” fans.

Bert was honored by the Pirates during Spring Training

The amazing thing to me is the way he has turned his reputation around. A fan favorite? This is a guy who flipped fans the bird as a player… more than once… and a guy who walked away from the Pirates for a couple of weeks and demanded to be traded. “Endeared” is probably the last word anyone would have used to describe his relationships with fans and media during his playing days.

Given his personal reputation as a player, it’s not as surprising that it took him so long to get elected to the Hall as it is surprising that he got elected at all. The saying, “Nice guys finish last,” is not applicable to Hall of Fame voting. The voting members of the media are real big on rewarding and penalizing players based on their behavior, as much as their performance. It’s somehow appropriate that Bert is entering the Hall alongside Roberto Alomar. There’s no doubt that Alomar was penalized by the media voters for his “spitting incident” with an umpire, leaving him with a “bad boy” reputation to overcome, as well.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Bert needed to “rehabilitate himself” after his playing career in order to have any shot at the Hall. And he did just that.

I’ve never met the man, personally. I don’t know if the “real” Bert Blyleven is the surly player or the broadcaster that comes across as a guy you’d love to sit in a bar with while you watch and talk baseball. I think perhaps he’s mellowed over the years as a lot of us tend to do. But whatever the case, there’s no doubt in my mind that, absent the rehabilitation of his reputation that the Twins organization has helped him achieve, Bert would not be getting honored today. And that would have been unfortunate.

I’m glad the Twins pushed back the start of today’s game so fans could watch the induction ceremony. It was the right thing to do, because this is a REALLY big deal, folks. In my mind, there is no bigger honor in sports than being elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. It changes lives.

Blyleven wanted this honor. Badly wanted it. He probably wanted it too much, frankly. In fact, if there has been one flaw in Bert’s “character” for the past decade, many people would consider the way he lobbied for HOF votes to be that flaw. It wore on some people. Then again, I can’t say I would have felt any differently in his shoes.

I just hope that his induction in to the Hall doesn’t change Bert going forward. I happen to enjoy his broadcasting style. Yes, he could do a better job of analysis, but I don’t care. He comes across as someone who actually likes the game and the fans and the players. Now that he’s a Hall of Famer, we don’t have to endure that chip on his shoulder that he’s always had about not being elected. And that’s a good thing.

So I hope you all enjoy watching Bert and Roberto being inducted in to the Hall (broadcast, I believe, begins at 12:30 on MLB Network and MLB.com).  It’s a big deal for them and it’s a big deal to those of us who were fans of these players. It will be a long time before another player who spent a significant chunk of his career as a member of the Twins gets this honor, though Jim Thome should be a lock five years after he retires, and we can all share that day with his fans in Cleveland, Philadelphia and Chicago.

But today is Bert’s day and I’m happy for him. Congratulations, Bert.

Happy Bert-day To You!

Today is the day the Twins retire Bert Blyleven’s number 28. Blyleven will join Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, Rod Carew, Kirby Puckett, and Kent Hrbek in being so honored. It’s somewhat amazing to realize Bert played with all of the others. He virtually bridged the gap between  the early glory days of “Tony, Killer and Carew” and the group headed by Puck and Hrbie that brought the franchise back in to relevance almost two decades later.

Bert Blyleven

Blyleven is just five years my senior, so I remember well both of his terms with the Twins (1970-76 and 1985-88), not to mention the period in between when he toiled for the Rangers, Pirates and Indians.

Of course, in those days, you didn’t get to watch every MLB game played on TV or a computer. There were no sports bars to go watch games on satellite. If you didn’t live in a “home market”, you saw the Game of the Week on Saturdays and that was it, at least until the Superstation days that brought the Cubs and Braves to a national audience.

So when I watched a baseball game, I REALLY watched the game. I particularly watched pitchers, since that was what I was… or at least saw myself as being (my coaches didn’t always seem to concur).

Watching Blyleven was amazing, to me. Specifically, that curveball made my jaw drop. I couldn’t imagine trying to hit that thing.

Of course, his talent wasn’t all there was to like about Blyleven. Even in days before the internet, there were stories about his practical jokes. I swear, if you were a team mate of his and your game was on the Game of the Week (and he wasn’t pitching that day), you really had to expect to have your shoelaces set ablaze or something equally absurd AND to have the whole thing broadcast to a national audience.

I even liked when he demonstrated a distaste for reporters.

Of course, it’s quite possible that his open disdain for the media at times went a long way toward assuring he would have to wait longer to be elected to the Hall of Fame than he otherwise may have had to wait.

Dick and Bert at Spring Training 2011

Sometimes I think Bert’s work as a broadcaster has come close to almost creating a caricature of himself. I think a lot of us have grown weary of the “circle me Bert” routine, perhaps even Bert, himself. But there is clearly still a significant segment of the fan base that eats the corniness up and playing to the broader fan base is a big part of a home-team broadcaster’s job these days. Even his infamous F-bomb broadcast a few years ago did nothing but make him more popular with the fans. He really does seem like “one of us”.

His broadcast gig has ingrained himself even deeper in to the fabric of the Minnesota Twins. Despite spending less than half of his service time as a Twin, it’s the organization that he is… and likely always will be… most closely associated with.

And it’s right that it should be so. There’s no doubt in my mind that his #28 should be retired by the Twins. In fact, I’ve always felt it should have been done long ago.

So, Bert, congratulations on the honor the Twins bestow on you today and congratulations on your election in to the Hall of Fame. I’m looking forward to hearing your acceptance speech from Cooperstown.

Don’t F*** it up.