Vikings Embark on Redemption Tour

It all begins today with the National Football League’s Wildcard games.

This is the year that the Minnesota Vikings exorcize their demons one week at a time.

I’m calling it right now. The Vikes are going to erase the memory of past failures every time they take the field in the postseason.

Think about it… what are arguably the biggest disappointments in Minnesota Viking history?

For my money, I’d list them this way

  1. Every Super Bowl loss. I don’t care if it was the first against the Chiefs or any of the other three against the Dolphins, Steelers and Raiders, they all sucked. Super Bowl Sunday was one dark blotch on the entire decade of the 70s.
  2. Gary Anderson’s missed field goal in the 1999 NFC Championship game against the Atlanta Falcons. I mean the guy NEVER missed. EVER. But that one time, he did. And the Vikings’ shot at a redeeming Super Bowl win died.
  3. Bountygate and Brett Favre’s ill-advised pass against the New Orleans Saints in the 2010 NFC Championship game that, once-again, ended what we all hoped would be a Super Bowl season.

This is the year the Vikings settle all family business.

Of course, it will require the Falcons and Saints to do their parts and win their Wildcard games this weekend. But once the Falcons eliminate the Rams and the Saints send the Panthers home, the Vikings’ Redemption Tour  can get underway.

First up, they get revenge for 2010 and end the Saints’ season. And if they just happen to beat up Drew Brees so badly that he retires from football, well, that would just be karma.

To set up the next exorcism, the Falcons will have to dump the Eagles, but honestly, does anyone really see Nick Foles leading his team to a playoff win against, well, anybody? I don’t.

That sets up a do-over of 1998’s gut-punch and this time the Vikings have a kicker that has already missed his first field goal of the season… and his second… and his third… and his fourth… and his fifth… and his sixth. Let’s face it, the last thing Kai Forbath will have to think about as he lines up to kick a potential winning field goal is, “this would be a bad time to miss my first field goal of the season.”

Just to be safe, of course, it would be best if the rest of the team spends the first 59 minutes of the game destroying the Falcons so we don’t have to wonder what Forbath is thinking when he sets up for a clutch field goal (or PAT attempt, for that matter).

That brings us to what we’ve all been looking forward to – the Vikings hosting the Super Bowl in their own home stadium.

Now, I know most of the prognosticators are saying they’ll face the New England Patriots in the Big Game. And that would be fun, I agree.

It would also be very cool to see the Buffalo Bills somehow weave their way through the AFC playoff minefield and set up a contest between the two franchises with easily the sorriest Super Bowl histories in the NFL.

After all, one fanbase would finally have something to really celebrate.

But no, the Vikings must face either the Kansas City Chiefs, who topped the Joe Kapp led Vikings (yes, Joe Kapp actually led a team to the Super Bowl… I still don’t understand how that happened, but it did) in the 1970  Super Bowl, or the Pittsburgh Steelers, who out-defensed the Vikings in 1975’s version.

Either the Chiefs or Steelers would serve as an appropriate representative from which the Vikings could garner vindication for all four past Super Bowl losses.

That path, extinguishing the flames of the Saints, Falcons and either the Chiefs or Steelers and leading to the franchise’s first Lombardi Trophy, all taking place in U.S. Bank Stadium, no doubt in front of Bud Grant, Fran Tarkenton and a host of past Vikings greats, would finally put to rest all of the ghosts that have haunted the Vikings over the past five decades.

Make it so.

Twins and Hawkeyes and Vikings, Oh My

I bet you’re shocked to find I’ve posted a new article here, aren’t you? If it seems like I’m never posting anything new any more, it’s only because I haven’t been posting anything new any more.

Why not? It’s pretty simple. I haven’t felt like writing anything. And if there is one thing I’ve figured out in my 15-ish months since retiring, it’s that retirement means you no longer have to do much of anything you don’t feel like doing.

But a few days ago, I wrote a new article (for which I had to actually get presentably dressed and go conduct a real interview!) and the process reminded me that I kind of enjoy writing.

(As for the article in question, you’re just going to have to wait until the 2017 Twins Prospect Handbook comes out to read it. I’m not sure when that will be, but I got my article submitted ahead of deadline, so if publication is delayed, it’s not my fault!)

Anyway, as I’ve reflected on the past few months, I’ve decided it’s time for me to speak out about some things, so let’s get on with it.

If you are familiar with my sports fandom at all, you probably are aware that I’m a devoted, if occasionally somewhat irrational, fan of the Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Vikings and Iowa Hawkeyes.

The mix is a result of spending my youth in the 1960s living in Minnesota and virtually the rest of my six decades on this planet in Iowa. I guess I also did spend brief periods in Arkansas and Wisconsin that were, at the same time memorable and forgettable, but I digress (this is about 2016, not my bizarre path through the mid 1970s).


Baseball is conducting their annual Winter Meetings at one of those giant Gaylord Resorts again, this time in suburban Washington, D.C. I’ve been there for conferences a couple of times, as I have to Gaylords in the Nashville, Orlando and Dallas areas.

I’m not a big fan of the Gaylords, but I can see why their ginormous size makes it an attractive venue for ginormous conferences, like the Winter Meetings. You can literally spend four days there, eating and drinking in a different place every night, without ever having to step out to breathe fresh air. I’m just not sure that should be considered a good thing (unless you happen to own a Gaylord, which I do not.)

(Photo: SD Buhr)

Everyone involved with Twins baseball operations who is anyone is undoubtedly at the Winter Meetings, as are representatives from their minor league affiliate front offices. The dance cards of new Twins brass Derek Falvey and Thad Levine will be full, I’m sure. I hope they are a lot better at remembering the names of new people they are introduced to than I am.

If they struggle with remembering names, I would offer one piece of advice: Prioritize. Specifically, if the person you were just introduced to can throw a baseball well enough to miss a bat, THAT is someone you want to remember. You’re welcome.

A lot of speculation is circulating concerning the possible trade of Brian Dozier. If the chatter among Twitter feeds of people who should know about this kind of thing is accurate, there are several teams showing more than idle interest in obtaining Dozier and his team-friendly contract.

I like Brian Dozier and I wish the Twins were good enough that keeping him made sense, but they aren’t so it doesn’t.

Dozier’s value will never be higher, so Falvey and Levine (can we just call them “Falvine” until we figure out which of them is playing the bigger role in roster decisions?) need to make the best deal they can and hopefully that will include some high-ceiling near-MLB-ready pitching.

With all due respect to their signing of free agent catcher Jason Castro, fair or not, the return they negotiate for trading Dozier will establish their first impression approval ratings among a sizable contingent of Twins fans – and we all know how first impressions work in this organization. A bad first impression means you’re pedaling uphill to ever get respect from within the Twins community, while a good first impression could mean you’ll have a job for decades.

Good luck, guys. We’re all rooting for you. Until you screw up and we don’t root for you any more.

Hawkeyes (and, I guess, Vikings)

Let’s get this out of the way first – it’s going to be a very tough basketball season for the Hawkeyes.

The football team, however, is headed to Tampa to play the Florida Gators in the Outback Bowl on January 2.

If you had told me that was going to happen a few weeks ago after the Penn State debacle, I’d have said you were nuts. I wouldn’t have bet money the Hawkeyes would even end up being bowl eligible, much less finish 8-4 and going somewhere warm to ring in the new year.

(Photo: SD Buhr)
(Photo: SD Buhr)

What I forgot, as I tend to do almost every season, is that Iowa usually plays their best football in November.

Now, to be fair, that Penn State game was in November and it was a stinkbomb (that I fortunately did not witness, as I was attending the Arizona Fall League’s Fall-Stars Game that night), but the Hawkeyes used the following game against Illinois (which has come to be known as the “B1G West Division’s Second Bye Week”) to gear up to upset Michigan and destroy Nebraska in the season’s final weeks.

It has been an interesting football season for me. While Iowa was losing to North Dakota State and Northwestern, the Vikings were being inked into the NFL playoffs and even projected by some as a Super Bowl contender.

Wow, did that change in a hurry.

Ironically, it was an article on Nebraska football by Omaha World Herald columnist Tom Shatel that provided some clarity to me concerning the difference between the fortunes of the Hawkeyes and Vikings.

The point of Shatel’s column (to me, anyway) was that, while Husker fans tend to look down their noses at the “vanilla programs” at Wisconsin and Iowa, Nebraska needs to emulate the Badgers and Hawkeyes, putting their past Big 8/12 days behind them, and figure out how to establish a similar physical identity.

Shatel wrote, “Wisconsin and Iowa know who they are and like who they are and don’t care what you think of them. It works for them.”

That’s mostly true. Sure. many of us wish a Kirk Ferentz team would show a little bit of offensive imagination (or, really, ANY imagination), but we’re also smart enough to know that no coach is likely to recruit four-star (much less five-star) skill position high school studs to play football in Iowa City (while staying within NCAA rules, anyway).

Iowa’s best chance of occasionally making noise on a national level is to bring in the biggest, baddest two-and-three-star linemen and linebackers it can find, spend a couple of years making them bigger and badder, then unleash them to terrorize the Nebraskas and Minnesotas, while battling Wisconsin for supremacy of the B1G West.

If you’re lucky, every once in a while, you’ll put together a group that will also give the big boys in the B1G East a challenge, too.

It’s seldom aesthetically pleasing to many of today’s college football fans, but Ferentz has taken 14 of his last 16 Hawkeye teams to bowl games and 11 of them were January bowl games (including two Orange Bowls and a Rose Bowl), so you can’t say it hasn’t worked.

Which makes me wonder if there’s a parallel between the Vikings and Cornhuskers.

Like many Vikes fans, I’ve been waiting for the next Culpepper-to-Moss combo to show up. Instead, we’ve watched as a parade of quarterbacks and receivers have failed to stretch NFL defenses, to the effect that almost the entire career of one of the most gifted running backs to grace an NFL field in decades has been wasted.

Yes, the Vikings lost the services of Adrian Peterson and Teddy Bridgewater before the 2016 season even got underway, but I can’t imagine any combination of skill players being successful behind the current offensive line. And I don’t want to hear about injuries to the O-line, either. Every team has linemen lose significant time to injury. Successful teams develop depth.

A moderately successful college program like Iowa, who must spend a couple years developing players to get a year or two of high-level contribution, can have its season derailed by critical injuries to upperclassmen linemen. But an NFL team that doesn’t have a constantly revolving recruiting cycle to contend with, should be able to develop and maintain enough depth to withstand some injuries on the line without seeing a promising season turn to crap the way Minnesota’s 2016 has.

The Hawkeyes will never be the Buckeyes, just as the Vikings are unlikely to ever become the Patriots. But if the Vikings will focus on developing beasts two-deep at each line position, and making that focus a part of their DNA going forward, maybe they’ll give the best the NFL has to offer a run for their money on a semi-regular basis.

Given the futility my fellow Vikings fans and I have endured the past couple of decades, I’d take that.

A Tale of Two Franchises

The Minnesota Vikings brought the curtain down on their 2013 season over the last couple of days in a manner that was all too familiar to Minnesota Twins fans. And for those of us who are fans of both, the similarity was something we could certainly have lived without.

Still, there were some rather striking differences in how things played as those seasons drew to a close; differences that say something about how the two franchises are being run.

Back in September, the Twins wrapped up another disappointing season in which they accumulated just a .407 winning percentage. In the final days of the season, many players, including Joe Mauer, the Twins’ superstar face-of-the-franchise, publicly voiced their support for manager Ron Gardenhire.

Immediately after the season ended, Gardenhire was given a two-year contract extension to continue managing the Twins.

In early October, Twins owner Jim Pohlad said the following to Mike Berardino of the Pioneer-Press concerning the decision to retain Gardenhire:  “But in the end, it is his (GM Terry Ryan) decision. That’s his job. We could have the ultimate call if we wanted to, but Terry — we told him — he has the ultimate call. That’s the call we made: ‘Terry, it’s your decision.'”

Not long after, in an interview with’s Parker Hageman, Ryan had the following to say about the decision to retain the Twins manager: “If Ron wasn’t coming back, I probably shouldn’t be back. Now, Jim Pohlad and Dave St. Peter invited me back, so I brought Ron back with me. A lot of times you should evaluate a manager on the personnel he has. And unfortunately, we’ve fallen a tad short here as far as productivity. And I take total responsibility on that, so I shouldn’t pass the buck on the manager and the coaching staff.”

The Vikings finished their season with a win over their least rival-like Divisional rival, the Detroit Lions, on Sunday, leaving them with a sub-Twins-like .344 winning percentage. The final game was a battle between two underperforming teams with head coaches on the hot seat. After the game, many Vikings players, including their superstar face-of-the-franchise Adrian Peterson, seemed united in their support for retaining head coach Leslie Frazier.

Monday morning, Frazier was fired by the Vikings with another year left on his existing contract.

According to media accounts of the press conference announcing Frazier’s firing, Vikings owner Zygi Wilf awkwardly read a prepared statement and left without hearing, much less answering, questions from the media, leaving GM Rick Spielman to deal with the fallout.

Vikings GM Rick Spielman
Vikings GM Rick Spielman

Spielman said the decision to fire Frazier was primarily made by the man who had just walked away without taking questions (wasn’t that convenient?).

Spielman also made statements that appeared to conflict with comments made by Frazier as recently as Sunday concerning who was deciding what with regard to the Vikings’ quarterback situation. Frazier had indicated that decisions concerning who would be getting playing time at QB were made jointly between himself, ownership and the GM. Spielman seemed to lay all responsibility in that area on Frazier.

Spielman did take responsibility for forming the Vikings’ roster but, unlike Ryan with the Twins, he seemed to wash his hands of any responsibility for those player’s performance on the field, which he blamed on Frazier.

So, according to Spielman, he isn’t responsible for anything that went on with the Vikings this year. Kind of makes me wonder exactly what he does to earn a paycheck.

There are a couple different ways you can look at the situations the Twins and Vikings found themselves in after their respective disappointing seasons.

You could argue that, unlike Pohlad, Wilf insists on someone being held accountable for failure. That argument seems to come down to an insistence that someone must be responsible for a losing season, so someone must be fired, period.

Those of that mind probably prefer Wilf’s more active and visible involvement in day to day decision making with the team he owns over Pohlad’s more laissez-faire approach to owning a major sports franchise.

Twins GM Terry Ryan
Twins GM Terry Ryan

Personally, I’m not sure what it is about billionaires who made their billions doing something other than running sports teams that we should assume makes them better judges of what it takes to win professional football or baseball games than people who have been making their livings their entire lives in such endeavors. Still, if you think being rich makes you smarter than everyone else at everything, I’m not going to bother trying to change your mind.

I guess if all you care about is that someone gets fired when you lose 60% of your team’s games, then you’re pretty happy with Wilf and Spielman this week. I’m sure if you polled Vikings fans, the decision to change head coaches is a popular one.

It may even turn out to be the right one.

If the only measure of success is whether you’ve won the Super Bowl or the World Series championship, then perhaps anything less than winning more games than you did the previous year is grounds for someone to get fired.

Personally, that’s just not how I think.

I think the smartest business owners are those who hire the most knowledgeable  people they can at running their specific type of business. They understand that all businesses have peaks and valleys and, while they expect to see well thought-out plans to extend peaks and pull out of valleys, they resist the urge to meddle or make dramatic changes out of emotional reaction, because doing so might just be good public relations or, worst of all, just out of a need to show people who’s in charge.

I don’t really know Ron Gardenhire, Terry Ryan, Jim Pohlad, Leslie Frazier, Rick Spielman or Zygi Wilf. I’m in absolutely no position judge their character.

I have heard or read comments from people who play/work for Gardenhire, Ryan, Pohlad and Frazier that indicate, to me anyway, considerable loyalty and some degree of respect for their integrity.

Gardenhire clearly has the respect of his players and coaches. Ryan acknowledged that he failed to assemble a competitive roster for the manager to compete with and had Gardenhire’s back in discussions with the Twins ownership. Pohlad is, for now anyway, trusting Ryan to do his job with the people he believes in, but he has made clear that he expects the Twins fortunes on the field to improve.

Frazier, similarly, had the respect of his players and coaches. Spielman, however, faced with an owner who appears to have been insistent on someone’s head rolling after a disappointing year, seems to have done what he had to do to save his own job. In doing so, he somehow managed to avoid being complicit in the team’s greatest failing (the QB situation) while also abdicating any responsibility for his coach’s dismissal.

I’m not smart enough to know whether Frazier was a good NFL head coach or if he was the right coach for the future of the Vikings, just as I’m not smart enough to know if Ron Gardenhire is a good MLB manager or the right manager to lead the Twins in the future.

In fact, I don’t claim to know anything.

But here’s what I think:

I think people with integrity eventually bring more success to their organizations than people without it. I also think people with integrity prefer to work for someone that they believe also has integrity.

Actually, there is one thing I do know.

I know that, if I were a gifted athlete, a coach, a manager, a trainer, a front office employee or worked in any field where I might find myself with a choice between working for the Pohlad/Ryan led Twins or the Wilf/Spielman led Vikings, I’d chose the Twins right now… and it wouldn’t even be close.

– JC

The Weeks Ahead

Labor Day Weekend is upon us and that means there’s but one month left in the Twins’ baseball season.

I’ve gotta be honest, though… the season is pretty much over already, where I’m concerned. I’m simply unable to muster enough enthusiasm to even listen to Twins games, at this point. Maybe I’d retain a bit more interest if I could actually watch their games, but since FSN isn’t carried on the local cable provider here and MLB blacks out Twins games (and those of five other teams) in all of Iowa, I can’t really put that theory to the test.

I’ll be mildly interested in seeing what some of the September call-ups do with the Twins. Again, I use the word “seeing” loosely, since all I’ll be able to “see” will be the results in the boxscores. I’m hoping that at least a couple of the newbies will be impressive enough in their auditions to provide a little hope for next year, but I’ll wait until Spring Training to really pay close attention to them.

So, for the next month, I’ll be focused primarily in three other areas.

First and foremost, I’m a fan and season ticket holder of the Iowa Hawkeyes and they get their season underway Saturday night against Northern Illinois over at Soldier Field. That game is followed by five straight home games (though there’s a bye week mixed in there somewhere, I think), so my Saturdays for the next several weeks will be spent in Iowa City. 

I’m not expecting great things from the Hawks this year, but I do expect a winning season with a midling bowl game at the end. Best of all, Iowa has several new assistant coaches, including both offensive and defensive coordinators, so at least there’s a chance that play-calling and defensive schemes won’t be as predictable as they’ve been for the past decade. Now if they can just find a running back somewhere.

I’m also a Vikings fan, so I’ll be starting to pay much closer attention to them, as well, this month. I did watch their final pre-season game on TV, for whatever that was worth (which wasn’t much).

I understand that the regular radio voices of Vikings football were doing “simulcast” broadcasts of the pre-season games on TV. Let me just say this… for all the crap I’ve heard from Twins fans about their TV and radio crews, I just hope none of the same people actually LIKE the two total bozos that are doing radio for the Vikings. If you give me a choice between signing up to listen to Bremer/Blyleven and Provus/Gladden for another ten years or having to listen to those Vikings broadcasters for one more game, put me down for the Twins. If I had to listen to the Vikings broadcasters, they’d probably force me to become a Packers fan within the course of a single season.

It did make me ponder the whole TV thing more, though. A Vikings game in which their top 25 or so players were not even dressed was shown live on local television in Cedar Rapids and not a single Twins game was on TV here all season. The Vikings and the NFL are lowering their attendance threshhold required to prevent a TV blackout in their actual local market. The Twins and MLB impose a blackout that extends hundreds of miles away from the Twin Cities, regardless of ticket sales or whether their broadcast affiliate has any coverage on cable systems in those areas.

The NFL shares their media rights relatively equally. MLB embraces a system where the Dodgers are expecting a TV rights contract exceeding 8 BILLION (yes, with a B) dollars, while other teams might be lucky to scrape in a few million due to their market size.

Gosh, I wonder why pro football has long ago passed Major League Baseball in terms of fan interest across the nation.

Anyway, I think the Vikings should be improved, but if they win six games, that’s about all I’ll be expecting. Of course, that means that by October, I’ll probably be ready for the brief distraction that will be provided by MLB’s playoffs. I do know I’ll be watching the single game Wildcard play-in games.  After that, I probably won’t pay much attention to the playoffs outside of “deciding games” and, depending on who makes it that far, the World Series.

Finally, over the next month, I’ll also be continuing to keep eyes and ears open locally as the mini-drama concerning the Cedar Rapids Kernels’ affiliation for next year and beyond unfolds. I’m still hoping we’ll be seeing the Twins’ young prospects playing for the Kernels, but at this point, I won’t be surprised by much of anything when that announcement is finally made late in September.

On the immediate front, my Labor Day Weekend is going to have a full day of sports on Saturday (Hawkeyes on TV in the afternoon, Kernels game in the evening) and I’m also planning on making it out to at least one of the two final Kernels games of the season Sunday and/or Monday afternoons.

I’m actually giving serious thought to making the drive over to Clinton IA on Wednesday for Game 1 of the Beloit Snappers’ playoff series with the Lumber Kings. It’s a bit sad to realize that will likely be my final opportunity to see a baseball game in person at least until Spring Training.

In the mean time, someone give me a little nudge or something if the Twins do anything worth paying attention to, ok?

– JC

Fantasy Football Season

I was VERY amused last night at the blogger meetup because the bar was pretty packed – with a bunch of guys all doing their fantasy football drafts.. yeah, it made me giggle just a little bit but I can only make so much fun since I’m the commissioner of a little league myself. But I, for one, do not take it so seriously!

After all, baseball fans need something to do in the off-season right? No, the season isn’t over yet but Twins fans more than almost any others, know it’s coming all too soon.

Several years ago, I decided that fantasy football was taken entirely too seriously by those around me who participated. I had experienced first hand how hard it was for a beginner to be competitive in, much less someone who didn’t know football very well. So I started an easy & FREE league intended to allow a competitive environment whether you understood all the facets or not. And then I bought a traveling trophy!

It’s an auto draft league so you don’t have to know anything about the players (but it still always helps if you do) and you don’t have to be a fan of any particular team (it helps if you aren’t). You sign up, & it does most of the work for you!

The reason I’m bringing this up now is that we have a couple openings in the league this year! If you are interested in participating or want to know more about our rules & set up, contact me and I’ll fill you in. Most of the Knuckleballs staff here are participants so you would have at least some baseball fans in the group. And unlike fantasy baseball, which needs almost daily attention, football is only a weekly time commitment!

But make up your mind quickly! I plan to set the league to draft on September 1!!!

Monday, Grumpy Monday

I’m in a bit of a grumpy mood this morning. That’s not an altogether unusual thing for me on a Monday morning, but I generally try to avoid human contact until noon or later on Monday so I can spare others having to deal with my mood and spare myself the chances I’ll say something I’ll regret later. I certainly avoid publishing written work on Monday mornings for a broad audience to read. But, despite that, here I am writing this.

Here are just a few things I’m feeling a bit… what’s the word my mom used to use?… “owlish”?… about this morning. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Twins Stuff

My mood isn’t only reflected in Twins-related topics, but since this is primarily a Twins blog, let’s start with those topics.

Brian Dozier

I like Brian Dozier. I think he has a chance to be a decent infielder, but I’m not optimistic that he’s going to be the long-awaited “answer” to the Twins’ revolving door at shortstop. But even if he is, I simply don’t get why he’s being called up now to be inserted as the everyday shortstop.

It’s not that I think Jamey Carroll is irreplaceable, nor is Alexi Casilla necessarily entitled to be an everyday infielder at the Major League level. But if you start a list of all the things that have worked WELL for the Twins this season, middle infield defense would be one of a very short number of things on that list.

Have Carroll and Casilla turned EVERY double play opportunity in to two outs? No. But if you can’t see the improvement over the swisscheese-like pairings that were on the field last year for the Twins, your memory sucks. The Twins’ pitchers are, by and large, awful and the results aren’t going to get better by changing the middle infield defense.

Speaking of the Twins pitching… talk about your mood dampeners. Can these guys get ANYONE out? If the Twins sent their entire rotation to Rochester and brought up the Red Wings’ starting pitchers, Wings fans would complain about getting the raw end of the deal… and rightfully so. Not that the starting quintet in Rochester has been all that good, but the Twins’ rotation has been THAT bad. Sending Hendriks down and bringing Scott Diamond up is a start, I guess, but both the Dozier and Diamond moves feel an awful lot like the proverbial, “rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic,” to me.

I don’t envy Terry Ryan these days. There are no easy answers to fixing the Twins. There really aren’t even any difficult answers, if you’re thinking in terms of salvaging anything this season. He’s got a fan base spoiled by a decade of relative success, at least as measured by contention at the Divisional level. He’s got ownership that ‘s providing payroll levels at least 30% higher than the Metrodome days and expecting at least competence in return. That combination is resulting in fewer people showing up at Target Field, which means lower revenues, which means lower future payrolls, which means a tougher job to assemble a roster that can turn things around any time soon.

But while I may not envy Ryan, I don’t feel sorry for him, either. He may have just recently taken over Bill Smith’s mess, but his hands weren’t clean. He was playing a significant role in the scouting and player evaluation process, even while Smith sat in the GM chair. As a result, the players on this team right now and in the minor league pipeline are just as much Ryan’s responsibility as they were Smith’s.

I don’t consider Ron Gardenhire blameless, either, but I really don’t know what manager could win with this collection of pitchers. I don’t know enough about the pitchers individually to know whether better “coaching” from Rick Anderson would help. But I do know that the organization is fast approaching a need to DO “something” to keep fans’ interest… or at least give us some sign that they’ve at least noticed that the wheels have come off.

Maybe it’s my mood this morning, but if I were Terry Ryan, I’d probably make a change right now in my manager and pitching coach. The problem is, I wouldn’t necessarily want to promote anyone from within my organization to the manager’s job that would give the impression he was going to be my manager for the next decade. Maybe Gene Glynn or Tom Brunansky or Jeff Smith will be logical selections or maybe I’d want to open up the search to outside candidates, but I don’t want to make such an important decision hastily.

Paul Molitor

So here’s my Monday Morning suggestion to Terry: Get on your knees and beg Paul Molitor to finish out 2012 as your manager. He’s supposedly not been interested in a field job with the Twins, but maybe on an interim basis, he could be convinced to take things over.

As for the pitching coach…  I really have no idea who in the organization would work on an interim basis, but try this name on for size: Bert Blyleven. OK, OK… once you’ve stopped laughing, think about it… he couldn’t screw the staff up any worse than they are already and at least he wouldn’t be up in the booth the rest of the year. Then again, I’m not sure how they’d get the monitor hooked up in the dugout in a way that would allow him to circle fans in the stands, so maybe it wouldn’t work after all.

Vikings Stuff

I’m a Vikings fan, not necessarily a “Minnesota” fan, so I’ll root for the Vikings wherever they call home in the future. That said, I’d REALLY prefer they stay in Minnesota. It’s where they belong, in my mind.

Philosophically, I understand the opinion that public money shouldn’t be used for stadiums. Then again, I think we use public money for a lot of crap that it shouldn’t be used for, while our health care system in this country is the laughingstock of the rest of the world’s modern civilizations.

Some things just are what they are and among those things is that communities that want major league professional sports teams have to pony up enough public financial support to provide modern playgrounds for those teams every quarter-century or so. This is particularly true with regard to NFL franchises, which are, whether we baseball fans want to admit it or not, the most popular major sports organizations in virtually every community that has one.

For the past couple of decades, this has been a difficult truth for Minnesotans and their political leaders (and I use the term “leaders” loosely here) to grasp.

So, sometime late tonight, I expect the Minnesota legislature to defeat a bill that has been negotiated in good faith by the Vikings, the city of Minneapolis, the Governor of Minnesota and legislators  from both political parties.

And that’s a damn shame.

I’ve been a registered Republican for over three decades and over that period, I’ve been relatively active in state and local politics where I live. While I don’t want to turn this in to a political discussion, I’ll say that I’m disappointed by the way my party has been hijacked by extremists over the past several years at the national level. But if there’s one thing that makes me feel better about what’s happened to the GOP at the national level, it’s seeing what a bunch of political hacks seem to be running the GOP in Minnesota.

Sure, there were missteps along the way by all parties and governing is often about compromise. “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours,” is more inherent to American politics than separation of powers.

If, as a legislator, you oppose public funding of a stadium, in principle, so that’s how you will cast your vote, I can respect that. But what the GOP leadership is essentially telling the Governor… and the people of Minnesota… is that it’s not so much opposition to the bill in principle that could likely cause its demise tonight, it’s that the Governor wouldn’t give them his signature on a couple of tax and bonding bills and they’re going to vote against the Vikings stadium bill as political “payback.”

If that means the Vikings are playing in LA or Toronto in 2013, so be it… at least the GOP won’t have let a Democratic Governor “win.”

If that’s what passes for statemanship in Minnesota these days, that’s unfortunate.

– JC

When a Number is Not Just a Number

We all know that professional athletes that rise to the highest levels of their respective sports are often largely out of touch with the rest of us. It’s to be expected, I suppose, when you’re talking about a profession where the “minimum wage” is somewhere around half a million dollars a year.

But every once in a while, something comes up that reminds us just how out of touch some of these guys really are.

Usually, it involves their paychecks… like when an NBA near-star complains about not being able to feed his family on the $3-4 million his current contract calls for or when someone with 2-3 years remaining in his contract “holds out” of training camp or spring training because he wants a new contract more befitting his recent contributions. (Funny how none of these guys follows up a crappy year by insisting on taking a pay cut, though, isn’t it?)

A couple of recent reminders of just how out of touch players are with their fans, however, have had little at all to do with their inflated paychecks. No, the issue was something a bit more subtle… their jersey numbers. Both instances involved players from Minnesota’s major sports.

Did you shell out $100 for a #19 Valencia jersey? Tough sh*t.

As many of you may be aware, Danny Valencia has decided to change his jersey number this season. Instead of the #19 he’s worn during his first couple of seasons as the Twins third baseman, Valencia has elected to switch to #22 for the 2012 season.

Valencia was one of the players participating in the “Tweet and Greet” during Twinsfest on Saturday afternoon and he was asked by one of the fans what he suggests fans who bought his #19 jersey should do with them. His response was something along the lines of considering it a “throwback jersey”. When the fan responded with, “you mean throw away jersey?”, he didn’t seem amused.

Not to pick exclusively on Valencia, because he’s certainly not the first Twins player to change numbers. Justin Morneau switched from #27 to his current #33 a few years back, as well. But his perturbed demeanor at having a fan dare to even question him on the subject just demonstrates how out of touch he is with the fans.

Valencia’s going to be among the lowest paid players in Major League Baseball this season at a mere $480,000, but you would think that he’s still young enough to remember when shelling out over $100 for a player’s jersey (and a replica jersey, at that) was a big deal. His cavalier attitude on the subject indicated that he clearly doesn’t “get it.”

Frankly, if I were running the Twins and Valencia told me he wanted to change jersey numbers, I’d have told him he should learn how to field his position and make a decent throw to first base (not to mention getting on base more than 29% of the time) or he can ask for whatever number he wants… from his next team.

Peterson will keep #28

But Valencia’s nowhere near the biggest name on the list of Minnesota sports heroes that “don’t get it.” That honor (for this week anyway) goes to the Vikings’ Adrian Peterson.

It seems “AP” decided he’d like to turn in his #28 for #23 next season. Exactly why seems to remain a bit of a mystery, but it hardly matters because once Peterson found out he’d have to write a check for about $1 million to cover the cost of all of the #28 jerseys the NFL and their licensed retailers have in stock, he decided against the change.

But he wasn’t happy about it.

Get a load of these quotes, (courtesy of 1500ESPN’s Tom Pelissero):

“Ok so I see maybe ten thousand dollars of my total jersey sales! That’s it!!!” Peterson wrote, referring to a player’s cut of the licensing fee.

“(And) I know I’ve mostly likely been in the top ten (w)hen it comes to top sales ! Why in the hell do I have to pay a Million dollars to change my number! I don’t even get paid a million (d)ollars by my sponsors a year! Wow!!! (And) I’m talking about my (N)ike deal!”

I guess that kind of reaction shouldn’t surprise us. After all, this is the same guy who complained a year ago that being an NFL player constituted “modern day slavery.”

Poor Adrian. Maybe we could arrange a telethon or something.

Yo Adrian! It’s not all about YOU, jerk!

It’s about the store owners who still have a crapload of your junk with #28 plastered all over it that they couldn’t sell because you and your team stunk the place up this season.

And while you may “only” have seen about $10K of the money spent on your crap, your fans have spent MILLIONS of dollars for the privilege of wearing your name… and number… on their backs.

Frankly, I think the NFL is letting you off easy by just making you pay for the unsold stock of #28 jerseys. If changing your number is so important to you, you should have to pay to REPLACE all of the jerseys your fans have purchased and which would become instantly outdated for no reason other than your own self-centeredness.

I’d like to see fans send a little message to Adrian Peterson, Danny Valencia, and any other big time player who changes their jersey number. It’s simple really. Don’t buy their stuff. Any of it.

Let Valencia look around Target Field for kids wearing his #22 and see… nobody.

If AP is so proud of being in the “Top 10” of jersey sales, let him drop through the floor in those rankings and see how big his next Nike deal is.

Maybe at some point these guys will start to understand that every dollar they make originates with us… the fans… and maybe at some point they’ll realize the effects that their stupid whims have on their fans.

Nah…. probably not.

– JC


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 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

What Football Team Should I Root For?

Theyyyyyyyyyyyyyy’re Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack!

Yes, Interpretation By Design, the same people who damn near brought down the internet when they posted the flowchart “What Baseball Team Should I Root For?” (and, not coincidentally, also designed our own blog’s banner!) are back with their new “What Football Team Should I Root For?” flowchart!

Here it is…

And, because I know you may not be able to read the fine print here, you might want click here for a link that might be more legible.

I’m reading through it right now and it’s downright hilarious! I can’t believe… hey… wait one damn minute… who are you calling “dysfunctional”!?

Damn, I hate when the truth hurts.

– JC