Twins Announce New Coaches: Cuellar, Bruno and Steinbach

The Twins announced Monday that they’ve filled their three open Major League coaching positions. As had been speculated, two of those coaches are Bobby Cuellar (bullpen coach) and Tom Brunansky (hitting coach). But the third addition qualifies as a mild surprise, as Terry Steinbach will be stepping in as the Twins bench coach (and catching instructor).

While many Twins fans had wanted Minnesota native Paul Molitor to fill one of the openings, it turned out to be another native of the Gopher State, New Ulm’s Steinbach, who got the gig.

Many had expected Rochester Red Wings manager Gene Glynn to be promoted to the Twins dugout, but reports are that he will remain in his role at Rochester.

Tom Brunansky, new Twins hitting coach (Photo: Knuckleballs)

Of particular note, two of the new Twins coaches come with championship jewelry that they can flash in the clubhouse. Brunansky, of course, was a member of the Twins 1987 World Series Championship team and Steinbach got his ring with Tony LaRussa’s 1989 Oakland Athletics team that swept the Giants.

Brunansky came up through the Angels system and appeared in a few games with the Halos in 1981 before being traded to the Twins a year later. In 1988, Brunansky was traded to the Cardinals for Tommy Herr in one of the most infamous trades in Twins history. Over the final seven years of his career, he played for the Cards, Red Sox and Brewers.

Following nearly a decade in an A’s uniform, Steinbach finished his playing career with three years, from 1997-99, with the Twins.

Both Brunansky and Steinbach also have All-Star credentials. Clearly, in these two coaches, the Twins have added plenty of credibility to the coaching staff. Any player that won’t listen when Brunansky and Steinbach talk probably won’t listen to anyone.

Brunansky has been working his way up through the Twins minor league coaching ranks the past two and a half years and Steinbach has served as an instructor during Spring Training with the Twins for several years.

While Cuellar doesn’t come with the same Major League credentials that the other two do, having just the proverbial “cup of coffee” with the Rangers in 1977, he does have a long history of working with successful pitchers on their way up to the Big Leagues.

Most notably, to Twins fans anyway, Cuellar is credited with working with Johan Santana to perfect the change-up that Santana used to lay claim to two Cy Young awards as a Twins pitcher. However, Cuellar also worked with other pitchers, such as Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson, who didn’t turn out so bad, either. Most recently, he’s been the Red Wings’ pitching coach, but he has also spent time on Major League staffs with the Expos (pitching coach), Rangers (bullpen coach) and Pirates (bullpen coach).

In the same announcement, the Twins indicated that Scott Ullger would be the first base coach and Joe Vavra will man the third base coach’s box.

I can’t help but wonder if Glynn was left off the Major League staff for essentially the same reason that Molitor wasn’t seen as a “fit” by GM Terry Ryan. Specifically, both men would probably be viewed as a potential “manager in waiting” to replace Ron Gardenhire should the Twins get off to a slow start in 2013. Assuming they both remain in the organization in their prior roles, they would still be available to step in if the ship starts sinking early in the year, but it makes some sense to me not to have them standing there looking over Gardy’s shoulder every game.

To my mind, there’s nothing not to like about these hires. The Twins have brought on a bullpen coach that has a long track record of success working with young pitchers (which the Twins bullpen is likely to have a plethora of well in to the future) and both a bench coach and hitting coach who not only have related well to young players, but should have credibility with the Twins’ veterans, as well.

I’m on board with these hires, although I cringe a bit at Ullger and Vavra coaching the bases. Most importantly, now that the coaching staff is set, Terry Ryan can turn his attention to adding a few new players for these guys to coach.

- JC

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

I didn’t rush right out to post reactions to the Twins’ coaching changes as the information came out on Thursday, which is probably a good thing.

StarTribune beat reporter LaVelle E. Neal III was obviously wired in to the situation at Target Field and started the ball rolling by announcing that bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek had been advised his contract was not being renewed. My immediate reaction, via Twitter, was something to the effect that blaming the Twins’ problems on Stelly was comparable to blaming the Titanic’s problems on the guy who painted the hull of the ship. Based on what I read of others’ comments, I wasn’t the only fan who felt that way.

But, as we now know, the Twins gave more of the coaching staff similar messages. Jerry White and Steve Liddle were also not renewed while Scott Ullger and Joe Vavra were assigned instructional duties. Only Rick Anderson survived the purge and Andy got just a one-year reprieve. Of course, Ron Gardenhire himself has one more year on his contract and he’s being allowed to continue in his role, at least for now.

While the media was initially assuming (or at least speculating) that Ullger and Vavra would remain on the Major League staff, both coaches were listed as minor league instructors on the Twins’ official website. Their situations have been clarified apparently and both will remain with the Major League club, which disappoints me a bit. I don’t necessarily think Vavra has done a bad job as the Twins’ hitting coach, but how easy will it be for a new coach to establish himself with the hitters with Vavra still in the clubhouse?

What this all means is that the Twins have three open coaching positions to fill in their Major League dugout and while the Twins haven’t announced who would be filling those positions, it’s pretty clear who will be making the decisions. While most MLB managers are given a great deal of latitude in terms of assembling their own coaching staffs, clearly Gardenhire is not the primary decision maker this time around. He was on record recently as saying he wanted to keep all of his coaches, but General Manager (without the “interim”) Terry Ryan pretty much put an abrupt end to that possibility.

Instead, Gardenhire and Anderson will have three new faces surrounding them next season and two of those new faces are likely to be Gene Glynn and Bobby Cuellar, who are very definitely potential replacements for Gardy and Andy should the team’s performance once again fall below expectations in 2013.

Will these two be seeing more of one another in 2013? (photo: Jim Crikket)

The purge also could make room on the Major League staff for former Twins star Tom Brunansky. Bruno was hired to coach hitting for the Twins Gulf Coast League rookie team in July of 2010. A year later, he was the hitting coach at AA New Britain and this past season he moved up to AAA Rochester. His coaching abilities have not gone unnoticed, obviously, and apparently they’ve been noticed beyond just the Twins organization. Speculation has been that if the Twins don’t find a way to promote him, other organizations will and the Twins are likely lose him.

Ryan has indicated a desire to add a Spanish-speaking coach to their Big League staff since a number of MLB-ready players do not speak much English. That might bode well for Cuellar’s chances, but one has to wonder just how much help he’d be with communication issues during ballgames from his perch in the bullpen. Personally, I’d like to see AA hitting coach Rudy Hernandez considered for one of the openings. I’ve heard that players coming through New Britain speak very highly of Hernandez. Promoting him to the Twins would allow them to give Brunansky an opportunity to actually manage a year in the minor leagues, which might not be a terrible idea.

I’ve heard a lot of comments about how it isn’t fair that the “lesser coaches” got the boot while Gardenhire, Anderson and even Ullger and Vavra (since they’ll still be with the Twins) survived. Frankly, that’s true. It isn’t fair. But this isn’t about “fair.”

Baseball coaches at the professional level all know that their jobs are only as safe as the team’s performance on the field. They work under relatively short term contracts and they all know those contracts are subject to not being renewed for any reason. In this case, the primary reason Stelly, White and Liddle didn’t have their contracts renewed was more about Terry Ryan’s desire to bring a new group of coaches in to the clubhouse than any real or perceived performance issues on those coaches’ parts. I think it’s safe to say Jerry White didn’t cost the Twins too many games this season. Ryan needed to create three vacancies to create room for his guys, pure and simple.

I’m fine with these moves, both with the coaching changes and with retaining Gardenhire and Anderson, for now. But my being fine with them is conditioned on these moves not being the last bold moves Ryan makes this offseason. In fact, if March rolls around and the coaching changes are considered to be even close to the biggest moves he’s made, I’ll be well beyond just very disappointed.

Mr. Ryan, you have gotten our attention. Now show us what you do for an encore… and it had better be good.

- JC

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

If a Change Must Be Made…

I think most Twins fans had limited expectations for 2012, but this is getting ridiculous.

The theory was… with the health of Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer, Denard Span and Scott Baker uncertain, we had to keep expectations in check. But if all of those players proved healthy, the team could surprise some people. Of course, not all of those players proved healthy as Scott Baker never made it to the starting gate before undergoing season-ending surgery. But the others have not only been healthy, but quite productive, thank-you-very-much.

The pitching has been a disaster, plain and simple.

In situations like this, it’s tough to come up with reasonable solutions. As manager Ron Gardenhire told the media the other day, it’s not like they can just go out and buy more pitching at this point. They have to hope the guys they have do a better job.

But the Twins’ problems on the field are starting to have an effect off the field… in particular, in the stands. Target Field has about 40,000 seats and this week barely 3/4 of those seats have had fans’ butts in them. That means not only lower ticket sales, but fewer hot dogs, beers and jerseys being sold. That’s not good news when it happens toward the end of a season that doesn’t go particularly well. When it happens before May Day, it’s got the potential to be disastrous for an organization.

If there are no reasonable solutions, however, what’s a front office to do? It really only leaves one option… consider UNreasonable solutions.

I’ve said many times that I believe baseball managers, like football and basketball coaches, get too much credit for their teams’ success and too much blame for the failures. It’s a basic truth of professional and major college sports. Another truth in big time sports is that, whether right or wrong, it’s easier to make a change in management than it is to make all the roster changes that are called for.

Would Terry Ryan really do it though? Would he fire Ron Gardenhire?

He may have no choice.

Ron Gardenhire and Tom Brunansky (photo: Jim Crikket)

Gardy has his supporters and his detractors. Many people question his strategies… his fondness for (some might call it an obsession with) “scrappy” ballplayers who “get after it.” Others point to the success his Twins teams have had over the past decade… the Division titles won with arguably marginal talent. Others point to the postseason failures.

But none of that really matters right now. This decision… if it’s to be made… would not be about Ron Gardenhire’s basebally smarts or lack thereof. At this point, it would be a business decision for Terry Ryan and the Twins ownership, pure and simple.

The Twins front office wants to win, of course. They are competitive, by nature, and that means they want to beat the competition. But does that mean winning baseball games or making more money? Some people seem to think that Twins ownership only cares about the latter, but that’s absurd. Even if that’s true, now that they have their new stadium, the two are intractably intertwined. The Twins can’t beat the competition in the financial competition if they don’t also beat them on the field.

Fans are telling the Twins, loud and clear, that as nice as Target Field is, they won’t fill the stadium to watch bad baseball… frustrating baseball… consistently losing baseball. If that’s the kind of baseball the Twins are going to play, changes must be made… and probably sooner rather than later. If only 30,000 fans are coming to games at the end of April, how many are going to be coming through the turnstiles in August and September?

But would a change in the manager’s office mean more wins? Maybe… maybe not… but it would do one thing for certain and that’s generate discussion… generate renewed interest. Whether they agree or disagree with the decision, fans would pay attention… they’d tune in to see IF it makes a difference.

And that’s a factor Terry Ryan may not be able to ignore much longer. Major League Baseball history is littered with fired managers who didn’t suddenly get stupid, but found themselves fired… or “reassigned other duties”… anyway. It’s a cruel fact of Big League life that Ron Gardenhire may be on the brink of finding out about first hand.

All of which begs the question, if Gardy’s days are becoming numbered with the Twins, who would… or should… Terry Ryan replace him with?

When a manager loses his gig mid season, often the replacement is someone within the organization… usually the bench coach or maybe whoever is managing the organization’s AAA affiliate. But if this really would be primarily a business decision, would putting Steve Liddle or Gene Glynn in charge fire up the fan base enough to keep their interest? I have my doubts.

Who would make people start paying attention again, even if the chances of the Twins climbing back in to contention are all but gone?

I’ve had a hunch that the Twins have been kind of grooming Tom Brunansky to take over down the road at some point, but he hasn’t even managed a full-season minor league affiliate yet (he’s Rochester’s hitting coach this season). He would be someone the fans would recognize and would have credibility in the clubhouse, but it’s hard for me to imagine the Twins trusting him in the manager’s chair this soon.

So who would they hire?

I don’t have any answers to that question, yet. But it’s probably time to start sorting through potential candidates.

It’s a good bet that Terry Ryan has already started doing just that.

- JC

Greatness Must Be More Than a Tradition

Perhaps my favorite quote is one that has been attributed to Charles Lindbergh and it goes something like this: “A great tradition may be inherited, but true greatness must be achieved.”

I’ve been thinking about that lately, in the context of the Minnesota Twins. It’s not that I believe the current roster is great or really even has much of a chance of achieving greatness. They certainly haven’t given us reason to expect greatness in their first handful of games this season.

I wonder, though, how many members of this team understand what it takes to acheive greatness… or even a level approaching the near-greatness that the Twins class of 2002 that was honored Monday arguably captured. Not to understate the talent of the group, as a whole, but it seems like they had a spirit that drove them to at least strive for greatness.

They never really reached their goal… which, of course, was to win a World Series in Minnesota. They did, however, restore respectability to the organization and win a lot of baseball games, including a number of Division titles, in the process. They may not have achieved greatness, but they certainly achieved very-goodness… and the current crop of Twins have inherited that legacy.

Do they know what to do with that legacy, though? Do they recognize the need to achieve greatness for themselves or do they think that they should just be very good because the Twins teams that preceded them for most of the past decade have been very good?

It’s difficult to maintain greatness in pretty much any organization. Most consistently successful companies have formal or informal “succession planning” programs that assure continuity of purpose and philosophy. It’s not something that’s easy to do, even in the most conducive of corporate environments. Trying to develop such a philosophy in a Major League clubhouse where today’s team mate is tomorrow’s opponent and the hot-hitting rookie is a threat to take away a veteran’s livelihood is probably all but impossible.

Some mentoring goes on, of course. Not every veteran ballplayer has the, “it’s all about me and screw the guy coming up behind me,” mentality (let’s call that the Bret Favre mentality, shall we?). Kirby Puckett supposedly mentored Torii Hunter and Hunter supposedly did likewise with Denard Span. It happens, but it happens so seldom that it tends to gets elevated to mythical proportions when it does happen.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this, but it occurs to me that this group of Twins… from the front office management to the on-field management to the veteran players to the rookies… have not achieved anything close to greatness. I suppose an argument can be made that Carl Pavano has acheived greatness, at least briefly, in his younger days with the Marlins. Ron Gardenhire and Terry Ryan deserve some credit for guiding that class of 2002 through their period of very-goodness.

What the Twins have in their clubhouse is an combination of a couple of very good baseball players who inherited the near-great tradition of the teams led by guys like Torii Hunter, Johan Santana and Corey Koskie, along with a few decent new players who, frankly, came from organizations that haven’t even had the kind of tradition the Twins have had, and a bunch of young players that really haven’t experienced anything approaching greatness in their professional careers.

When the Yankees or Red Sox or even the Braves start out a season by getting swept in their first series, there’s no cause for ledge jumping. Those teams have players who know what it takes to be great and are confident in their abilities to achieve greatness once again, despite a temporary set back. Who in the Twins’ clubhouse has that experience to fall back on, much less the ability to share it with team mates in a manner that instills confidence?

It’s difficult for a young player to step in to such a role. Most of them are too busy pinching themselves over the realization they’re Major League ballplayers playing a game in front of 40,000 people to think beyond the moment. But once they settle in to the routine, do any of them have the drive necessary to lead a team to achieve greatness? I hope so.

And what of management? Where will the next great leader of this organization come from? I doubt Ron Gardenhire’s job is in immediate jeopardy, but it’s almost impossible for me to imagine him leading the team through the next generation of ballplayers. Who will Terry Ryan and the Pohlads charge with the responsibility of leading the team of Joe Benson, Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario and Kyle Gibson to a level of greatness not achieved in over two decades?

How will the current Twins and those coming up behind them learn to achieve greatness? In the absence of credible mentors to learn from, it will take someone (or better yet, multiple someones) with incredible leadership skills to build a winning mentality back nearly from scratch.

Ron Gardenhire and Tom Brunansky (photo: Jim Crikket)

I’m nowhere near knowledgeable enough about the Twins organization to predict who will step up to provide that kind of leadership or when it might arrive. Outside of watching the Beloit Snappers a few times a year and spending a week or so at the Twins’ spring training site every March, I have little to base an opinion on. Maybe players like Benson, Brian Dozier, Aaron Hicks and Liam Hendriks will eventually fill leadership roles on the field and in a future Twins clubhouse, but the guy I expect to see eventually establish a presence with the Big Club is former Twin Tom Brunansky.

If you spend any time hanging out around the minor league fields during spring training, you can tell which coaches tend to attract an audience when they speak. Two men have stood out to me as guys that always seem to have the attention of any player within earshot of them: Paul Molitor and Brunansky. Molitor serves in an instructional capacity every spring and it seems he’s pretty satisfied with that limited role, but Bruno has been moving up the organizational ranks as a hitting coach and is with the AAA team in Rochester this year.

I know there are people who feel Brunansky could or even should be promoted to the Twins’ hitting coach position to replace Joe Vavra. Personally, I think he’s fine right where he is… teaching the next generation of Twins how to play baseball. He’s the kind of coach… and, potentially, the kind of manager… that could bring credibility to a field management job if and when he gets his opportunity in Minnesota.

For now, this is admitedly all just idle conjecture. Then again, until the current Twins start winning some ball games and give us something else to focus on, idle conjecture is likely to lead to more interesting discussions than anything going on between the white lines.

- JC

 

Minor (League) Thoughts

Yes, I know, most of my thoughts these days can only be described as “minor” in nature. But I’m going to share a few of them with you, anyway.

My home town Cedar Rapids Kernels announced their 2012 schedule this week. The first thing I checked was to see how many home series the Kernels have with the Twins’ Midwest League affiliate, the Beloit Snappers. I was happy to see the Snappers will be coming to Cedar Rapids for three series next year… May 2-4, June 22-24, and  August 25-28. The May series is a mid-week series but the June and August series are weekend series.

I’m hopeful that some of the Twins’ better young prospects will be starting the season in Beloit and I always enjoy getting a look at the Snappers. By the way, I’m pretty sure Cedar Rapids is the Midwest League city closest to the Twin Cities. I only mention that in case some of you feel like a road trip. After all, it’s only fair… I have to make the same drive up to the Twin Cities to watch the Big club!

Speaking of the Midwest League, The Quad Cities River Bandits swept the Lansing Lugnuts to win the MWL Championship. So what? Glad you asked.

I mention this only by way of pointing out that runner-up Lansing finished the season 77-60, before advancing in the playoffs by winning the MWL Eastern Division title. Again, you ask, “so what?”

Well, I’d just point out that the Blue Jays’ farm club did quite well under their first year manager; a guy you may remember… Mike Redmond.

Lugnuts manager Mike Redmond (Photo: Rod Sanford/Lansing State Journal)

Yes, Red Dog not only led his young team to the championship series of the MWL in his first year of managing, he was also named the Midwest League Manager of the Year.

It sure is too bad the Twins’ minor league managing/coaching staff was too full of great baseball minds to find room for Redmond, isn’t it?

I’m sorry, that was a bit snide, I know. But I can’t help but wonder what a combination of Redmond, as manager, and Tom Brunansky, as hitting instructor, would do with an opportunity to run things in Rochester next season.

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I noticed an item over at springtrainingonline.com about the good folks who run Lee County (FL) making plans to work with the Twins on upgrading their Spring Training home, the Lee County Sports Complex. (It’s also the home of the Ft. Myers Miracle… to continue with the minor league theme of this post.)

Outside Hammond Stadium

Hammond Stadium in Ft. Myers is a nice stadium. Not great, but nice. From the outside, it’s actually pretty impressive, with Churchill Downs-type spires. But inside, it’s just not really anything special. The stadium was built in 1991 and it could definitely use some updating, but it’s nowhere near the worst spring training stadium in the Sunshine State (the Blue Jays’ stadium in Dunedin would get my vote for “worst” stadium, from among the nine I’ve visited). But Hammond is far from the nicest, as well.

The point that captured my attention in the article was a brief mention that the Twins’ lease, which runs through 2020, includes a clause that requires Lee County to maintain the facility, “at the same level as the five newest Florida spring-training facilities.”

Lee County just built the Red Sox a new $75 million facility down the road from the Twins’ complex, so I’d guess Lee County just raised their own ante a bit. I haven’t been to the five newest stadiums, but I can say with certainty that the Twins do not currently train in one of the five best facilities in Florida.

I’m not exactly sure how they would determine what the five “newest” stadiums are, for that matter. If it’s based purely on when the stadium was built, that’s one thing… those stadiums would range from Boston’s new facility that opens next spring to the Yankees’ Steinbrenner Field in Tampa which was built in 1996.

But a number of stadiums have had major face-lifts much more recently than that. If you measure based on the year a stadium underwent a major remodeling job, the most recent (after the Red Sox) would be the Orioles facility in Sarasota, the Rays’ park in Port Charlotte, the Phillies’ facility in Clearwater and the Tigers’ Lakeland complex. I haven’t been to the Lakeland ballpark, but the other four would rank above the Twins’ in my view. So would the Yankees’ Tampa facility and the Mets’ park in Port St. Lucie.

The Twins have been selling out just about every spring training game the last couple of years, so in the unlikely event that the Twins decided to start looking for a new spring home, communities across Florida and Arizona would trip all over themselves to bring the Twins in. I doubt that the Twins would get in to a serious battle with Lee County over an escape clause in their lease, but they have every right to expect to see the county make an honest effort to live up to the terms of their agreement.

OK, that’s enough on that subject. Thinking about it just makes me anxious to get down to Ft. Myers in March and the Twins have a whole lot of work to do before then.

- JC

 

 

JC in Spring Training: Focus on Communication

Yes, I know the big news at the Twins Spring Training site on Wednesday was the long-awaited debut of Joe Mauer in their game with the Mets, but what is there really to say about that? He hit a line drive up the middle in his first plate appearance off of Mets starting pitcher Mike Pelfrey. In fact, Pelfrey himself might have said all that needs to be said about Mauer’s debut. “I threw a slider in, and he hit a rocker right up the middle,” he was quoted as saying after the game. “He’s obviously Joe Mauer for a reason…” Indeed.

But for those of you who don’t believe what you don’t see, here’s the evidence I captured at the game.

For me, though, I’m a bit of a people watcher and today, I was interested in watching people just talk… communicate.

Not the greatest picture, but it was entertaining to watch... and listen to

One of the more humorous bits of “communication” was the bantering between Manager Ron Gardenhire and the fans surrounding the backstop of the Twins’ practice field during batting practice. Just before the last player (Jim Thome) finished getting his cuts, Gardy himself picked up a bat and stepped in the cage. From that point on, the only “communication” coming from Gardy was the word “ouch!” after each swing.

Not long after I settled in to watch some batting practice on the field where the AA level minor leaguers were getting their swings in, a group of today’s cuts from the Major League camp showed up. Rene Tosoni, Joe Benson and Chris Parmalee were not going to be going north with the Twins and today was the day they got the official word and joined their minor league brethren… and the coaches working with those young players. Among the coaches and instructors on this particular field were former Twins outfielder Tom Brunansky, who’s now a coach in the Twins organization, and Hall of Famer Paul Molitor. I just hope all of these guys know enough to take advantage of the advice available from the guys who the Twins have around this camp.

Chris Parmelee and Paul Molitor have a chat around the cage

Before heading in to Hammond Stadium for the game, I stopped along the “autograph fence” that runs between the Twins practice field and the stadium. This is where players often pause on their way to the stadium after practice to interact with fans. I found two players doing exactly that, pitcher Scott Diamond and Mr. Incredible, Jim Thome. Diamond certainly seemed popular with the young ladies.

Scott Diamond poses for a picture

Jim Thome signing autographs

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once inside the stadium, I spotted a few people having conversations that I would have been interested to listen in on… like these:

I couldn't help but wonder what Morneau and Nishioka were talking about during warm ups

Morneau and Jason Bay chatted before the game. Bay, Like Morneau, missed the second half of the 2010 season with a concussion

I'm not sure if Nishioka understood anything 1B coach Jerry White was saying, but he nodded a lot.

Nishioka didn't seem to have any trouble understanding what TC Bear was communicating

After coming out of the game, Alexi Casilla and Nishioka got some running... and talking... in, out along the LF wall

What’s that you say? Wasn’t there an actual game going on today?

Why yes, there was. In fact, the Twins won the game with a walk off hit in the bottom of the ninth inning. After Matt Brown opened the inning with a double to the RCF gap, Danny Lehmann followed up with a hit that drove in Brown and saved his team mates from having to endure the most hated thing among ballplayers… a spring training extra-inning ballgame. Here, below, are a few more of the 250 or so pictures I took today, beginning with a shot of Lehmann’s game winning hit.

Lehmann drives in the winning run in the 9th

Brain Duensing had another effective start

Jim Hoey hit 99 mph with a fastball on the Hammond speed gun while striking out two Mets

Finally, while Johan Santana is still on the shelf, the Twins did reunite for the day with a couple of former team mates. Jason Pridie started in centerfield and Luis Castillo started at second base for the mets.

Jason Pridie

Luis Castillo

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s a wrap for today. I’m not sure whether I’m going to make the trip up to Lakeland for the Tigers game Thursday or stick around Ft. Myers. Media reports are that Carl Pavano, Drew Butera, Matt Capps, and Joe Mauer are going to be playing in a minor league game at the Twins’ complex and Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew is reportedly going to be arriving at the complex Thursday as well.

If you want to read a bit more about my time at the Twins complex, check in periodically with Howard Sinker’s “A Fan’s View from Section 219” over at the StarTribune site. I’ll be sending periodic reports to Howard which he may be posting.

Of course, I’ll be trying to post something daily here at Knuckleballs, as well.

-JC

Twins History Lesson: August 2-8

It’s not yet nearing the end of the season, but we can certainly see the end from here. The Twins are only half a game out of first place in the AL Central Division and there’s still a lot of baseball to be played. It won’t be long, however, before we won’t be able to say that.

I debated with myself about whether to post another Twins History Lesson this week, but then I realized the Twins didn’t lose a single game last week after I posted the Lesson for July 26 – August 1. I wouldn’t dare do anything to risk bringing this winning streak to a premature end! So let’s start the month of August with another trip down memory lane with the Twins.*

August 2:

1965: Twins slugger Harmon Killebrew was leading the AL in two of the three Triple Crown categories entering this date with 22 home runs and 70 RBI. After suffering a dislocated left elbow in a collision with Oriole Russ Snyder on August 2, Killebrew missed the following 48 games. As we all know, the Twins managed to win the American League pennant even without Killer in the line up for most of the last 2 months of the season.

1982: The Twins took the worst record in MLB in to a game with the Western Division leading Angels and predictably were getting shut out 6-0 through six innings (the 5th and 6th runs coming on the strength of a 2-RBI single by former Twin Rob Wilfong). Tom Brunansky’s double and singles by Kent Hrbek and Gary Ward (combined with a bit of an Angel circus act) put three runs on the board for the Twins in the 7th. Another former Twin, Doug Corbett, was on the mound for the Angels in the 8th when Gary Ward’s 3-run HR brought the Twins to within 7-6. Ron Washington and Brunansky (who had been traded by the Angels to the Twins for Corbett and Wilfong) came through with runners on base in the 9th inning to give the Twins a 9-7 lead with the Angels coming to bat against Twins closer Ron Davis. I know what you’re thinking, but just to demonstrate that not everything he touched as a Twin turned to stone, RD sat down Don Baylor, Fred Lynn and Doug DeCinces in order to close out the win. Perhaps not the most important win in Twins history, but with the benefit of hindsight, it provided a glimpse of what Twins fans had to look forward to five years later.

August 3:

1969: Oriole pitcher Dave McNally was on a roll when he took the mound at Met Stadium to face the Twins. He had a 15-game winning streak during the 1969 season (and since he had won his last two games in 1968, his personal streak was actually 17 tames). The streak came to an end in Bloomington when Rich Reese powered the Twins to a 5-2 win on the strength of his pinch hit grand slam home run.

Joe Niekro and umpire Tim Tschida

1987: We could make a good case for the 11-3 win over the Angels on this date warranting inclusion in this post on the basis of Gary Gaetti’s night. He went 3 for 5, scored twice, homered once and drove in 5 RBI. But nobody remembers any of that (except, most likely, Gaetti). What we remember is umpire Tim Tschida approaching the mound and asking to see pitcher Joe Niekro ‘s glove and for him to empty his pockets… at which time an emery board flew to the ground and a piece of sandpaper was also discovered in his pocket. It would be Niekro’s only ejection in his 702 career game appearances.

2008: The Twins entered the day a half game behind the White Sox and sent Francisco Liriano to the mound to face Cleveland in his first start after being recalled from Rochester. Liriano had pitched poorly in accumulating an 0-3 record before being sent down to AAA in April. All he did upon his return this night was shut down the Tribe for six innings, enabling the Twins to win 6-2 and take over first place from the Sox, who lost on the same day.

August 4:

1985: Rod Carew blooped a single to left field for his 3,000th career hit, becoming the first foreign born player to reach that plateau. Unfortunately, rather than reaching the milestone as a Twin, he did so as an Angel, and got the hit off of Frank Viola in the third inning of a 6-5 Angel win over the Twins.

1993: Kent Hrbek became just the second player to reach 1,000 career hits in a Twins uniform.

1994: Exactly one year after his milestone hit, Kent Hrbek announced his retirement from baseball, effective at the end of the season.

1997: Twin pitcher Brad Radke went 7 innings to earn the W over the Blue Jays and, in doing so, recorded a win in his 12th straight start… a feat only Bob Gibson (1968) and Pat Dobson (1971) had accomplished before.

Kirby Puckett

August 5, 2001 was a bad day for Twins fans to be at the Metrodome (where the AC went out and the Twins lost to the Royals while the temperature in the ‘Dome reached 91 degrees), but a good day to be in Cooperstown, NY.

Dave Winfield

That’s where former Twins Kirby Puckett and Dave Winfield  were being inducted in to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

August 6:

1967: Twins pitcher Dean Chance threw a perfect game that will not be found on any list of MLB perfect games or no-hitters because he “only” retired all 15 hitters he faced in a rain-shortened 5 inning, 2-0 win over the Red Sox.

1969: The Twins’ Dave Boswell ended the night with a trip to the hospital to get 20 stitches after being punched by Twins manager Billy Martin. Martin stepped in after Boswell and team mate Bob Allison had a bit of a scuffle.

August 7:

2005: Yes, we all had a good laugh at the Cubs’ Milton Bradley a while back when he lost track of the number of outs and tossed a ball in to the stands after catching it, thinking there were 3 outs when there were only 2. But I don’t recall anyone mentioning at the time that on August 7, 2005, the Twins’ Shannon Stewart did pretty much exactly the same thing. The Red Sox went on to score 5 runs in the first inning and beat the Twins 11-7.

2009: The Twins acquired pitcher Carl Pavano from Cleveland in return for a “player to be named later”.

August 8:

1074: The Twins-Royals game in Kansas City is delayed several minutes while the fans (along with the rest of the country) listen to President Richard Nixon’s resignation speech, as it was broadcast in the stadium. The game resumes after the speech concludes. The Twins go on to win 3-2 in 14 innings with Bill Campbell tossing 7 innings of relief to get the win as Tony Oliva’s sac fly drives in Rod Carew with what would be the winning run.

1987: Steve Carleton records the 329th and final win of his career in a 9-2 Twins win over the A’s. Carleton gave up 2 runs in 8 and two-thirds innings of work.

1988: Twins catcher Brian Harper went 4 for 4 and outfielder Dan Gladden went 3 for 5 to lead the Twins to a 7-2 win over the Tribe. But the real excitement came in the fourth inning with former Twin Ron Washington on 2B for Cleveland and Willie Upshaw on 1B behind him. Joe Carter ripped an Allan Anderson pitch deep to left field. It looked like the Indians would be taking the lead until Gladden managed to run down the line drive, turn, and throw a strike to second baseman Steve Lombardozzi to double off Washington. Lombardozzi then turned and threw to Gene Larkin at 1B to complete the 7-4-3 triple play.

Paul Molitor

1998: Paul Molitor joined an exclusive club as he stoles the 500th base of his career. With 500 SBs and 3,000 hits, Molitor joined Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Eddie Collins and Lou Brock in that club.

With that, let’s look forward to another big week for the Twins. I suppose it would be a bit much to expect another perfect week, but I’ll settle for winning 6 out of 7 games this week (it wouldn’t be so bad to lose ONE game to the Rays, I suppose), seeing Justin Morneau rejoin the team in time to sweep the Tribe in the weekend series at Cleveland, and reclaiming their rightful spot atop the AL Central Division. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

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*We pull this information from a few different sources, including (but not necessarily limited to) Dave Wright’s excellent book, “162-0, The Greatest Wins!”, as well as some  internet sites like “Twins Trivia” and “National Pastime”.

 

Twins History Lesson: July 26 – August 1

Yes, I know… I skipped the Twins History Lesson* post (again) last week. Did you miss it? You did? Really? Dang… now I feel bad. Tell you what, there wasn’t a LOT of cool stuff that happened during the week of July 19-25 but I’ll briefly mention a couple of items, just for you, then I’ll move on to all the noteworthy items (and a few not so noteworthy) for the upcoming week.

Bruno the speed demon?

If I say “pine tar incident”, chances are you’re mind goes to George Brett’s famous “out” on July 24, 1983, that was later reversed. But how many of you remember July 19, 1975, when the Yankees’ Thurman Munson had his first inning RBI single nullified when his bat was found to have pine tar more than the legally allowed 18 inches up the handle?  Nobody? OK, do you maybe remember Tom Brunansky’s inside-the-park Grand Slam Home Run seven years later, on July 19, 1982?

Let’s also catch up with a couple of pitching performances taking place on July 23 in 2005 and 2006. On 7/23/05, the Twins needed a starting pitcher to face off against Justin Verlander in the second game of a doubleheader with the Tigers so the call went to Rochester for an arm to pitch one game and head back to the Red Wings. Enter Scott Baker, who held the Kitties to 2 runs on 5 hits in 7 innings to earn his first W as a Twin… then headed straight back to Rochester. Gardy’s postgame quote: “I think you’re seeing what we hope to get out of this young man. It’s very exciting.”

Exactly a year later, another young starting pitcher, Francisco Liriano, combined with four Twins relievers (Pat Neshek, Dennys Reyes, Juan Rincon and Joe Nathan) to set a new Twins record for most strikeouts in a nine inning game, with 17 combined Ks, in a 3-1 win over the Indians. Liriano recorded an even 10 of those Ks in his 5 innings of work.

Lyman Bostock

July 24 is also worth catching up on. On that date in 1961, The Twins signed Tony Oliva and 15 years later, in 1976, Twins OF Lyman Bostock hit for the cycle during a 17-2 win over the WhiteSox.

That’s enough for last week… let’s move on to this week in Twins History:

Merritt: No pitch count?

On July 26, 1967, Twins pitcher Jim Merritt set a Twins record when he pitched 13 innings in a 3-2 win over the Yankees. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough for Merritt to earn the W as it took 18 innings for the Twins to earn that win. I’m guessing the Twins didn’t have Merritt on a pitch count limit.

There have been a couple of hitting performances of note on July 27. In 1978, Twins 3B Mike Cubbage hit for the cycle in a 6-3 win over the Blue Jays. He was the 5th Twin to accomplish the feat and the first after Bostock’s cycle two years and  three days earlier.

Five years later, on July 27, 1983, the Brewers Ben Ogilvie hit the longest HR in Metrodome history when he took a Brad Havens pitch 481 feet in to the upper deck in RF.

Dean Chance

Those in attendance at Fenway Park for the Twins/RedSox game on July 28, 1967, saw something very few people ever had an opportunity to see, but few of them probably really appreciated it. The Twins beat the Sox 9-2 as pitcher Dean Chance outdueled Boston ace Jim Lonborg (who was allowed to take leave from his National Guard duty to pitch the game). The rarity? That would be Chance’s bunt for a base hit in the Twins’ 7-run 4th inning. It was Chance’s first base hit following a stretch of 78 straight ABs without a hit (setting an AL record). Chance and Lonborg matched up twice more that season in eventful games. Nine days after this game, Chance retired all 15 hitters he faced in a rain shortened five inning “perfect game” win over Lonborg and the RedSox, making Lonborg 0-12 against the Twins in his career. Unfortunately, he broke that string on October 1, leading the Sox to the AL pennant over the Twins on the last day of the season.  Chance was the Twins’ losing pitcher.

I couldn’t find a darn thing of note that has ever occurred on July 29 in the history of the Twins. That probably won’t change this season as the team has the 29th off this year.

Not much going on for the Twins on July 30, either, for that matter, unless you consider the Twins trading Matt Lawton to the Mets for Rick Reed in 2001 or the trade of Luis Castillo to the same Mets for Drew Butera and Dustin Martin in 2007 to be big deals. Hmmmm… I do sense a pattern here. Should we look forward to Bill Smith completing another trade with the Mets on Friday?

We’ll make up for the lack of activity over July29-30 with a pretty long list of stuff for July 31, much of it trade related as it’s the last day for non-waiver trades:

1965: No trades of note on this date, but Tony Oliva’s heads up baserunning brought home a 2-1 win in 11 innings over the Orioles. (See if this sounds familiar, you fans of the movie Major League.) With one out in the 11th and Oliva on 2B and Harmon Killebrew having been intentionally walked to set up the double play, Joe Nossek hit a roller to Brooks Robinson at 3B. Robinson threw to second to force Killer but the relay to first was too late to complete the double play. That’s when O’s firstbaseman Boog Powell was surprised to realize Oliva never stopped at 3B but had rounded it and headed for home. Powell’s throw was late and Oliva slid home for the Twins win. His quote after the game, “… if I’m out at home, it’s a bad play. Today it was a good play because I made it.”

1972: No trade involved here either, but if you ever get a chance to talk to Bert Blyleven ask him about the day he gave up two inside-the-park HRs to the WhiteSox’ Dick Allen (then duck).

Now let’s get to some of those trades, shall we?

1987: The Twins picked up future HoF pitcher Steve Carleton from the Indians for a player to be named (who turned out to be pitcher Jeff Perry).

Frankie 'Sweet Music" Viola

Rick Aguilera

1989: The Twins became the first team in MLB history to trade a reigning Cy Young Award winner by trading Frank Viola to the Mets for Rick Aguilera, David West, Kevin Tapani, Jack Savage and Tim Drummond.

1995: Tapani was traded to the Dodgers along with Mark Guthrie in return for Jose Parra, Greg Hansell, Chris Latham and future FSN field reporter Ron Coomer.

2004: The Twins sent 1B Doug Mientkiewicz to the Cubs for pitcher Justin Jones.

2006: The Twins sent P Kyle Lohse (and his evil twin, Lyle) to the Reds for P Zach Ward.

2009: The Twins acquired SS Orlando Cabrera and cash from the A’s for minor leaguer Tyler Ladendorf.

Finally, let’s check in on what the first day of August has meant to the Twins:

1985: Pitcher Bert Blyleven returned to the Twins in a trade with Cleveland. The Twins sent outfielder Jim Weaver, pitchers Curt Wardle and Rich Yett, and shortstop Jay Bell to the Indians.

Bert Blyleven

1986: Exactly a year after returning to the Twins, Blyleven threw a 2 hitter against the A’s and struck out 15 hitters (then a club record). In the process, he became the 10th pitcher with 3,000 career Ks. In the same 10-1 win, Kirby Puckett became the first Twin to hit for the cycle in a game at the Metrodome.

1994: Oriole Cal Ripken played in his 2,000th consecutive game in a 1-0 win over the Twins at the ‘Dome.

2007: Perhaps a memory many of us would prefer not be reminded about as the Twins decided to go forward with their game against the Royals in order to keep from sending almost 25,000 fans on to already congested roads following the collapse of the I-35W bridge about an hour before game time. A moment of silence to remember the victims of the bridge collapse was held prior to the game.

With that, let’s all look forward to cheering on the Twins in their series this week at Kansas City and at home, next weekend, against the Mariners! – JC

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*We pull this information from a few different sources, including (but not necessarily limited to) Dave Wright’s excellent book, “162-0, The Greatest Wins!”, as well as some  internet sites like “Twins Trivia” and “National Pastime”.

Twins History Lesson: July 11-17. All-Star Edition

It has been a while since we’ve posted a Twins History Lesson* and, as you can imagine, we’ve passed over a number of events of interest in the organization’s past. Too many to get caught up on all at once so we’re just going to pretend we haven’t missed anything and pick things up with this week in Twins History.

Since the second week of July has been when MLB has historically held the All-Star game, this week naturally has an All-Star bend to it. Of course, not starting until July 11 means that we just barely miss reminding fans of the All-Star game held on July 9, 1968 where Twin Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew ruptured a hamstring at the Astrodome, missed the next seven weeks of the season and, ultimately, very likely cost the Twins what coulda/woulda/shoulda been their second AL pennant. That’s still painful for many of us older Twins fans to remember, so I’m actually glad it falls outside this week’s timeline and I won’t have to relive it here.

Of course, it also means we won’t be able to relive Torii Hunter’s heroics in the 2002 ASG, played on July 8, when he pulled back what would have been a Barry Bonds home run in the first inning of what would become the ASG ending in a tie at Miller Park. Too bad, because that kind of thing should be remembered. I could have even posted a picture, like the one at the right. Ah well, maybe next year.

So now, on to this week’s memories:

July 11 has seen a couple of notable events.

1961: Harmon Killebrew became the first Twin All-Star on this date in 1961 and in a pinch hit appearance, ripped a home run off of Mike McCormick in San Francisco’s Candlestick Park.

1965: The Twins took a 4 game lead in the AL standings in to the last game before the All-Star break. The Twins fell behind the Yankees in the top of the ninth inning when pitcher Jerry Fosnow picked up a slow roller up the 1B line and went to tag Yankee hitter Roger Repoz. But the ball popped free and Elston Howard crossed home plate. The home plate umpire ruled Repoz had interfered with Fosnow, however, and the run was taken off the board. That’s when the 1B umpire stepped in and overruled the home plate umpire, allowing the Yankee run to score (see… things really haven’t changed that much over the years, have they?) Things looked bleak for the Twin in the bottom of the ninth when Tony Oliva flew out for the second out with Rich Rollins, who had walked, on 1B. Que Harmon Killebrew. His full count HR won the game and, as described by Killer after the game was, “one of the sweetest of the sweet.” The Twins would go on to the World Series in 1965 and the Yankees would finish 25 games behind. (All together now… Awwwwwwwwwww.)

1968: Twins rookie Rick Rennick homered in his first MLB at bat, becoming the first Twin to do so, as he took the Tigers’ Mickey Lolich yard in a 5-4 Twins victory.

2005: Speaking of things that are painful to remember, it was on this date that the Twins acquired Bret Boone from the Mariners. He was released, thank God, not long afterward.

Not a real eventful date, but let’s look in on July 12 anyway:

1972: Bert Blyleven put the lid on the Brewers 7-1, giving the Twins their 1,000th win since the franchise moved to Minnesota. Coincidentally, Blyleven would also be the winning pitcher years later when the Twins notched win number 2,000.

1996: 36-year-old Kirby Puckett, appearing at a press conference with a white patch over his right eye, announced his retirement. “I was told I would never make it because I’m too short,” the 5’8″ Puckett said during the press conference. “Well, I’m still too short, but I’ve got 10 All-Star games, two World Series championships, and I’m a very happy and contented guy. It doesn’t matter what your height is, it’s what’s in your heart.”

2001: The Twins held their own version of Home Run Derby in a 13-5 win over the Brewers. Torii Hunter, Corey Koskie and Jacque Jones tied a MLB record of three players on the same team hitting two home runs in a game. Doug Mientkiewicz tried to keep pace, but could manage only one HR.

July 13 must be a popular day for holding All-Star Games.Lots of ASG history and we’re seeing yet another game on that date this year.

1965: The Twins’ Metropolitan Stadium hosted the All-Star Game and six Twins were on the AL squad (Earl Battey, Mudcat Grant,  Jimmie Hall, Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, and Zoilo Versalles). But the NL won the game 6-5 as Willie Mays homered, walked twice and scored twice and Juan Marichal tossed three scoreless innings.

1971: Long before they began holding a Home Run Derby before the ASG, a group of future Hall of Fame members played long ball during the AL’s 6-4 win in Tiger Stadium. The Twins Harmon Killebrew went yard, as did Hank Aaron, Johnny Bench, Roberto Clemente, Reggie Jackson (who’s mammoth shot travels 520 feet!) and Frank Robinson. It was the sole AL victory between 1962 and 1983.

1976 When he pinch hit for Luis Tiant in the 7th inning, catcher Butch Wynegar became the youngest Twin (20 years and 121 days) to appear in an All-Star Game. He was walked by John “the Count” Montefusco.

1993: Torii Hunter Kirby Puckett may have won the ASG MVP award for his HR and double in the AL’s 9-3 win, but that’s not what most baseball fans recall about this game. Rather, that would be John Kruk’s comical at bat against a young, very hard-throwing and very, very wild Randy Johnson.

On July 14, 1991, the Twins retired Tony Oliva’s #6. Seventeen years later, Twins 1B Justin Morneau won the 2008 ASG Home Run Derby by defeating the Rangers Josh Hamilton 5-3 in the finals. So why does every Derby commercial since then feature Hamilton instead of Morneau? Possibly because of Hamilton’s 28 HRs in the first round (including 13 consecutive at one point).

July 15 has seen a couple of oddities among the noteworthy events taking place on that date.

1964: About a month after joining the Twins in a trade with Cleveland, pitcher Jim “Mudcat” Grant threw a 6-0 complete game shutout against the Senators. So what? Well he did it while giving up 13 hits (all singles). The Senators left 12 men on base (boy does that sound familiar, huh?) and when it was all over, Grant told reporters, “You might say I utilized the position of my fielders hansomely. The way they were hitting me, it’s a wonder somehody didn’t get killed out there.”

2008: One day after claiming his Home Run Derby title, Twins 1B Justin Morneau slid home with the winning run on Michael Young’s sac fly as the AL won the ASG 4-3. The game wents 15 innings and took 4 hours and 50 minutes to complete.

Looking back at July 16…

1969: Rod Carew recorded his 7th and final steal of home plate of the season, tying a 15 year old MLB record. What made this all the more unusual is that it took place with the bases loaded and led a unique triple steal as Harmon Killebrew recorded one of his 19 career SBs and Charlie Manuel (yes, the same Charlie Manuel managing the Phillies now) was credited with the sole SB of his career as they moved up to 2B and 3B behind Carew’s steal of home. So why didn’t Carew steal home again that year after swiping it 7 times by mid July? Not only were pitchers no longer pitching from the windup with Carew on 3B, but he missed much of August when he was called up for military duty. Sure are a lot of things we don’t see much of these days, aren’t there?

1985: The Metrodome hosted the All-Star Game (and I was there… 3 rows from the top of dead centerfield!) and OF Tom Brunansky was the Twins only representative on the AL roster. Led by LeMar Hoyt’s 3 innings of pitching, the NL won 6-1.

Let’s wrap up the History Lesson with a good news/bad news item. On July17, 1990, the Twins became the first team in MLB history to record two triple plays in one game, both started by ground balls to 3B Gary Gaetti. Unfortunately, they were using assbats that day and the Red Sox won the game 1-0.

I’m out of town this week and won’t be online much, if at all. Let’s hope all the guys come back from the All-Star break healthy, rested and ready to get after it. (Sorry… sort of channeling my inner Gardy there) – JC

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*We pull this information from a few different sources, including (but not necessarily limited to) Dave Wright’s excellent book, “162-0, The Greatest Wins!”, as well as some  internet sites like “Twins Trivia” and “National Pastime”.