Posts Tagged ‘Minnesota Twins’

My Son the Twins Fan

January 12, 2015
Twins shirt like the one my son wore

Twins shirt like the one my son wore

We’re a little odd around here (and I hear those snickers saying “we had that figured already”). But I’m a Dodgers fan, my wife tends to root for the Cardinals, and my son, well, he’s the oddest of all, a Minnesota Twins fan.

Back in 1987 my son was still small and was beginning to show a real interest in baseball. He’d get the Sunday sports page and find the baseball stats page and look them over very seriously. He couldn’t read yet, but he knew that it was important and he was determined to decipher those long lines of numbers. And to top it all off, some of his friends had a few baseball cards, which were wonderfully mystic pieces of cardboard. Well, I also had a few, including a couple of spares.

It was obvious from the look on his face and the hints that he wanted his own baseball card. So I looked around and sort of absently discovered I had those spares. Without any serious thought, I picked up one and handed it to him as his own first ever baseball card. His smile was worth it and I’ve never regretted giving it to him. I have come to question his reaction.

He was not just happy, he became a prophet. We’ve never had a lot of those in the family. We’ve tended to believe in the old Churchill comment that “It is always easier to prophesy after the event.” But my son was struck by a moment of divine inspiration (I’ve never had one of those so I don’t know how it feels).

The card was a Roy Smalley card in Minnesota Twins uniform. You might remember Smalley. He was Roy Smalley III and his dad had been a Major Leaguer in the 1950s. His uncle was Gene Mauch. He came up with Texas in 1975 as a 22-year-old middle infielder (more time at short than second), didn’t do much, and was sent to the Twins. He developed into an All Star shortstop (1979), then ended up with the Yankees back when they were trying to keep alive the 1976-1981 run. He didn’t do much in New York, went to Chicago (the White Sox, not the Cubs), then finished up in 1985-1987 with the Twins.

So the next day, this would be about the All Star break, my son (who slept with his Smalley card) walked into the living room and announced that the Twins would win the World Series and that Smalley, by then a part-time player, would be a hero. OK, kid, sure thing. My wife and I both nodded knowingly, agreeing with him, and he left the room.

“Are the Twins any good?” my wife asked.

They were in second place, percentage points behind the Royals (I just checked), but no one was picking them to knock off KC, so I told her, “They’re OK, but nothing special.”

You know what happened don’t you? Of course he was right. The Twins stumbled through July and August, then went 16-11 in September and won the American League West by two games. They stunned most everyone by knocking off the favored Tigers 4 games to 1. Then, with home field for the World Series, they won all four home games, while dropping all three road games to St. Louis. My son was right, the Twins were world champions.

And Smalley? He hit .275 in 110 games with 32 runs scored and 34 RBIs. So he certainly helped his team to the playoffs. Then he sat out the AL championship series. So far, nice, but no big deal. They used him four times as a pinch hitter in the World Series. He had two walks and a hit (a double). The double was in game two and didn’t lead to a run. The other play was in the game four loss. An error put him on second and he advanced to third but didn’t score. The first walk was in game five and he got as far as second without scoring. In the Series clincher he walked in the sixth with the scored tied 2-2. It kept an inning alive and the Twins took the lead two batters later on a Greg Gagne single. So was he a “hero”? Not sure, but he did help his team.

We were all stunned, except my son of course (had it all the time, Pop). It led to general rejoicing in the home, although the Cards loss was a small downer. And it made my son a Twins fan for life. He was overjoyed at the 1991 Series (which was a great Series regardless of rooting interest) and died a little when Kirby Puckett retired (When Smalley retired, Puckett became the new favorite.). We had a youth baseball team that I coached. He insisted it be called the Twins. I still have his old jersey with 34 (Puckett) on the back. I’m going to give it to his son when he gets old enough to wear it.

Oh, and the power of prophesy? I asked him who’d win the Super Bowl in 1987 (the 1988 Super Bowl). He immediately picked the Redskins. They won (42-10 over Denver). On a roll, I asked about the Kentucky Derby. He hashed it. Apparently the power of prophesy had run its course. Real shame. I had a lot more bets to get down. BTW, there went your college fund, kid.

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Home Field Advantage

June 13, 2011

Dome, Sweet, Dome

I’m something of a hockey fan. I watch a little when I get the chance and I’ve really enjoyed this year’s Stanley Cup. So far the home team has won each game. That makes for a real “home field advantage” (or ice in this case). I’ve watched a lot of sports over the years and I’ve noticed that the so-call “home field advantage” is kind of an uneven thing. It seems to me that it holds for hockey pretty well, less well for both football and basketball, and is something of a joke in baseball. I’ve always found  that a little strange. Baseball, after all, is the only one that doesn’t have a standardized playing surface. In every hockey match the ice is the same length and width. Same in football and basketball. But in baseball outfields differ greatly. So you’d  think that would give a team used to the outfield an advantage, wouldn’t you? And that doesn’t even begin to address the idea of a domed stadium versus open-air parks.

I decided to test this just a little, without trying to determine why. I went back to 1961 with the first expansion since 1901 and began looking at who won games at home and away in the World Series. Because the pre-World Series playoffs didn’t begin until 1969, I concentrated strictly on the Series. I also determined I wasn’t going to take the time to go through every team. So I picked five teams that played about the same number of World Series’ in the period: the Giants, Mets, Red Sox, Reds, and Twins. Here are the results.

Giants: The Giants appeared in four World Series (1962 and ’89, and 2002 and 2011) winning one (2011). They played 11 games at home, twelve on the road. Their record was 5-6 at home and 5-7 on the road. No advantage either way for them, they do equally poorly at home and away. And to be fair, there are two parks involved as the Giants home field.

Mets: The Mets appeared in three World Series (1969, 1973, 1986) winning two (’69 and ’86). They played 10 games at home, nine on the road. Their record was 7-3 at home and 4-5 on the road. A definite advantage for the Mets to play at home, but  one game under .500 is not a bad record on the road.

Red Sox: The Red Sox appeared in five World Series (1967, ’75, and ’86, and 2004, ’07) winning two (2004 and 2007). They played 15 games at home, 14 on the road. Their record was 9-6 at home and 8-6 on the road. Both are winning records, but are almost exactly alike. There seems to be no advantage for Boston to play either location.

Reds: The Reds appeared in six World Series (1962, ’70, 72, ’75, ’76, and ’90) winning half (1975, ’76,’ and ’90). They played 15 games at home, 16 on the road. Their record was 7-8 at home and 10-6 on the road. Cincinnati actually benefitted by playing on the road. Like the Giants, the Reds’ World Series games occur in two different parks.

Twins: OK, you knew there would be a kicker didn’t you? This is it. The Twins make three World Series (1967, ’87, ’91) winning two (1987 and 1991). They played 12 games at home and nine away. Their record is an  astonishing 11-1 at home and 0-9 on the road. Tell me the Metrodome didn’t make a difference? And again, there are two parks involved. BTW the lone home loss was game 7 of 1965 when they lost a three-hit shutout to Sandy Koufax. Things like that happen.

The Twins number is so outlandish, I decided to check something else. Between 1901 and 1960 the Twins were the Washington Senators, who just happened to also make it to three World Series’ (1924, ’25, and ’33), winning one (1924). They played 10 games at home, nine on the road, with different results. They were 6-4 at home and 2-7 on the road. For anyone curious, the only Senators/Twins pitchers to win a World Series game on the road were George Mogridge (who?) and Walter Johnson. Bet you had the second one figured.

Now this is  only a partial sample and I’m willing to admit that a fuller look might yield different results. But it seems that “home field” isn’t all that big a deal in the World Series (unless you’re the Twins). So maybe making “home field” reliant on the All Star Game isn’t such a big deal either.

The Killer

May 18, 2011

Harmon Killebrew

It seems like I’m writing an inordinate number of posts that deal with the death of a player from my younger years. I guess you’ve heard about the death of Harmon Killebrew by now. He was a player of my youth, but I associate him more with my coming-of-age years than with my younger years.

Killebrew was one of those “bonus babies” that came up in the 1950s. The rule was that if the guy got a bonus he had to remain on the big league roster for two years before he could go to the Minors. The idea was to discourage teams from putting out large amounts of money for unproven kids. What it meant in practice was that the signing of one of these guaranteed that fans saw the player getting his Minor League education in the Majors. Some of those could be painful to watch. I guess that Killebrew and Sandy Koufax were probably the most famous “bonus babies” of the 1950s. Both hit their stride in the 1960s (although Killebrew had a good 1959) and intertwined in 1965.

Killebrew came to the Washington Senators (now the Minnesota Twins) in 1954, rode the pine in ’54 and ’55, then split time between Washington and the minors the next three years. His Major League numbers weren’t very good. He had 57 hits in 254 at bats (.224) with 30 RBIs and 11 home runs. The 11 homers in 57 hits was pretty good but he walked only 23 times and  struck out 93 times. Additionally he was wretched in the field. They tried him at second and third with no success. He could catch the ball and had OK range, but he had a “God Knows” arm (“God Knows where the ball is going when he lets it loose”). he spent his career wandering from third, to left, to first and was honestly best suited for the DH role, which didn’t come into the AL until too late in his career.

Like I said, it was painful, but it did pay off. In 1959 he became the fulltime third baseman and began his assault of American League pitching. He hit all of .242, but led the league in home runs. Over the course of his career he would lead the AL in home runs six times, peaking at 49 twice. He also led the league in RBIs and walks three times each, in OBP, slugging and strikeouts once each, and picked up the AL MVP Award in 1969. In that same year, baseball adopted its modern logo. Killebrew is supposed to be the model for the logo.

In 1965 he helped lead the Twins to their first pennant and the fourth overall for the franchise (1924, 1925, 1933 in Washington). He faced fellow bonus baby Koufax in the Series. The Twins lost, but Killebrew hit .282, had an OPS of .873, and hit one home run (off Don Drysdale, not Koufax). The Twins also got to the AL playoffs in 1969 and 1970, losing to Baltimore both times. He hit a buck-25 in 1969, but had two homers, four RBIs, and a .273 average in 1970.

By 1972 he began falling off. He had miserable years in 1973 and 1974, was traded to Kansas City in 1975 and finished up a Royals teammate of George Brett. He was 39. The Hall of Fame brought him inside in 1984.

For his career he hit .256, slugged .509, had on OBP of  .376, and OPS of .884 (OPS+ 143). He had 573 home runs, 1584 RBIs, scored 1283 runs, and ended up 1559 walks to 1699 strikeouts. His career home run percentage is fourth all time.

There were two knocks on Killebrew as a hitter. First his batting average was only.256. With that average he produced 2300 runs,. Nine times he had 100 or more RBIs; he scored 90 or more runs seven times and 89 once. He managed to do all that while hitting .256. Tell you what, I’ll take the runs and RBIs, you can have the average.

Second, during his career and since his retirement there was a perception of Killebrew as a big lug who struck out a lot, kind of a latter day Ralph Kiner (which is wrong about Kiner too). For his career, Killebrew struck out exactly 140 times more than he walked. If you look at his productive years (1959-1972) the number drops to 24 (or 1.6 per season). I can give up 24 strikeouts for 500 home runs. If we’re going to complain about his strikeouts, we need to also remember his walk totals. He led the AL in strikeouts only once, in walks many more times.

My memories of Killebrew are mixed.I remember little of him as the “bonus baby”. I don’t recall a single Senators game I saw or heard, so I don’t know if I ever got to see or hear about him in the 1950s. I remember him as the fearsome slugger of the 1960s. No one I ever saw swung the bat harder more consistently than Killebrew. Roy Campanella had the hardest swing I saw, and Glenallen Hill scattering the fans on the rooftops across from Wrigley hit the hardest ball I ever saw, but Killebrew did both with more consistency than either. I swear even the homers that barely trickled over the fence seemed like he’d hit them a ton. He was awkward in the field, but graceful with a bat. I never particularly rooted for the Twins, but both he and Tony Oliva were personal favorites of mine.

So It’s Rest in Peace for the Killer. He was a great ballplayer, apparently an even greater man. All of us are poorer that he is gone. I offer up one simple prayer, “Don’t have too many more of these postmortem posts for me to write for the rest of this year.” Deal, Lord?

RIP Ralph Houk

July 23, 2010

Ralph Houk as Detroit manager

I see that Ralph Houk died Wednesday at age 90.  He spent most of his career as a backup catcher behind Yogi Berra during the 1940s and 1950s. He got into all of 91 games over eight years, hit .272, had no home runs, and picked up a World Series ring in 1947, 1949-1953. He managed to get into two World Series games, one in 1947, the other in 1952. He pinch hit both times and made an out each.

He was, in other words, a pretty mediocre ballplayer. He was, however, a heck of a manager. When Casey Stengel retired (forcibly) after 1960, Houk was his replacement with the Yankees. He promptly led the Yanks to World Series victories in 1961 and 1962, then won the pennant in 1963, losing the Series to Sandy Koufax and the Dodgers. He retired after that season, replaced as Yankees manager by Berra. He returned to New York in mid-1966, remaining through 1973. He managed Detroit from 1974 through 1978, finishing as high as fourth once. His managerial career ended in Boston with a stint in the dugout from 1981 through 1984. He finished as high as second in the latter half of the 1981 split season. His career managerial record gave him a .541 winning percentage.

In 1986 he joined the Minnesota Twins front office. He helped put together the team that would win the 1987 World Series and provide the major parts for the 1991 World Series winner. Then he retired from baseball for good.

Obviously his glory period was the 1961-63 era with New York. He managed the famous 1961 home run record race, helping Roger Maris to cope with the press, the crowds, and the nonsense. For all that he’s easily the least famous Yankees manager to win a World Series (OK, maybe Bucky Harris in 1947). I guess somebody has to be, but I always liked Houk. He was apparently a good clubhouse man and took care of his players. Following up Casey Stengel was hard enough, but winning on top of that was even harder.

I rooted for him in 1962 and against him in 1963. Despite that, he was  a man I admired. May he rest in peace.

Best Possible Game 7

December 15, 2009

Ah, Game 7, the ultimate baseball postseason game. Game 7 ends the season, game 7 ends the series, game 7 crowns  winner. It’s no wonder that there have been so many very good game 7’s. The best was the 27th of October 1991.

The Atlanta Braves and Minnesota Twins had battled through six games with 4 being decided by a single run and one being decided by 3 runs. This game was to be as close. The Braves sent John Smoltz to the mound against Jack Morris.

The two pitchers engaged in a fantastic pitching duel. Through 7 innings neither team had scored. The Braves had left 6 men on base, the Twins only 5.  In the 8th inning Braves Designated Hitter Lonnie Smith singled followed by 3rd baseman Terry Pendleton’s double. A great decoy play by the Twins middle infielders (Greg Gagne and Chuck Knoblauch) caused Smith to pause long enough that he was unable to score and was forced to stop at 3rd.  With one out 1st baseman Sid Bream hit into a nifty first base to catcher to first base (Kent Hrbek-Brian Harper-Kent Hrbek) double play to end the threat. Not to be outdone the Twins hit into a crucial double play in the bottom of the eighth. Neither team scored in the ninth, although the Twns did leave two men on base.

In the 10th inning the Braves went in order. The bottom of the 10th saw Dan Gladden drop a hit which he stretched into a double. Knoblauch sacrificed him to third. With one out the Braves walked both Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek intentionally to set up a play at any base. That brought up pinch hitter Gene Larkin who singled over a drawn-in outfield to drive in Gladden with the Series clinching run. Morris pitched 10 shutout innings for the win.

I watched it in something like amazement. I still consider it the greatest game I ever saw entirely through.

Honorable mention game 7:

1912-in extra innings New York Giants outfielder Fred Snodgrass drops a crucial flyball opening the door for the Boston Red Sox to win the Series.

1924-also in extra innings the Washington Senators push across a run against the Giants to give Walter Johnson his first World Series victory and the Senators their only championship.

1926-In what is probably the most famous strikout in baseball history, Grover Cleveland Alexander, with the bases loaded, strikes out Tony Lazzeri to preserve the Cardinals lead. Later Babe Ruth will be caught stealing to end the game and the Series.

1940-Paul Derringer outduels Detroit’s Bobo Newsom 2-1 to bring home Cincinnati’s first untainted World Series triumph.

1946-tied in the bottom of the 8th Cardinals right fielder Enos Slaughter runs through a stop sign to score the winning run all the way from first on a double. Harry Brecheen shuts down the Red Sox in the ninth for his third Series victory as Ted Williams is a loser in his only World Series appearance.

1955-By a score of 2-0, the Brooklyn Dodgers finally win the World Series.

1960-a 10-9 slugfest between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the New York Yankees ends when Bill Mazeroski leads off the bottom of the ninth with a home run. It is his second home run of the Series. In the regular season he hits 11.

1962-Willie McCovey hits the ball with the tying run on base. Bobby Richardson snags it to preserve the Yankees victory.

1965-Sandy Koufax, on 2 day’s rest, shuts out the Twins on 3 hits, two singles and a double.

2001-With the Yankees ahead and Mariano Rivera on the mound in the bottom of the ninth, the Arizona Diamondbacks score two runs to upset the 3-time defending champions.

2002-With the score tied 1-1, the Angels load the bases against the Giants and Garrett Anderson’s double plates all thee runners for the margin of victory in the last game 7 played to date.

Best Possible Game 6

December 14, 2009

If game 5 was the easiest Series game to pick because it was so obvious, game 6 was the hardest. There have been an inordinate number of quality sixth games in World Series history. I saw a number of them, so I chose the one I found the most exciting.

Down 3 games to 2 to the Atlanta Braves, the 1991 Minnesota Twins went into the Metrodome for game 6 needing two wins. What they got was a great game. They also ended up with the Kirby Puckett show.

The Twins broke on top with a Chuck Knoblauch single, a Puckett triple and a Shane Mack single for an early 2 run lead. In the 3rd inning Puckett made one of the most sensational catches against the glass I ever saw. It stopped a Braves rally cold. The Braves did break through in the 5th inning with two runs of their own. Terry Pendleton popped a two-run homer. Not to be outdone, the Twins went back into the lead in the bottom of the inning on Puckett’s sacrifice fly.

It took the Braves until the 7th inning to tie the game on a force out. The game remained tied until Puckett smashed a leadoff home run against Charlie Leibrandt to end the game and tie up the Series. In game 6, the Twins tallied 4 runs, Pucket had 3 RBIs and scored two runs. Heckuva performance.

Honorable mention game 6:

1947-The Dodgers tie up the Series. Famous for Al Gionfriddo’s great catch robbing Joe Dimaggio of a home run.

1975-Carlton Fisk’s “body English” home run in extra innings tied up the Series, which the BoSox lost the next night.

1986-in maybe the most famous error in World Series history, Bill Buckner leaves the wickets open.

1993-Joe Carter’s two-run blast for the Blue Jays wins the Series for Toronto.

2002-The Giants have the World Series wrapped up until the Angels rip off 3 runs in both the bottom of the 7th and the bottom of the 8th to tie up the Series. They win it all in game 7.

2003-Josh Beckett stifles the Yankees to record Florida’s 2nd World Series victory in franchise history.