Thursday, April 16, 2009

GameDay Chatter: On Alarms and Angels

During the 2009 season, the Twins Radio Network is going extend their broadcasting after each Sunday game to include a couple of hours or Twins sports talk with Jack Morris and Kris Atteberry. And yes, this means your Sunday's are completely shot to hell.

This show is going to include a weekly 'rant' by a GameDay writer/blogger called 'GameDay Chatter'. You'll find this week's below. If you're interested in hearing the audio, or talking with Morris or Atteberry about it, be sure to tune in on Sunday.

It was just eleven words by Dan Gladden, almost a throwaway comment in Tuesday’s game. They were: “Redmond’s on second. It will take a double to score him.”

But I heard alarm bells. Followed by a choir of angels.

The first reaction, and alarm, has been drilled into me by decades of my favorite team’s coverage. Was Gladden ripping Redmond’s speed? Well, yes. And no. Yes, he called Redmond slow, but that’s not a rip. Redmond is slow. He brings a lot of valuable assets to the Twins 25 man roster – and none of them are speed. Calling Redmond slow is like calling an orange – orange.

So why the alarms? Because it’s the sort of candid analysis that, in the past, has been shied away from in our market. Coverage has been geared towards the casual fan, which too often means dumbing down story lines, blind homerism, or even outrageous attacks. But that’s changed lately. Minnesota fans aren’t satisfied with fuzzy stories about how confident Jason Kubel is this year. We want to know if he’s able to hit lefties yet.

And the media is responding. This spring we had stories in the Strib evaluating the Twins fielding using advanced statistics. This year the Twins are partnering with GameDay (the independent program & scorecard that wasn’t allowed on the Metrodome grounds for the previous eight years) to provide objective analysis in each of the Twins $1 scorecards. And on the radio you have ex-ballplayers like Gladden or Jack Morris reacting as honest teammates to both the good - and the bad.

As the old coverage is replaced, we’re seeing other changes, too. Like ratings that don’t fall off a cliff when the team isn’t a front-runner. Or fans paying more attention to Twins prospects than big name free agents. Or even baseball crowds rising in unison when they recognize their team needs to be elevated to a higher place, rather than grudgingly clapping when the “Noise-o-meter’ prompts them to.

That’s what happens when you trust the public with truths. You get choirs of angels singing. Maybe loud enough to drown out the alarm bells.

Thanks for stopping by. If you would like to read more from the Twins Geek, check out the preview of the pitchers for this weekend's tilt against the Angels at

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


There was a carnival feel at the Metrodome tonight, as if the crowd was ready to erupt. That probably had something to do with it being student night and dollar dog day. But there was also a level of anticipation driven by the return of Scott Baker, the Twins' #1 pitcher.

That was the primary appeal of today's game. Baker has shown the ability dominate on occasion, including a couple of near no-hitters, as well as provide consistency to a young rotation. He also signed a long-term deal at the beginning of spring training. The only reason he wasn't the Opening Day starter is because of a short bout of "shoulder stiffness".

And that was the primary concern of today's game. After one week of rest and one minor league start, he had been declared ready. (Whether that was by himself of by the team, it isn't clear.) But there were additional red flags during spring training.

A week before his surprise trip to the disable list I asked "What was wrong with Baker?" based solely on the number of hits and home runs he had given up this spring. Then you had to wonder why his last start of the spring was against minor leaguers instead of during a regular spring training game. The skeptic might suggest because if he was put on the 15-day DL after a regular spring training game, he would have needed to be out for even more time. Which would mean that the Twins were aware of, or at least suspected, the shoulder stiffness before that last spring training start.

And then, finally, you have that long-term deal. I'm not suggesting that anyone is being less than honest for an ignoble reason. But you can understand that Baker might feel additional self-applied pressure to live up to his end of the bargain, labrum or no.

Which is why I started to make live blogging notes as the game started. The one's concerning Baker show a fan's journey into denial and then madness. And then just mad.

1st inning, 0 outs - Baker's first pitch is tagged to the opposite field warning track - by Marco Scutaro. Who is now hitless in his last 12 at-bats. Uh-oh.

1st inning, 1 out - After a single by Aaron Hill, and after shaking Mike Redmond off a number of times, Redmond and Baker and Nick Punto(?) have a conference on the mound before they throw a single pitch to the third batter of the game. What's going on? Whatever it is, it works. Punto starts a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning.

2nd inning, 1 out - Scott Rolen hits a two run home run to left field. It was pulled directly down the line and made it about five rows up. He got just enough of it, and put it in the right place.

3rd inning, 1 out - Aaron Hill hits a two run home run to left field. Denard Span mistimed his leap a little, but it looks like it would have still been just out of reach. Again, he just got enough of it.

3rd inning, 2 outs - Vernon Wells hits the third Blue Jays homer of the night. This one was NOT close. Um, mabye the wind is blowing out?

3rd inning, 3 outs - The last out of the inning is the hardest hit ball of the night. Hit to the deepest part of center field Carlos Gomez tracks it down at the wall. Must refrain fist of death....

4th inning, 2 outs - #42 hits his fourth home run of the night off of Baker. He’s really having a hell of a game. Sometimes you just have to tip your cap to the batter. So, uh, how's the FREAKING SHOULDER SCOTT?!?

I may or may not have been in the midst of a full blown anxiety attack by that last. The fact that the notes degenerate into ramblings about tasty jello would probably suggest as much to a professional. But I'm obviously not a professional.

My press pass doesn't extend into the locker room for postgame questions. That's unfortunately because I spend the last hour of the game steeling myself to ask some uncomfortably questions. Like:

- What was the diagnosis for the shoulder stiffness?
- How sure are we that it's better?
- How does Gardenhire handle a player that might be hiding an injury?

Or mabye it's not so unfortunate. Because if those questions are asked, tonight's carnival feel might very well extend into the locker room and postgame press conference.

Twins Takes
It seems like such a waste to trash the rest of the notes just because the Baker story was so blatantly obvious, so let's see what else we had.....

While You're At It, Why Not Make Both Team Where Identical Dodgers Jersies Too?
Since Major League Baseball was honoring Jackie Robinson today, the had a pregame video with inspirational music that gave me goosebumps. I admit it. I’m a sucker for this sort of thing. It's really kind of pathetic.

And, as is tradition, all of the players were wearing number #42. Which was a great way to honor Jackie Robinson – provided you weren't Stew Thornley, whose job is to provide realtime updates on the game for He was screwed, and knew it.

And the game degenerating into garbage time made it all the worse. I was amazed that Stew noticed that Jose Morales replaced Mike Redmond in the ninth inning last night. We're about 30 rows up, and a right-handed catcher (in full gear) comes out to catch Luis Ayala and he picks up that it's Morales. Nice job Stew.

And It Didn't Cost Anyone a Timeout
The Twins second run of the game scored when a ball got away from catcher Michael Barrett, but it wasn't clear whether it was a wild pitch or a passed ball. The official scorer watched the replay, and still couldn't really tell, so he called it a wild pitch.

But the next inning he used the DVR in the pressbox to replay it over and over. Unfortunately, FSN hadn't broadcast a view that could give a definitive answer, and sicne that's all he had to work with, he and several others kept looking and looking. This went on whenever they had a break for the next two innings.

Finally, some guys in the box were able to find a slow-motion and much more definitive look at it (on a camera that hadn't been shown on FSN). They were able to broadcast it on the Metrodome TVs, which made it clear that it had actually been a passed ball. So the call was reversed and the Twins second run ended up being unearned.

Starting at Catcher - Inspector Clouseau (#42)
Speaking of Barrett, early in the game it was apparent that both the Twins and the Blue Jays were very aware of the Twins speed. When Casilla reached base in the first inning, the threw back to first three times before the first pitch. And then the first pitch was a high fastball which the catcher immediately rifled back to first base. And STILL Casilla kept inching out to the point where his foot was on the carpet.

A quick look at the Michael Barrett’s fielding stats shows why. He threw out just six of forty-nine base-stealers last year. Casilla didn't steal, and neither did Span a couple of innings later. By the middle of the game, the game was out of reach, and so the Twins didn't have a single stolen base despite the obvious intention of running wild.

I think the quality of the podcasts that Seth Stohs and I have tried have varied in quality, but I gotta say, I thought last night's was really fun. That might be because I called in halfway during the show out of the blue and neither Seth or Parker from Over The Baggy were prepared for that. But if you have a chance, check it out today at and let us know what you think.

Monday, April 13, 2009

On Wins, Losses and The Game

There was probably a time that the pitchers "W" stat made a lot more sense.

It was back when things were a lot less standardized and antiseptic than they are today. Let's not forget that the first box scores were used in the 1800s, when field conditions, shapes and weather were infinitely bigger factors than they are today. In that environment, stats like ERA or hits don't necessarily mean anything. Getting a Win was, ironically enough, an additional objective measure of how a pitcher performed given the chaos.

And on nights like tonight, I wonder if it still isn't.

This wasn't supposed to be a game with 29 hits. Kevin Slowey's stellar spring was supposed to be a precursor of his ascension to top-of-the-rotation status. Jesse Litsch is a 24-year-old with a 3.75 ERA over two years in the majors. This was supposed to be a pitcher's duel.

As the Twins coaching staff is so fond of saying "That's baseball." Which is a more polite way of saying "Nobody knows anything." And that's usually as far as we get.

I'm not buying it. Something was going on tonight at the dome, similar to what happened on those fields of yore. It wasn't wind, but something was causing batters to drive those outside pitches, and mash the inside pitches. I don't know if it was the lights, or the full moon, or the migratory habits of the eyelid-breathing lava lizards, but something was amiss.

And that's as much analysis as I wish to provide of it. Whatever it was, Toronto was able to utilize it better than the Twins, to the tune of nine extra hits and two extra runs.

And a "W".

Baseball lost two icons yesterday, and both had a special place in my heart.

I suspect there are a lot of middle-aged guys that remember Mark Fidrych a little more fondly than the rest of the world. It seems he's mostly remembered as an oddity, or a comet that blazed very bright but very fast, posting that remarkable 1976 season and not much more.

But to a nine-year-old who loved baseball, he was just about perfect. An athlete that the 70s could embrace. A guy who believed all the superstitions that you knew were true. A grownup who seemed to love the game as much as a kid. He even was nicknamed after a Sesame Street character.

Mostly he just seemed like a natural weave in the 70s childhood fabric, along with Dynomite magazine, Battle of the Network Stars, and Pop Rocks. It's sad to hear that such a remarkable guy has left us, but it's not weird. What's weird is that he was ever allowed to join us.

And then we get to Harry Kalas, the voice of the Phillies. I only lived in Philly for three years while I was courting my wife, but I regarded Kalas and partner Richie Ashburn as the single-best announcing team I had ever heard, and I felt privileged to listen to them on a regular basis.

Ashburn passed away on September 9th, 1997, and I don't need to look that day up. It was the same day our first child was born, and practically the same hour. That night we lost complete stranger who we felt we knew. And we gained a family member that was a complete mystery. I won't lie. Goofy it may be, but we felt a connection there.

That's what happens with people who consistently share their joy with us. We get connected. That's a good thing, by the way. We could all use more connected. And that's why there will be a significant outpouring of emotion tomorrow morning on 610 WIP in Philly. I plan to listen, and mourn a little myself.

It'll be the second time I've said goodbye to a baseball voice in the last two years. The first time I wrote a one-minute eulogy to Herb Carneal for WCCO radio. I'm going to reprint it below, because I suspect there are those who share these same feelings today.

The Game
“You wanna listen to The Game?”, she asked.

It was another long, boring summer afternoon. With no kids of comparable age in the neighborhood, I was driving my mom insane with requests to play Candyland for the 42nd consecutive day.

This day, however, she came into the playroom with something new – an AM radio. She turned it to the Twins game and for each of us, a miracle occurred. Her miracle was that I sat in front of the radio, listening intently, for three glorious non-Candyland-playing hours. My miracle was that a whole new world opened.

Without a doubt, my guide in that world was Herb Carneal, and I wasn’t alone. Looking back it’s a wonder we weren’t all bored stiff in the 70’s. There were no blogs. No email lists. No bulletin boards. There was no Bill James. Nobody had heard of SABR. There were no national newspapers or baseball weeklies. If there were baseball magazines, they sure weren’t widely distributed. No ESPN, or sports channel of any kind, or even cable TV. Having any Twins game televised was a rare treat.

But there was always The Game. Three blessed hours of Herb Carneal, nearly each and every day, talking about baseball as he portrayed the game on the field with a mix of excitement and dignity. He shared his joy for the game by bringing us up to date on what was happening on other teams, who was making noise in the playoff race, what was going on in the farm system, and what had happened yesteryear. Those were the best. I bet I’ve heard the story about Halsey Hall accidentally igniting his quote-unquote blazer a half dozen times.

Each generation has a player that they identify as their own, and each generation will. But I think it’s safe to say that the Twins will never have an announcer to whom Twins fans connect the way we did with Herb. The world is too different. There are too many other sources of information. Herb oversaw an era in which we needed him. He was the world of baseball, shaping our understanding, appreciation and love of the game for several generations.

So from me - and my mom - thank you Herb. For 50 years, you’ve been more than a voice, and even more than my babysitter. You’ve been "The Game".

Sunday, April 12, 2009

White Sox Review and Blue Jays Preview

Sorry to throw an extra couple clicks your way, but my work tonight is on two different sites. First, you'll be able to see some research on the Blue Jays starting pitchers over at Then, if you would like to listen to some thoughts and issues about the weekend, check out last night's podcast with Seth Stohs at

I'll also hopefully be at the game Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights, so stop by again or check out our Twitter page for more immediate updates. Thanks!