Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Overcoming Philosophy

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

- Hamlet

Philo = life. Sophy = the study of.

"Study" usually means observing something and then gradually developing some theories to explain behavior. But ironically, when it comes to the study of life, we often go about things backwards. We develop our philosophy and fit life into it, like a boot stuffing overflowing garbage into the trash.

As the saying goes, baseball IS life, so you'll see the same behavior regarding baseball philosophies, as was abundantly clear this week. As Twins fans looked for comfort after two days of wretched baseball, we found commentators willing to tell us what we had seen. Unfortunately, the perception about how Sidney Ponson and Boof Bonser performed usually had very little to do with their actual performance, and everything to do with the commentator's philosophy.

One such philosophy might be: Major league teams should trust prospect more than they do. That's the philosophy that drove Tuesday morning's righteous indignation. How dare the Twins gift starts to a 30-year-old washed-up, homer-prone blimp. Did you see those home runs? Just like we expected when they signed Ponson this offseason. Why the hell isn't Matt Garza up here?

And on Wednesday morning - crickets. Or if there was any talk, it was about how hot A-Rod was, or how the Twins offense was struggling, or how the defense needed to tighten. Bonser still needs to be careful not to fall behind in the count, but he's young. He'll figure it out.

Today, let's be candid: Ponson was better than Bonser, and it wasn't particularly close. And last night, the Twins OTHER foolish signing, a 33-year-old, washed-up, homer-prone toothpick, shut down the American League's best offense for eight solid innings. Which means that the "youth now" philosophy had the same record as the Twins in this series - one win, two losses.

Which isn't to say it isn't a valid philosophy. It just means that one game doesn't validate it, any more than two games destroys it. And while we're at it, neither does one player, or one player's season. A sabermetric study that shows strikeout rates correspond with career length doesn't mean that Ramon Ortiz can't develop a change-up that adds a new dimension to his fastball. It also doesn't mean that Matt Garza is going to save a season (you remember he didn't last year, right?)

Philosophy is a noble undertaking, whether it be in life or in baseball. But philosophies about either are smaller than their subjects. Stuffing baseball into its philosophies isn't just fruitless, it's silly. For there are more things in heaven and earth, Barreiro, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Making the Season Gladden
In the past I've made it pretty clear that I wasn't the biggest fan of Twins announcers. Twice this year I've done something I haven't done in years - turned off the sound on the TV and listened to the radio.

The difference is Dan Gladden. I don't know if it's the switch to the Twins own radio network, or getting teamed with Jack Morris chunks of the game, or just getting more confident, but Gladden has consistently given insights to the game that he hadn't in previous years, and which the TV announcers gave up on years ago.

The eighth inning last night was a perfect example. In the space of five minutes, Gladden pointed out:
1. that Nick Punto should be given some credit for Luis Castillo's stolen base, because he held his bunt attempt long enough to make sure that Jorge Posada couldn't jump out from behind the plate.
2. that Jorge Posada can get a little lazy behind the plate late in games and start back-handing pitches, which can lead to wild pitches. He made that point just prior to Posada letting a ball get past him.
3. Then he pointed out that Posada's body language following that passed ball indicated that he was crossed up by Farnsworth, which was likely because Joe Mauer was on second base and they were using a series of signals.

Point three was fairly obvious, but impressive nonetheless. About 80% of announcers would have been patting themselves on the back following the wild pitch because of point #2, whether or not it was relevant.

Listen, I've been as down on Twins announcers as anyone in this town, partly because I spent several years listening to some real announcers named Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn and partly because the Twins threesome was legitimately poor. No longer. Do yourself a favor and tune in. You might be surprise how much more you see than if you just use your eyes.

A Helping Hand
Mr. Kubel, I thought I might share with you a little lesson I've learned from the real world. Sometimes, at work, things don't go well for me. I might make a commitment that I can't meet. Or I might face a problem that I can't solve. Or I might unknowingly break something. And that can really dissappoint people, because I'm paid pretty well, but can also be ditched in the space of about two weeks.

You might be experiencing something similar. Maybe you'e just very cool, or maybe your knees hurt, or maybe you're just not that bright. It's hard to say. But whatever the reason, one thing you might want to remember is:

Look like you give a damn.

Because, you see, some people around you actually do. Me, for instance. It's not a huge sacrifice, but I'm dedicating three hours of night to watching the game, and I might like to watch a guy catch a fly ball. Or, even, move towards the ball at any pace faster than a saunter.

And I have to think that there are a fair amount of people you work with that might care a little. For instance, maybe you could try meandering all the way over to third base on a dribbler to right field. Twenty-four teammates who are tired of sucking might appreciate that. Not to mention those older guys who sit in the dugout and make those annoying buzzing noises you try to tune out.

But try not to concentrate on the examples so much as the idea. It doesn't necessarily matter what the effort is, just so long as it's there. You see we all make mistakes. And whether it's your teammates, or your coaches, or that bald guy that sends you your checks, they all feel better about having you around if you look like you care.

Plus, it might make good practice for when you eventually find yourself working in the real world. That could be handly since you're working so very hard to join us here.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


I’m blaming it on years of small-market kvetching. Or maybe it’s those four damn Super Bowls. But Minnesotans have an insecurity that manifests itself in strange ways when it comes to our favorite sports players.

Last week I had a die-hard Twins fan trying to convince me that the Twins either need to sign Johan Santana to a contract extension immediately or trade him at the trade deadline this year. Note that the Twins have a contract with Santana through 2008. His logic was that if the Twins can’t afford to keep Santana (and, by the way, they can’t) then they should get something really good for him, because no team can lose a player like that and not regress.

I stood there, blinking. Get something really good? Like, for instance, a two-time Cy Young Award winner? Just what, exactly, can any team give up that’s good enough to replace Santana through two pennant races and postseason appearances? A ‘bye’ to the World Series? Or have we reached the point where we are so afraid of losing these players that we need to break up with them first? Exactly when did we become crazy ex-girlfriends? And just how many questions can I type in a row?

We saw it again in the recent news that long-term contract negotiations between the Twins and Morneau have ended after Morneau turned down an offer for a four-year deal. The common refrain as this news was reported (“hopefully, they’ll eventually agree to something”) missed the point that the Twins already have a four-year deal with Morneau. They can offer him arbitration for the next three years just like they did this year, and both sides have a pretty good idea how much that will cost them. The only differences are:

1. it is probably more expensive than the guaranteed contract the Twins offered Morneau and
2. with arbitration, the Twins essentially have an opt-out clause each year if Morneau gets hurt or regresses.

And let’s not forget that Morneau’s season turned around last June when manager Ron Gardenhire delivered the message that Morneau needed to dedicate himself on and off the field to reach his potential. Do we really want to guarantee that guy $33 million over the next four years, whether he continues to dedicate himself or not?

For years, Twins fans have trained themselves to look ahead while turning a blind eye towards the present situation. That’s called ‘hope’ but that skill has turned into a bad habit. We may be right in the middle of the longest string of success this franchise has ever had, going back to the Senators and 1900. We need to quit obsessing about the future and start appreciating what we have in front of us. For the Twins, the future is now. Twins fans need to realize the same thing.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Quick Note

You know what my perfect world would include? It would include Sam Bergman doing daily coverage of the NHL, and the Minnesota Wild in particular. Sam's kind of busy with his real job, but he tried to take a few minutes to talk about the NHL playoffs for us all. And yes, I said "tried".

(Oh, and you wouldn't need to rely on me to find stuff like this if you stopped by every day.)

I'm kind of busy tonight, and there's plenty of other good stuff that MNGameDay is going to link to, so this is it. Stop by tomorrow a story on the Twins contract negotiations, and why we need to start caring a lot less about them. G'Night.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

One BILLION Dollars

$1B. That’s how much George Steinbrenner has spent to NOT win a championship over the last six years. By comparison, if you added up every payroll dollar the Twins franchise has spent in their history, it wouldn’t equal $1 billion. Not the Twins team, mind you – the Twins franchise - which includes the Washington Senators run starting in 1900.

So while one of the stories this offseason was that the Yankees front office didn’t spend money like a bridezilla with a trust fund, don’t make the mistake of thinking they’ve become the model of fiscal restraint. The Yankees organization’s biggest asset is still King George’s coffers, and they continue to leverage it in multiple ways, whether they’re bidding for free agents or not.

For instance, there was last year’s “trade” they made at the deadline that lifted them to the AL East division championship. Baseball teams are not allowed to trade money for players anymore, but the Yankees still managed to essentially buy Bobby Abreu as their new starting right fielder and Cory Lidle as a middle-of-the-rotation starter. In return, the Phillies received four minimal prospects and upwards of $20 million in debt relief. You can probably guess which they were most interested.

Offseason trades provide another example. The $189M that USA Today reports the Yankees will spend on payroll this year doesn’t include six million dollars that they threw at other teams to facilitate some trades and buy some prospects. To trade away the injured Randy Johnson, they sent $2 million to help cover his salary this year. To trade away the awful Jaret Wright, they sent Baltimore a thank-you card in the form of a $4 million dollar check. If the checks weren’t the sole reason they were able to make the trades, they at least helped them in getting some decent prospects in return.

Finally, it’s not like they didn’t sign any high dollar free agents. They filled the holes in their rotation by throwing over $30 million per year at Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte and Kei Igawa. And that might be just a down payment if Roger Clemens decides he’ll pitch for the highest bidder. It’s conceivable that by September, the Yankees starting rotation will be comprised of four free agents whom they’ve paid $50 million this year.

It’s about this time that someone inevitably makes the point that the Yankees are just doing what they’re supposed to do, and that they aren’t the problem. Fair enough. Baseball (and particularly the players’ union) has been reluctant to implement any sort of salary cap which would increase the level of competition and reward front office competence. The Yankees and King George are just symptoms of that particular dysfunction.

A very happy and lucrative symptom.