Saturday, December 11, 2010

Random Thought - 50 Years of Minnesota Viking Football

The Minnesota Vikings are celebrating their 50th anniversary this season. In 50 years the Vikings have been soundly beaten in 4 Super Bowls; lost 4 NFC Championship games of which 3 were last minute losses; and generally disappointed their fans on regular basis.

About 2 years ago I decided to collect autographed football cards of the Vikings players who played any of the 4 Super Bowls. I now have roughly 30 players including Fran Tarkenton, Alan Page, and Joe Kapp.

Next weekend (Dec 18 & 19) the Vikings are hosting a big 50th anniversary celebration. The 50 greatest Vikings will be revealed, and all 49 of still living members of that group will all be present.

Perhaps in honor of this coming moment, Bud Grant the coach of the Vikings’ 4 Super Bowl teams signed a football card, appropriately in purple sharpie, that I had sent him in the mail. Coach Grant normally does not do much signing through the mail, so thank you Coach Grant for signing the card, and I hope you have good time at the big Viking celebration!

While Coach Grant and others celebrate 50 years of Viking football, I will be attending a card show being put on by Amongst others, they are having Minnesota North Star legend and new Hockey Hall of Fame member Dino Ciccarelli signing autographs. They are also having my favorite Minnesota Twin of all-time Gary Gaetti.
 Dino never signs through the mail, so I have to get him here. Gary on the other hand as been quite generous over the years in signing stuff for me for free, so I thought I would pay him back a bit. It will also be nice to see my favorite Minnesota Twin in person again.

Friday, November 12, 2010

CMA Awards 2010

On Wednesday night the country music industry decided to anoint Miranda Lambert as the next superstar of country music. Lambert won big at Wednesday night’s CMA Awards taking home awards for Female Vocalist of the Year, Album of the Year, and Music Video of the Year. Her song “The House That Built Me” won Song of the Year, while Lambert’s future husband Blake Shelton won Male Vocalist of the Year and Vocal Event of the Year.

Artist such as Vince Gill, the Dixie Chicks, and Keith Urban have received similar pushes from the country industry, and reaped great success because of it. Of course success is only fleeting, so Ms Lambert should enjoyed her time at the top while she can.

With Lambert’s accession country music is now dominated by 3 major female superstars (Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, and Lambert) and 2 groups (Lady Antebellum and Zac Brown Band). Solo male artists exist, but none is at the level of these five artists. There may not be a lot of female artists having success, but the ones that are, are at the very top.

Other CMA Award show thoughts:

Jason Aldean & Kelly Clarkson “Don’t You Wanna Stay?” was excellent, and I think the performance will help the song become a signature hit for Aldean. I don’t think Aldean is the greatest vocalist, but his CMA performance was one of his better ones, while Clarkson simply was the best vocalist of the night. I have always believed Kelly Clarkson is a country singer at heart, and given the right material could be one of the greatest country music singers ever.

Sugarland looked like fools while performing “Stuck Like Glue”. Some people like the song, some don’t, but those stupid customs (they look like something out of the Nutcracker), and Jennifer Nettles quirking vocal performance will come back to haunt them. That’s a shame because Nettles can be a gripping vocalist when she just stands there and sings.

Taylor Swift performance of “Back to December” was her best on live television in a long time. The song itself is good, and the fact it was a ballad in the midst of night that feature mostly rocking songs aided its appeal. People who dislike Swift will immediately attack anything she does, while those that love her will defend anything she does. This is the life of a superstar just ask Garth Brooks and Shania Twain.

I was also into Dierks Bentley’s “Up on the Ridge” and the Zac Brown Band/Alan Jackson “She’s Walking Away” because I like bluegrass and Alan Jackson.

I have never really been into Brad Paisley’s music or Brad Paisley the man, but his emotional acceptance of the Entertainer of the Year Award put him in a very good light. It showed him as a real human being whose drive to make music was fueled by motivations his fan can indentify with. This will likely be the peak of Brad Paisley career, and if it is he will be able to look back satisfied that he correctly acknowledged the role his family and fans played in getting him to that moment.

Finally since I have been watching the CMA’s forever here is a list of people who have won CMA Entertainer of the Year since 1990 – George Strait, Garth Brooks, Vince Gill, Alan Jackson, Brooks & Dunn, Shania Twain, Dixie Chicks, Tim McGraw, Kenny Chesney, Keith Urban, Taylor Swift, and Brad Paisley. Reba McEntire won back in 86 while Clint Black, Faith Hill, Toby Keith, Rascal Flatts, and Carrie Underwood have so far been denied.

The CMA deserves some credited for rightfully awarding its highest honor to almost all of the biggest stars in country music the last 20 years. You can argue so and so should have won more or won less, but you cannot say anyone one on that winners list does not deserve to have an Entertainer of the Year award in their trophy case.

Maybe one day soon Miranda Lambert will be clearing a space for her CMA award as after Wednesday night, it looks like the country music industry certainly likes her a lot.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

TTM Successes for the Last Few Months

I have had only a moderate amount of success lately in getting players to sign cards for me in the mail. However, the successes I have had have been very pleasing to me.

I received, for free, a signed Allen & Ginter card from Baseball Hall of Famer Ernie Banks. Wow! I had seen from time to time that Mr. Banks signed for people, but my previous attempt last year went unanswered. However, this time I was successful.

I received a signed card from Hockey Hall of Famer Bobby Hull. Hockey HOFers are usually better at signing cards for free, though big stars like Bobby Orr, Gordie Howe, and Mario Lemieux charge. I was surprised that Mr. Hull did not charge. Great success!

I got returns over the last few months from newer Twins Drew Butera, Alex Burnett, Jason Repko, Anthony Slama, Randy Flores, and Ben Revere. Thanks to each of these gentlemen.

I made custom cards of Twins radio voice John Gordon, and Twins TV voice Dick Bremer. Both men graciously signed for me with Mr. Gordon including his home call “Touch em all” on the card, and Mr. Bremer included an extra signed card and short note of thanks. Thank you to Mr. Gordon and Mr. Bremer.

Joey Votto, soon to be named NL MVP, was gracious enough to sign a custom card I made of him. Mr. Votto is a decent signer, but I had not seen many returns from him this year, so it appears I got lucky.

Former Twin Hal Naragon not only signed my custom card I had made of him; he was kind enough to include an extra signed card of his own. Another former Twin Chris Heintz did not sign my custom card, but did included 2 signed cards of his own for me. Thank you Mr. Naragon and Mr. Heintz for your generosity!

I was surprised to get returns from Football Hall of Famers Bruce Smith and Rickey Jackson (thank you gentlemen). I was not surprised, but still very grateful that former Minnesota Viking quarterback Joe Kapp signed a card I had made of him.

I sent $10 to the Detroit Tigers Foundation “Autographs for Cause” program and in return superstar Miguel Cabrera signed an Allen & Ginter card for me. I also got a letter of authenticity that said Mr. Cabrera was matching all donations made, and contributing the money to Haitian Hurricane Relief. Very decent of him to do so.

I also spent $$$ to buy a 2009 Upper Deck Signature Stars Gold Signature card autographed by one Joe Mauer. The card is #12 of 35 which means there were only 35 of these cards in existence. That means they are more valuable because there are fewer of them. It is a nice looking card.

Getting Joe Mauer to sign anything is getting to be near impossible. He only signs at Twinsfest and the Twins Autograph Party, and needless to say the lines are real long, and most people end up not getting his autograph even if they wait for hours. I decided this was an easy way to add to my Mauer autograph collection.

Finally current All-Star and future superstar Elvis Andrus signed for me. Last year Mr. Andrus always seemed to be signing for everyone else, but me. Well, he finally came through for me. Sometimes good things do come to those who wait.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

For Postseason Success the Twins Need Better Starting Pitching

Frank Viola has shown firsthand what 
what great starting pitching can for a
team's post season run.
(By the way this is best Frank Viola card of
all-time. I own multiple copies of it, one
of which was autographed by the man himself.)

Tom Kelly managed the Twins to a 16-8 post season record. The Twins won World Championships in 1987 and 1991 under his command winning all four post season series they played in. Rod Gardenhire has managed the Twins to a post season record of 6-21. His teams are 1-6 in post season series. Both men have managed roughly the same amount post season games yet the have almost totally opposite win-lost records. Why?

It comes down to elite starting pitching. In his 24 post season games Tom Kelly had a starting pitcher who pitched seven or more innings in a game 9 times. The Twins won all nine of those games. In his 27 post season games Ron Gardenhire has a starting pitcher who pitched seven or more innings in game 5 times. The Twins won only 3 of those games.

What if Gardenhire’s Twins could have got just 4 more starts of 7 innings or more? It might have turned a couple of those lost series (four of which were best of 5 ALDS’s) into series wins. Then again Gardenhire’s teams did a poor job of winning the 7 + inning outings they did get. Still it likely would have lead to at least a couple more wins and a series or two going the Twins way.

What Kelly had that it seems Gardenhire does not is elite pitchers to toss those 7 + inning games. Below is the list of all the pitchers to pitch 7 + innings in a postseason game:

Tom Kelly’s Twins:

Frank Voila (87 ALCS Game 1, 87 WS Game1, 87 WS Game 7)

Bert Blyleven (87 ALCS Game 2, 87 WS Game 2)

Jack Morris (91 ALCS Game 4, 91 WS Game 1, 91 WS Game 7)

Kevin Tapani (91 WS Game 2)

Ron Gardenhire’s Twins:

Eric Milton (2002 ALDS Game 4)

Joe Mays (2002 ALCS Game 1)

Johan Santana (2004 ALDS Game 1, 2006 ALDS Game 1 which was a loss)

Carl Pavano (2009 ALDS Game 3 which was a loss)

Three pitchers (Viola, Blyleven, and Morris) accounted for 8 of Kelly's Twins 9 7+ plus inning games. It was by no accident that they did. Bert Blyleven is likely going to be a Hall of Famer. Jack Morris might make the Hall of Fame as well, and he has a history of pitching well in big games. Frank Voila was regarded as one of the best pitchers in baseball during his time with the Twins, and rightfully won the Cy Young Award in 1988. Viola and Morris were the World Series MVP in 87 and 91 respectfully.

You can rightly point out that the Twins again exited the playoffs again in 2010 because they did not hit, but they lead Game 1 3-0 at one point. A strong pitching performance would have made that lead hold up against any lineup. The Twins failed to get that pitching performance and they are out of the playoffs again because of it.

The Twins pitching rotation for 2011 likely looks to be Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker, Brian Duensing, Nick Blackburn & Kevin Slowey. Liriano has the potential to be a Viola, Blyleven, and Morris, but the Twins need more. Baker has always had the talent, but has not delivered the results. Herald prospect Kyle Gibson is showing promise, but has yet to see action in the big leagues.

The Twins need some starting pitchers to step up. If not, the Twins are likely to be swept out of the first round of the playoffs again in 2011 if they make the playoffs at all.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Minnesota Twins Win Their Sixth Division Title in Nine Years

I have been blessed to witness the Minnesota Twins win 2 World Championships (1987 & 1991). Watching those wins provide me with an amazing feeling that cannot truly be described. I have talked to several younger folks who are now rabid Twins fans and are too young or were not even around to see the Twins win the World Series 1991. These folks want a chance to experience what I did in 1987 and 1991. Thanks to the Twins posting the best second half record (42-15) in baseball this season, these folks have another chance to get their wish as the Twins have won their sixth division title in nine years.

This Twins team had high expectations entering the season, and so far they have lived up to them. This has been an impressive season for many reasons. The Twins lost their All-Star closer Joe Nathan even before the season began. At the halfway point of the season, All-Star 1st baseman Justin Morneau, who was having a MVP worthy season, endured a concussion and has not played since. Three fourths of the Twins opening days starting rotation (Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, and Kevin Slowey) have been injured and /or wildly inconsistent. The Twins 3rd base platoon of Nick Punto and Brendan Harris imploded with Harris being demoted and Punto spending more time injured than healthy.

Add to those problems the fact that suppose lineup stalwarts centerfielder Denard Span and designated hitter / outfielder Jason Kubel have had subpar seasons offensively, and this division title looks even more impressive.

How did they Twins overcome these obstacles to achieve success? A group of unexpected contributors emerged, and the team’s MVP decided to kick it into high gear.

Entering the season Francisco Liriano was the team’s fifth starter, and his future was in doubt. Today Liriano has become the team’s ace, and will start game 1 of the playoffs. Liriano is finally recovered from the Tommy John surgery he had late in 2006 and it shows. Liriano’s emergence gives the Twins a legitimate pitching ace and hope for a deep playoff run.

Entering the season Delmon Young was considered a bust as player. On opening night he homer then in July he almost singled handily carried the Twins offense. Young has achieved career highs in home runs (18) and RBIs (105), and shown some actual personality. Young is still a work in progress, especially on defense, but he has finally emerged as a player and in the process helped the Twins into first place.

Brian Duensing entered the season in the bullpen. He soon became the team’s most reliable reliever; then Nick Blackburn imploded and Duensing was forced back into the rotation and promptly went 7-1 with an ERA of 2.43 in 11 starts. Duensing won’t be going back to the bullpen instead he will be starting game 3 of the playoffs with a spot in next season rotation already reserved for him.

Reliever Jesse Crain entered the season under a death watch. Most fans expected the option on Crain’s contract for 2010 would not be picked up – it was. After a rough first half of the season, Crain looked to be on the verge of being released. At the Twins autograph party in June I found fan after fan who could not stand the name Jesse Crain. Then after the all-star break something clicked, and Crain became the team’s indispensable setup man and arguably their most important reliever. Crain got the Twins out of jam after jam and has become so loved by Twins fans that many are saying Crain should be considered the Twins MVP.

Many Twins fans were surprised that the Twins signed designated hitter Jim Thome in the off-season. Fans wondered what the team would do with Thome when we already had a good designated hitter in Jason Kubel. Then Justin Morneau was injured, Michael Cuddyer had to take over at 1st, Jason Kubel had to play right field, and Jim Thome took over at DH. Despite limited playing time, Thome now leads the team in home runs with 25. His walk off home run against the White Soxs in the bottom of the 10th on August 17th was the turning point in the Twins season and will go down as one of the great moments in Twins history. No one is wondering anymore why Jim Thome was signed last off-season, they are only hoping he will come back next season.

Entering the season Carl Pavano was considered one of the biggest busts in free agent history. After a couple of good years in Florida, Pavano signed a large free agent contract with the New York Yankees. His four years with the Yankees were pathetic, and Yankee fans still sheath with anger at the mere mention of Pavano’s name. Pavano started last year in Cleveland and was traded to the Twins in the second half of the 2009 season. He pitched admirably, and was offered a 1 year contract for 2010. After exploring free agency and finding no one really interested, Pavano took the Twins 1 year offer. All Pavano has done this year is lead the Twins in wins (17) and innings pitched (210). In era where pitchers rarely pitch complete games, Pavano has 7 with many of them coming at crucial times when the Twins bullpen needed a rest. It is safe to say Pavano has been anything by a bust in Minnesota.

Danny Valencia was supposed to be the future at 3rd base. At least that was what we heard for most 2009. Then when the September call ups in 2009 were announced, Valencia was not among them. The Twins said he was not ready. In spring training this year Valencia was cut early on. His performance in the minors was ordinary, and it looked like he was no longer the future at 3rd. Then the Twins needed someone to play 3rd base and Valencia was the only warm body available. Like Denard Span in 2008, Valencia came up and played so well the Twins could not send him back down. To date Valencia is hitting .328 with an OPS + of 121. Valencia is no longer the future at 3rd, he is the present.

In the end though, the Twins are Joe Mauer’s team. Entering this season Mauer was the reigning American League MVP and had just signed a $184 million contract extension making him a Twin for life. Mauer, the Twins best and most important player, was supposed to repeat his MVP year and carry the Twins to the World Series.

Instead Mauer started off slow and was hitting only .293 at the all-star break with no signs of the home run power he had shown in 2009. The Twins were barely above .500. There were rumors Mauer was hurt, or too burden by the expectations bought on by his $184 million contract. Then Mauer kicked it into high gear, and since the All-star has hit .382 raising his batting average from .293 to .331. As Mauer started to hit, the Twins started win. Over the years people have tried to point out that Justin Morenau and Joe Nathan are more valuable to this team than Joe Mauer. This season proves that is not the case. Morneau and Nathan are nowhere to be seen, and yet the Twins are division champs. Joe Mauer has brilliant years in 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2010. In three of those years they have won division titles. The one year they did not (2008) they lost the division by 1 game when they lost a one game playoff to decide the division winner. Mauer in the lineup and playing brilliantly equals the Twins winning. Joe Mauer is this team’s MVP.

Below is a video taken by a fan of Jim Thome's August 17th walk off home run. You might want to turn your volume down when watching it as it is a little loud.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Country Music's CMA Awards 2010

The country music I loved died a while back and has been replaced by the pop light music now being passed off as country music. A few artists still make music I like such as Miranda Lambert. I was pleased to see Lambert received 9 nominations for this year’s Country Music Association Awards (CMA).

Lambert received two nominations each for Single and Song of the Year. Usually this means she won’t win the either category because the two songs split the vote, but that is not always the case. In 2002 Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You (When the World Stop Turning)” won Single and Song of the Year even though Jackson’s “Drive (For Daddy Gene)” was also nominated for Single and Song of Year. That said “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” had such momentum that no song that year was even close to it in creed and popularity.

I expect Lambert to win Female Vocalist of the Year and Album of the Year. Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now” will likely win Single and Song of the Year.

Much of the discussion about the CMA nominations centers on Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood being excluded from the Entertainer of the Year nominations. I was surprised too, but there is some precedent to this.

In 1998 the CMA bestowed the Entertainer of the Year on Shania Twain and then failed to nominate her the next year. The same thing has now happened to Taylor Swift who won last year and was not nominated this year. The reason is simple, the CMA voting membership dislikes Swift’s blatant attempt to make pop music and call it country just as they disliked Twain’s similar attempt. Of course the hypocrites who point their fingers at Swift are the same people who are systematically destroying traditional country music by producing the watered down pop music that is today called country music.

Carrie Underwood’s case is more complex, but none less hypocritical. Underwood is artist of great vocal talent who seems to represent all the good traits a country artist is suppose to represent. Underwood has also embraced country music’s past while trying to keep her pop audience gained when she won American Idol.

Underwood was a blessing to country music when she arrived. She was a ready made star who looked fabulous and sang even better. The country music world could not wait to build Underwood up as a mega-star. However, our society loves building people up only to systematically tear them back down. Call it the backlash against being to successful.

Underwood sang too good, looked too beautiful, sold too many albums, got too many #1 singles, and won too many awards. It happened to the Judds and Randy Travis. They were highly successful only to be denied the CMA Entertainer of the Year Award because they were jealously viewed as “too successful”. It also happened to Garth Brooks who after a string of amazing successes was sent into exile by the CMA. Today Brooks is seen as a greedy egoist; no matter that his drive to sell more albums, play to more fans, and be the center of attention was always part of who he was and help him make himself and country music more successful.

George Strait, Alan Jackson, and Brooks & Dunn are about the only people to survive this backlash against success, but even they were not completely immune. Now Brooks & Dunn have retired. Jackson is aging and not the commercial force he once was. Strait is not young either who could retire a moment’s notice.

Underwood may be able to reverse this backlash. She may make that album or record that song that is so good no one can deny her. Until then it is Miranda Lambert’s world, or it is until backlash against her success begins.

Friday, September 3, 2010

50 Years of Minnesota Twins Baseball

2010 marks the 50th Anniversary of Minnesota Twins. The Twins were the Washington Senators for 59 years before moving to Minnesota and playing the first game here in 1961. In their 50 years in Minnesota the Twins have won 2 World Championships (87 & 91), been to 3 World Series (65, 87 & 91), and won 9 division titles (69, 70, 87, 91, 02, 03, 04, 06, 09). The Twins have also finished last in all of baseball twice (82 & 00).

The Twins have been blessed to have 3 Hall of Fame players in Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew, and Kirby Puckett who played the majority of their careers with the Twins. The Twins are equally blessed to have a future Hall of Famer in Joe Mauer currently playing for them.

Five Twins have won the American League MVP (Zoilo Versalles in 65, Killebrew in 69, Carew in 77, Justin Morneau in 06, and Mauer in 2009). Three Twins have won the American League CY Young Award (Jim Perry in 70, Frank Viola in 88, and Johan Santana in 04 & 06).

The most staggering accomplishment in Twins history might be that in 14 of the Twins 50 years of existences a Twins player has lead the American League in batting average (Carew 7x, Mauer 3x, Tony Olivia 3x, Puckett 1x). That’s 28% of the batting titles in last 50 years won by Twins players.

The Twins strongest position in their history seems to be 1st base which featured Harmon Killebrew, Kent Hrbek, & Justin Morneau. Killebrew and Hrbek already have their numbers retired by the Twins, and Morneau is on his way to have having his retired as well. All three men were/are great hitters with Hrbek and Morneau also playing well on defense.

The weakest position in Twins history looks to be shortstop. There have been moments at short like Versalles MVP year in 65 and Roy Smalley’s All-Star year in 79, but on the whole it has been a problem area. Only Greg Gagne (9 years as a starter) and Leo Cardenas (3 years as a starter) have given the Twins any real above average play at short.

Pitching wise the Twins have always seem to have better relievers than starters. Late innings pitchers like Al Worthington, Ron Perranoski, Bill Campbell, Tommy Johnson, Mike Marshall, Doug Corbett, Jeff Reardon, Rick Aguilera, Eddie Guardado, and Joe Nathan seem to always be there for the Twins.

The greatest single game performance by a Twins player was by Jack Morris. In Game 7 of the 1991 World Series Morris pitched 10 innings of shutout baseball to win the game 1-0. Think about it, Morris basically had to pitch the whole game knowing one mistake would cost his team a World Championship. More pressure? Morris is from St. Paul, Minnesota pitching at home in front of friends and family and a national television audience for the team he grew up watching. There have been other great hitting and pitching performances, but none done with such pressure.

Harmon Killebrew was loved by Twins fans. Kirby Puckett was beloved by Twins fans, and named Minnesota Athlete of Century. However, Joe Mauer is obsessively loved by Twins fans. It help of course that Mauer is not only a great player, but that he is from St. Paul, Minnesota. Twins fans love rooting for hometown kids.

I love Joe Mauer too as I do the Minnesota Twins as a whole. We Twins fans have been very lucky. We have won Championships and had some great players to root for. Teams like the Texas and Seattle have never been to the World Series. San Diego, Houston, and others have never won a World Series.

I have been around for a good number of the Twins 50 years and my best memories are of 77, 79, 84, 87, 91, 02, 03, 04, 06, and the last 2 years. I rejoiced at the World Championship, cringed at meltdown in 84, and am growing frustrated with the playoff failing the last few years, but I have enjoyed watching.

Gary Gaetti is my favorite Twin of all-time. I think the Metrodome was not as bad of a stadium as people made it out to be; Target Field is not a great as people make it out to be.

I saw my first game in person in 1979. In 1984 I attend 41 Twins games, the most I have ever attended. I have travelled to Kansas City (1x) and Milwaukee (4 x) to see the Twins play.

683 (and counting) players have worn the Twins uniform. Most of them for did not last for long. Of those that did even fewer became stars. Below I have created a 50th Anniversary All-Time Twins teams.

A few thoughts about how I created it.

Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is a stat which measures how many more wins a player is worth to a team than a replacement player. For hitters WAR is calculated using a formula measuring runs produced on offense and run prevented on defense. For pitchers it is about things pitchers can control like earned runs allowed, strikeouts, walks, home runs allowed, etc. I used this stat in helping pick my team, but I also used OPS +, ERA +, and more traditional stats like home runs, batting average, ERA, wins, etc. I also use Myth.

Myth can be defined as a traditional story accepted as history. When Kirby Puckett played everyone knew they were watching a future Hall of Famer. Puckett was the greatest all around hitter in Twins history. He was one of the greatest defensive center fielders of not only his time, but all-time. He always produced in the clutch. He led the Twins to 2 World Championship. Was all of this true? The myth says it was. Fans believe myth. Myth has power. Myth can grow stronger and stronger until it becomes irrefutable even when evidence says it was wrong. People love myth. Myths provide material for stories, and we all love stories especially baseball fans love stories.

Here is my team:

Catcher – Joe Mauer

1st Base – Harmon Killebrew

2nd Base – Rod Carew

SS – Greg Gagne

3rd Base – Gary Gaetti

LF – Bob Allison

CF – Kirby Puckett

RF – Tony Olivia

P – Bert Blyleven

P – Johan Santana

P – Frank Viola

P – Camilo Pascual

P – Jim Kaat

RP – Joe Nathan

RP – Rick Aguilera

Mgr - Tom Kelly

I think this is a pretty impressive group. Mauer, Killebrew, Carew, Puckett, Olivia, Blyleven, and Santana are in or worthy of Hall of Fame consideration though obviously not all are or will ever be in the Hall of Fame. The only player on the Twins who is not an All-Star level player is Gagne who was a borderline All-Star player.

While doing research I found out that Shane Mack, Brad Radke, and Larry Hisle are some of the most underappreciated Twins of all-time; while Jim Kaat (still made the team though), Jim “Mudcat” Grant, Zoilo Versalles, Dan Gladden, and Torii Hunter come out looking a little overrated.

Earl Battey, Justin Morneau, Kent Hrbek, Chuck Knoblauch, Cesar Tover, Dave Goltz, Jim Perry, Corey Koskie, Tom Brunansky, and Hunter were deserving of consideration for the All-Time Team as well, but they just were quite good enough or some cases block by superior players.

For the most part the first 50 years of Twins baseball have been good; hopefully the next 50 will be even better.

Monday, August 16, 2010

No Hitter Chance Wrongly Taken From Twins Pitcher Kevin Slowey

Kevin Slowey was pulled from last Sunday’s game against the Oakland A’s after pitching 7 innings of no-hit baseball. I know all the excuses for why he was pulled – he missed his last start due to elbow soreness; he was at 106 pitches at a time when 100 pitches is considered the limit for today’s pitchers; the Twins are in a pennant race and need him healthy. I also know he should never have been pulled.

Kevin Slowey had a chance at greatness snatched away from him. Slowey is a marginal, fly ball, pitcher who has been lucky enough to pitch in pitcher friendly home ballparks. Slowey has never made it through a whole season unjured. Slowey will not be a in the Twins post-season rotation. Had Slowey been hurt, Nick Blackburn would easily have replaced him. Soon prospects Kyle Gibosn and Dave Bromberg will be ready to replace Slowey permanently.

The last pitcher to be pulled after 7 innings of no-hit pitching was Atlanta Brave Damian Moss in 2002. His manager, Bobby Cox, said that he pulled Moss because Moss was over 100 pitches and he, Cox wanted to protect Moss’ arm. Cox said roughly the same thing Ron Gardenhire said about Slowey – “this young man has a bright future ahead of him, I won’t ruin it by letting him go 120-130 pitches.” Cox like Gardenhire was wrong. Moss had no bright future and after 2004, Moss was out of the majors having accomplished little or nothing.

Most major pitchers don’t last long in the big leagues. For every Greg Maddux who lasts 15-20 years there are hundreds of Damian Moss’s who seem to have bright futures only to disappear quickly and not be remembered.

Maybe Kevin Slowey gives up a hit in the eight or ninth inning, maybe he does not. Kevin Slowey deserved the right to try. Years from now Kevin Slowey will look back at August 15, 2010 and realize he had a chance at being immortalized. Instead he will be nothing more than a minor footnote rarely if ever mentioned.

I cannot tell you the number of times I have been in alumni autograph line at Twinsfest or the Twins Autograph party and some younger individual (and more people are getting younger than me all the time) asks me who the alumni player is. Most the time all I can answer was that the individual was a former Twin who played between such and such a year. The person almost always asks if that player ever doing anything great. My answer is usually no because most players were just average players, not Hall of Famers, MVP’s, CY Young winners, or people who achieved great feats.

On September 1999 another pitcher with a bright future threw 125 pitches in 9 inning game. His manager Tom Kelly did not pull him when he hit 100 pitches. Eric Milton’s career never panned out the way it was suppose to, but he did pitch a no-hitter for the Twins that day. Whenever he goes now Eric Milton can say when asked about his career – “I pitched a no-hitter in 1999” and people will likely respond – “Wow! That’s amazing! What was it like to be able to do something remembered for all-time?”

Kevin Slowey will never be able to answer that question. He had the chance to do something that will be remembered for all-time. It was snatched away from him in the name of protecting a bright future he likely does not have.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Twins Future is Now

It is indeed rare that a baseball team has 1 let alone 2 or 3 franchise players on their roster at the same time. When they do they need to take advantage of these players presence and bid for title.

 Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew was the Twins first franchise player. He was at this peak from 1961-1971. In 1964 another franchise type player Tony Olivia arrived and played at an All-Star from 64-71.

In 1965 shortstop Zolio Versalles had a MVP year and along with Killebrew, Olivia, and All-Star performers Jim “Mudcat” Grant, and Earl Battey the Twins went to the World Series. They lost.

In 1967 the Twins third franchise player Rod Carew joined Killebrew and Olivia and the Twins came within a game of going back to the World Series. In 1969 & 70 Killebrew, Carew, and Olivia lead the Twins to division titles. Pitcher Jim Perry won 20 games both seasons winning the CY Young in 1970. The Twins lost both American League Championship series 3 games to none.

After 71 Killebrew and Olivia career went downhill and the window of opportunity for a championship was gone.

In 1984 the Twins fourth franchise player Kirby Puckett arrived. Along with All-Star level players Kent Hrbek, Frank Viola, Gary Gaetti, Tom Brunansky, and soon to be Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven, Puckett seemed poised to lead the Twins into a window of opportunity to bid for that elusive World Series title.

However then Twins General Manager Andy MacPhail knew the Twins needed a strong bullpen closer if they were to compete for a title. He acquired Jeff Reardon who then went on to help Puckett and the Twins win the 1987 World Series.

In 1991 with Puckett still at the top of his game, MacPhail was able to sign free agents Jack Morris and Chili Davis to be the Twins #1 starting pitcher and DH. Again the Twins were able to win the World Series.

But the 1993 season started a string of 8 consecutive losing seasons, and Kirby Puckett’s time as a franchise player came to an unexpected end in 1995 due to injury.

I write this because in 2010 the Twins have 2 franchise players on their roster in Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. Morneau is signed through 2013 which by then he will 32 and Mauer 30. The opportunity for the title is now. The next couple of years will see Mauer and Morneau at the top of their games. The Twins do not seem to have another Mauer or Morneau in waiting in the minors.

However, franchise players need help to win. That’s why baseball is called a “team” game. Like 1987 & 1991 the Twins have made moves that signal this organization thinks the future is now. Now is their chance to win it all. Trading for J.J. Hardy, signing free agents Jim Thome and Orlando Hudson, and retaining Carl Pavano were all signs the Twins thought 2010 could be their year.

Another sign is the Twins trading highly rated catching prospect Wilson Ramos to Washington for reliever Matt Capps last week. The move was not a usual Twins move. They don’t trade highly regarded prospects away. They believe in preparing for the future.

Of course the future for Ramos was not so certain. He is a catcher in an organization which employs the best catcher in baseball in Joe Mauer. Ramos has had a history of injury. He has also had a history of showing great defense and tremendous power. Ramos looks like he could be a star. He could also be a dud.

Capps has already shown who he is -a reliever with a 92-94 mph fastball and a good curve ball who’s closed games effectively for 2 of the worst teams (Pittsburgh & Washington) in baseball. One of the things that separate Ron Davis one of the worse closer in Twins history from Jeff Reardon one of the best closers in Twins history was not their pitching ability, it was ability to maintain their composure and confidence after a bad outings. Good closers need a good makeup to thrive. Reports say Capps has a good makeup. We shall see.

The Twins need Matt Capps to thrive. Their bullpen has been shaky of late. Jon Rauch has been an effective closer, but is needed in a setup role. Capps give the Twins bullpen depth not only for this year, but for next year when Rauch, Matt Guerrier, and Jesse Crain might leave because they are free agent after this season and Joe Nathan’s return from injury is questionable. Matt Capps will contribute, but will it be enough to help win the World Series?

Harmon Killebrew, and Tony Olivia never won a World Series. Rod Carew never got to one. Kirby Puckett has won 2 World Series and his legacy is enhanced because of it. What will Mauer & Morneau’s legacy be? The Twins look like they are trying to be make sure it a legacy of a World Series Championship team.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Maybe the Twins Do Not Want 2 Starters in the All-Star Game After All

Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau were elected starters for the 2010 MLB All-Star Game. Mauer was the top vote getter amassing the 3rd highest vote total ever. Only Ken Griffey Jr. in 1994 and Albert Pujols in 2009 have received more votes. Rod Carew is the only other Twin to ever lead the overall voting doing so in 1975, 1977 & 1978.

It is the first time since 1968 that 2 Minnesota Twins were voted All-Star starters. 1968 ironically was not a good year for the Twins. The 68 Twins had high expectations having come within a game of going to the World Series the previous year. Rod Carew and Harmon Killebrew were voted in as All-Star game starters. Killebrew, playing 1st base, promptly injured himself during the game stretching for a throw. He was lost for the season and the Twins promptly tanked.

Well guess what? Morneau received a concussion when he took a knee to the head while sliding into second bas against the Toronto Blue Jays the series before the All-Star break. He missed the All-Star game and could be headed to the disabled list. Let’s us hope the Twins promptly don’t tank like they did in 68.

Things are not looking good right now. Mauer is having one of those years superstars have where they are still better than most players, but are not living up to their own usual high standards. Denard Span, Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer, and J.J. Hardy are having sub-par years so far. Pitcher Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, and Kevin Slowey are being too erratic. The bullpen is showing wear.

Justin Morneau is playing well. Delmon Young has finally emerged as the player the Twins were hoping for. Jim Thome has been a positive addition. Brian Duensing has been very effective out of the bullpen. Francisco Liriano has finally recovered from Tommy John surgery and is pitching for the most part very well. Carl Pavano has been excellent this year

The emergence of Liriano, Young, and Duensing is very encouraging. The nucleus of Mauer, Morneau, Kubel, and Span will be around for awhile and with the addition of these 3 new rising stars, the Twins have 5 everyday players who have All-Star potential, a strong #1 starter and a pitcher capable of starting or relieving with equal effectiveness.

The key for this year is getting Baker, Blackburn, and Slowey back on track. If they don’t get back on track, the Twins are in major trouble. If they do get back on track, we have a chance unlike 1968 the last time 2 Twins were suppose to start an All-Star game.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

2010 Minnesota Twins Autograph Party

On Saturday, June 12 I attended the Minnesota Twins autograph party. Unlike past years, the Twins did not release a player signing schedule before the day of the event. I think the Twins reasoning was that they tired of people showing up the night before and camping out in the Joe Mauer or Justin Morneau lines. It did not help though as many people did camp out in what they thought was the Joe Mauer line. Of course at 9:00 am when the signing schedule was release, I heard all these people found out they were in the wrong spot and they ran like a spooked herd of cattle to the right line.

I, on the other hand, showed up at 9:30 am and got in the Orlando Hudson line which had all of 10 people in it. I needed Hudson, Jose Mijares, Matt Tolbert, Ron Mahay, Danny Valencia, Steve Liddle, and Trevor Plouffe to complete my collection of signed baseball cards of current Twins players and coaches. Hudson was signing with Jose Mijares so I figured I could kill 2 birds with one stone.

About the time the Twins started signing it started to rain hard. The rain cause numerous problems including slowing down lines, destroying items people wanted signed, and smearing autographs. The ball I had signed by Francisco Liriano had the autograph smeared, but it was still legible. Numerous other folks were not so lucky.

Despite the rain, things went well for me. I got 16 different players including everyone I wanted except Plouffe.

One thing that surprised me was future Hall of Famer and Twins broadcast analyst Bert Blyleven was personalizing all photos. The Twins have always said no personalization at the events. You get in trouble if you even ask for one. However, the rule must not apply to Bert. I think he knows he is about to be elected to the Hall of Fame, and he thinks people will get stuff signed by him and will sell it on the Web. He is probably right; there are some of those folks around. I also noticed Bert was not signing baseballs on the sweet-spot (the prefer spot for collectors) either.

I have no problem with Bert personalizing my photo. I think it is great he gets to know who I am. Also I do not sell my stuff.

Below are my signing successes all of which were baseball cards unless otherwise noted:

Orlando Hudson, Jose Mijares, Clay Condrey, Steve Liddle, Danny Valencia, Francisco Liriano (ball), Matt Tolbert, Joe Nathan, Rick Stelmansyk, Ron Mahay, Drew Butera, Ron Gardenhire (banner), Bert Blyleven (photo), Ron Coomer, Al Newman, Greg Olson (the ex-Atlanta Brave and Minnesota native signed a post of the game winning hit of 1991 World Series – he wanted to draw a sad face on it, but I thought that was not a good idea).

I had a good time and look forward to next year – without the rain.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

My Nephew Marries


My Nephew and God son William was married on Saturday, May 22nd in Austin, Texas to a wonderful young woman named Brittany. Due to multiple circumstances I had to fly into Austin with my folks on Friday morning and leave on Sunday afternoon. Not much time to spend with my family, but it was event filled.       

Brittany’s father is originally from Minnesota as are both of William’s parents (in fact all 3 graduated from St. Cloud State University – small world indeed). This meant numerous relatives had to jet or drive in from other states (mostly Minnesota). Therefore my brother decided to invite everyone who was already in Austin on Friday to the Groom’s Dinner that was held after the wedding practice.

The Grooms Dinner was held at a restaurant on the shore of Lake Travis called Oasis on Lake Travis. Popular place; how popular? Despite there being nothing else around but parking area for the restaurant, people end up having to park a mile or two away. Guys in golf carts come pick you up drive you up to the restaurant. I am serious, there like 5 of these golf charts ferrying people back and forth.

The restaurant itself was quite large and impressive. Good food; and a great view of Lake Travis. In fact they had a numerous large patio areas for people to sit and dine. With all the people at the groom dinner it felt like I was already at the wedding reception even though the couple had not yet married.

Due to circumstances beyond his control, the groom was forced share my hotel room with me the night before the wedding. Lucky the room had 2 beds. Luckier still he slept just fine – I thought William would be nervous, but he handled everything great except he forget some of his cloths in the hotel closet.

The wedding was held at 6:30 p.m. With time to spare I enjoyed a home cooked breakfast (we were staying at the Candlewood Suites which has a kitchen in each room) from my Mom, and lunch at Chick-fil-A. For the record my parents and I have never eaten at Chick-fil-A. The only one up here in Minnesota is at the University of Minnesota’s Coffman Union food court and it is only open certain hours.

Chick-fil-A has great chicken and my folks and I really enjoyed the food and having some time to spend with my brother who came along for the meal.

90 degree heat, and I am wearing a suit and tie, and the wedding is outside. Amazingly I was not hot at all. I enjoyed the wedding. I had a great seat, second row, aisle seat. The ceremony was short, but effective. The pastor focused the most important thing God, God’s love for us, and how God gives us people to love and be loved by.

This was the only wedding party I have seen made up of only siblings. My niece was the maid of honor, the brides 2 brothers made up the best men (William wanted them both in as best men). Good to see family meant so much to the couple and that they wanted it to be exclusively family in the wedding party. For the record my brother and his wife and my folks had family and friends in the wedding party.

The reception had good food pick out by the groom himself. I meet numerous interesting people included my brother old boss who had once taken me to an Astros game on my first visit to Texas back in 1986.

The cake was great. The bride and groom left by walking through a line of sparklers held by the guests while the music of Frank Sintra played on.

I’d post more pictures but they are not developed yet. Thanks to my brother and his wife for arranging our hotel and driving us around; thanks to the bride’s family for treating us well; thanks to the new couple for inviting us. It was worth the trip.

May Brittany and William have a long, happy and healthy marriage!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Target Field Firsts

I have been part of 2 firsts for the Twins at Target Field. On 4/16/10 I attend the first night game at Target Field. On 5/7/10 I was part of the first rainout in Target Field history. That game was re-scheduled the next day and I was in attendance.

Overall I like Target Field. I sat in the lower level both games and had a good view of the action. The food there is way overrated, but the watching the game was enjoyable.

I found getting to Target Field was fairly easy. Lots of folks are riding the light rail and the North Star commuter trains to the games. There is a North Star station near where I live, so perhaps one day I will take the train to the game.

It also helps the atmosphere that the Twins are winning. I saw victories in both of the games I attended.

My first official signed baseball card return from Target Field was backup catcher Drew Butera. I did not have a card for Mr. Butera, so I created the one using a picture of him sitting on the bench while he was at the Twins farm team in New Britain. I told him in my letter there are worse things in the world then sitting on a major league bench watching Joe Mauer play.

In fact Drew’s dad Sal (who has also signed for me) was a backup catcher on the 1987 Twins. Sal did not get to play much either, but he did get a World Championship ring when the 87 Twins won the World Series.

As fate would have it, Drew Butera was starting at catcher the second game I went to, and got his 2nd hit of the year with bases loaded to drive in his first 2 runs of his career. What made it even more dramatic was that Joe Mauer had pinched hit for Alex Casilla right before hand and stuck out. Go Drew! For perhaps the only night of his career Drew Butera outshined Joe Mauer.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A New Era in Country Music

Country artists from different eras come together to honor Alan Jackson at the CMT Giants event in 2008. Pictured are George Jones, Taylor Swift, George Strait, Denise & Alan Jackson, Hank Williams Jr. Martina McBride, Lee Ann Womack, Dierks Bentley, Miranda Lambert, and Brad Paisley.

Carrie Underwood’s back to back ACM Entertainer of the Year wins and Taylor Swift’s 2009 CMA Entertainer of the Year win confirmed what I had been thinking for the past few months, that there is new era in country music lead by co-mega stars Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift. This new era likely started its genesis some time in late 2008, but now has come into full bloom in 2010.

Below I have provided a handy guide to each country era of the last 25 odd years, and highlight some of the super-stars of those eras.

The New Traditionalist era (1984-1989)

Traditional country music made a comeback in this era, but album sales were still stagnate. Many people romanticize about this era as being the last great era of country music, but that is simply not the case. In fact during this era country music was still considered an ugly step child mocked by mainstream music media and critics. It was only after the Class of 89 pushed country music to a new level of acceptance that mainstream media and critics began to romanticize about this era’s greatness as a way to “put down” the Class of 89. It seems with the mainstream media and critics the past is always better than the present.

George Strait – Strait transcends all country music eras, but this was the era that launched him. He is the only artist in music to chart a top 10 single for 30 years straight.

Reba McEntire - She was big in the 80’s then became huge in the early 90’s. Today she looks like an aging mother, or dare we say grandmother compared to Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift, yet somehow she keeps rolling on though not a consistently as George Strait has.

Randy Travis – In 1986 he took country music by storm and may well have been this era’s biggest star, but by 1990 he already was on the fade. It was roughly a three album reign as a superstar.

The Judds – Mother Namoni and daughter Wynonna formed the hippest act of this era. People forget that the Judds were once so cool that even many non-country fans were into them. The Judds music has worn well, but the ladies themselves have spent to much time living out their personal dramas in public.

Hank Williams Jr. – Son of the greatest country singer of all-time, Hank Jr. carved out of very success solo career that spanned the 80’s. Commercial success disappeared in the 90’s, but he remains an icon.

Alabama – They were the superstars of the era before this one, but their success carried over. Others artists get more shout outs than Alabama when it comes time to talk about the legends of country music who have made an impact in the 80’s, but Alabama is more deserving than people think.

Class of 89 era (1989-1996)

The Class of 89 not only saved country music, but made it a major player in the greater entertainment world. While some believe this era’s artists (mainly Garth) started the ruin of country music, the truth is this group carried on the traditional country mantel, and never really courted pop radio. The goal of these artists was not to go and cater to pop music fans, but to lure pop music fans to country music and country music radio. In my opinion (and growing number of others) this is the greatest of the eras covered in this piece of writing.

Garth Brooks – He dominated this era. His greatest achievement was getting droves of non-country music fans to take notice of the genre. He boosted every country act’s sales by his ability to promote not only Garth, but country music as a whole.

Alan Jackson - An amazing artist whose commercial and artistic success is unparalleled. He will be the artist most remembered from this era because his body of musical work is unmatched.

Vince Gill – A gifted singer, songwriter, and guitarist who won 18 CMA Awards. Amazingly he won only 4 ACM Awards. That disparity is the largest among any artists. Why did it happen? Who knows, but what is known is Gill’s commercial success had faded by the late 90’s.

Clint Black – His first album “Killin’ Time” was great. His subsequent albums were not so great. He spent too much time wanting to record only songs he had written, and fighting with his ex-manager Bill Ham.

Travis Tritt – Another artist who started strong then faded. He should never have gotten into that feud with Billy Ray Cyrus. He also never had the songs to make good use of his great voice.

Mary Chapin Carpenter - In reality she had one truly successful album – “Come On Come On”. This album produced 4 of her 9 top ten hits and sold 4 million copies which is almost half of her total sales.

Brooks & Dunn – Ronnie Dunn has one of the greatest voices in country music history. Kix Brooks had great stage presence and energy. Both were gifted writers. 20 years of successes will come in an end in 2010 as the duo is retiring as an act.

Wynonna Judd – After her success with the Judds and her wildly successful debut album, Wynonna seemed set for a ten year run as superstar. It never happened.

Billy Ray Cyrus – One monstrous (“Achy Breaky Heart”) hit propelled him to superstardom. It also doomed his career. Luckily he had a daughter (teen pop sensation Miley Cyrus) who was able to get a job to pay the bills.

John Michael Montgomery - He was one of the least acknowledged country superstars ever. He had three straight multiplatinum selling albums and a string of hit songs, and yet no one seems to mention him among successful artists of this era. Personally I was not a big fan of his music. In fact I think it’s downright bad.

The Women Rule era (1996-2002)

This is the era when country music became country pop. Shania Twain was the first to cross over to pop music by making pop version of her country songs, Faith Hill, LeAnn Rimes, and others followed. While creating pop versions of country songs was not invented in this era, it became an epidemic. Instead of bringing pop fans to country music, the country artists morphed into pop stars and went to the pop fans on the pop fans’ terms.

Country radio however wanted to have captive audience; an audience that would listen only to country radio because that was the only place you could heard a particular artist. Once country radio realized they no longer had this with most the female superstars (Shania, Faith, LeAnn, and others) of this era, country radio shifted to artists less likely to be heard on pop radio which brought forth the Return of the Men Era.

This era marks the beginning of the end of the country music industry as a homogonous entity. No longer were country artists promoting themselves and country music as a whole, but the artists were now just promoting themselves.

Shania Twain - Twain was the master of living in both the country and pop world. Twain mixed country instruments with pop music arrangements and came away with big success. She made lots of fans and lots of enemies in the process. Twain has not released a studio album in 8 years, so it will be interesting to see what happens if or when she releases a new studio album.

Dixie Chicks - This traditional leaning trio was much loved for their music, but their outspokenness ended their hold on country music. Now considered more a pop group, the question remains where will go with their next album? The political foils (President Bush, Toby Keith, country radio) are either gone (Bush), fading (Keith), or on to other things (country radio is living large with Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift). Now 11 years after their debut, the Chicks may not find the commercial success they once had. Do they care? Who knows, but it will be interesting to see what happens.

Faith Hill – At first she seemed to be a refreshing good old gal from Mississippi, but then Hill made herself into the blonde Shania. It worked for a while then things started going wrong. In a way the country music industry seem to feel worse about Hill going pop than Twain as Twain was never seen as a part of the country music family while Hill was.

Tim McGraw - He is not a great singer, but for the most part he has mastered the art of song selection. With some exceptions McGraw has recorded and released good songs which touch people one way or another. He may never be Strait, Jackson, Brooks or Gill, but he is a cut above most male country artists

Martina McBride – She tried to remain more country than Twain and Hill, and it helped with awards and country radio play. However, it seems that her time is up. Her latest album “Shine” is tanking. McBride never sang true traditional country, and her penchant for singing “preaching” songs grew old.

LeAnn Rimes - Many expected more from Rimes. She has such a great voice, but instead of a superstar career in country music, she became a so-so country artist and a mediocre pop star.

Deana Carter - A true one album wonder. Who would have thought her career would have ended so quickly. She seemed to have it all voice, songwriting talent, and good looks.

The Return of the Men era (2002-2007)

Women 25-55 have always been a key demographic in country music radio’s listening audience. It is in this era that female 25-55 demographic became literally all encompassing. The wishes of this soccer mom audience became the command of country record labels and country radio. The soccer moms wanted good looking guys singing songs of love. An occasional funny ditty was welcomed as well.

Knowing that male artists had a harder time getting played on pop radio thereby making country radio the only place male artists could be heard, and knowing that playing male artists would keep the 25-55 female audience tuned in, country radio went male artist heavy.

George Strait, Alan Jackson, Brooks & Dunn, Tim McGraw, and Garth Brooks were allowed to continue on, but female artists were thrown aside. This era had some good music, but the complaints of water down country music began to rise exponentially during this era. Kenny
Chesney and Rascal Flatts especially came under attack.

Also this era begins to see albums sales decline. Fans of pop music began getting their music via the Internet not on cd. Country fans lagged behind on this trend, but the trend started to take hold during this period.

Kenny Chesney - It took years for Chesney to finally hit the big time (his big break came off publicity generated from his stealing and riding a police horse at the George Strait Music Festival in the late 90’s), and it was a great run. However, trends seem to show the days of his tropical island flavored countrys seem to be coming to an end.

Toby Keith - His macho country help make him a super-star, but he spent to much time on it instead of the great ballads he use to sing.

Keith Urban - He can play guitar, sing, write, and has huge stage presence. The fact he is married to movie star Nicole Kidman only adds to his hipness, and yes likely his happiness.

Brad Paisley - He was more traditional country when he started, but Paisley seems to be in the zone right now. Like Urban he can sing, write and play guitar.

Rascal Flatts - Loved by many hated by many, RF continues to charts hits, sell records, and draw big crowds on the road. They will never garner many industry awards or respect though

Gretchen Wilson and the Muzik Manfia - The only female artist to rise during this period, Wilson redneck pride image eventually worked against her with the arrival of the more beautiful and youthful Carrie and Taylor. However, for a brief moment Wilson seemed to be the queen of country music.

The Raise of the Young Women of Country era (2008-

The soccer moms are now discovering that they have company - their daughters and sons. While other eras of country music most notably the Class of 89 era bought in the youth audience, this era seems to have made major inroads to the youth market. Give credit to Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert, and Taylor Swift for this change in country music’s audience demographics.

Teenage girls see Carrie, Miranda, and Taylor as friends and role models. Teenage boys see Carrie, Miranda, and Taylor as someone they want to date and possibly marry.

Taylor Swift has shown the country music industry the new way to reach young fans is via Internet social media sites such as MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Now a presence on social media sites is a requirement for all country artists.

Surprisingly no solo male superstars have emerged since the arrival of Brad Paisley, Keith Urban back around 2000. Country audiences continue to migrate toward getting their music from the Internet, but many fans still cling to their cds.

Carrie Underwood – Winner of the wildly popular televised pop music competition “American Idol”, Underwood stormed into Nashville already a star. Her rise to mega-stardom has been marked by a surprise clinging to country music tradition. She has joined the Grand Ole Opry and espoused the music of Alan Jackson, Randy Travis, and other country legends. While many see her only as country pop singer, she seems to be lending more towards mixing traditional country with her country pop. Without a doubt Underwood is one of the most gifted singers to appear in country music in decades.

Taylor Swift – Swift is a talented singer-songwriting teenager whose writing ability is far superior to her actual singing. Her gifts don’t stop at songwriting. Her ability to understand that her fan base now communicates with each other in new way (via social media on the Internet) put her on the cutting edge of a new music marketing era.

Sugarland – This once time group is now a duo that consists of gifted lead vocals Jennifer Nettles and her male music partner Kristen Bush. Sugarland is the country version of the Eurhythmics where the lead singing female vocals comes to dominate the group. Sugarland members do not have much in the way of country music backgrounds, and their sound are definitely country-pop, but the music and personalities have engaged a country music audience.

Miranda Lambert – Her kick ass traditional country music may not get played as much as some on country radio, but it sure sells cds. She beloved by music critics and music industry professionals, and her new album Revolution was the best album released in 2009.

Lady Antebellum – Hilary Scott, Charles Kelly, and Dave Haywood form an interesting trio. Scott (daughter of country artist Linda Davis) and Kelly share lead vocals. In a way they are the country Fleetwood Mac.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

A New Baseball Season for the Twins

A new baseball season has arrived. I think the Minnesota Twins will have a good season. The everyday lineup of Denard Span, Orlando Hudson, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, J.J. Hardy, Delmon Young, and either Nick Punto or Brendan Harris will be formidable. Mauer is the best player in baseball. Morneau, Span, Kubel, and Cuddyer are All-Star level players. Hudson and Hardy were once All-Stars and have the ability to be so again.

With Jim Thome, Jose Morales (once he is off the disabled list), either Harris or Punto, and Alexi Casilla on the bench, the best manager in baseball will have more weapons to call on the he ever has.

I can easily see this team leading the league in runs scored. It is also a strong defensive team. In fact this is the best everyday roster the Twins have ever had outside of 1991 when the Twins won the World Series.

A minor leaguer to watch to watch is catcher Wilson Ramos who almost made the team this year. Ramos won’t be able to catch everyday in the majors because of some guy named Joe Mauer. However, Mauer and Ramos could combine to share the catcher and dh roles next year making the Twins offense even stronger.

Pitching of course is the key to all winning. The Twins starting staff of Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Carl Pavano, Kevin Slowey, and Francisco Liriano looks strong. Baker and Blackburn have had back to back good years while Pavano looks to have regained his his 2004 form. Slowey looks good, but needs to prove he can stay healthy all year. Liriano has to prove he is back to being a good pitcher again.

Keep an eye on Kyle Gibson the Twins #1 draft pick last year. It sounds like he could make a quick trip through the minor league system and could be ready for action in the majors next year.

One area of concern this year is who will close. The Twins bullpen is deep and talented. Jose Mijares, Matt Guerrier, Jon Rauch, Jesse Crain, Pat Neshek, Clay Condrey, and Brian Dunesing have all proved themselves affective relievers at the major league level. However, none of them is Joe Nathan. With Nathan lost for the season, the Twins need to manage their bullpen well as not to let things unravel.

I think the closer role is overrated. If you can get people out in the 7th or 8th innings, why not the 9th – the pressure assigned to the 9th inning is artificial. Ron Gardenhire says he will use Rauch as closer and leave the 7th and 8th innings to Guerrier and Mijares. Hopefully the starters will regularly pitch 7 innings, so the bullpen will only have to handle a couple of innings each games. That is why good starting pitching is so important.

I look forward to the new baseball season, and the Twins new ballpark Target Field. I will be going to a game in May. I heard mostly nice things about Target Field. I heard there are a couple of spots that have obstructed views plus the seats in the outfield are mostly benches. I prefer an actual seat, and will buy my tickets accordingly.

I look forward to an exciting and successful season for the Twins who incidentally will be celebrating 50 Years in Minnesota.

On a side note I have recently received signed baseball cards from 3 former Twins I have been trying to get a response from for some time.

Dan Ford who played for the Twins in the 70s had a great nickname (Disco Dan) and a home run trot to be remembered (just before reaching home plate he would turn around and walk backwards across the plate). Mr. Ford has eluded me for some time, but not only did he sign a card for me (which was a card of him as an Angel), but sent a signed card of his own with him as a Twin. Thank you Mr. Ford!

Shane Mack played for the Twins in the 90’s and was a key member of the 1991 World Championship team. He too has eluded me for years. He seems to keep moving which caused me to get a lot of “return to sender – unable to forward” messages on my returned letters. Well after over a 300 day wait Mr. Mack finally signed a card for me. It goes to show perseverance pays off. Thanks for signing Mr. Mack!

Doug Mientkiewicz was a key member of the 2001 – 2003 teams that won 2 divisions and revived baseball in Minnesota. I started collecting signed cards through the mail after Doug had left the Twins. I have tried sending to him for the last 3 years and never got a response. Well this year he signed 1 of 2 cards for me. Thanks Doug!

Joe Mauer's Contract is Worth the Risk

In 1989 the Minnesota Twins fans feared the lost of the team’s best and most loved player; the man who had helped the Twins win their only World Series title. Fans were convinced the Twins would not be able to win another title without him. The Twins signed superstar Kirby Puckett to contract that made him the highest paid player in baseball at 3 million dollars per year. Fans rejoiced, and Kirby Puckett did indeed lead the Twins to another World Series title in 1991.

Puckett’s contract was again up after the 1992 season. Now even more loved than before, Puckett was seen as the player that could not leave. He almost did, but after some wrangling a 5 year 30 million dollar contract was signed. Fans rejoiced again. Kirby Puckett would be a Twin for life and more winning was ahead.

That was not how things turned out. Kirby Puckett was hit in the eye with a pitch at the end of the 1995 season and never played again. The Twins did not have a winning season again till 2001.

The example of Kirby Puckett shows the promise and the peril of signing even the best and most popular players to big money long term contracts. Puckett was a great player who was universally love and highly durable. He had never been on the disable list till 1995 when his career came to a stretching halt.

I thought about this when I heard the Twins signed Joe Mauer to an 8 year 184 million dollar contract extension. Joe Mauer is the best player in baseball. He will likely been seen as greater than Kirby Puckett. He is more popular. Joe Mauer is from Minnesota. He more than universally loved, he is ionic. The Twins had to sign him. He had to finish his career as a Twin and yet…

This years Twins team is the best on paper since 1991. Even with the lost of closer Joe Nathan many people think this team can win it all. The Twins are moving into their new, higher regarding home of Target Field. I like many fans cannot wait to see the Twins play there. To open Target Field without so be free agent Joe Mauer signed to a contract extension would have been problematic to say the least and yet…

Like Kirby Puckett in 89 and 92 Joe Mauer deserved the money he has received. He is that great. I believe Joe Mauer can lead the Twins to a World Series title. I believe he will be one of the greatest players to ever play the game. He will be the greatest Minnesota Twin of all-time. I also believe Joe Mauer can easily get hurt and stick the Twins with a huge contract and nothing to show for it.

So the question is would I have signed him if I were running the Twins? The answer is yes. Why? Because the rewards outweigh the risk; Joe Mauer is too good, too popular. If he were to left the Twins would not have the chance to win the World Series. Morneau, Span, Kubel, etc are good players, some great, but they are not at Joe Mauer’s level.

Yes, Joe Mauer could get injured, but he also could his .400 win multiple MVP awards and lead the Twins to multiple titles. Sports teams have to go for it when they can. Joe Mauer is a once in a lifetime talent.

Even with his $23 million a year salary the Twins probably have another $75 million to spend on rest of the team thanks to addition revenue from their new ballpark. That $75 million is what their payroll was last in year which was the highest it has even been.

The Twins have the chance to do something special like 1991 they must go for it.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Joe Nathan = Class Human Being

With the news Twins closer Joe Nathan has a ligament tear in his elbow that will him the 2010 season people are spending time speculating on his replacement or highlighting his past achievements. This is only normal since we tend to value athletes by what they have or have not done on the playing field. However, I wanted to talk about Joe Nathan the man.

I met Joe Nathan for the first time in 2007. He had been with the Twins 3 years, but I had never gotten around to getting his autograph. He was at Twinsfest signing with Ron Gardenhire on a Friday night. I saw Joe Nathan close up for the first time. He was tall with curly hair. He looked like a dude who should have been in a rock band. He signed my card with what I have come to find is one of the signatures in baseball. I soon found out he was into rock music and made weekly appearances on 93X the hard rock station here in the Twins Cities. I first impressions of him had proved correct.

I meet Joe Nathan again a year later. This time he was signing at a Cub Foods. This there was no one else but me and him around. I am not kidding. I showed up a half hour into his signing time and he was just sitting there with nothing to do. He graciously signed a ball and a card for me. He took the time to talk with me for 5 minutes. I sure he really would have preferred to be elsewhere. After all I spent a lot of time gushing how happy I was that he was on the team and how important he was to the team. Still he tolerated me. He just seemed like a great guy who was happy to be in the position he was in.

Over the years I have seen Joe Nathan make numerous appearances in public to sign autographs. He was never too big, too important to come out and meet the fans. Joe Nathan always seemed to be deeply involved in the team’s charity work. On his Website he would post pictures of these charity events. You could see Joe and his wife amongst the common people. They were not above being nice to whomever they met.

I have run into him a time or two again. He was always gracious. Joe Nathan has always kind enough to sign things I sent to him in the mail. Again he never was to “good” not to be kind to fans. That has been noticed by fans of other teams. On Web communities dedicated to collecting autographs through the mail, the name Joe Nathan is mention with reverence. He is much loved for taking the time sign for fans.

Depending on how he recovers from his surgery Joe Nathan may have made his last appearance for the Twins. If so he will the following moment to remember. The Twins had just lost to the Yankees in the 2009 ALDS. It was the last Twins game ever at the Metrodome. Nathan had blown a 2 run in lead back in Game 2 that if he had held the series might have been different. Now the Twins were done for the 2009 season, Twins baseball in the Metrodome would be no more. Fans were still lingering around when suddenly Joe Nathan, still in full uniform, jogged to the pitching mound. He wanted to gather up some dirt from the Metrodome pitching mound to take and spread on the new pitching mound at Target Field. Fans spotted him and cheered him loudly. Even though he had blown a critical game earlier in the series, fans knew what Joe Nathan meet to the Twins on and off the field. Nathan admitted afterwards he was stunned at the greeting. He should not have been, but often kind people are humble people.

I am glad Joe Nathan got those cheers. If his career with the Twins is over and he never appearances in a game again, he will have that moment where fans let him know how much he meant to them. Best of luck to you Joe Nathan, you are more than a great relief pitcher you are a class man.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Twins Off-Season

The Twins 2 most productive off-seasons were before the 1987 and 1991 seasons. After a dismal finish in 1986, the Twins needed a quality lead-off hitter and a reliable closer in order to become a contender. Those needs were met by trading for outfielder Dan Gladden and All-Star closer Jeff Reardon. Months later Jeff Reardon was on the mound to record the final out of the Twins first World Championship.

After finishing last in their division in 1990, the Twins needed an elite pitcher to anchor their young pitching staff and run producing DH. After trying and failing to sign Kirk Gibson the Twins signed veteran hitter Chili Davis to be their new DH and thensigned veteran pitcher and Minnesota native Jack Morris to anchor their pitching staff. A few months later Jack Morris pitched a 10 inning shutout in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series to give the Twins their 2nd World Championship.

I believe this off-season has been similarly productive. Will it result in a World Championship? Who knows, but what I do know is this off-season the Twins addressed many of their needs.

I cannot believe the Twins had to only give Carlos Gomez in order to get shortstop J.J. Hardy from Milwaukee. Gomez is a great defensive outfielder who cannot hit. As long as he remained in Minnesota Gomez would have felt the pressure of being the key to the Johan Santana trade and tried to hard to a superstar. Hardy is a strong fielding, power hitting shortstop. The Twins have not had a good shortstop since Greg Gagne left after the1992 season. They likely have one now in Hardy.

The Twins wanted a veteran pitcher who could lead by example and eat up some innings. Re-signing Carl Pavano works because Pavano understands how the Twins work and what they want of him. He is not a #1 starter, but he will provide stability and veteran presence on this mostly young pitching staff.

The Twins have not had a real pinch hitting threat off the bench in 20 years. They have one now in Jim Thome. Thome may not be the player he was even 5 years ago, but he can still draw walks and hit for power. Thome’s veteran presence and quality character will likely rub off on the young players. The fact Thome signed for only 1.5 million plus incentives makes this deal all the better.

The Twins last good 2nd baseman was Chuck Knoblauch who departed a decade ago. Since then things have been mostly bad at this position. With the signing of All-Star and Gold Glove 2nd baseman Orlando Hudson that changes. Defensively Hudson is good and now helps give the Twins a strong defensive infield. As a hitter Hudson has the batting average and on-base % to hold down the critical #2 spot in the batting order behind high on base guy Denard Span and ahead of the league’s best hitter in Joe Mauer. Better yet Hudson presence frees up Nick Punto to go back to his utility infielder role which he has excelled in.

Now all the Twins have left to do this off-season is sign Joe Mauer to a long-term contract extension.

Buzz about the Twins might be at an all-time high. They have new stadium everyone wants to see in Target Field, they have the game’s best player in Joe Mauer, and with a great off-season featuring several key additions the Twins might have their best team “on paper” since 1991.