October 2009


Umpiring and the World Series

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

The scene from the 1994 NBA Eastern Conference semifinals between the Bulls and Knicks is branded to my brain.

With 2.1 seconds left in Gane 5, referee Hue Hollins called Scottie Pippen for a foul on Hubert Davis when it was beyond clear that the slight contact came after Davis released the shot. Davis sank two free throws. The Knicks won 87-86 and ended up winning a series in which the home team won every game. This is not revisionist history.

Bulls coach Phil Jackson compared the call to the U.S. Olympic team getting jobbed against the Russians in the 1972 games. Darrell Garretson, the supervisor of officials at the time, at first backed the decision, the next season, admitted that Hollins blew the call.

For the rest of his career, whenever Hollins worked a game in Chicago, he was booed by Bulls fans. I even heard a Chicago fan boo him at Target Center when he worked a Bulls-Wolves game (I swear, it wasn’t me).

I’m not saying that MLB umpires have lined themselves up for such treatment down the road. But right there with managers overmanaging and closers giving it up, this postseason will be known for bad umpiring.

We now know who C.B. Bucknor is after his two controversial calls during the Red Sox-Angels ALDS series,.

We now know about Phil Cuzzi for his call against the Twins in the ALDS against the Yankees.

And we know about Tim McClelleland – if you didn’t already know him for his role in the George Brett pine tar game (yes, he’s been around that long) – for his calls in the ALCS between the Yankees and Angels.

You can make a case for an expansion of instant replay for postseason games. It’s the time of year in which everyone hangs on every pitch and cares less about length of games. So another minute to get a call right doesn’t ruin the pace of the game.

MLB could have added instant replay to this year’s World Series, but commish Bud Selig has rejected those suggestions.

So we’ll just sit back and wait for the next controversy, Bud.

Meanwhile, you can read my man Jim Salisbury’s preview of the umpires for this year’s November Classic. It looks like the league has changed its approach in one aspect.

Sticking with Yankees in 5.

Sunday night notes

Sunday, October 25th, 2009

The Yankees have just knocked off the Angels to reach the World Series and look more than capable of knocking off the Phillies to win another World Series. With an excellent lineup, C.C. Sabathia able to start three games, talented relievers and the best closer in the history of the game, the Yankees will beat Philadelphia in five games. 

But here are a few other things to get you going as the start of the work week is hours away.

Morneau checks in

I e-mailed Justin Morneau last week after one of my spotters spotted him in the Wild clubhouse with his hand wrapped up. I wanted to know how his surgery went.

He got back to me over the weekend and didn’t seem too worried:

“Hand is feeling better,” he wrote. “Get the cast off this week and it should be good as new in about 4 weeks. They found a floating chunk of bone that kind of looked like a tooth but no tendon or ligament damage. Went as good as it could go.”

Morneau’s hand should be healed from surgery by the end of the year – as should the stress fracture in his lower back that ended his season in September.

I remember talking with Michael Cuddyer during last offseason when he was coming off a 2008 that included so many injures. “I’ve  never been more motivated to have good season,” he said then. Cuddyer went on to have a nice comeback year.

The guess here is that Morneau will feel the same way once he gets the go-ahead to resume workouts.

Spring Training neighbor?

This isn’t just about Boston’s deal with Lee County to move  their spring headquarters a few miles south of their current downtown location (which – cough, cough – will put the Red Sox near the Twins’ ticket-buying base).

This isn’t only about the Orioles, who will move from Fort Lauderdale to Sarasota next year.

This isn’t just about how Fort Myers wants to replace the Red Sox downtown with another team, like the Brewers or Nationals.

This is about Naples, Fla., whose leaders have long had a, `we’re-above-that,’ view of spring training.

Naples is changing its mind. Well, it looks like there’s one team city leaders wouldn’t mind building a facility for.

The Cubs.

New Cubs owner Tom Ricketts has met with Naples officials about building a facility on 120 acres in Collier County. Here are more details. The Cubs can leave Mesa, Ariz after 2012 for a $4.2 million buyout.

Twins fans who have made the trip to Florida know that spring training travel in Florida can be a pain. But if all of this is pulled off, there would be three teams in the Fort Myers area plus the Cubs down I-75. Twins-Brewers spring games? Red Sox-Cubs spring games? With the Rays now in Port Charlotte and the Orioles in Sarasota, travel times could drastically improve in few years.

For more background, read this recent story.

Some one liners

Yes, my Bears stink right now.

Yes, my Illini are the worst football team in the Big Ten.

Yes, the weekend stunk for me.

If you see my byline under a Wolves headline this week – or occasionally over the next several weeks – don’t jump to conclusions. We’re just trying to give Jerry Zgoda a break. Joe C. will be on the clock the next few days, and we’ll both be around later in the week if there’s Twins news to report.

Finally….

Congratulations to Darren, `Doogie’ Wolfson and Laura Malat, who tied the knot over the weekend. It was great to see many of my friends at the ceremony and the reception. And, I must say, the Malat sisters know how to dominate a dance floor!

Morneau, Nathan have surgeries. Mauer gets award.

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

As expected, Justin Morneau has had surgery to remove a bone spur from his wrist, just below the back of his right hand. Morneau was spotted in the Wild locker room after their victory over Colorado last night with his hand wrapped up.

Morneau is expected to  be ready by spring training. That includes the stress fracture in his back. In an interview the night the Twins were eliminated from the playoffs, Morneau said his back was just starting to feel better.

What wasn’t known, however, is that Joe Nathan had two bone chips removed from his right elbow on Tuesday after Twins doctors recommended a cleanup. Nathan flew to Birmingham, Ala. on Tuesday to have the surgery done by noted surgeon Dr. James Andrews.

I’ve also been informed that Joe Mauer will be named Baseball America’s Player of the Year – not Albert Pujols. I don’t think this will be the last signifcant postseason award Mauer will win!

There will be more on this development later and in Friday’s print editions.

A couple quick notes

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

The Rochester Red Wings have announced that Tom Nieto has been named manager of the Class AAA club. Nieto, who managed Class AA New Britain to a 72-69 record this year, replaces Stan Cliburn, who was let go after the season.

Bobby Cuellar will return as pitching coach. Floyd Rayford will take over as hitting coach. Here’s the Red Wing’s release

The Twins are expected to release all their minor league coaching assignments in the next couple of days.

Meanwhile, if you want to talk Twins, I’m filling in for the flu-ridden Paul Allen tomorrow from 9-Noon on KFAN. Phil Mackey will join me for awhile to talk about the Twins and Vikings. And there will be other treats as well. Tune in!

Instructional league ends. AFL kicks off

Friday, October 16th, 2009

The Twins’ annual fall instructional league wrapped up today. For two-plus weeks, Twins prospects worked on their skills at the club’s year-round headquarters in Fort Myers, Florida.

It also marked the professional debut (sort of) of righthander Kyle Gibson, the Twins’ first-round pick who was an injury concern during the draft. The Twins, however, checked him out, determined that his forearm problem was a stress fracture and not a strain (which can lead to elbow ligament problems),  drafted him and signed him for a $1.85 million bonus.

Twins scouting director Deron Johnson said Gibson threw four innings and looked good,

“The last two innings he threw really well,” Johnson said. “Threw strikes. Kept the ball down. Showed his full assortment of pitches. His slider is his money pitch.”

The Twins hope Gibson can start at Class A Fort Myers next year,  which gives him a chance to get on the fast track to the majors.

Johnson also was impressed with German outfielder Max Kepler, who is attending South Fort Myers high school while working out with at the Twins’ facility across the street.

“Looks like he’s going to be good,” Johnson said. “Good body. Good swing. Runs well for his size.”

I was  on the phone with Johnson for just five minutes (he was about to chow down on a Five Guys burger). But he made a point of bringing up sixth-round pick Chris Hermann, who played all 59 games in the outfield for rookie league Elizabethton but is being switched to catcher.

Hermann, Johnson said, looks like he’ll be able to handle the move. It’s an interesting move because Hermann’s bat looks promising. He hit .297 with 7 homers and 30 and was third in the Appalachian League with 33 walks.  

AFL begins

Seven Twins players – infielders Steve Singleton, Chris Parmelee, outfielder Rene Tosoni and pitchers Mike McCardell, Steve Hirschfeld, Alex Burnett and Spencer Steedley are playing with the Mesa Solar Sox of the Arizona Fall League. AFL action  runs until just before Thanksgiving.

Bill Smith & Co. will remain in Fort Myers this week for organizational meetings before returning to the Twin Cities.

I’m still working on my top ten prospects list for 2009. This year has been harder than usual. Part of the reason is the additions of Kyle Gibson, Max Kepler and Miguel Angel Sano. They haven’t played a game as pros, but, if you go on potential, they’re all big prospects.

The other part is, the Twins didn’t have many big seasons. Aaron Hicks, arguably, still is the top prospect but didn’t play well until the end of the Class A season. Wilson Ramos was slowed by injuries.

I’ve swapped e-mails about the Twins farm system with Baseball America’s John Manuel and will include some of his thoughts next week when I finally have the guts to post my list.

Update: Wilson Ramos has jumped into winter ball with a hot bat. He’s batting .393 with 2 homers and 7 RBI in seven games for Aragua of the Venezuelan Winter League. You know, he’s going to be the best Venezuelan prospect the Twins have produced, not that there’s a lot of competition.