Umpires have not forgotten Tom Kelly

I caught a little bit of a "Studio 42 with Bob Costas" episode on MLB Network last week. Costas was interviewing three experienced umpires – Steve Palermo, Don Denkinger and someone else I can’t think of – on their jobs and other topics.

He asked the three umpires a question to the effect of, "What manager came out of the dugout that you really had to listen to?" Basically, who came out of the dugout that, you knew, when he came out of the dugout, he had a legitimate gripe.

All three of the umpires – almost in sync with each other – said Tom Kelly. They said Kelly rarely ever came out of the dugout, so you knew if he did, it was worth listening to.

Kelly definitely hasn’t been forgotten. For someone who managed the Twins for over 15 years, he rarely got thrown out of games. In that regard, Kelly and current manager Ron Gardenhire couldn’t be more different.

Can Joe Mauer hit .400? Can anyone?

I picked up a copy of the most recent Sports Illustrated yesterday, which features Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer as its cover story.

It’s quite a story. It’s hard not to be impressed when you hear about his scouting report (he doesn’t strike out, he doesn’t pop out and has no holes, according to the story). Or how infielder Brendan Harris and bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek point out that he never breaks bats or checks his swing. Stelmaszek says Mauer has checked his swing "maybe five times in four years." That’s ridiculous, really.

The crux of the story is whether or not Mauer can hit .400 for a season, something that hasn’t been done since Ted Williams did it in 1941.

Mauer enters today’s (Saturday’s) game against the St. Louis Cardinals hitting .396 with a career-high 14 homers and 43 RBIs. Here’s some more Mauer stats:

  • He’s hitting .421 and slugging .781 off right-handed pitching this year with an OBP of nearly .500.
  • He’s hitting .458 and slugging .843 at the friendly confines of the Metrodome.
  • With runners in scoring position, Mauer is hitting .457 and slugging .800.
  • With RISP and two outs, Mauer is 8-for-14 (.571) and slugging 1.071.
  • For his career, with RISP and two outs, Mauer is hitting .366 and slugging .554. Those numbers pale in comparison to this year’s stats, but are nonetheless remarkable.

So do I think Mauer can hit .400? No.

I think if anyone could hit .400 right now, it would be Mauer. I think his approach is best suited for the pursuit of the hallowed number. But I don’t think it can be done.

The game is too different now.

  • Back in 1941, players just didn’t see that many pitchers. It was easier for hitter like Williams to keep a log in his memory of each pitcher. In 1941, Chicago White Sox pitcher Thornton Lee threw 30 complete games to lead the big leagues. In 2009, it’s been 10 years since a pitcher (Randy Johnson in 1999) tossed as many as 10 complete games in a season. There’s 30 teams now with five-man rotations and bullpen specialists. There’s interleague play. As a whole, the pitching pool in today’s game is weaker, but I think it’s tougher today to hit .400 because of it.
  • Stadiums are smaller. Chicks might dig the long ball, but if you’re a guy trying to hit .400, I would think smaller parks would make it tougher. What the shorter fences do is tighten up defenses, leaving fewer holes – or gaps – in the outfield. Back in Williams’ day, left- and right-field portions of the outfield fence weren’t incredibly far away, but center field back then used to be HUGE! Often times, it might be 480 feet away (Polo Grounds, for example, was at 483 feet). In Williams’ case, Fenway Park wasn’t quite as extreme. Right-center at Fenway is 420 feet deep, plus there’s the benefit of banging hits off the shallow Green Monster.
  • Finally, the media scrutiny is far more intense than it was in those days. Could you even imagine if, say, Mauer entered September hitting at or above .400? The scene at his locker in the clubhouse of the Metrodome would be chaotic day-in and day-out. Newspapers. Radio. TV. Web sites. Blogs. Everyone would want a piece of the action.
  • I really don’t think anyone can hit .400 again. But like my colleague Tom Mix says, we should just enjoy the ride Mauer is taking us on.

On a final note, this blog once again broke its monthly record for blog hits, marking the third or fourth straight month that has happened. And there’s still a few days left in this month!

I will keep writing regularly if people keep reading. Thanks again for those who have made this blog a part of their morning routine before work or after work. Or maybe even during work. I enjoy writing for it and getting a chance to interact a bit with those who leave comments.

Can Joe Mauer hit .400? Can anyone?

I picked up a copy of the most recent Sports Illustrated yesterday, which features Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer as its cover story.

It’s quite a story. It’s hard not to be impressed when you hear about his scouting report (he doesn’t strike out, he doesn’t pop out and has no holes, according to the story). Or how infielder Brendan Harris and bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek point out that he never breaks bats or checks his swing. Stelmaszek says Mauer has checked his swing "maybe five times in four years." That’s ridiculous, really.

The crux of the story is whether or not Mauer can hit .400 for a season, something that hasn’t been done since Ted Williams did it in 1941.

Mauer enters today’s (Saturday’s) game against the St. Louis Cardinals hitting .396 with a career-high 14 homers and 43 RBIs. Here’s some more Mauer stats:

  • He’s hitting .421 and slugging .781 off right-handed pitching this year with an OBP of nearly .500.
  • He’s hitting .458 and slugging .843 at the friendly confines of the Metrodome.
  • With runners in scoring position, Mauer is hitting .457 and slugging .800.
  • With RISP and two outs, Mauer is 8-for-14 (.571) and slugging 1.071.
  • For his career, with RISP and two outs, Mauer is hitting .366 and slugging .554. Those numbers pale in comparison to this year’s stats, but are nonetheless remarkable.

So do I think Mauer can hit .400? No.

I think if anyone could hit .400 right now, it would be Mauer. I think his approach is best suited for the pursuit of the hallowed number. But I don’t think it can be done.

The game is too different now.

  • Back in 1941, players just didn’t see that many pitchers. It was easier for hitter like Williams to keep a log in his memory of each pitcher. In 1941, Chicago White Sox pitcher Thornton Lee threw 30 complete games to lead the big leagues. In 2009, it’s been 10 years since a pitcher (Randy Johnson in 1999) tossed as many as 10 complete games in a season. There’s 30 teams now with five-man rotations and bullpen specialists. There’s interleague play. As a whole, the pitching pool in today’s game is weaker, but I think it’s tougher today to hit .400 because of it.
  • Stadiums are smaller. Chicks might dig the long ball, but if you’re a guy trying to hit .400, I would think smaller parks would make it tougher. What the shorter fences do is tighten up defenses, leaving fewer holes – or gaps – in the outfield. Back in Williams’ day, left- and right-field portions of the outfield fence weren’t incredibly far away, but center field back then used to be HUGE! Often times, it might be 480 feet away (Polo Grounds, for example, was at 483 feet). In Williams’ case, Fenway Park wasn’t quite as extreme. Right-center at Fenway is 420 feet deep, plus there’s the benefit of banging hits off the shallow Green Monster.
  • Finally, the media scrutiny is far more intense than it was in those days. Could you even imagine if, say, Mauer entered September hitting at or above .400? The scene at his locker in the clubhouse of the Metrodome would be chaotic day-in and day-out. Newspapers. Radio. TV. Web sites. Blogs. Everyone would want a piece of the action.

I really don’t think anyone can hit .400 again. But like my colleague Tom Mix says, we should just enjoy the ride Mauer is taking us on.

On a final note, this blog once again broke its monthly record for blog hits, marking the third or fourth straight month that has happened. And there’s still a few days left in this month!

I will keep writing regularly if people keep reading. Thanks again for those who have made this blog a part of their morning routine before work or after work. Or maybe even during work. I enjoy writing for it and getting a chance to interact a bit with those who leave comments.

NBA draft reaction

I’m heading out from a night of work, but I have a few thoughts on Thursday’s NBA draft.

  • I like Ricky Rubio and I like Jonny Flynn. It didn’t bother me at all that the Minnesota Timberwolves picked back-to-back point guards at 5 and 6. That is, it didn’t until Ty Lawson fell in their lap at No. 18. Then you look back and think, "Maybe they should have taken someone other than Flynn, and go into camp with Rubio and Lawson at the point."
  • The Associated Press story running in Friday’s paper definitely brings up some concerns over whether or not Rubio will play for the Wolves next season because of the cost of his buyout. New Wolves executive David Kahn said he doesn’t mind waiting. I would want him here immediately, but I wouldn’t say it’s a bad pick if they can’t get him until 2010. It’s not like the Wolves will be expected to contend for a playoff spot this year. Kahn even seems to acknowledge that much.
  • Kind of strange when Brandon Jennings showed up on stage about 7 or 8 picks after he was drafted. I didn’t know what was going on there.
  • Wayne Ellington at No. 28 really feels a need as a shooter for the Wolves.
  • Was it just me, or did Jay Bilas say "great value" when talking about every single player drafted?
  • On a similar note, Fran Fraschilla loved every single international player taken.

And considering the times we live in, here’s some of the best "tweets" of the night from Twitter:

  • From ESPN’s Rachel Nichols: "Ricky Rubio on going to Minny: ‘I’ve never been there. I heard it is cold there. My mom is worried…I’m ready for everything.’ "
  • From Ricky Rubio: "Ser el #5 del draft es increíble. ¡Estoy muy contento! Be the 5th pick in the NBA draft is incredible. ¡I’m very happy!"
  • From Wolves forward Kevin Love (right after the Wolves took Rubio and Flynn): "what are we doing????????????????? omg we better trade….what are we doing??????????? i dont even know."

Fake GMs unite: Mock drafts of the Wolves picks

Here’s a look at who some "experts" believe the Minnesota Timberwolves will end up selecting in tonight’s NBA draft:

Chad Ford, ESPN.com

  • I don’t have an Insider account, so I can’t go beyond the first two picks.
  • No. 5 overall: James Harden, SG, Arizona State
  • No. 6 overall: Stephen Curry, PG, Davidson

NBAdraft.net

  • No. 5: Curry
  • No. 6: Tyreke Evans, G, Memphis
  • No. 18: Gerald Henderson, G/F, Duke
  • No. 28: Jonas Jerebko, F, Sweden
  • No. 45: Curtis Jerrells, G, Baylor

Mark Heisler, Los Angeles Times

  • No. 5: Jonny Flynn, PG, Syracuse
  • No. 6: Ricky Rubio, PG, Spain (Heisler said Rubio will be traded after the Wolves pick back-to-back point guards)
  • No. 18: Earl Clark, F, Louisville
  • No. 28: Sam Young, G, Pittsburgh

Ian Thomsen, SI.com

  • No. 5: Harden
  • No. 6: Hasheem Thabeet, C, Connecticut
  • No. 18: Eric Maynor, PG, Virginia Commonwealth
  • No. 28: Nick Calathes, G, Florida (is under contract to play in Greece next year I think, but teams can still select his draft rights)

I’m actually excited about the NBA draft this year. I can’t remember the last time I felt that way – probably at least dating back to when the Wolves were a relevant franchise. Give credit to new Wolves head honcho David Kahn. He’s got people talking about the team again.

All of those years lacking anticipation with the Wolves not having first-round picks have really built themselves into this.

I’d be surprised if Thabeet falls to No. 6 as Thomsen suggests, only because there is such a lack of big men in the draft. CBSsportsline.com’s Sekou Smith has the Wolves passing on Thabeet. He’s got the Huskies center going ninth to Toronto.

I still think the Wolves will end up getting Thabeet somehow, even if it’s been reported that the Grizzlies will take him despite rumors that he doesn’t want to play in Memphis.

UPDATE

Here’s Star Tribune writer Jerry Zgoda’s picks.

Wolves are really cleaning the slate

Minnesota Timberwolves president David Kahn took another step toward starting from scratch.

The Minnesota Timberwolves traded Randy Foye and Mike Miller to the Washington Wizards on Tuesday for the No. 5 overall pick in Thursday’s NBA draft along with Etan Thomas, Darius Songaila and Oleksiy Pecherov.

I really like this trade from Minnesota’s perspective. I had read about the rumor earlier in the day, but it appeared at that time the Wolves would have to throw in at least one of their first-round picks. Tuesday’s trade – which isn’t official yet – would give Minnesota four picks in the first round (Nos. 5, 6, 18 and 26).

The Wolves must be thinking about trying to trade up for that No. 2 overall pick that Memphis currently has. Reportedly, 7-foot-3 center Hasheem Thabeet and Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio are two players the Wolves covet, but it’s unlikely either of them will be there at No. 5. Also reportedly, Thabeet doesn’t want to play in Memphis.

My guess is that the Wolves end up with Thabeet one way or another. This draft is loaded with guards. Rubio may be a cut above, but getting a guy like Ty Lawson at 18 or so wouldn’t be all bad either.

Look for Wild to open up their offense

The Minnesota Wild did a complete flip-flop in their winning philosophy with the hiring of Todd Richards as head coach last week.

Richards replaced Jacques Lemaire, who implemented a defensive-heavy approach during his tenure stretching back to the team’s opening season.

Richards was an assistant coach with the San Jose Sharks.

The reason I post this a week after the hire is because the NHL draft is this weekend. It will be interesting to see what direction the team goes in the draft, not just with the first-round pick but as a whole. There’s still Marian Gaborik‘s free agency to deal with too.

If I had to guess, I think Gaborik will move on despite the coaching change. It just feels like it’s one of those "time to move on" moments for him and the franchise, though I don’t necessarily think that’s a good thing.

Get your piece of Gophers history!

The University of Minnesota is selling pieces of its famed floor at Williams Arena on the homepage of its athletic Web site, www.gophersports.com.

The floor at Williams Arena is being replaced for the first time in the building’s history.

Pieces of the 81-year-old floor can be purchased for prices ranging from $45 to $200.

Ranting about sliding into first base

It’s a stupid play. It’s universally accepted within the baseball community that players should run through first base and not slide into it.

So why does Nick Punto keep sliding?

Maybe it’s harder for me to stomach when the perpetrator is a .220 hitter who recently signed a two-year contract extension to play the infield for the Minnesota Twins.

Punto has slid head-first into first base on back-to-back games Friday and Saturday. And when you’re team loses by one run like on Saturday, and a guy gets called out on a head-first slide on a really close play in the game, how is he not benched for it?

Here’s some of the many reasons why sliding into first base is foolish:

  • Sliding as opposed to running through first base slows a player down.
  • Umpires are not going to give a baserunner the benefit of the doubt when they’re not playing the game the right way.
  • It leaves you susceptible to injury when you make a habit of sliding head-first. I remember earlier this decade David Ortiz - then with the Twins – sliding head-first into home plate at Kaufmann Stadium and injuring his hand. There are times when sliding head-first is necessary, but don’t do it when it’s not needed. The Houston Astros ban sliding head-first into first base and home plate in their minor leagues because of the injury risk.

Delmon Young reportedly plays the game his way and is chastised by his manager for it. Carlos Gomez, too. And they both deserve to be.

But I just don’t understand why everyone – from broadcasters to the team’s management – seems to turn a blind eye toward Punto costing the team outs. If he runs through that bag on Saturday and is called safe, maybe the Twins find a way to score another run or two and win the game. Who knows?

Am I to just shrug my shoulders and say, "Well, he’s a gritty player."?

Twins 1965 World Series game on MLB Network on Monday

If you’re an old-school Minnesota Twins fan and own a dish, Game 7 of the 1965 World Series between the Minnesota Twins and Los Angeles Dodgers will be on the MLB Network at 7 p.m. Monday.

Sandy Koufax pitched a gem in that game, judging from the box score (it was just a little bit before my time). I’m really looking forward to watching it on TV.