To elaborate …

I got the opportunity to spend a little time on the Christopher Gabriel Program this morning. It was my radio debut, so I was little nervous. Said the word "wonderful" on the air, which is not part of my regular vocabulary (I prefer "spectacular"), but it was a great time.

After discussing some various sports topics with him, I felt like spending a little time here elaborating on them further.

  • Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings: Tonight’s game should give Vikings fans a chance to see much more of Favre. After throwing just four passes in his preseason debut, Favre will play the entire first half tonight against Houston. While preseason games don’t matter much, I think in Favre’s case, the reps are needed. I think a lot of people – thanks to his jeans endorsements – have this image of Favre being a good ol’ boy playing pick-up football in the backwoods of Mississippi running around in his Wranglers. But the NFL isn’t that easy, and it’s important for him to familiarize himself with the wrinkles of this offense and these receivers.
  • The Minnesota Twins: Well, the deadline passed and the Twins aren’t getting Rich Harden. So, as Coach Norman Dale said in Hoosiers, "This is your team." The Twins are 4.5 games back in the AL Central race behind Detroit, with seven games left against the Tigers. One thing to keep in mind is that 4.5 games may not sound like much, but when you’re talking about teams that are playing .500 ball, that’s tough to make up. Let’s say (and this is purely a fictional example) the Colorado Rockies are 4.5 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Dodgers are playing a little better than .600 ball. With teams having that kind of success, the Rockies could make it up if the Dodgers hit a rough patch. But for the Twins to make up 4.5 games, they’re going to have to be a different team than the one that’s played .500 ball all season. That means consistent starting pitching and production from the WHOLE lineup, not just the heart of it (Mauer, Morneau, Kubel and Cuddyer). The Twins and Tigers are like two tortoises that haven’t moved much in the standings, and it’s hard to imagine that’s going to change.
  • NDSU football: One other point that I thought of after getting off the radio was that when the Bison beat the University of Minnesota, that was a midseason game. NDSU had built up momentum by playing great football, while the Gophers were in freefall after a very rough start (Was that the year the Gophers lost to Florida Atlantic? Yikes!). With all of the new faces on the Bison, I’d give them a better chance of beating Iowa State if it was a midseason game than I would in the opener. Because by the middle of the year, the Cyclones could be licking their wounds from a rough start to the Big 12 season, and the Bison might have patched any holes they found to start the year.

Finally, there’s a story floating around the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Yahoo Sports about Kirby Puckett via his former hitting coach Terry Crowley.

Crowley, who was the hitting coach for the Twins during the 1991 World Series, says Puckett called his shot prior to his 11th-inning walkoff homer to win Game 6 and send the Twins to Game 7 and eventually a World Series title.

Crowley told the Pioneer Press that Puckett said if the Atlanta Braves left Charlie Liebrandt in the game, he was going to hit a game-winning homer.

"On some replays of the tape, if the crowd noise is diminished," Crowley told the Pioneer Press, "you can hear Puckett tell me, ‘I told you so, Crow.’ "

We’ve all heard the "Get up on my back" stories about Puckett in the World Series, but this account by Crowley is of a much more specific nature. Here’s a link to the video.

I’ve always felt – from a national perspective – Puckett’s blast is underrated. Carlton Fisk’s walkoff homer in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series gets a lot of attention (partially because it was Boston and partially because of the way he tried to "wave" the ball fair), but the Red Sox lost that series. And Joe Carter’s blast in Game 6 of the 1993 World Series was thrilling, but if the Blue Jays had lost that game, they still would have been alive for Game 7.

In my opinion, when ranking the biggest homers in postseason history, it’s Bill Mazeroski’s walkoff homer for Pittsburgh in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series first, and then it’s Puckett’s blast. Maybe Crowley’s story will give Puckett’s a little more attention.

MAZEROSKI’s WALKOFF IN GAME 7 OF 1960 WORLD SERIES

PUCKETT’S WALKOFF HOMER IN GAME 6 OF 1991 WORLD SERIES
(Fast forward to 6:45 mark of video)

I got to add this too. I found it while looking for Puckett’s Game 6 homer.

1991 TWINS MUSIC VIDEO (Chili, Morris, Erickson, Knoblauch, Newman)

Different takes on Harden

Reports vary on what kind of chance the Minnesota Twins have of trading for Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Rich Harden.

As was reported earlier in the week, the Cubs placed Harden on waivers and the Twins claimed him. What this all boils down to is the Twins have until Monday afternoon to orchestrate a trade for Harden, since a player of his caliber isn’t going to just be given away.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune has a story saying the two sides have not even discussed any sort of parameters of a deal.

However, FoxSports.com has a story saying the two sides have discussed players already. While the story says a trade isn’t imminent, there had at least been talks.

Some good points have made regarding a possible deal. It’s worth noting the Twins could have claimed him simply to keep Detroit or the Chicago White Sox from getting him. That’s very possible.

But also, if you’re the Chicago Cubs, you could trade Harden to the Twins, get a couple of minor leaguers and sign him in the offseason when he becomes a free agent. Or if you’re the Cubs and you don’t plan to offer him arbitration, you might as well trade him since he must be offered arbitration to collect both first-round draft picks you would get for Harden, who is expected to be a Type A free agent.

The next 36 hours could be interesting. Not much has been said regarding details of a trade. I was asked by a colleague earlier tonight what kind of chance I’d give of the Twins trading for Harden. I’m putting it at 20 percent. Pretty unlikely, but crazier things have happened.

ONE OTHER LINK TO SEE

If you want to read a piece looking back at the Twins’ decision to draft Joe Mauer with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2001 draft instead of Mark Prior, click here.

TARGET FIELD LOOKS LIKE A FIELD

The Target Field sod is down, and for the first time I’ll say the place looks like a ballpark.

Photo courtesy of the Associated Press:

Crede ponders retirement; Dickey DFA’d

Couple of quick links:

There’s a story in the Chicago Tribune on Minnesota Twins third baseman Joe Crede. Crede, who was placed on the disabled list yesterday, has battled back problems the last few seasons and is considering retirement after this season. He is just 31 years old.

Crede’s numbers this year really aren’t that impressive. But he has provided some much-needed power from the hot corner, and he has a good glove to boot.

The Crede situation kind of reminds me of Brad Radke back in 2006, which was his last season in the big leagues. He retired after that season, despite posting a 4.32 ERA and helping the Twins to a postseason berth. Radke, who was only 34 in 2006, battled shoulder problems that became so disruptive he chose not to prolong his career.

Also, the Twins have designated Triple-A reliever R.A. Dickey to make room for newly signed Ron Mahay on the 40-man roster.

Dickey pitched 35 games for the Twins this season before being demoted to Rochester, posting a 4.62 ERA at the big league level. He had stretches of effectiveness, allowing just one run in 10 appearances in the month of June.

Dickey wasn’t setting the world on fire at Rochester, so I would assume the Twins will have no trouble passing him through waivers and sending him back to Triple-A, assuming he accepts the assignment.

Mahay and newly acquired reliever Jon Rauch are expected to be in uniform for tonight’s game against the Texas Rangers.

Twins acquire much-needed bullpen help

When a team that’s still in the playoff hunt is depending on Bobby Keppel and Jesse Crain in tight spots out of the bullpen, you got problems.

The Minnesota Twins addressed those problems – probably a month too late, but still needed – by trading for Arizona Diamondbacks right-hander Jon Rauch and agreeing to terms with left-handed reliever Ron Mahay, who was designated for assignment by the Kansas City Royals earlier in the week.

We’ll start with Rauch, who will make the biggest impact. I really like the addition of Rauch, who is owed $2.9 million next season, meaning the Twins gave up a "player to be named later" for more than just one month of Rauch.

Rauch’s 4.14 ERA doesn’t blow you away, but he’s got a sub-3.00 ERA since the start of June after a rough first couple of months to the season. He’s been a very effective reliever since being converted from a starting pitcher with the Montreal Expos in 2004. For his career, opposing hitters bat just .243 off Rauch.

Mahay is a big league veteran who broke in as a position player with the Boston Red Sox in 1995, then as a pitcher in 1997. He’s bounced around much of his career before finding success with the Texas Rangers as a lefty specialist.

Mahay struggled with the Royals this year, giving up a .313 opponents batting average before being cut. But the Royals have demonstrated with the likes of John Bale and Jimmy Gobble in the past that they have no idea what a lefty specialist is. Mahay faced righties more often than lefties this year, and righties hit .340 off of him, so that’s part of the problem.

My take is that Rauch will be a big part of this bullpen for this season and next, and Mahay – for all of his struggles this year – is still an improvement over the likes of some of the inexperienced pitchers the Twins have tried to depend on this season.

Now, let’s see if the Twins go get Rich Harden. ESPNChicago.com did confirm through sources that the Twins were the team that claimed Harden off waivers. They have until Monday to work something out.

Minnesota Wild third jersey leaked … and other stuff

The Minnesota Wild are set to unveil their alternate jersey, but apparently the new look has been leaked.

For more on the design, see the story here.

A jersey’s a jersey. I’m more concerned about the personnel wearing the jersey than I am what they look like. Having said that, I like the new look. Has kind of a retro feel to it, despite the fact that the franchise is young and the name "Wild" itself is as far from retro as it gets.

Report: Twins may have claimed Rich Harden off waivers

According to a story from ESPNChicago.com, an American League source said the Minnesota Twins may have claimed starting pitcher Rich Harden off waivers from the Chicago Cubs.

If this is true, this would be an intriguing possibility for the Twins. Harden is a free agent after this season, but he projects as a Type A free agent, meaning the team that loses Harden in free agency would get two first-round draft picks.

Harden would give the Twins with someone with true ace stuff. He is very injury-proned, and reportedly he could get a huge contract in the offseason despite him being hurt all the time.

I’m sure the Cubs would be asking a lot to give up a Type A free agent. But I think Harden is one guy who could give the Twins a chance to get back into the AL Central race.

Fantasy insurance now available

For your dose of "The world is heading to a bad place," two Long Island insurance brokers are reportedly offering fantasy insurance, which is real insurance for fantasy sports.

The insurance policies cover your fantasy teams. If one of your star players goes down for the season, it’s covered.

This is so completely ridiculous. I am avid fantasy baseball and fantasy football player. I absolutely love fantasy sports. But really. Fantasy insurance? I would never think of doing something like that.

How long can the Phillies ride it out with Lidge?

The Philadelphia Phillies are in great shape. The defending World Series champs were 7.5 games up on the Florida Marlins in the National League East heading into Thursday’s game against Pittsburgh.

But despite all of their success, it’s been a struggle for the closer, Brad Lidge.

Lidge fell to 0-6 this season on Tuesday, blowing his ninth save of the year. His ERA is 7.33. Opponents are hitting .299 off of him, over 100 points better than they fared against him last year.

Yeah, the Phillies have the luxury of riding it out with Lidge and hoping he regains his form. But at what point do you make the move to someone else as the closer.

It’s a lot easier to bench Lidge now than it is to ride it out through the regular season and try to bench him in the playoffs.

At least one member of the Philadelphia Inquirer staff thinks it’s time to sit Lidge. I’m starting to wonder too.

Ricky Rubio: The new Brett Favre

The Star Tribune’s Jerry Zgoda has on his blog today that Spanish media reports say that Minnesota Timberwolves first-round draft pick Ricky Rubio is ready to sign a six-year deal to remain in Spain, with the deal having a two-year opt-out to join the NBA in 2011.

We’ve heard it all with Rubio, and I think I am reaching the point where I will stop acknowledging these reports on the blog, much like I did with Brett Favre. Too exhausting. Hey, I’m a busy guy. No really, I am.

Until I see Rubio sporting a team’s uniform, I’m not going to pay much attention to these reports anymore.

I think Rubio will end up with the Wolves one way or another this season, but time will tell.

Ichiro a Hall of Famer on MLB accomplishments alone

A story moved on the Associated Press wire tonight on how the Seattle Mariners will be without star outfielder Ichiro Suzuki for longer than they expected. Ichiro is dealing with a sore calf.

It mentioned in the story that Ichiro is 16 hits shy of becoming the first player in major league history to have 200 hits or more in nine consecutive seasons.

That’s astonishing to me. And the truth is, I’m not particularly surprised he’s done that, and it’s not that I’m particularly surprised no one else has.

But when you add that accomplishment to what he’s already done since crossing the Pacific Ocean prior to the 2001 season, and there’s no doubt in my mind that he’s a Hall of Famer based on what he’s done in this country alone.

Yeah, I know he’s only in his ninth season. And yeah, he likely has a lot of years left in him.

But his skill set is so unique. There really isn’t anyone in the majors quite like him. He’s a line-driving hitting, cannon-armed outfielder with no contemporaries in his era.

Let’s not forget Ichiro also has the single-season hits record with 262, breaking George Sisler‘s 84-year-old record. In fact, he’s the only guy since 1930 to record more than 240 hits in a season, and he’s done it twice!

In writing this blog, I actually came across a story from The Hardball Times that really delves into the issue.

I’m going to keep it simple though. He’s going to reach 2,000 hits in his big league career by the end of this season, which in just nine seasons is a heck of an accomplishment. In my opinion, he’s a Hall of Famer, whether or not those making such decisions to choose to include his accomplishments in Japan.

Twins keeping hanging around

The Minnesota Twins are winning ugly, but they have managed to triumph in four of their last five games to pull within 5.5 games of Detroit in the AL Central race.

I’ve had stretches this year when I wonder how this team can be struggling so much. Certainly, my expectations were higher for the rotation this season than what they’ve produced.

But lately, I’ve been wondering how this team gets the job done ever. Despite playing against Kansas City, the Twins are squeaking by. And they’re doing it by giving guys like Bobby Keppel and Jesse Crain meaningful innings in meaningful games. You got Carlos Gomez dropping a fly ball only to gun a runner out at third base. And there’s Delmon Young hopping for a catch in left field after misreading another fly ball.

That is the Twins these days, though. It’s no longer a well-balanced team that plays the game right, churning out a consistent effort night after night like the Twins did so well in the early part of this decade. Good starting pitching. Good bullpen. Good defense. Good night.

Now, it’s a collection of star players surrounded by a number of also-ran veterans and a bunch of young, raw players that leave you wondering if they’ll ever become polished.

Yeah, there’s Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel, etc. But there’s also young pitchers the Twins are leaning on, like Brian Duensing and Jeff Manship.

The road ahead really isn’t going to be easy. And with the rest of the division playing the way it is, it just makes it that much hard to tune this team out.

Vikings owners not afraid to pony up

The Star Tribune’s Jim Souhan has a nice column on the newspaper’s site about Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf.

Opinions, as should be expected, vary on whether or not signing Brett Favre was a good idea for the Vikings. But in a market where owners are often panned for not spending enough money and abusing the term "small market," it should be a breath of fresh air for fans in this region to have an owner not afraid to throw some dough at his team.

And it’s a pretty smart business move, too. Having an attention-grabber like Favre on the squad creates a buzz, which in turn will help sell tickets and increase advertising revenue in all sorts of ways.

Hate to bring it up again, but hopefully the Minnesota Twins don’t lose sight of that when Joe Mauer‘s contract runs out.

Well, at least they have Joe Mauer

Prior to the Minnesota Twins’ current two-game winning streak, they had been unwatchable.

The Twins have had some bad teams in my life, but there’s nothing worse than watching a decent team consistently fall behind early in game thanks to consistently poor starting pitching. After awhile, you get tired of watching them fall behind 6-0 by the third inning.

But wow, how good has Joe Mauer been this season? I decided to do a little research to put some sort of historical significance to it.

After going hitless Wednesday, Mauer fell to a .380 batting average. He has 25 homers, and at his season’s pace, he’ll finish with 36 this year.

But let’s say Mauer gets a little power dry and finishes with 30 homers, just five more than he has now. Imagine if Mauer finishes the year hitting .380 with 30 homers. If it sounds crazy, that’s because it is.

In the history of Major League Baseball – not just the modern era, but the 140 years the game has been played at this level – I could find only eight guys to ever post such lofty numbers in a single season. And the vast majority who had did so in the offensive-laden 1920s and 1930s. Here’s the list: Joe DiMaggio, Babe Herman, Rogers Hornsby, Chuck Klein, Lefty O’Doul, Babe Ruth, Al Simmons and Ted Williams. It’s been done by one man in the last 70 years – Williams – and the last time he reached both totals in one season was in 1957, when he turned 39 years old!

Heck, that wouldn’t be crazy. It would be video-game crazy, the type of year you’d try to put up when playing MVP Baseball 2005.

And have I mentioned yet that he’s a catcher? The only American League catcher to win a batting title? And he’s done it twice? Should I keep going?

The Twins have spent much of the season teasing their fans. They’ll blow a team out 11-0, then follow it up with a demoralizing loss the next night.

But what Mauer’s doing is all too real. If he can keep doing it for the final 42 games of the season, Minnesotans will have seen one of the great displays of hitting in the last 50 seasons.