Early returns favor Blyleven

One of my favorite December and January blog activities last year was checking out Baseball Think Factory’s website and its “Hall of Fame Ballot Gathering Machine.”

Bert Blyleven

Is this the year that Bert Blyleven gets circled by the Hall of Fame? Associated Press photo

The website takes the ballots posted online by writers that vote for the Baseball Hall of Fame and combines them to figure out percentages and see who is on pace to get elected this year and who will get snubbed.

I learned last year that you can’t take too much from it. Early returns had Roberto Alomar getting in and he surprisingly didn’t. But in the case of former Minnesota Twins pitcher Bert Blyleven, the returns weren’t far off from the final tally.

This time around, Blyleven has enough votes so far among those voters who has made their picks public, sneaking past the 75 percent threshold needed for induction. According to these returns, Blyleven and Alomar would make it in, with Barry Larkin coming up just short. But I do emphasize that it is extremely early with just 71 ballots in so far.

Blyleven got 74 percent of the vote last year. Nobody has ever gotten that close without eventually getting elected.

It’s interesting how with some of these players, I feel like I become bigger fans of them after they retire than when they played. Tim Raines and Edgar Martinez are examples of that. I’m convinced Raines will one day get in, that his numbers show he was likely one of the five greatest leadoff hitters in baseball history if not one of the three best. And Martinez does well with modern-day numbers like OPS, though his inability to stay healthy and lack of time spent doing anything other than DH-ing hurts him. He probably never will get in.

But I think Raines will. He got only 30 percent of the vote last year. But I’ve noticed a lot of the voters on MLB Network have given him the nod this year, and the early returns have him at 52 percent. So things are looking up for him.

One other link worth checking out is the ZiPS projects for the 2011 Minnesota Twins. Some interesting projections:

  • Japanese import second baseman Tsuyoshi Nishioka is picked to hit .281 and steal 38 bases. Twins would probably take that. He’s also picked to get caught stealing 17 times though.
  • Closer Joe Nathan, who missed all of last season after Tommy John surgery, is projected to post an ERA of 3.00 for 2011.

Why the NBA was great in the 1980s

I’ve been away from the blog for awhile. Not really sure why. But I’m back now.

In my time away, I’ve had a chance to think more about what LeBron James said about the NBA needing to contract teams – mentioning the Minnesota Timberwolves – in an effort to create more super-teams like the league had in the 1980s. That was a decade most would call the “Golden Age” of the NBA.

I don’t disagree with James’ statement, though I think it’s in his best interest to keep opinions like that to himself. Certainly, that’s not something the Players’ Association wants to hear him say.

The NBA more than any other league struggles with parity. Dating back to 1984, the NBA has had only seven different franchises win a championship. If the ultimate goal of every team is to win it all, there’s some problems there that haven’t been resolved for a lot of the league’s teams.

But what also made the NBA great in the 1980s was the star players. Think about it. Magic’s Lakers. Jordan’s Bulls. Bird’s Celtics. Those players were synonymous with their teams.

So I think it’s easy for LeBron to point to the Timberwolves or New Jersey Nets and say that such-and-such team would be better if it had Kevin Love, so let’s get rid of the Wolves. But back in the 1980s, the star players didn’t opt to not be the man.

I don’t have any problem at all with LeBron choosing to team up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to form a super team. He’s entitled to do what he wants. But the NBA wasn’t like that in the 1980s.

Sure, Michael Jordan had Scottie Pippen. There was plenty of talent on those Bulls teams. But he won titles with Bill Cartwright and Luc Longley as starters. Craig Hodges and John Paxson logged significant minutes. Good players, of course. But not stars. Jordan made those players around him better. He made them a great team, a 72-win team.

That desire just doesn’t seem to be there anymore with many of today’s stars.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all as 2010 winds down

What's better than a Christmas tree? That's right. It's two Christmas trees.

It’s been quite a year so far, and Christmas is as good of time as any to be thankful for what you have and reflect on the year that is about to pass.

I’m a pretty lucky guy. I’ve got a job doing what I love and that’s following sports. Great friends. Great family. Beautiful wife … OK, haven’t gotten that accomplished yet. But hey, there’s still time. The Chicago Bears Santa hat pictured at right isn’t helping the cause.

Anyway, this post isn’t about what I don’t have. It’s what I do have. So to my parents and siblings, a big thank you. And I’ve got some great friends, who if they don’t know who they are, then I’ve let them down. And to what’s basically become my second family here in Fargo-Moorhead, a big thank you too. I know you know who you are.

There have been a lot of good times this year, and considering the source of this post, you’ve probably figured out that most of them are sports-related events.

  • I attended the Minnesota Twins’ exhibition opener at Target Field this season against the St. Louis Cardinals. What an awesome experience. I also attended the team’s second home game, but had to settle for watching the regular-season home opener two days prior to that on TV.

    The Jack Buck Statue outside Busch Stadium. Who looks more life-like?

  • For the fourth consecutive year, I hit the road to check out a major league baseball stadium or two. This time, I went with two friends that I attended high school with. And this time, we headed to Missouri in April to check out the home stadiums of the Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals. The Royals were hosting the Twins, while Albert Pujols and the Cards faced Jason Heyward and the Atlanta Braves. On the way, we stopped at the Bob Feller Museum in Van Meter, Iowa. Feller was at the museum signing autographs, so I had him ink an old picture of his. As it turned out, that was the last time Feller would make a public appearance at his museum. He passed away earlier this month at the age of 92.
  • Back to Twins baseball, I attended the first playoff game in Target Field history. I probably don’t have to tell you how that game went. Twins grab a 3-0 lead with Francisco Liriano, then blow it against the New York Yankees. Another crushing defeat for the Minnesota faithful.
  • Finally, there was the Chicago Bears-Minnesota Vikings game at TCF Bank Stadium earlier this week. What a cool and unique experience that was? Yeah, it was a touch on the cold side, but things couldn’t have worked out better for me. The Green Bay Packers lost the night before, meaning my favorite NFL team growing up – the Bears – could clinch the NFC North title. And even better yet, Brett Favre played. Yes, I grew up not liking Favre. Every Bears fan does. But I had never seen him play in person prior to Monday, so when I’m an old man, I can tell people, “I saw Brett Favre.”

    A couple of friends and I at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City.

So everyone out there have a Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas if that applies to you too.

Week 16 NFL picks

Hate to combine the NFL picks with the Christmas post, but it’s the safe way to go.

Another big week last week, going 4-1. That puts me 13 games above .500 this season at 39-26. And I’ve clinched a winning record, so that’s huge.

So here is Week 16:

  • Chicago by 1 1/2 over New York Jets. Bears
  • Baltimore by 3 over Cleveland. Ravens
  • Houston by 3 over Denver. Broncos
  • Miami by 4 over Detroit. Lions
  • Green Bay by 3 over New York Giants. Giants

LeBron mentions Timberwolves in his support for contraction

LeBron James isn’t saying the NBA should contract the Minnesota Timberwolves. But he is saying this:

“Imagine if you could take Kevin Love off Minnesota and add him to another team and you shrink the [league]. Looking at some of the teams that aren’t that great, you take Brook Lopez or you take Devin Harris off these teams that aren’t that good right now and you add him to a team that could be really good. Not saying let’s take New Jersey and let’s take Minnesota out of the league. But hey, you guys are not stupid, I’m not stupid, it would be great for the league.”

I’m not saying I disagree with James’ take that the NBA would benefit from contraction, though I doubt New Jersey is high on the list of teams to be contracted. But for a guy that could have saved himself a lot of headaches over the last few months by talking less, the mouth keeps going.

Note to LeBron: Open mouth, insert foot. Fans of the Timberwolves and Nets know what you are saying, and I’m guessing most of them don’t want to hear it.

Stick to doing what you do best, and that’s building super teams and alienating franchises. Oh wait. That is what you’re suggesting with your latest comments. Proceed.

Festivus is your heritage. It’s part of who you are.

As I’ve mentioned in previous years (see 2008 and 2009), Wikipedia recognizes Dec. 23 as Festivus. If you don’t know what Festivus is, you probably would never understand me. But to explain: It’s a holiday that gained popularity on the TV series “Seinfeld.” I’ll leave a video at the bottom of the post if you want more information, or simply need a good chuckle.

Frank Costanza

There's no doubt Frank Costanza would give a few Minnesota Vikings players and coaches a piece of his mind on Festivus.

As in years past, I will take part in the “Airing of Grievances” in an effort to find a healthy way to let out my frustrations. And in the year 2010, there are no shortage of grievances for the area sports fan.

So, let’s have at it:

  • The Minnesota Twins. You’re no longer “The Little Engine That Could.” Making the playoffs alone isn’t enough to constitute a successful season now that the franchise is spending more than $100 million on payroll. There’s no excuse to fold against the New York Yankees this past postseason in the same way that the team did in previous postseasons.
  • Alexi Casilla. Please don’t take this starting opportunity for granted like it looked like you did the last time.
  • The Minnesota Vikings. Where to begin? If you’re a fan of the Vikings, you should be celebrating Festivus Eve and have a special “Airing of Grievances” just for the Purple. There’s no doubt if the Vikings hired Frank Costanza to be their new head coach, he would stick that pointer finger out at each one of the players and say, “I got a lot of problems with you people. And now, you’re going to hear about it!”
  • Zygi Wilf. You’ll get your stadium soon enough. This is a good pro football market. Just be patient. We’re talking about a $6 billion budget deficit in Minnesota. Hang in there.
  • The 11 players not named Kevin Love on the Minnesota Timberwolves’ active roster. What’s going on? Where are you guys? Love could become the first NBA player in decades to average 20 points and 15 rebounds for an entire season, and yet this team is firmly entrenched in last place? How can that be?
  • Joel Maturi. There aren’t too many programs at the University of Minnesota that are in better shape now than they were five years ago. How much blame should the Gophers athletic director take for that?
  • Michael Vick. Do you really think talking about owning a dog is in your best interests right now? Wait until the probation period is over and everyone’s emotional wounds have healed before uttering such things.
  • Diva wide receivers. It’s over. That’s not to say it’s over good. But you’re a dying breed. Just take one look at the top five leaders in receptions in the NFL: Roddy White, Reggie Wayne, Andre Johnson, Wes Welker, Jason Witten. That’s not to say these guys probably don’t have big egos. Some or all of them might. But compared to Randy Moss or Terrell Owens or Chad Ochocinco, they’re kittens I’m sure.
  • LeBron James. Get over yourself. The “What Should I Do?” commercial might be more aggravating than “The Decision” was. You don’t have it that tough. You make more money in one day than most people do in a year. Life isn’t that bad.

Festivus isn’t over until George Costanza pins his father. But that’s it for now.

Photos and more from Bears-Vikings at TCF Bank Stadium

Chicago Bears lined up on offense.

Outdoor football was everything I thought it would be, and I have the pictures to prove it.

As I mentioned Tuesday morning on this blog, I had a great time at the Chicago Bears-Minnesota Vikings game on Monday night, which was moved to TCF Bank Stadium after the Metrodome’s roof collapsed.

Ultimately, I think the Vikings will get approval for a new stadium. Seems like some momentum could build after the Metrodome’s problems.

There’s no doubt the Vikings made money on Monday night. They wouldn’t spend $700K to clear the field if they weren’t. But I’m sure they didn’t make nearly as much as they normally do for home games.

And my guess is their new stadium will have a roof or a retractable roof. Doesn’t seem to make much sense to have three new outdoors stadiums in the Twin Cities without building one that’s enclosed.

Anyway, here are a few photos from the game. Captions are beneath each photo.

Players warm up prior to Monday's game.

Robbie Gould kicks off to start the game.Chicago Bears lined up on offense.Was this the final time we'll see Brett Favre on a football field?

Was this the final time we'll see Brett Favre on a football field?

TCF proves to be a big hit for fans

In the end, it’s safe to say Monday’s game between the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears went off mostly without a hitch.

Yeah, there was a fan that ran onto the field and had to be restrained by security. And I’m sure all of the snow piling up on the streets led to a couple of accidents going to and from the game. But after attending Monday night’s game, I don’t recall hearing a single person say, “It is too cold. I’m leaving.” Instead, in the fourth quarter, it was, “The Vikings stink. I’m leaving.” Most people filed out with about nine minutes to play after Chicago’s Chris Harris intercepted a Joe Webb pass.

TCF Bank Stadium provided a pretty unique setting for football. For one night, the state became, “The Land of 10,000 Handwarmers.” And I loved it.

Everything about last night’s game felt like something from an NFL Films video. In fact, they had NFL Films videos from the Met Stadium days playing as fans waited for the game to start. You even had the 50 greatest Vikings players honored at halftime.

It didn’t take long before someone in our section decided to go shirtless. I don’t think that guy even waited until kickoff.

And despite the “no alcohol” policy on the University of Minnesota campus, I can assure you there were a few people who had one too many either prior to or during that game last night.

My group got its seats in the upper deck, and we even managed to avoid the bleachers, which was good. It was windy and cold. I won’t lie. I did slip on a facemask from time to time to protect my chin. But I couldn’t be happier about deciding to attend that game.

I’ll post photos as soon as I can. Wanted to get a few quick thoughts out there now while I had time.

Good news: Vikings confident everyone with tickets can attend Monday’s game

There are some encouraging quotes from Minnesota Vikings Chief Marketing Officer Steve LaCroix on the team’s website regarding Monday night’s game against the Chicago Bears, which had to be moved to TCF Bank Stadium after the Metrodome’s roof caved in last weekend.

TCF

TCF Bank Stadium looks ready to rock for Monday Night Football. Associated Press photo

LaCroix is fairly confident that everyone that wants to attend the game and has tickets will be able to do so. Parking sounds like the biggest concern the team has in playing a game at the University of Minnesota campus.

That’s good to hear. Out-of-towners should feel pretty confident that they will be able to get into TCF. It’s still first-come, first-served. So if you want good seats, you better still go early. I heard they might be looking at a little less than 50,000 attending, so standing-room spots hopefully won’t be necessary.

TCF has about 13,000 fewer seats than the Metrodome.

Week 15 picks

Most of my time this week is focused on my fantasy football team, which is still alive in the semifinals of my 16-team league. I’ve racked my brain over whether to start Pierre Garcon or Danny Woodhead (who is WR-eligible in Yahoo) all week and will continue to do so until prior to Sunday’s Colts kickoff at noon. I know Garcon caught two TDs last week, but he lets me down every time I start him.

Anyway, I had a monster week in the picks last week, going 5-0 after nearly forgetting to post any picks. Glad I got some posted. I’m at 35-25 this season. Here you go for this weekend:

  • Dallas by 6 over Washington. Cowboys
  • New York Giants by 3 over Philadelphia. Eagles
  • Cincinnati by 1 over Cleveland. Bengals
  • Miami by 6 1/2 over Buffalo. Bills
  • Oakland by 6 1/2 over Denver. Raiders

Must-see video: Woodhead works as Modell’s employee and tries to sell his own jersey

Tip of the hat to former colleague Kerry Collins for alerting me to this video of New England Patriots running back Danny Woodhead.

Woodhead played football at Chadron State (Neb.) and has found a home in the New England offense as a diminutive yet elusive third-down back. The combination of his “Rudy” stature along with him being on my fantasy team has made me a huge fan of his.

Anyway, Woodhead tries to pass as a high school kid in this video, working at Modell’s and trying to sell his own Patriots jersey to customers. Some initially think it’s him, but nobody leaves convinced. Pretty great.

In face of stadium dilemma, greed rises from ice-covered stadium

I was completely shocked upon hearing that the Minnesota Vikings are going with a first-come, first-serve scenario when it comes to Monday’s game against the Chicago Bears.

In the Minneapolis Star Tribune story, some season tickets holders are threatening to not renew their season tickets. I can’t blame them.

In a week full of headaches, the Vikings have created another one. This time, Mother Nature can’t get all of the blame.

Obviously, with the 64,000-seat Metrodome out of commission, some fans are going to get left out with the game moving to 51,000-seat TCF Bank Stadium. But this wasn’t the way to figure that out.

Do a ticket lottery. Just tell the fans with the worst seats at the Metrodome that they can’t go because there isn’t room at TCF. Make a decision. But don’t do this.

I’m looking at it from the perspective of out-of-town fans in places like Fargo-Moorhead or even Chicago. What are they supposed to do? Make the cross-state or cross-region drive to the Twin Cities and hope that they can get in?

The problem with the scenarios I gave above is that if some of those people given approval to go to the game opted for refunds instead, the Vikings wouldn’t have a packed house. In a week where they will spend at least $700,000 clearing out a stadium, plus losing out on money made from the sale of beer and having to refund 13,000 ticket holders, somehow the fans are the ones that come out as losers.

The way this has been handled is unfortunate. I know there isn’t a page in the franchise ownership manual for handling a crisis like this, but I would have liked to see the Vikings improvise a little better than this.

So to you F-M fans out there with tickets to Monday’s game, good luck. I hope you’re not left out in the cold.