Startribune.com digital sports editor Howard Sinker used to cover the Twins and now shares season tickets with friends in Section 219 of Target Field. He blogs about baseball from the perspective of a long-time fan who loves the game, doesn’t always believe the hype and likes hearing what others think. Howard sometimes talks about sports with Cathy Wurzer on MPR's Morning Edition.

Give some credit to the Twins and Phil Hughes

Posted by: Howard Sinker under Twins fans, Twins management Updated: September 26, 2014 - 10:11 AM

This may have been the ultimate First World issue, whether the Twins should have found a way to give pitcher Phil Hughes the $500,000 bonus he would have earned if a rain delay hadn't robbed him of a chance to get one more out on Wednesday.

(For those who haven't been following the deal, Hughes had that bonus in his contract for pitching 210 innings -- and he'll finish the season with 209 2/3.)

The Twins offered to let Hughes pitch against Detroit to earn the bonus. Hughes declined, and apparently rebuffed efforts to find a way to have the money given to him in some other way. It would have been deserved, but Hughes took the position that he just didn't feel right about any of the ideas that had been put forward.

Both the Twins and Hughes came away looking good.

That's a small but important thing.

However the Twins move forward in reshaping the team for 2015 and beyond, they need to be perceived in a better way than they are right now.. J.J. Hardy, Vance Worley and Carlos Gomez have been among those with unflattering things to say after their exits. The David Ortiz complaints, however ancient (or valid) they may be, are ancient history.

Much had been made about the success of players after they have left the team, whether it's the All-Star status of Gomez, the three ex-Twins among National League batting average leaders or the attention that Francisco Liriano and Worley have gotten for their work in Pittsburgh. Combine those with the tumble from postseason staple to baseball bottom-dweller and the picture is pretty ugly.

Obviously, $500,000 isn't much to Twins management or to a pitcher making an $8 million salary this season. By themselves, the positions of the Twins and Hughes don't mean much.

But as one step toward reshaping the team's image, it's a start.

And, yes, there's still a lot of work to do.

To that end, here are a few interesting reads and listens for the final weekend of the season:

Steve Buhr, who has written for Section 219 as "Jim Crikket," writes about what he'd do if he owned the Twins.

ESPN 1500's Phil Mackey has this in-depth look at the deterioration of the Twins.

Here's the Star Tribune's special report from earlier this week on what needs to be done to fix the Twins.

And I was invited to talk about the Twins (from bobbleheads to bobbled grounders) on the Talk to Contact podcast on Thursday night. I had fun ... and only cussed once.

Guest post: 'Talent needs leadership to win'

Posted by: Howard Sinker under Twins fans Updated: September 6, 2014 - 8:42 AM
Note: I'm turning the blog over today to Jason Iacovino, a Twins fan from Owatonna who is a frequent blog commenter in Section 219 as "Ilovesid." This is his report after watching more than four hours of baseball at Target Field on Friday night.
 
Howard is right. The Twins do not deserve our attention right now, as painful as it is to admit.
 
I do love this team, but it's been a love-hate relationship since 2010.  My wife and I were treated to Legends Club seats on Friday night, so we were genuinely enthusiastic spectators.
 
But after 4 hrs and 30 minutes of Kiss Cam, Water Cam, and Welke Cam, we exited to the same song and dance Twins fans have endured for the 80th time this year--another loss.
 
Bill Welke's awful strike zone delayed (And I mean really delayed) the inevitable, but the real story for the few hundred fans remaining in the 9th inning hoping for a comeback was this reality--$35 million in payroll (Ricky Nolasco and Joe Mauer) contributed to 4-plus hours of agony and suddenly all the hope centered on Kennys Vargas and Trevor Plouffe.
 
That's where Twins baseball is right now.  Joe Mauer's disappointing season is the biggest sports story in Minnesota this year--bigger than a new Vikings coach or the Kevin Love trade.  It culminated in the 9th inning again on Friday, just as it did the night before, with the Twins needing a productive at-bat trailing with runners on first and second and no one out. 
 
Where is Twins baseball at the moment?  Today you come to the ballpark to watch Santana run around the bases and Arcia land one on the Plaza, while the bulk of the team's payroll sits back and admires with the rest of us. 
 
The problem is we can marvel at young talent all we want--and yes, Vargas, Arcia, Santana, Kyle Gibson, and Byron Buxton will definitely be front and center in 2015, but talent needs leadership to win.  Every Chuck Knobluach needs a Greg Gagne.  Every Shane Mack needs a Kirby Puckett.  Every Jacques Jones needs a Torii Hunter.
 
My sincere hope is whoever comes back in the spring to join the young talent cited above has a solid dose of leadership to go with on-base percentage.  I'm pretty sure that's what's been missing.  You will not convince me the Kansas City Royals have superior talent this year.  The Twins can either find guys to help turn young talent into winning baseball, or they can continue to watch other teams pick up their pieces.
 
I thank Howard for allowing me to vent on behalf of interested Twins fans and I can't wait for things to turn around, but he's right, there's not much breath that should be wasted at the moment.  This problem won't be solved by surveys or self-service beer machines.  See you next April with renewed optimism, I guess.

'September to forget' coming up for the Twins

Posted by: Howard Sinker Updated: September 1, 2014 - 8:17 AM

A “month of hope” for the Twins is about to begin. Players will be called up and others will be cast aside, or to Houston in the case of Samuel Deduno. We can be fairly certain the Twins will again lose more than 90 games – but it would take their worst month of the season for them to lose 100. Small blessings, huh.

Don’t take anything you see this month seriously. If you’re the kind of person prone to get excited by the late season, I’m here to remind you of Chris Parmelee (2011) and Josmil Pinto (2013), to name two. If you’re that kind of person, watch more football or take a Community Ed class or something.

Change from within isn’t going to help the Twins. I’m doing my best to believe in the month of Kennys Vargas and the half-season of Danny Santana, but even those positives bring questions. We have no clue whether Santana is a major league caliber shortstop because the Twins forced themselves, through lousy roster management, to put him in center field – where Byron Buxton is expected to play into the 2020s.

And Vargas, if he is as real as he looks, creates issues about how to handle the first base and DH positions into the future. But any Vargas/Mauer/Pinto/whomever/whatever/however debate about filling those spots detracts from the other real issues facing a team that has slipped into mediocrity on so many levels. For many, the timeline to competence has been pushed back for another year for all sorts of reasons, including the injuries that rendered Buxton and Miguel Sano unavailable, and has apparently hindered some of the top pitching prospects we’ve been talking about.

Saturday’s minor-league news was that prospect Alex Meyer was pulled from his start in Rochester after only a few batters. Sunday’s news was that he was placed on the disabled list. August’s news, in addition to Buxton’s scary-as-heck concussion, was that Trevor May didn’t look ready for the majors despite all of the clamoring for his promotion. Five starts, 19 innings, 44 base runners. Splat!

I’m not talking solutions right now. I don’t have the energy to add voice to a debate that dances around the fringes of fixing mediocrity. Anyone who wants to debate Jordan Schafer can leave me out of it. And I don’t want to dip even one toe into the Gardy-created discussion about whether pressure over the All-Star Game contributed to Joe Mauer’s substandard performance.

If you missed that one, here it is. If your reaction is bleepity-bleeping-bleep, join the club.

My response for now is silence and apathy. I received some thoughtful emails when I asked for suggestions to fix the Twins, and I’ll be sharing some of them on the blog now and then. I’ve taken to following the Twins, more than anything, by looking at the in-game box scores on the MLB web site. Ricky Nolasco getting smoked again and Anthony Swarzak adding gasoline – Sunday’s action in Baltimore – go down more easily that way. I've got a Fantasy Football title to defend, a college class to teach and lots of other things going on.

Refusing to invest in a flawed product is the best message I can send right now.

Fix the Twins: Participate in the Section 219 focus mob

Posted by: Howard Sinker Updated: August 15, 2014 - 1:02 PM

The Twins sent their season-ticket holders an email earlier this week. The first paragraph read:

As the Minnesota Twins look to develop strategies that will shape future initiatives for our organization and brand, we’re looking for the feedback from our most valued fans. With season ticket holders being at the top of the list, we invite you to participate in an exclusive focus group session!

I offered the Twins my services on this one, but was turned down -- and quite appropriately -- one question into their check-me-out phone call because I work for one of the types of companies they don't want in the room.

The mosaic of Twins fans is made up of more than season-ticket holders, right? You can be a fan and be so miffed about things that you haven't attended a game since the first of the recent 90-loss seasons. Or you can be a fan who attends dozens of games per year by finding cheap tickets on the web. (My personal best is getting into the Legends Club for $17, by the way.)

I don't think you have to be a season-ticket holder to be important. If you know me, you know I'm not big on exclusive sessions, anyway.

So I'm convening the Section 219 Focus Mob right here. Use the comments section below to tell the Twins what you think, and react (respectfully, please) to other people's comments.

Here are a few (very general) rules that I'd like us to abide by:

1. No personal attacks. Criticize the performance ... the idea ... the whatever. Do better than "he's a jerk." I'm gonna have my finger on the bad-taste trigger.

2. Be reasonable. Joe Mauer isn't going to be released and he has a full no-trade clause. Serious to me would be a suggestion that he move to an outfield spot if you think Kennys Vargas should play first base. Serious to me would be that the Pohlads go after the highest-profile of the free agent pitchers this winter because, sometimes, throwing money at a problem can help -- and Twins ownership has money. I have a very inclusive view of what's reasonable.

3. Try not to write a novel. If you want to share a lot, send me an email. Those have a way of showing up on the blog from time to time, and could become a guest post.

4. Best comment (as judged by me 'n' me alone) gets my tickets for a game in September. I'll even give you a couple of choices. (No, second prize isn't two games in September -- but thanks for asking.)

As the Twins said in their Focus Group letter: Your time is deeply appreciated!

Have at it.

It's time for the Twins to replace Ron Gardenhire

Posted by: Howard Sinker under Ron Gardenhire, Twins fans, Twins management Updated: July 26, 2014 - 9:51 AM

I will be as direct as possible here.

When I wrote a couple of weeks ago, I said that if Ron Gardenhire could keep the Twins together and finish the season in a way that showed some improvement over the last three seasons of almost 100-losses apiece, I’d like to see him get a shot at managing the 2015 Twins.

Based on the first eight games of the post-All Star home stand, I can’t see that improvement happening. The Twins have stumbled to a couple of victories and bumbled their way to a half-dozen defeats during a stretch of games that could have kept them relevant.

None were against teams with the eight best records in the American League. In other words, the players who were making pleas to keep the roster together for the season’s final months, couldn’t back up their talk with any kind of action in games against flawed opponents.

That shouldn’t be a surprise. Words have become hollow at Target Field. And with other distractions coming along – Vikings training camp, Gophers football starting soon, the Lynx and Minnesota United chasing titles in basketball and soccer, even your local high school teams – anything that comes from Target Field will be increasingly ignored.

I went to the Lynx game Friday night and didn’t even bother checking on the Twins afterward. Twitter told me everything I needed to know. Later, I walked by the game replay on FSNorth and saw Kevin Correia's best toss of the night, when he hurled his chewing gum after a grooved pitch that Chicago's Jose Abreu smashed for a three-run homer in the first inning.

I’m not going to judge whether the best of the young pitchers should be called up soon instead of being targeted for 2015. What I do know is that I’d have a hard time justifying exposing any kind of promising young talent to what’s going on with the Twins right now. There’s too much bad out there. Let Yohan Pino be exposed to that instead of Alex Meyer.

Let Parmelee, Fuld, Fryer, Colabello and the other borderline major leaguers finish out this season and start fresh without them (and some others) in 2015. That must be ownership’s commitment to fans who have been sickened into apathy by the last four seasons. Just saying "losing sucks," a Jim Pohlad line from a couple of years back, doesn't win anything except wondering if he really means it.

A fresh start includes hiring a new manager.

In addition to not being very good, the Twins over and over again are showing that they’re not very baseball smart. I saw it in Wednesday’s victory when Brian Dozier, who is usually better than that, shoveled a gloved-hand throw over the first baseman’s head on a play he had no business even trying. I’ve also seen it in grooved pitches and taken pitches and poorly focused at-bats and base-running mistakes. You can get by with some suspect players if their mental game props up their physical limitations, but second-tier players making beer league choices equals no hope.

The endless loop of mental mistakes, which hasn’t improved as players have gotten more experience, is on the manager and his coaching staff. When I teach my college students, there are times when the repeated mistakes of a student wear me down to where I don’t see them. So if Gardy is worn down by what he keeps seeing, I get it.

Gardy has been given his chances to make things better – and his successes before 2011 earned him bonus chances that wouldn’t have been given to others. It hasn’t worked. If he gets a job managing elsewhere, which many of his supporters contend would happen, so be it.

That’s not a reason for keeping him.

I don’t know if Twins management has fully accepted the level of casual mocking that their team gets. It’s not just the always-angry on social media. It’s the people I know who have stopped going to games and those who are questioning whether to keep buying tickets – whether it’s to single games or season packages. Without the All-Star Game as incentive and with another sorry season concluding, many people aren’t going to keep buying in without an overhaul.

I asked around on Twitter for people to share their thoughts about the Twins.

There was this:

And this:

And this:

And this:

There's more, which you can find on my feed.

And there was this, from an email by Twins fan Max Athorn, who wanted to go beyond 140 characters to address stuff:

"This season, for some reason that I am still not entirely sure, I have actually paid closer attention to them than I have during the last three awful years. I have paid attention to the roster moves, read the blogs, read the scouting reports, and watched the brutally uncompetitive 3-1 losses (that are way different from the occasionally competitive 3-1 losses). I love the Twins, and to that end, I love these Twins just as much as I've loved any Twins in the thirty years I've lived. But now, as things just seemingly refuse to get any better or worse, to such a bizarre degree that they are just simply the same-ol' same, I have been more inclined to re-evaluate my position."

Among the follies of this season was starting out in spring training believing that Pedro Florimon would be the starting shortstop; Aaron Hicks was ready for center field (without any kind of serious Plan B; Danny Santana has been a lucky stopgap that spared us another Darin Mastroianni-type); the pitching staff would be better, and a couple of returnees named Jason would help with their experience. That’s not hitless in four tries.

That’s four strikeouts on 12 pitches.

It doesn’t matter if I thought Hicks was ready, Florimon would be fine or Jason Kubel and/or Jason Bartlett could play a role. It was the organization’s call and it failed miserably. Perhaps the surprise of 2014 should be that the Twins didn’t become ignorable more quickly. But giving Gardy and his staff credit for that is a C-minus paper in a year of failing work. It’s not enough to pass. Because Terry Ryan was out of the general manager’s office at the time fighting his cancer battle, it was even more important for the field staff to fight for the right moves during spring training.

Here's more from fan Max Athorn's email:

"As the weeks and months of mediocrity in Minneapolis drag on, there is one thing that we have learned that Ron Gardenhire is NOT: He's not an innovator. He can't pull any tricks that he hasn't already pulled. He has no secret weapons and no master plan. Finally, a couple of days ago, I realized where it stands for me: I feel the same way about Ron Gardenhire as the Twins feel about Matt Guerrier.

"The Twins loved Matt Guerrier, and I think most Twins fans understood why. This past week, though, it became clear that Matt Guerrier just didn't represent the same stability and success that he once did.

"My favorite part about the Twins broadcasts are Ron Gardenhire's press conferences. (Let that set in for a minute!) Actually, I truly enjoy watching him. I think he's funny, I think he's thoughtful, I think he's empathetic and articulate and I think he knows a lot about baseball. I like that he's a little erratic, and I like that he's curmudgeonly; I like his loyalty to his pitching coach and his most hard-working players. I like everything that I know about him.

"The Twins' failure is not Ron Gardenhire's fault. But it becomes increasingly clear to me, that the next time the Twins are riding a September winning streak into the playoffs, it won't be because of Ron Gardenhire."

Gardy’s contract runs through next season, so there would be a year of severance for him as a reward for the better times. That’s fine with me. I don’t know whether the next manager is sitting in the Twins’ dugout, another team’s dugout or a broadcast booth. I do know that I can’t imagine a scene in which Gardy returns and the team has any credibility with many, many of its fans.

It’s time for a change. I’ve been cautious in reaching that conclusion -- frustratingly so to some of you, I know – but I think that gives my conclusion extra weight.

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