Patrick Reusse has been covering sports in the Twin Cities since 1968. He has been a Star Tribune sports columnist since 1988. His sportswriting credo is twofold: 1. God will provide an angle; 2. The smaller the ball, the better the writing.


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Pelfrey fiasco reaches new heights for Twins

Posted by: Patrick Reusse Updated: March 28, 2015 - 9:34 PM

Mike Pelfrey has earned $9.5 million in two seasons with the Twins. For that expenditure, his employers had received five wins, 16 losses, a 5.56 ERA and a total of 176 1/3 innings in 34 starts.

That’s an average of a fraction over five innings per start. He also had allowed 213 hits, a hits-to-inning ratio guaranteed to lead to failure.

The Twins’ front office and the previous field staff would defend Pelfrey by pointing to two things: A) He was such an exceptional competitor that he returned much earlier than the norm from Tommy John surgery to be in the Twins’ rotation to open the 2013 season; and B) he was a terrific teammate and a pure professional as a pitcher.

The Twins were so suckered in by Point A that they gave Pelfrey a two-year, $11 million contract to return in 2014, even after his awful performance in 2013 – 5-13 with a 5.19 ERA – assisted the 66-96 record and 13th-place finish in the American League.

Pelfrey made five horrible starts in 2014, 0-3 with a 7.99 ERA, and did not pitch after May 1 due to a groin injury. He received $5.5 million in salary for that, and is due the same amount for 2015.

On Saturday, the Twins announced they were sending 25-year-old starter Trevor May to Class AAA Rochester, to join 25-year-old Alex Meyer to form the oldest exacta of red-hot pitching prospects in all of organized baseball.

With some luck, maybe May and Meyer can lead the U.S. staff in this summer’s Futures Oldtimers Game during All-Star festivities in Cincinnati, perhaps dueling against Lester Oliveros and Deolis Guerra for the World team.

As part of the roster decisions, the Twins also said that lefthander Tommy Milone will open as the Twins’ fifth starter, and all 6-foot-7 of Long Mike will be assigned duty in the bullpen.

The response of Pelfrey, the terrific teammate and pure professional?

Eyewitness accounts from reporters tell us Pelfrey was genuinely angry over this, saying the Twins had misled him over the fairness of the competition – and that he deserved the job because he had outpitched Milone in exhibitions.

Here’s the truth: Neither Milone nor Pelfrey deserves to be in the rotation of a big-league team that takes itself seriously, but the Twins offered Milone arbitration and were stuck with his $2.775 million salary, and Pelfrey’s making the $5.5 million, which meant that May was always doomed to be the candidate to be unfairly judged.

The humorous angle in Saturday’s discussion on Pelfrey was that the 31-year-old righthander was so frustrated that he was now open to a trade.

OK, let’s form two lines: the teams not interested in Mike Pelfrey as a starter on the left, and the Sioux City Explorers and the Kansas City T-Bones on the right.

I'm buying into soccer, why not the politicians?

Posted by: Updated: March 28, 2015 - 9:04 PM

It has been a four-decade journey to making peace with soccer. I had never seen a moment of the fancy footwork in person until 1976, when the Minnesota Kicks surfaced at Met Stadium.

I was covering baseball and also writing a Thursday general sports column for the St. Paul Dispatch. The madness of youth filling the Met was too astounding to ignore, and I got out there for a contest on an early-summer night.

The debauchery in the parking lot was entertaining, but the game? Uff da.

I did cover a handful of matches when the World Cup was held in the United States in 1994, and it was much fun interviewing the hard-partying foreign fans in parking lots.

The first game attended was Ireland vs. Italy at Giants Stadium on June 18, 1994. I was mingling with my mother’s people, the Irish, and they were outraged at the lack of World Cup media coverage the previous day.

“We turn on the telly and, every station, all we see is this white lorry driving ’round and ’round,’ ” one well-lubricated gent said. “What is wrong with you Yanks?”

I explained that we Yanks tend to get worked up when a Heisman Trophy winner is suspected of double murder.

The pending World Cup led to another attempt to provide the United States with a higher level of professional soccer. The formation of Major League Soccer was announced in 1993, and the first season was contested in 1996.

Two decades later, the league is a success, and the Twin Cities finally have a chance to be a participant.

It is incomprehensible the same politicians — including Gov. Mark Dayton — who gave us the scam of electronic pulltabs to cover the state’s hefty share of the Taj Ma Zygi, that signed off on $52 million in public money to pay for a ballpark for a club that’s a step below minor league, have bellowed there won’t even be chump change to make sure America’s version of big-league soccer returns here after a 35-year absence.

They are amazing dimwits over there at the Capitol.

Plus Three from Patrick

An MLS franchise will put the Twin Cities in elite company as a U.S. metro area with teams in the six major leagues (others: NFL, MLB, NHL, NBA, WNBA):

New York: The Gotham market has 12 teams in six leagues, including three in the NHL.

Chicago: The Windy City has seven teams in six leagues, with the Cubs and the Mighty Whiteys in baseball.

Washington, D.C.: The Beltway has a team in each league, as would the Twin Cities if Minnesota United is able to upgrade to the MLS by 2018.

'Artie the Bartender' would sign off on Dozier

Posted by: Patrick Reusse Updated: March 24, 2015 - 3:46 PM

FORT MYERS, FLA. -- Rod Carew was 21 and had not played above the Class A Carolina League in the spring of 1967, when Calvin Griffith, the Twins owner and general manager, ordered manager Sam Mele to start the season with the rookie as his second baseman.

Legend has it, Mele called in the beat writers from the Twin Cities dailies for an off-the-record conversation to make this clear: It wasn’t his decision to go with the kid at second base.

Carew started 1,071 games at second base for the Twins over nine seasons. The attraction of baseball then was the game – not drink rails and countless in-stadium food options – and the customers didn’t need reporters to detect Carew’s No. 1 flaw at second base:

Turning the double play.

We looked at that ability with such reverence in the 1970s that manager Frank Quilici, a former second baseman, was congratulated for his boldness when he convinced Carew to start giving first base a try late in the 1975 season.

Carew played both first and second in September, and then the move to first base became permanent in spring training of 1976. Sir Rodney played three more seasons in Minnesota, and eight for California, and never again started a game at second base.

At the end of his Hall of Fame career, Carew had more regular-season starts at first base (1153) than those 1,071 that he had started at second for the Twins.

The Twins had a hospitality room of note at Met Stadium for club officials, visiting scouts and team officials, and the media. Art Ruane was the long-time bartender there.

Later, Artie became a security guard at Schmidt Brewery in St. Paul, which I once suggested in print was the equivalent of having a pyromaniac guarding an oil refinery.

We had a lot of fun with Artie, an old clubhouse man from the days of the American Association in Twin Cities. Artie was convinced of his genius as a baseball man, and there was nothing more important for a ballclub if it was going to win than a second baseman adept at turning a double play.

The most giddy I ever saw Artie was when the Twins opened the 1976 season with Carew, eventually the winner of seven batting titles in Minnesota, at first base, and the slap-hitting, slow-footed Bobby Randall at second base.

Randall was fantastic at turning the double play, one reason being that he would hang in there to make the pivot no matter what menace he was facing in the form of a base runner.

That was enough for Artie. He loved Randall.

Bobby came from Gove, Kansas. His graduating class was four boys. The Randall quote for the ages: “The Senior Prom was a bummer.’’

Randall was the Twins’ regular at second base in 1976 and 1977, shared the position with Rob Wilfong in 1978, and then was a backup to Wilfong for a couple of seasons.

I’m a bit crotchety in my baseball views – not as much so as was Artie, but crotchety – and it also gets on my nerves when a double-play bouncer is hit to third or shortstop and the second baseman doesn’t “turn it.’’

The Twins were in the second season of what I lovingly refer to as the Nishioka Era in 2012, and the middle of the infield was in disastrous condition. Brian Dozier was called up to play shortstop in early May.

“I always thought he was going to be a shortstop,’’ General Manager Terry Ryan said. “That looked like a position that he was going to be handle for us in the big leagues for long time. He came up and it didn’t go well.

“I give Ron Gardenhire a lot of credit. He said, ‘He’s a second baseman. That’s where we have to play him.’ ‘’

Gardenhire installed Dozier as his second baseman for 2013 and, yes, that was where he belonged. He had a good season in 2013, a better season in 2014, and on Tuesday, it was announced the Twins had signed Dozier, 27, to a four-year, $20 million contract.

He’s the best Twins’ second baseman since Chuck Knoblauch insisted on a trade after the 1997 season.

The Opening Day starters at the position post-Knobby had been Brent Gates (1998), Todd Walker (1999-2000), Luis Rivas (2001-05), Luis Castillo (2006-07), Brendan Harris (2008), Alexi Casilla (2009, 2012), Orlando Hudson (2010) and, yes, the unforgettable, the amazing, the one, the only, Tsuyoshi Nishioka (2011).

Early on, it looked as though Rivas was going to be outstanding, but he flattened out considerably. Castillo still was a good player, but leg injuries had slowed Luis from what he had been in Miami.

Dozier is definitely an asset for what had been a troubled position for the Twins. He can steal a base. He can hit a home run. He can range into the second-base hole.

And you know what I like the most about Brian Dozier:

“HE CAN MAKE THE DOUBLE PLAY!’’

I can hear Artie the Bartender bellowing that tribute to Brian Dozier now, between generous tastings of the tap beer that he was serving to visitors to the Twins hospitality room.

Bakk is protecting Wilfs, not the public trough

Posted by: Patrick Reusse Updated: March 23, 2015 - 2:00 PM

The major announcement coming from Major League Soccer and Minnesota United’s Bill McGuire on Wednesday doesn’t figure to be that major in actual news. It will be confirmation that McGuire and United have been chosen for an expansion team in the Twin Cities, assuming he and his allies can come up with a soccer-specific stadium.

In other words, the main obstacle remains: The fact that McGuire has been able to find no meaningful encouragement from politicians to support the cause.

When push comes to shove, it could be that McGuire and his allies, the Pohlad family and to a degree Glen Taylor, will be asking for only the basics in public assistance:

Some help with securing the land behind Target Field, a waiver of sales tax on building materials, and putting the stadium under a public entity to avoid paying property taxes.

That would make this by far the least-reliant on public help among our new venues of this century: Xcel Energy Center, TCF Bank Stadium, Target Field, the Saints’ new ballpark, the remodeling of Target Center and, come 2016, the Taj Ma Zygi for the Vikings.

Yet, the McGuire group has a powerful enemy and that’s the Vikings. Pre-emptively, the Vikings folks spent weeks twisting arms at the Legislature to speak out against a soccer-specific stadium. The idea was that, thus discouraged, the MLS would zero in on awarding the expansion franchise to the Wilfs and it would play in the new dome.

The Vikings have no more loyal pal at the Legislature than Tom Bakk, and he also happens to be the Senate Majority Leader. Bakk has been so willing to do the bidding of the Vikings and the Wilfs that he called up Don Garber, the MLS Commissioner, and said the McGuire group would not receive a dime’s worth of assistance from the state.

Bakk has done a fine job making this sound as if he’s protecting the taxpayers, but the folks he’s really been trying to protect are the real estate developers from New Jersey. They own the Vikings and soon will have an almost-free (when you subtract NFL money, naming rights and seat licenses from their investment) palace that will instantly make their franchise worth four times more than $600 million that they paid for it.

An 18,000-seat soccer stadium would be the best deal the public has received in the arena/stadium orgy of this century, but Bakk is more interested in taking care of his Purple pals than finishing off the re-development of that once-blighted area of Minnesota’s most-vital city.

'Move back' about only option to avoid backswing

Posted by: Patrick Reusse Updated: March 22, 2015 - 12:28 PM

FORT MYERS, FLA. – The Twins’ major league staff left at 7:30 a.m. and headed across the middle of Florida for Sunday’s game against the Miami Marlins in Jupiter.

As is the custom, veterans such as Joe Mauer, Torii Hunter and Kurt Suzuki are allowed to skip that 3-hour trek through the jungle and stay behind to work out at the Twins’ complex.

Tom Kelly and Class AAA manager Mike Quade were among those monitoring the workout. Phil Roof had his 78-year-old arm loose as he threw the last round of batting practice.

Catcher Josmil Pinto was not able to participate. He suffered a mild concussion when struck by the backswing of Baltimore’s Adam Jones in the second inning of Saturday’s game at Hammond Stadium.

Manager Paul Molitor told reporters in Jupiter that Pinto would miss “four or five days’’ at a minimum. That would seem to take care of his chance to be on the big-league roster to start the season.

That long swing from Jones struck Pinto directly on the helmet. Jones also had struck Pinto with the bat on two earlier swings.

“I didn’t see it; I was on a back field,’’ Kelly said. “If it had happened with other hitters, then I would say we’d have to look at the way our young man was moving behind the plate, maybe reaching forward. The fact it only happened with Jones …

“It’s not my area, but if it was, I’d probably like to have the umpire say something to Jones after it happened a second time.’’

Kelly was not suggesting a threat from the plate umpire but rather a Sgt. Phil Esterhaus-style caution to ''be careful out there.’’

Mauer was a career-long catcher until moving to first base for the 2014 season. That was based on a concussion issue, stemming from foul balls off the mask and collisions.

What was Molitor’s reaction when tagged by a backswing?

“Move back,’’ he said, and then added:

“I know Adam and he’s not the kind of guy who wants to be involved with something like that. As a catcher, you know the hitters with the big backswing, and you might pay a little more attention.

“If you have to move inside and reach for a pitch, it can happen.’’

Mauer said he never took the type of blow from a backswing that was taken by Pinto.

What makes Jones dangerous is that his top hand has a tendency to come off the bat and his left hand can’t control the whiplash.

Roof caught in over 800 games in 15 big-league seasons. Much of those came before catchers started wearing helmets under the mask.

Like Mauer, Roof was 6-foot-5 and thus an inviting target for the whiplash of a wild swing. He had the same theory as Mauer when he felt in jeopardy:

“Move back. That’s about all you can do.''

Roof then added: "You can’t do that routinely, though, because it’s not fair to the pitcher. If you’re back farther than normal, you’re going to cost your pitcher strikes, because the umpire will misread the depth on pitches.

“In all my years, I only got really lit up by a backswing twice, and both times it was by Earl Wilson. He was a Detroit pitcher. He was a good hitter for a pitcher, but a wild-swinging son of a gun.’’

*QUADE, THE TWINS’ NEW manager at Class AAA, said that he and his coaches – Mike Mason (pitching) and Tim Doherty (hitting) – will move to the minor league side of the complex and take charge of the Rochester Red Wings on Tuesday.

It is standard procedure in baseball for the Class AAA staff to remain in big-league camp for a large hunk of the exhibition schedule. That’s because the final 15-20 players sent out by the big-league club are likely to make up the bulk of the Class AAA roster.

“This is my first year with the Twins, and being over here, watching the players work and interact … I’ve learned a lot about the people I’m going to be managing,’’ Quade said.

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