Sid Hartman: Ryan says Morneau is simply being realistic

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 27, 2012 - 12:00 AM

The Twins GM is hopeful the first baseman will be productive despite concerns over his concussion past.

Despite the recent media reports speculating over the end of Justin Morneau's playing career, Twins General Manager Terry Ryan said he hasn't given up on the first baseman making a good contribution this year.

"That was one piece to a long conversation with the media," Ryan said Sunday about Morneau's interview with various media members Friday, in which the 2006 American League MVP said he is worried about his career ending if he continues to have problems from concussions. "[Morneau] was favorable and positive and energized and somebody said, 'Well, what if?' And obviously he's trying to be realistic and also be honest and he brought that to their attention. Unfortunately it got the majority of the story. But he's doing OK.

"He's OK. We're monitoring him. Of course, he's not 100 percent, but he's moving that direction. He's participating, and to this point he's OK."

Ryan added: "We haven't played any games yet, but he's going through batting practice and he's going through the drills and he's going through first base, and everything that all the other guys are doing, he is as well. We're not going to let him overdo it, there's no doubt about it. All these guys who have injury history here recently, you have to be cognizant of that, and he is as well."

Morneau has two years left on a contract at $14 million a year. A Major League Baseball source estimated that the annual insurance on Morneau's contract is costing the Twins around $500,000 a year to give the team the chance to collect 60 percent of his contract, around $8.4 million, if he can't play. Insurance is bought for each year of the contract.

As for catcher Joe Mauer, Ryan said: "He's doing well. Everything is 100 percent with Joe. There's no restrictions on him whatsoever, and he's going through every drill that every other catcher is going through."

Gophers disappoint

If there was any chance of the Gophers getting an NCAA tournament invitation, it ended Sunday when they lost 69-50 to an Indiana team that they beat 77-74 earlier in the season in Bloomington.

It's hard to figure out how a team can push Michigan State, the No. 6 team in the country, to the final moments Wednesday and do the same earlier this month to a Wisconsin team that beat Ohio State on Sunday, then not even compete against the Hoosiers, with the Gophers trailing by as many as 21 points in the second half.

The Gophers are now 5-11 in the Big Ten and probably will finish the season 6-12 if they do as expected and lose at Wisconsin on Tuesday and beat Nebraska at home on Sunday.

The lack of a reliable point guard killed the Gophers last year when Al Nolen was lost to injury and Devoe Joseph decided to transfer, and that's also one of the big reasons, outside of the season-ending knee injury to Trevor Mbakwe, for another poor record this season.

Before Sunday's collapse, the Gophers had lost six close conference games: two games lost in overtime and four others in regulation by five points or fewer. So the Indiana loss was hard to figure out.

Hoosiers coach Tom Crean tried to be kind when he talked about how much the loss of Mbakwe hurt the Gophers. Crean recruited Mbakwe to Marquette and coached the former metro-area standout as a freshman. When Crean left for Indiana, Mbakwe decided to transfer.

"We played without our best player [Maurice Creek] the last two years, and I think [that is] what Tubby [Smith] is dealing with without Trevor," Crean said. "I mean, outside of the Minnesota staff, there's not anybody that's a better expert on Trevor Mbakwe than I am and that my staff is. You're taking a first-round player and talent but more importantly just a fierce, fierce competitor and one of the toughest matchups in the country out of the lineup."

As for Smith, he didn't have an answer for how the Gophers had played two previous home games against Michigan State and Wisconsin down to the wire and then collapsed Sunday.

"That was a pretty ugly display," Smith said. "Certainly we started out like we were ready to play and making some shots. We started missing some easy shots, and that's very discouraging for our guys. It's hard to get in any type of rhythm or any type of defensive set if you're always in a retreat mode -- missing shots with a combination of turning the ball over nine times in the first half.

"This is the result because you dig yourself in a deeper hole because now you get a little selfish. Instead of moving the ball, guys are trying to do it on their own."

He added: "We knew it was going to be tough because we had two kids that hadn't practiced in a couple days. Ralph [Sampson] hadn't practiced before the Michigan State game, so he's hobbling around with a bad ankle. Julian [Welch] couldn't get back in the game because his hip was bothering him.

"We've been in some tough games and been in most games. This is the one that just kind of came out of nowhere."

Jottings

• We lost a great Twin Cities sportsman in Paul Klodt, who died Friday. Klodt built a number of sports fields for young athletes, contributed to a number of athletic funds and was a great supporter in general of all sports.

• Kevin Cosgrove, a former Gophers defensive coordinator under Tim Brewster, has joined ex-Notre Dame coach Bob Davie as inside linebackers coach at New Mexico. Cosgrove's son Connor, a former Gophers football player who was stricken with leukemia two years ago, is back in school at Minnesota and is making good progress with his health.

• Derek Earls, a former Waconia athlete who started two seasons at linebacker for Arizona, could end up in the NFL.

• Give Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll credit. He has given former Vikings defensive lineman Kenechi Udeze, whom Carroll coached at Southern California, a place on the Seahawks coaching staff. Leukemia cut Udeze's career with the Vikings short, but now the former first-round draft pick gets another shot in the NFL.

• Princeton native Jared Berggren and former Benilde-St. Margaret's star Jordan Taylor combined to score 23 of Wisconsin's 34 points in the second half of their 63-60 victory at Ohio State on Sunday. They combined to score the final 13 points of the game to hold off the Buckeyes.

• Former Hopkins standout Trent Lockett continues to play great all-around basketball for Arizona State. The 6-5 junior guard leads the Sun Devils (9-20) in scoring (13.0) and rebounding (5.8) per game and is second in assists (2.1).

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com

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