Souhan: Charisma-challenged Twins need wins, leaders

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 29, 2012 - 11:25 AM

Winning big-league baseball requires individual and collective confidence, and there are few Twins coming off seasons that inspire bravado.

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Twins star Joe Mauer is comfortable talking to prospects such as Casey Fien, but he’s not the type to raise his voice in the clubhouse.

Photo: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

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FORT MYERS, FLA. - We associate good Twins teams with big personalities.

The Twins' World Series teams won with Puck, The Rat and Big Hrbie in '87, and added Black Jack in '91.

The resurgent Twins of the 2000s turned the clubhouse into a frat house. Torii Hunter, Doug Mientkiewicz, Eddie Guardado and Corey Koskie filibustered between pranks.

In recent years, the clubhouse has grown quieter, but players such as Michael Cuddyer and Joe Nathan still drew crowds to their lockers and worked the room like party hosts.

The Twins should nominate their current team for an Oscar, because this camp has been one long silent movie.

One member of the organization calls it ''Camp Cupcake." The roster is a mixture of players who last year either failed or got hurt, and a bunch of players who still are introducing themselves.

The biggest names on the roster are not the biggest personalities. Joe Mauer requires subtitles. Justin Morneau is worried about concussion symptoms. The roles typically reserved for alpha males, such as closer, cleanup hitter and ace, are either unfilled or manned by people uncertain about their careers.

The result is that the Twins have a franchise-record 67 players in camp, and yet in the clubhouse you rarely hear laughter, and on the field during workouts the loudest noises are often made by birds.

''It's too quiet," said Guardado, in camp as a spring training instructor. ''But I always say you're born being a leader, you can't make a leader.

''It's tough for some guys, but somebody's gotta take the bull by the horns and say, 'Let's get it done.' "

There is no certain correlation between clubhouse personality and winning, and it's hard to tell whether good teams have leaders or whether good teams cause outsiders to label good players as leaders. The Twins had winning and losing seasons with Puckett, Hrbek, Hunter and Cuddyer on the roster. Charisma guarantees nothing.

Winning big-league baseball, though, requires individual and collective confidence, and there are few Twins coming off seasons that inspire bravado.

''I think guys are getting to know each other more than anything else," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "A lot of quiet conversations out there. I guess that part of it is. That's because you've got so many new people, which is not unusual ...

''We lost last year and everyone said our chemistry was horrible but when you lose, your chemistry is horrible. Because it is hard to come to the ballpark. That makes it really tough. They go hand in hand."

Even the size of the spring training roster is a hedge against failure. There are 67 players in big-league camp so the Twins have protection against big-league injuries, and qualified players to send to Class AAA Rochester, which has lost 90 games or more in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1903-04.

''It's a combination of things," General Manager Terry Ryan said. ''We need to create competition. We need depth. We need insurance. We need to have people ready at Triple A. We need to have people who are ready to play when they come up here.

''We're coming off a very trying year. We need to find some people who are going to help us get back on the right path. There's an opportunity for quite a few people to win jobs in this camp, especially in our bullpen."

The most galling aspects of the Twins' 2011 season were that they lost 99 games while Mauer worked out in the back room, and young players seemed thrilled to be drawing a big-league paycheck. It was one of the worst clubhouses I've ever covered, in terms of accountability.

Maybe personality doesn't matter. Mauer won batting titles, division titles and an MVP award without raising his voice.

Maybe personalities will emerge. Ben Revere is energetic and likeable and willing to run into fences, and Carl Pavano is admired by his teammates.

But if this spring is an indication, the Twins had better hope that clubhouse atmosphere and winning percentage are as unrelated as Kate and Randy Moss.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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