Jim Souhan analyzes the local sports scene and advises you to never take his betting advice. He likes old guitars and old music, never eats press box hot dogs, and can be heard on 1500ESPN at 2:05 p.m. weekdays, and Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon.
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Ok, let's call this more of an infant working theory than any kind of proclamation.
Our local teams are not exactly pinning championship banners on top of championship banners, but this year of seemingly perpetual losing feels different. Doesn't it?
There is no David Kahn, hopelessly overmatched and somehow oddly entertaining.
There is no Tim Brewster talking about hot chili or scoring last.
For a bunch of struggling teams, suddenly our towns have a lot of leaders you can believe in.
The Vikings are 4-5. But...
Mike Zimmer has already made players like Anthony Barr, Everson Griffen and Sharrif Floyd better. Harrison Smith is playing better than he was a year ago. Xavier Rhodes has improved. Josh Robinson ,when healthy, has been better.
Norv Turner is missing the two most important pieces of his offense, Adrian Peterson and Kyle Rudolph (who I thought would be the biggest beneficiary of Turner's arrival), yet has squeked out four victories while breaking in a rookie quarterback behind a surprisingly horrid offensive line.
If you can set aside his personal views, you'd have to admit that Mike Priefer is very good at his job. (Although Chris Kluwe is better than Jeff Locke. No contest.)
Rick Spielman has made a dozen shrewd moves the last couple of years, including trading Percy Harvin at the right time for the right value, and, along with Zimmer, identifying Barr as a worthy use of the ninth pick in the draft.
The Wolves are 2-5. But...
I love the enthusiasm Flip Saunders has brought to the job, and the way he has used his young players.
I picked this team to win 25 games this year. Maybe they're better than that. What really matters is that Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine and Anthony Bennett develop into quality NBA players. LaVine has acquitted himself far better in Ricky Rubio's absence than I would have expected, and Saunders seems to have a good working relationship with Rubio. This is a team worth watchng, if only because Wiggins is going to make more and more astounding moves as the season wears on.
The Wild is 7-7. But...
I don't fault Mike Yeo or Chuck Fletcher. I like this roster. Maybe they overestimated Thomas Vanek, but if Zach Parise had stayed healthy, Vanek's struggles might not have been as costly.
When Parise was healthy, I thought this team was continuing the play like it did down the stretch and in the playoffs last season.
The Twins are...never mind.
It's been four terrible years, and I know people are tired of my saying that Terry Ryan is one of the best GMs in the business, but that's what I believe. I also will continue to say that if Byron Buxton, MIguel Sano and Alex Meyer can stay healthy and get to the big leagues, they'll lead a resurgence that will have the Twins contending in short order.
I loved the hiring of Paul Molitor, the smartest player I ever covered. So far, I like the staff - Tom Brunansky did good work last year, Gene Glynn has always been one of my favorites, and Rudy Hernandez, born in Venezuela, could provide an important language link to Sano and other young players from Latin America.
I'd love to see Eddie Guardado hired as the bullpen coach.
The Gopher football team lost to Illinois, and Richard Pitino didn't make it to the NCAA tourney his first season, but...
Both were well down the original list of candidates. The Gophers chose wisely/lucked out with both. Kill has put the football team in position to play big games in November two years in a row. Pitino has brought energy and an entertaining style to the Gopher hoops program.
I don't know how successful any of the current cadre of coaches and managers is going to be. But there is a wealth of intelligence and expertise around town these days. That's a start.
I'll be doing my first podcast for @aliveandsocial network today at 3:30 from O'Gara's in St. Paul. Molitor will be my first guest, and I"ll also speak with local author Ross Bernstein about the ways we researched stories about Randy Moss in the past. We have different stories to tell than ESPN.
Planning on doing the second podcast at The Devil's Advocate on Friday night at 7. May even break out the guitars after that one.
You can follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
Between the Wolves' shootaround and their opener in Memphis, I spoke with a handful of people connected to the Twins' managerial search. No hard news to report, but here's a summary of what I learned...
-Paul Molitor definitely wants the job. This is not a situation where he's being passive aggressive, or saying, ``I'll do it if you want me to.'' He knows this might be his last, and best, chance to be a manager, and perhaps his only chance to manage his hometown team. He's all-in as a candidate.
-If Terry Ryan has made a final decision. he hasn't told many people, even in the Twins' inner circles. His search, or at least his decision-making process, appears to be ongoing.
-Even if Ryan came to a decision soon, the Twins would not likely hold a press conference on Thursday, when the Wolves will be holding their home opener. Friday is Halloween. Unless news leaks and the Twins feel they have to rush to throw together a press conference, next week makes more sense in terms of timing an announcement.
-Ryan is known in scouting circles for his due diligence. This is the first time he has displayed it during a managerial search. The last time he chose a manager, Ron Gardenhire and Molitor were the front-runners, and Gardenhire became the choice in part because of his long tenure as a coach, and in part because key people outside of baseball operations believed that Gardenhire would be ideal as a friendly face of the franchise ,and someone willing to do all of the media relations and marketing outings the Twins value. That is one question about Molitor: Will he be willing to submit to the media and marketing grind? Managers have brutal schedules even without all of the extras.
-Ryan is in Arizona, where he watched top prospect Byron Buxton break his finger. Ryan could certainly fly home quickly to hold a press conference, but there were no indications as of Wednesday afternoon that he planned to do so.
-I've thought all along that Molitor should and will get the job, but the longer it goes, the more I have reason to doubt that he will be the hire.
One thing a few key people said to me today: A lot of the national speculation has been off-base, because few know what's going through Ryan's head right now.
Jerry Zgoda and I are in Memphis covering the Wolves' opener tonight. Just spoke with coach Flip Saunders, who said that Kevin Martin has a sore ankle, and that he might be replaced in the starting lineup.
Saunders is in good spirits. He said this is an unusual situation because this is his first team that won't be judged by wins and losses, but by gradual improvement of younger players.
I'll be on WJON in St. Cloud at 7:15 and on 1500ESPN at a different time tomorrow - 9:45, while I'm on a layover heading back to the Twin Cities.
My column for tomorrow's paper (and online, of course) will address the Twins' managerial search. I have a nomination.
For the moment, though, let's acknowledge that what happened this afternoon was remarkable.
A pro sports organization fired a longtime manager, then held a press conference where the guy who did the firing and the guy who got fired sat next to each other, and the guy who got fired made bald jokes about him and his former boss.
The guy who got fired brought two of his kids to sit in the front row as he said his goodbyes.
The guy who got fired said he agreed with the decision.
At the end of the press conference, the guy who got fired got up, walked away, turned back and said, ``I'll see ya, boss.''
I think the Twins made the right decision. It was time for Ron Gardenhire to go.
For the moment, though, let's enjoy the uniqueness of this afternoon.
Gardy cracking jokes. Terry Ryan speaking bluntly about why he fired his old friend, and why he thinks he should stay on the job. A media relations department that set it all up on the fly.
My column will get into my evaluation of the organization and what it should do next.
For the moment, let's give the Twins and Gardenhire credit for being so remarkably gracious and blunt on what had to be a painful day for all involved.
Knowing how much losing eats at Gardenhire, and that he has had health scares over the years related to high blood pressure, it's my hope that he takes at least a year off and rests before his inevitable return to the dugout.
I frequently butted heads with Gardenhire over the years. I wasn't a fan of many of his strategical moves, and I thought he got too emotional in the late innings.
What I'll always appreciate about him is his sense of humor, his work ethic, his loyalty to his staff, and the way he treated people who can easily be mistreated in baseball clubhouses - the clubbies, the organizational worker bees, and women.
In the early 2000s, one Twins player said a few things to a female reporter that were inappropriate, at best. Gardenhire immediately addressed the player and apologized to the reporter, who wasn't even offended.
Having met plenty of Gardenhire's friends, I came to like Gardy the human much more than Gardy the manager.
So I hope he gets to spend a little time being a human before he subjects himself to the rigors of managing a big-league team again.
I'll be on 1500ESPN at 12:15 on Tuesday, and on WJON in St. Cloud at 7:15 a.m. Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
I'll admit it: Baseball has turned me off this year.
With the Twins becoming irrelevant for a fourth straight season, I could barely stand to watch the game once the All-Star game bunting was pulled off of Target Field.
This week made me watch again.
Thanks to two former Yankees.
Derek Jeter delivered as only he can. He came to Target Field in mid-summer of his last season, and delivered a double in his last first All-Star at-bat.
He came to the plate for his last first at-bat in Yankee Stadium, and doubled again.
Then, after the Orioles scored three runs to extend the game to the bottom of the ninth, he got his first game-winning hit in seven years in his last at-bat at Yankee Stadium.
Sunday, Jeter hit an infield single at Fenway, then was removed, after raising his career batting average to .310.
Baseball gives us these moments more than any other sport.
Wednesday, another former Yankee did himself proud, too.
A rain delay kept Hughes from earning a $500,000 bonus for innings pitched.
On Friday, the Twins offered him a chance to pitch in relief to earn his bonus. He refused. It was the rare moment in modern pro sports when everyone involved in a supposed controversy came out looking good.
The Gophers' victory over Michigan on Saturday was the most impressive outing by a Gopher football team in my 24 years working at the Star Tribune.
Not since the program's glory days has the Gophers lined up against a power program and whipped them physically the way the Gophers beat up Michigan. It was a mismatch.
The Gophers had by far the better coach, by far the best running back, the better quarterback ,and the stronger roster. That shouldn't happen against Michigan even when the Gophers are at their best.
Jerry Kill is to be commended for putting this program together with basic building blocks: A sound, well-coached defense, a power running game, and a roster filled with well-conditioned athletes.
Brady Hoke is at the opposite end of the spectrum. He is an embarrassment to his profession. Even an average coach should be able to act as a caretaker of the Michigan program. Hoke can't even do that.
That he would re-insert a limping, concussed quarterback into a game shows that he's not just a bad football coach, he is clueless.
Mike Zimmer's challenge today: Limiting Julio Jones. Jones is the Falcons' best player, and maybe the second-best receiver in the NFL. Zimmer did well to limit the Saints' big plays last week. If he can keep Jones from putting up big numbers, the Vikings could make this a game. Jones is the one player who can turn this into a blowout.
The Twins’ signing of Kurt Suzuki is fine, and logical, but it invokes Rule No. 1 of sports coverage:
Place far more emphasis on what a team does than what it says.
The signing of Suzuki to a two-year deal that could turn into a three-year deal makes sense because he is the right kind of player to work with the Twins’ young pitchers, and he is, I am told, an ideal teammate and lockerroom presence.
But what the Suzuki signing really means is that Josmil Pinto isn’t a work in progress as a catcher. It means he’s just a bad catcher.
If the Twins thought they could have Pinto straightened out by next spring, they wouldn’t have paid Suzuki $6 million a year. They are paying Suzuki to be their starting catcher, because they know they don’t have another one close to being ready.
I would have preferred the Twins trade Suzuki for a good young player, but my understanding is that they didn’t have that option. Failing the ability to trade Suzuki for value, signing him to an extension was logical. The one thing the Twins couldn’t afford to do was let Suzuki leave, for nothing in return, as a free agent at the end of the season.
Six million a year used to be real money. Remember, when Kirby Puckett signed a five-year, $30-million deal before the 1993 season, that was briefly the largest contract in baseball history. When Chuck Knoblauch was approaching free agency as potential Hall of Fame second baseman (you can look it up), the Twins gave him that same contract.
Now $6 million a year is what you pay a pretty good veteran catcher because you have no other options.
We’re doing Sunday Sports Talk (1500ESPN-AM) from the 3M Championship on Sunday, 10-noon in one of the big tents. Stop by and heckle Korzo.
I’m covering the Lynx-Phoenix showdown tonight at Target Center, and will be on 1500ESPN at 12:15 on Friday with Mackey & Judd, aka Homer & Panic.
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