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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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.
Greg Maddux will be inducted in the baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday. Here's an interview I did with Twins closer Glen Perkins after he worked with Maddux at the WBC:
Fort Myers, Fla.
Glen Perkins had just arrived at the World Baseball Classic and was eating dinner in the hotel bar when Greg Maddux, the Team USA pitching coach, walked by.
“I told him, ‘I’ll be here a while,” Perkins said, and later that night, Perkins and his favorite pitcher spent 90 minutes talking Zen and beer, Confucius and situational pitching, forever altering the way the Twins closer views his craft.
“He will always have me thinking,” Perkins said. “That is a conversation I will not forget.”
Monday morning, as he prepared to pitch, Perkins spoke of Maddux the way a fledgling guitarist in the 1960s might recall a conversation with Jimi Hendrix.
“I kept thinking, ‘I’m sitting here talking pitching with Greg Maddux,” Perkins said. “That doesn’t seem like real life to me. Not only was he the best pitcher of probably all time, but he was a guy I grew up watching. People talk about Babe Ruth being great. Well, I never saw Babe Ruth. Greg Maddux won four Cy Youngs when I was at my peak of fandom.”
During their conversation, a spring training game played on the TV. Maddux glanced up, saw a groundball single and said, “That was a stupid pitch.”
“I didn’t even know he was watching, but he picked up on everything,” Perkins said. “A guy had swung late at an outside fastball. The pitcher came back with a breaking pitch, and the guy rolled a single through. Maddux was saying that if you throw a fastball and the batter is late, throw another fastball. That’s why he thought it was a stupid pitch.”
During another at-bat, a pitcher threw two fastballs out of the strike zone. Maddux told Perkins the next pitch should be a changeup. Conventional wisdom holds that when you’re behind 2-and-0, the next pitch should be a fastball for a strike, to avoid a walk.
Maddux turned conventional wisdom on its head.
“I said that everything I’d been taught was that you had to have the hitter swing at a harder pitch, then throw the changeup off of that,” Perkins said. “Maddux said that if the hitter was expecting a fastball, you threw a changeup because of the hitter’s expectations. I had never heard that before. It made so much sense.”
Maddux recommended that Perkins begin watching video of himself and opponents.
“He said he threw every pitch of his career with maximum conviction and concentration,” Perkins said. “I think that’s part of why I didn’t succeed as a starter, because I had a hard time concentrating that much. I think even as a reliever there are times I still throw a pitch just to throw a pitch, to get to the next pitch or the next hitter.
“He didn’t do that. And he didn’t do that for 18, 20 years. For 3,500 or 4,000 innings. So he faced 20,000 batters, threw about 60,000 pitches and never let up on a pitch. I think I probably throw about 500 pitches a year now.
“If I break it down like that, I should be able to do all right concentrating on every pitch.”
Perkins kept that in mind Monday, when he struck out the side in a minor league game at the Twins’ complex.
Maddux fared better than that against Perkins, in at least one at-bat. The two faced each other in 2008 in San Diego, when Perkins was still a Twins starter and Maddux was pitching in his final season. Maddux made solid contact once. Perkins admitted he might have let up on that pitch.
“He said, ‘Underestimating your opponent can lead to catastrophe,’ ” Perkins said. “Here’s Greg Maddux quoting Confucius. Later, I said, ‘Underestimating your opponent can lead to disaster,’ and he corrected me.”
Maddux never has worked as a full-time pitching coach. With Team USA, he wound up throwing in the outfield, sometimes licking his middle finger and making the ball swerve like a small bird.
“Maddux said he never did that in a game, but he could make the ball cut any way he wanted,” Perkins said. “I’ve been back from the WBC for two days, and there have already been times when I thought about things he said.
“So yesterday, when we were practicing fielding, I licked my middle finger, and threw a cutter to the catcher.’
I'll co-host Sunday Sports Talk from 10-noon on 1500ESPN-AM from Mankato. I'm also on the station at about 12:15 on weekdays.
When I visited Jose Berrios at Class A Fort Myers a month ago, he said he had two goals: To pitch in the Futures Game, and get called up to Class AA New Britain.
Sunday, he started and pitched one inning for the World Team in the Futures Game, striking out one while retiring the side in order, and he was recently called up to New Britain.
So what's next? ``Hope I can get called up to the big leagues,'' he said.
Berrios was just one of a dozen power arms that impressed USA manager Tom Kelly.
``Oh, my, it was relentless,'' he said. ``That was very impressive. One great arm after another. I went out to the mound to make a change, and I'm standing there talking to the infielders, saying, `Fellas, I don't know how anybody gets any hits today.' ''
Twins prospect Kennys Vargas played the whole game at first base for the World Team, hitting a double and striking out twice in four at-bats. Top pitching prospect Alex Meyer pitched one inning for the US. He threw four pitches, all clocked at about 97 mph, yielding a line out, a line single, and a double play.
``I went to write on the lineup card, and turned around, and he was coming in,'' Kelly said.
I'll be on 1500ESPN at 12:15 every weekday with Mackey&Judd. Thanks to everyone who came by the booth today at FanFest.
If you haven't picked up a copy of our All Star special section in the Sunday paper, please do. A lot of talented people put in a lot of work to make it special, and Patrick Reusse's story on Willie Mays is a must-read.
The Twins reached the All-Star break at 44-50 after beating Colorado on Sunday.
Here's how that compares to their record at the three previous All-Star breaks:
Slightly better starting pitching, due mostly to Phil Hughes and Kyle Gibson, has made the Twins a little better this season despite vital injuries to key hitters, like Joe Mauer and Josh Willingham, and the failure of Aaron Hicks to become a useful big-league hitter.
But the Twins' chances to finish strong could be handicapped by the innings limit on AAA pitcher Alex Meyer, and the expectation that the Twins will trade away a few valuable players as the trade deadline approaches.
In 1999, I spent a few days in Kansas City doing a story on baseball lifer Don Zimmer, who passed away on Wednesday.
Here's the piece, from his days as the Yankees bench coach:
By Jim Souhan
His is the face of baseball, symmetrically seamed and smooth. His
has been a life of baseball, a Forrest Gumpian romp through the
game's history, his mementos ranging from a ball Babe Ruth signed
in 1947 to the ring he won in the House that Ruth Built 51 years
Don Zimmer earned Ruth's autograph when his American Legion team
won a national tournament. Zimmer, now the Yankees' interim manager
who will direct the defending World Series champions against the
Twins tonight to start a three-game series, played with that
precious artifact on the sandlots of hometown Cincinnati. He would
never again trifle with baseball history.
"My wife keeps a scrapbook," he said this weekend, sitting in the
dugout in Kauffman Stadium. "We have a cupboard on the floor below
the trophy case. I would say that cupboard is probably as long as
from here to that wall," he says, pointing to the end of the
dugout, 10 feet away.
"There are doors that open up here, here and here, and she's got
scrapbooks starting in 1948, when I was in high school, all the way
up 'til today. Somebody wants to see something about 1949, all they
have to do is pull it out."
Zimmer's longevity reveals itself in a couple of his nicknames -
ranging from one of the original, crude, cartoons ("Popeye," given
to him as a young man for the size of his forearms) to a high-tech
special effect ("Yoda," for his posture and mentoring on the
Yankees' bench). His scrapbooks span the same timeline, from faded
black-and-white to florid color.
"It's amazing what she's done, amazing," Zimmer said of his wife,
Jean, nicknamed "Soot." "I'll get my grand-kids in there and we'll
start looking at '55, '54, '56 when we wore those bloomers. Oh,
they start laughing. `Pops, you didn't really wear those kind of
uniforms, did you?' "
Zimmer laughs, and those bright blue eyes that have seen
everything from Ruth's wizened grin to Jackie Robinson's glare to
Sandy Amoros' catch to Bucky Dent's homer to a Yankee team winning
125 games emerge from the cheeks and jowls.
"That's all we wore," he says, laughing, the punch line more in
the delivery - leaning forward, eyes wide - than the line.
Zimmer's baseball life has spanned from flannels to double-knits,
those tight-fitting pants that today reveal the outlines of a brace
wrapped around Zimmer's right knee. He's 68, and he might have both
knees replaced, which is why his days as interim manager might soon
Yankees owner George Steinbrenner begged him to run the team
while Zimmer's friend, Joe Torre, recovers from prostate cancer.
Zimmer has defiantly fought off Steinbrenner's meddling attempts,
which has been easy because he has nothing to fear - his knees hurt
so much a firing would be an act of mercy.
He doesn't take the lineup to home plate or visit the mound to
change pitchers. All the miles he has traveled around the bases and
on buses, trains and planes, playing in a handful of countries and
for teams now defunct and forgotten, and suddenly a 90-foot stroll
Wednesday, frustrated and pained, Zimmer told the Yankees players
he was "going home." Then Torre told him he couldn't return yet,
and Zimmer agreed to stay on indefinitely.
When Torre returns, Zimmer will indeed "go home." He hasn't
committed to retirement or returning, only to spending time with
Soot and surgeons.
"I've had a lot of people tell me, no big deal, I had it done,"
Zimmer said of knee replacement surgery. "I asked, `How long'd it
take?' Six months. I said, `That's nothing?' My days are numbered."
Someone told Zimmer he might as well get both knees replaced.
"Very good," Zimmer said, nodding. "Put me to sleep and get it
done, and then I'll go dancing."
And he laughs again, and runs a hand over the face that has
appeared in so many of baseball's climactic scenes, and sighs,
"What a life." It is neither complaint nor proclamation, just a
sigh from baseball's accidental tourist.
Zimmer is sitting on the bench in Kansas City, and Yankees
shortstop Derek Jeter, 30 feet away, calls out "Zim-mah!"
"You hear him call me that?" Zimmer says with a wink. "He's heard
me tell stories about Boston."
Zimmer managed the Red Sox in 1978, when they blew a 14-game lead
to the Yankees, then forced the most infamous playoff in New
England history, when Dent's pop-fly homer cleared the Green Monster.
"I'd take one step out of the dugout to go get the pitcher, and
it would be `You bleeping bum Zimmah!' " Zimmer said. " `You're a
bum! Pahk the cahr! You're still a bum!"
Were those the toughest fans he has faced? "Well, it's very
easy," he said. "If there are 28,000 in the stands and 27,999 are
booing you, I guess that would be the spot."
Was his wife the lone dissenter? "That's it," he said. "But
sometimes I think she was in there, too."
He got booed again the first time he returned to Boston as the
Texas manager, on Opening Day at Fenway Park. Ralph Houk was the
Red Sox manager.
"I bring out the lineup," he says. "My players are waiting
because they know I'm going to get booed. I take one step out . . .
`Booooo.' As soon as I got to home plate I took my hat off [he
doffs it]. That's when I said to the umpire, `Tough town. Here's
Mr. Ralph Houk, The General, war hero, and people are booing him."
With Zimmer, there's not only a tongue-in-cheek story, there's
the story behind the story.
He didn't just get victimized by Dent's homer - he later rented
Dent's house - and called Dent to tell him he was taking all the
pictures of his famous home run and turning them to face the walls.
He not only played for perhaps the worst team in history - the
first-year Mets - he served as the bench coach for perhaps the best
- last year's Yankees.
Zimmer didn't just marry his high school sweetheart, he held his
wedding on the baseball diamond at Elmira in 1951 and his wedding
party strolled under a calliope of crossed bats.
He was in the dugout when Don Larsen pitched his perfect game,
and in the third base coaching box when Pete Rose, playing third
base for the Reds in the '75 World Series, said, "Zim, I don't know
who is going to win this game, but it might be the greatest game
I've ever played in," and then Carlton Fisk waived his home-run fair.
He is the last member of the Dodgers who won the World Series in
Brooklyn who's still in uniform, just as he is the last of the
original Mets still active.
He hasn't earned any money outside baseball his entire life,
except for the one social security check he cashed in '95, when he
thought he was retired. Then Torre called, and the two scripted two
World Series championships.
His first major league at-bat? A triple off Curt Simmons. His
first American League at-bat? A two-run homer for the Washington
Senators. His first game with the Cubs? A homer off Don Drysdale at
the Los Angeles Coliseum.
He can take credit for the only World Series the Brooklyn Dodgers
ever won, because Amoros replaced him in the lineup and made maybe
the most famous catch in Brooklyn history.
One Opening Day at Wrigley, when Zimmer was managing the Cubs,
Mitch (Wild Thing) Williams frightened the faithful before securing
a save, just as he had the previous Opening Day.
A writer and Zimmer were sitting in Zimmer's office when a TV
crew came in, asking about Deja Vu. Zimmer gave a perfunctory
answer, the crew left, and Zimmer asked the writer, "What's all
this about Ronja Vu? Why don't they ask me about the game?"
Zimmer doesn't follow baseball's mythical and omniscient "book."
What's the use of spending a life studying baseball, then using a
crib sheet on the test?
He has hit-and -run with the bases loaded. He walked Kent Hrbek
with a one-run lead in the ninth and nobody on.
"He was on a home run streak," Zimmer once said. "The next guy
was a good hitter - I forget who - but I didn't want Hrbek to tie
the score. The next guy hits a two-run homer . . . I'm fired."
But the pitcher came through.
"It took me a year more to get fired," he said.
"He was the best manager I ever played for," said Red Sox manager
Jimy Williams, who played for Zimmer in the minors. "He's an
old-school guy - who can communicate."
One time Yankees right fielder Paul O'Neill popped out, then
started tossing bats and helmets. Zimmer went to him, and O'Neill
yelled, "That's it, Zim, I quit, I'm going home."
Zimmer put on his Yoda face and said, "That's good, we're both
from Cincinnati, I got a guy in the cement-block business who can
give you a job."
When Zimmer's status was in doubt last week, O'Neill said, "What,
is Zimmer going home to take my job?"
Twins bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek, a Chicago guy, never got to
know Zimmer well. "But my Mom did," Stelmaszek said. "She works at
Ah, off-track betting - Zimmer's second-favorite type of betting,
right behind on-track betting. Once, when Zimmer was in a previous
incarnation as a Yankees coach, he told writers he had experienced
the best day of his life. He had visited three tracks in one day.
He was asked how much money he had won, to make it the best day
ever. "Nothin'!" he said. "But I got to bet on 37 races!"
In early April, the trumpeter Chuck Mangione appeared as a guest
on a Cubs broadcast.
After he played that fanfare heard before every horse race,
Mangione said, "Every time I play that at Yankee Stadium, Zim
levitates off the bench."
There's a remote chance Torre could replace Zimmer this week,
raising the possibility Zimmer's last days in uniform could come in
Minneapolis, 46 years after the Brooklyn Dodgers thought their
successor to Pee Wee Reese had played his last game in St. Paul.
In 1953, Zimmer was playing for the St. Paul Saints, a Dodgers'
farm club, and leading the American Association with 23 homers when
he was beaned.
He went into a coma for two weeks. His season was over.
"And then the next year, I got to go back to St. Paul, because
the Dodgers have to see if I can play, if I'm afraid of the ball,"
Zimmer said. "Real quick I hit 17 homers, and I got called to the
Dodgers and stayed."
In '56, he had his cheekbone fractured by Hal Jeffcoat in
Cincinnati. He missed the rest of that season, too. Two beanings,
and his promise as a future star faded. He once stole home 10 times
in a minor league season, but never got to recreate those heroics
in the majors.
He outlasted Reese, but lost the shortstop job to Maury Wills.
With more luck, Zimmer could have been a star, could have become
part of the Dodgers' pantheon with Campy, Hodges, Reese, Snider.
Zimmer treats regrets the way he has treated tobacco chaws,
spitting them anywhere there aren't white shoes. This weekend, as
he limped about and told stories, someone asked Zimmer if he has
spent time thinking about his life in baseball.
"Tremendous," he says, those eyes emerging again. "Tre-men-dous.
How lucky can a guy be, to be in the game all of his life?
"It boils down to this: Anything and everything I have I owe to
baseball. I owe the game everything. I've had a great ride."
Donald William Zimmer
- Age: 68
- Birthplace: Cincinnati
- Residence: Treasure Island, Fla.
- Married: Jean Carol Bauerle (nickname: Soot)
- Teams played for: Brooklyn Dodgers, Los Angeles Dodgers
(twice), Chicago Cubs, New York Mets, Cincinnati Reds, Washington
Senators, Toei Flyers (Japan)
- Teams coached for: Yankees (three times), Boston (twice),
Giants, Rockies, Cubs, Expos
- Managed: Padres, Red Sox, Rangers, Cubs, Yankees (interim)
- Managerial record: 885-858
- Notable: Stole home 10 times in one minor league season. . . .
Hit 23 homers for the St. Paul Saints in 1953 before being beaned,
and he hit 17 homers for the St. Paul Saints in 1954 before being
called up to the Brooklyn Dodgers. . . . Career .235 major league
hitter, as he so often reminds people.
- Plans: "Going home," meaning he will go to his home in New
York, visit his grandchildren, probably have knee surgery and
recuperate. It might also mean retirement, but nobody knows for
sure but Zimmer - and maybe Soot.
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