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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It was easy to tire of the incessant coverage of Derek Jeter's last season, easy to grow weary of the gift-giving and testimonials, but Derek Jeter again rose above hyperbole and the grotesque sentimentality that can coat Yankee Stadium like an early frost.
Jeter again delivered in the clutch.
When Kirby Puckett retired, Tom Kelly sat in front of a microphone and his farewell speech went something like this: ``How lucky am I, that I got to see every one of his at-bats?''
Well, how lucky are we, that Jeter came to Minneapolis for his last All-Star game?
How lucky are we, that every great moment these days is televised?
In his first at-bat in his last All-Star game, at Target Field, Jeter delivered an opposite-field double with his patented inside-out swing.
In his first at-bat in his last game at Yankee Stadium, while fighting emotions he'd never before had to fight, he delivered a double.
Then he took the field for the top of the ninth. His team led by three runs. He would likely never bat again in Yankee Stadium. He fought back tears. Announcers wondered whether he would be removed for a final curtain call.
That wouldn't have been a true Jeter curtain call, not at Yankee Stadium.
This was: The Orioles miraculously rallied for three runs, tying the score. Jeter would bat third in the bottom of the night.
The Yankees put a runner on second with one out. Jeter came to the plate.
He smacked another patented hit to rightfield, rounded the bases, and was as we will remember him, jubilant in victory.
He didn't want to come out of the game. And he delivered.
What did we expect?
I began covering baseball in 1993. I first encountered Derek Jeter in 1996.
Since then, I've known a handful of players who played alongside Jeter. I've gotten to know members of the Yankee organization. I've known dozens of media members who covered him on a daily basis. I've interviewed him dozens of times. I've watched him interact with teammates, clubbies, reporters and coaches.
I was interviewing Don Zimmer on the visiting bench in Kansas City one time when Jeter came by and gave Zim a wink. Zimmer, cranky previously, lit up.
Jeter's numbers and clutch performances speak for themselves. He is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. You can argue that he is both a Hall of Famer and our generation's most overrated player, if you like. Given his decline in the field in recent years, it is possible for him to be both.
Here's what I'll remember most about Jeter:
He played shortstop in New York, for the most intensely-watched baseball team in history. He dated supermodels in an era in which TMZ paid people for scoops, and Deadspin went after tawdry subjects without remorse.
And yet I've never heard a bad word about Jeter as a human.
For all the rumor-mongering in today's media, I never heard anyone raise questions about his character. These guys spend a hundred days or more a year on the road. They're pursued by women. They're bound to have teammates and opponents who don't like them. They play in a sport where word-of-mouth moves faster than an ethernet connection. And Jeter will retire clean and admired.
I'm not sure I could say that about any other baseball star of his stature.
I'll be on 1500ESPN-AM at 12:15 tomorrow for my regular weekday hit with Mackey and Judd.
The Sunday Show is on 10-noon, leading up to the Vikings' game.
Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
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.
Last night's home-run derby went on far too long, and yielded a final between Yoenis Cespedes and Todd Frazier.
But last night's derby offered an easy-to-find clue about how to fix the event.
There were two outstanding moments last night: The ovation that greeted Justin Morneau, and the home run that almost left the ballpark.
Giancarlo Stanton hit a shot estimated at 510 feet that reached the last handful of rows in the third deck of leftfield. That's what people will remember, and therein lies the lesson:
The Derby shouldn't be about hitting the most home runs. It should be about hitting the longest home runs.
Want to fix the derby? Make it quicker. Give each player 20 swings, with the guy who hits one the longest winning the whole thing. Then every swing would count, and every swing would be taken with the intent of hitting the ball out of the ballpark.
Kent Hrbek said the All Star game gave him a chance to meet up with old teammates who came to town for the game. They ate at J.D. Hoyt's the other night. The guest list: Hrbek, Greg Gagne, Scott Erickson, Tim Laudner, Randy Bush, Scott Leius, Rick Aguilera and Roy Smith.
I'll be on 1500ESPN at 12:15 tomorrow.
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