The Twins decided on their final roster cuts Wednesday. Bert
Blyleven's was the unkindest, if most understandable, of all.
A few hours after Twins officials told Blyleven he wouldn't
make their team, the 41-year-old righthander said he was retiring.
He finishes his career with 287 victories, 13 short of the magic
number that would have improved his chances of making the Hall of
Blyleven said that he wasn't considering retirement until the
Twins told him that he didn't fit into their plans.
"I talked to my wife, and we decided that would be the best
thing," said Blyleven, who flew home to California yesterday
afternoon. "If anyone was going to give me a fair shot, if anyone
knew the type of person I was, it was the Twins. But they wanted to
go with the young kids, and that's fine."
Blyleven struggled through the spring with a 6.27 ERA and lost
the fight for a spot in the rotation to Jim Deshaies, Pat Mahomes
and Willie Banks. That Banks, a former No. 1 draft pick, is out of
options - and would have been exposed to waivers had the Twins tried
to send him to the minors - hurt Blyleven's chances.
The Twins also optioned outfielder Derek Lee to Class AAA
Portland and returned infielder Chip Hale to the minor league camp
for reassignment. They will reach their final 25-man roster when the
status of catchers Mike Maksudian and Derek Parks is decided.
Maksudian will begin the season in Portland, but the Twins are
awaiting further medical reports on his injured right elbow before
assigning him. Parks is out of options, so the Twins will have to
get him through waivers before he can be returned to Portland.
The Twins also set their rotation yesterday: Kevin Tapani,
Scott Erickson, Mahomes, Deshaies and Banks. Mike Trombley will
begin the season in the bullpen, but will be available if one of the
J.T. Bruett and Randy Bush, a minor surprise, will be the extra
outfielders. "At the beginning of the spring, I wouldn't have given
Randy much of a chance," MacPhail said.
Lee might have been the choice for the team's extra outfielder
if the Twins had kept just one, because he is considered the best
all-around player among the three. He batted .304 this spring and
played better defensively than the Twins expected.
But when reliever Carl Willis was placed on the 15-day disabled
list Tuesday, that allowed the Twins to keep a defensive specialist
and pinch runner (Bruett) and a pinch hitting specialist (Bush, who
hit .375 this spring).
Their choice to fill the extra outfielder's role could change
April 14, when Willis is eligible to be activated. MacPhail said the
team will go with 11 pitchers at that point, which means an
outfielder will need to be cut.
"Doing it this way, we've preserved our options," MacPhail
said. "There are a lot of things we can do from here."
Cutting Blyleven proved the most wrenching decision of the day.
"It was a difficult decision based on his abilities, number one, and
it was made more complex by the emotional aspect, which you can't
deny," MacPhail said. "He's been with the Twins for a long time and
has meant a lot to this organization. As much as you try to conceal
the fact, we're all human beings and we have our likes and dislikes,
and it would have been good to have him on the team. It was
particularly tough on [manager Tom Kelly] to have to let him know he
wouldn't be on the team."
Asked for an assessment of Blyleven's abilities at 41, MacPhail
said: "He still had the curveball and got some strikeouts with it,
but the other stuff. . . . I don't know if he had enough to
complement it with."
Kelly seemed shaken yesterday. He and Blyleven are friends, and
Kelly valued Blyleven's toughness and experience. After the Twins
lost 12-5 to the Phillies yesterday in their final spring game at
Lee County Stadium, Kelly spoke softly and at length about the
difficulty of releasing Blyleven.
"When a guy helped us win a World Series way back when, things
like that you don't forget," he said. "But now is now and then was
then, and as much as we would have liked to have kept Bert, we
thought we had to let him go.
"I'm sure things are going to work out fine. I just wish he
could have gotten an opportunity for that 300th win."
When Blyleven went into Kelly's office this morning, Kelly,
MacPhail and pitching coach Dick Such were waiting. "He handled it
with class," MacPhail said. "He knew how tough it was for Tom, and
he really made it as easy as possible for him."
Blyleven finishes his career with 287 victories (22nd on the
alltime list), 3,701 strikeouts (third behind Nolan Ryan and Steve
Carlton) and an ERA of 3.31. After undergoing shoulder surgery in
1991, he began his latest comeback last year in the California
Angels' system - going 8-12 with a 4.74 ERA for one of the majors'
When the Angels released him in the offseason, he turned to the
Twins, who, despite sentiment, turned him away.
"I felt I could have given them 200 innings, but that's the
decision they made and I respect that," Blyleven said. "Just like I
respect the Twins' organization. They have treated me fairly. I'm
just sorry I couldn't have spent a little more time with them."