La Velle's 3-2 Pitch: Three observations and two predictions every Sunday.


Minnesota connections abound among the first-timers on the recently released National Baseball Hall of Fame ballot, which will lead to some fascinating and spirited conversations about who deserves to be enshrined in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Former Twins players A.J. Pierzynski, Justin Morneau, Joe Nathan and David Ortiz are among that group, all with varying chances of getting the required 75% of the votes to qualify for induction. But there is one first-timer with local ties on the ballot who definitely will not receive a vote from this scribe: Timberwolves minority owner Alex Rodriguez.

A-Rod's stats are robust — 696 home runs, a career .980 on base-plus-slugging percentage and career WAR of 117.5. He should be a shoo-in first-ballot member of this exclusive club. But his career was tainted by his admitted use of performance-enhancing drugs to the point where it is difficult to mark an "X" next to his name.

To be clear, I'm among the voters who believe that PED use before 2004 was more rampant than what was initially believed. In recent years, I have voted for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens because the industry largely looked the other way before adding teeth to the drug policy in 2004.

Anyone who has been caught cheating since 2004 should be placed under greater scrutiny, and A-Rod tops this list.

His name was one that was leaked in 2003 when the league was contemplating strengthening its drug policy, and he admitted to using banned substances between 2001 and 2003, reportedly synthetic testosterone and the anabolic steroid Primobolan. Again, this was when use was mostly unchecked.

But his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal — a violation of both the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program as well as the Basic Agreement — led to a 211-game suspension that ended up being all 162 games in 2014. Rodriguez attempted to obstruct the investigation, then was the only one of 13 players suspended following the scandal to have the audacity to appeal. And he sued both the league and players association, claiming the league acted unethically and the union didn't defend him properly — despite testimony from the leader of the operation that he personally injected Rodriguez at times.

Rodriguez might be one of the top 25 players of all-time. He has repaired his image to an extent with his work on Fox and ESPN and with his business career, which includes investing in the resurgent Wolves with buddy Marc Lore.

There is Rodriguez the businessman/TV analyst/NBA owner, and there is A-Rod the cheating cheater. And I can't forget the latter when filling out my ballot.

LeBron's elbow is properly punished
Even LeBron James, the face of the NBA, has to be held accountable.

James feels his one-game suspension for a flagrant foul on Detroit's Isaiah Stewart last week was not warranted. He should feel lucky he was ejected from the game and received only a one-game suspension. James swung his arm that opened a cut on Stewart's face. Stewart had to be restrained multiple times by coaches and players and ended up getting a two-game suspension, which also was appropriate because the league can't have players losing their minds on the court.

The fact is that, unintentional or not, LeBron's blow drew blood, ignited an argument and threw Stewart into a rage. It's fortunate that Stewart was kept away from James, or things could have turned uglier. And handing a suspension to one of the league's most recognizable players is a signal to the rest of the league that those actions will not be tolerated.

St. Paul soccer in February?
Allianz Field in St. Paul has hosted U.S. men's and women's national team games in the past, and the folks at U.S. Soccer seem to be pleased with the venue because the men are scheduled to play host to Honduras in a World Cup qualifier there on Feb. 2.

U.S. Soccer likes to use its geographical advantage when playing teams from Central America and Mexico. The American men played in a snowstorm in Denver against Costa Rica in 2013 and routinely make Mexico play in as cold an environment as possible.

Playing a game in Minnesota in February? That's going a little too far. The average temperature around Feb. 2 is 25 degrees, which means it could be colder. This would have been a good time to play in Nashville or Salt Lake City. And don't come at me about what Canada has to do because the United States has options to play in warmer climates.


Vikings won't have enough
George Kittle is one of the NFL's best tight ends. Deebo Samuel is a YAC monster. The only way the Vikings beat the 49ers on Sunday is to score more than 30 points, but they will fall short in a 30-23 loss.

U men's hoops gets an L
The Gophers men basketball team will lose their first game of the season on Tuesday when it faces Pittsburgh in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The Panthers' home-court advantage will make a difference as the Gophers lose by eight.