In reality, the Twins’ TV transition away from analyst Bert Blyleven started a long time before Wednesday, when a rather abrupt-seeming announcement in the afternoon signaled that Blyleven was about to work his final game after a quarter-century with the team.
Blyleven used to work pretty much every game from the time he started with Midwest Sports Channel in 1996 through the first decade of this century. That was reduced to a five-year contract in which he worked 100 games a year, then down to 80 in 2017 and 2018, then 50 last year. This year, he was slated to do just 30 games — a number further reduced to 16 in the truncated season.
The Twins’ search for a new primary analyst as Blyleven’s workload was reduced seemed to zero in on three candidates: Justin Morneau, Roy Smalley and Jack Morris. Others worked a handful of games to various levels of fanfare — including former Twins manager Tom Kelly and former players Torii Hunter and LaTroy Hawkins.
But the shortened season left room for just four analysts this year, trimming Hawkins and Jim Kaat from the previous plan: Blyleven, Morneau, Smalley and Morris. It was reported that Morneau was given roughly 24 games this year, while Blyleven ended up working 16. Smalley and Morris are splitting the rest.
So Morneau was already inching toward the role as primary analyst. But it also felt like as long as Blyleven was still doing games, his presence — and rightfully so — was going to loom large over the group even if his role was largely reduced.
Now? It sure feels like it’s Morneau’s time to shine. The 2006 AL MVP with the Twins has grown into the analyst role nicely since starting in 2018. He’s not prone to excitement — the chief knock on him early on, which persists to a degree, is that he is too quiet — but Morneau offers smart analysis from the perspective of both a former player and a student of the game.
I feel like Smalley provides the same sort of analysis — that I learn something from listening to both Smalley and Morneau — while Morris is more like Blyleven in that he is more prone to spin stories and talk about the good old days.
It’s easy to imagine the Twins and FSN proceeding with Morneau as the lead analyst in 2021 and beyond, while Smalley, Morris and others fill out the schedule. I asked people on Twitter who they would pick, and there was a strong pro-Morneau sentiment — plus a couple who wondered if reporter Marney Gellner might get some work as a welcome voice in the booth.
It’s hard to get people on Twitter to agree about much, but when the choice for lead analyst in 2021 was restricted to Morneau, Smalley, Morris or “other,” more than 80% of people voted for Morneau in the poll I ran.
How long will Morneau — who lives in Medina and has five young children — be at the top of the list? That’s hard to say. But he’s only 39, and Blyleven did this for a quarter-century.