A suggestion that Rocco Baldelli missed his calling would be an overstatement, considering that he received $2.25 million to sign as the No. 6 overall selection in the 2000 baseball draft, and then made $6.49 million in pretax dollars as a big-league player.
This does not refute my stance Baldelli — now in his third season as Twins manager — would have made a world-class family doctor if he had elected to go to college and then medical school.
If Rocco had debuted as a young internist a decade ago, he would have been featuring an "abundance of caution" long before someone connected to the PGA Tour brought that phrase to America early in the pandemic.
The HMOs and emergency rooms would have tried to blacklist the guy for being too costly.
Dr. Baldelli: "What brings you in today, Luis?"
Luis: "Just the annual checkup, Doc. I'm feeling great."
Dr. Baldelli: "Let's not be so sure about that. I have a report that you burped slightly in the waiting area."
Luis: "I did feel a touch of heartburn, but it didn't last five seconds."
Dr. Baldelli: "Physicians' assistant … call an ambulance! We have to get Luis off his feet and thoroughly checked immediately. Immediately! Immediately!"
As a Twins follower for 61 years, I've seen them all — first, Cookie Lavagetto, then Sam Mele, Cal Ermer and Billy Martin — and then the group I've dealt with in some form for Twin Cities newspapers:
Bill Rigney, Frank Quilici, Gene Mauch, Johnny Goryl, Billy Gardner, Ray (Rabbit) Miller, Tom Kelly, Ron Gardenhire, Paul Molitor and now Baldelli.
I've never seen a devotion to getting players off the field and pitchers off the mound to rival Rocco's.
I'm now of the belief Baldelli's mission when he comes out of the dugout is to convince a player that it's in his best interest to come out of the game, even if he's a 2 on the one-to-10 pain meter.
Admittedly, I'm a bit over the top on this issue, to the point that near the end of Thursday's game at Target Field, when Rocco went to check on Jorge Polanco as a baserunner at first base, I was exhorting Baldelli from the press box to get Jorge out of there … perhaps to call for the ambulance.
The press box is a much more sedate place than in decades prior, but on a rare occasion, an old-timer can't help himself from returning to the days of the much-quoted Press Box wag* of yore and offer some low-key heckling.
(*Long before fetching companions of Premier League soccer stars became WAGs — wives and girlfriends — in London tabloids, wags were smart alecks in baseball press boxes.)
Polanco had been struck with a pitch in what appeared to be a shoe. He got to first and soon there was Baldelli: His bench down to scraps, another blown lead and a five-game losing streak hanging over his team, and Baldelli (by appearances) looking for any motivation to remove Jorge from the tilt.
Bravely, Polanco stayed in the game — bravely being, his willingness to say, "No, I'm OK," to Rocco. The hit-by-pitch had moved Luis Arraez to second, from where Luis' astute read on Max Kepler's bloop single allowed him to score the winning run in a 4-3 victory over Boston and end the Twins' losing streak at five.
Actually, it was Baldelli's decision to remove Arraez from the lineup, to "get him off his feet," after he appeared to burp while batting in an early-season game, that started me toward what's now approaching a psychotic breakdown over the Rocco Rest & Recovery addiction.
Take Thursday: Michael Pineda was in absolute cruise, with a 3-0 lead after seven innings, and with 88 pitches. It was an easy 88, because no half-inning had been a true grind.
Big Mike gets the hook, the so-far-unreliable bullpen takes over, and the Twins with this feeble stretch of clutch hitting get lucky with a bloop to win it in the bottom of the ninth.
Maybe it is Rocco's early excellence as a player, starting as a 21-year-old rookie with Tampa Bay, being taken away by a string of injuries that causes this approach.
Whatever. I've found Rocco to be a good guy, and the records from one full season and one mini-season are excellent, but his attachment to R&R seems to have increased early in a year when the Twins are clearly better than only one team in the AL Central, and that's Detroit.
Bottom line: Donaldson had to hit in the eighth on Thursday. The only excuse for that not happening was bad managing.