Thomas U. Tuttle

Baseball Hall Of Fame Voting 2017

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by Thomas U. Tuttle

Cooperstown Here We Come

It is official on this January day that Jeff Bagwell (86% of vote, need 75%, 7th year eligible) Tim Raines (86% 15th and final year on ballot) and Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez (75%, first ballot HOF’er) have been voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame by the BBWAA. They will be formally inducted at the always engaging HOF Induction Ceremony on the weekend of July 28-31 in historic Cooperstown, New York.

As I’m known to say to friends and fellow baseball people, Induction Day is something special to see and well worth any effort and expense to be there – at least once. The Paul Molitor ceremony in 2004 was a event that will never be forgotten by those who attended (Dennis Eckersley, relief pitcher extraordinaire, also went in that year) and was particularly memorable for me as someone who had the privilege of seeing Molly play both in college and the pro’s. I also had contact with Eckersley, as a young journalist in Chicago, when he was a struggling starter with the Cubs in the early ’80’s.

What a place, and what a weekend! The museum aspects of Cooperstown (it’s called the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum for a reason) are extraordinary, and visiting the place is a must for serious fans of the grand old game. And that is despite the fact that the times they-are-a-changing regarding the tenured baseball writers who vote for the eligible players, the baseball greats who are coming to Cooperstown, and the Hall of Fame itself.

Baseball writers who have a vote for the Hall are those members of the BBWAA with at least 10 years of continuous coverage of the game (primarily “beat” writers) as well as those who have been away from that role for less than 10 years. And that has been an important recent change, in that those writers who have been away from the beat for more than 10 years no longer have a vote.

What that means as a practical matter is that the a number of older writers, some of them familiar names in sports journalism, no longer have a vote. They have dropped off the roles of eligible voters. Thus, naturally, the demographic of HOF voters has gotten quite a bit younger. I am not saying that this is all bad, but it must be considered that younger writers have a different perspective on some of the issues of various periods in baseball history – including what is now commonly referred to as “the steroid era.”

And the elephant in the Cooperstown room, the largest issue besides “skill, success and statistics” (as one old-timer told me) regarding election to the baseball HOF, is the use of steroids or performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). Historically, or at least up until recently, a positive test or mention in the congressional investigation’s “Mitchell Report” meant a “blackball” from the Hall.

Of this years players elected to be enshrined, two have had been subjected to substantial rumor and innuendo regarding PEDs (Rodriguez and Bagwell) and one has in fact been “outed” in Jose Canseco’s book “Juiced” which came out in 2005 (Rodriguez). Canseco states that he injected Rodriguez (along with Mark McGwire, Juan Gonzalez, and Jason Giambi, among others) in the butt with ‘roids and provides some detail. Well, Pudge is not just in, he’s a first ballot selection!

Bagwell has admitted to using androstenedione, a semi-steroid still legal when he (and Mark McGwire) admitted using it in 1998. He denies any and all steroid/PED use – as does Rodriguez. Canseco has been vilified by many in baseball, including his former 1989 World Series manager in Oakland, Tony LaRussa, who has called his book and steroid abuse accusations “an attempt to gain attention and make money.”

Having read the book, I will say it rings true. That doesn’t mean Canseco is a good person – look up the details of his legal transgressions and prepare to be amazed – but his recollection of people, places and events doesn’t sound like make-believe. After all, some players have readily admitted that they were willing to do most anything to stay in the game or gain power – but most won’t talk and the tight baseball community doesn’t encourage such elucidation. What happens here, stays here has always been the rule.

A percentage of the new generation of baseball writers views LaRussa as someone who benefitted from the steroid era, in that users such as Canseco and McGwire helped manager Tony achieve a world title (in fairness, he’s had success everywhere he’s gone, especially St. Louis). The logic goes that if LaRussa benefitted from the era and is in the Hall, then how can we punish the men who made his selection possible?

Also, there is a perception that former baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, who oversaw the tainted times and was recently enshrined in the HOF himself, either did not do enough to eliminate efforts to cheat the game or turned a blind eye to the true depth and challenge of drugs on baseball. Why wasn’t there more of a concerted effort to banish steroids when the evil medicine began to rear its ugly head?

And the big question now becomes – how do you justify keeping legends and record holders such as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens out of the Hall when other users or suspected users are in? Mike Piazza is another name, already in the HOF, who has been indicted by innuendo and accusations but has nonetheless been enshrined. The grey area is getting murkier by the month and year, but it is still left to a select group of writers – a younger group of writers, perhaps less duty-bound to yesterday’s assumptions – that will determine the baseball Hall’s enshrinement future going forward.

And just a quick personal note; this kind of stuff has been around for a long while, so count me among those who believe baseball’s response to drug cheating could have been more forceful and better executed. In 1980 my collegiate baseball career as a shortstop at Northwestern University was ending, and not necessarily by my choice. I’d had a pretty good run in the Big Ten, but didn’t make enough of a mark to be drafted, despite never striking out in Big Ten competition and running the 60 indoors to establish my speed on the record (as Casey Stengel once said – “you can look it up”).

I was a four-tool player and the scouts knew it. Yes, I was fast and had a good eye, strong enough arm and was a fairly intelligent player. But I didn’t hit the ball deep very often, had clear “warning track power” which was considered a deficiency – especially with the All-American Paul Molitor lighting things up playing short at Minnesota and setting the bar awfully high for midwestern shortstops!

An acquaintance from the NU football team, let’s call him “Doug” (a lineman with good size, played a year for the Cowboys) attended a number of our games and ran into me after my last season. “Tom, maybe you could use a little something,” he said. Norm was known for selling weed, and I thought that’s what he meant. It wasn’t. He broke down for me what he had available, and it was steroids. He used that word, first time I had ever heard it.

Steroids…

I said no and have never looked back, despite the crazy money coming at that time to baseball – big money that has only gotten bigger. But I had a profound love of the game from about age three, and a respect for my body as well. And enough of something, I’d like to call it integrity, that it just wasn’t going to happen.

This was 1980, 35-plus years ago. The stuff was out there, even at a place like NU. And with the money, the fame and the adulation, there is certainly incentive to compromise values at the highest levels of the National Pastime. There’s also a heck of a lot of temptation in the minors for help getting to the top, as we have seen. The Dominican Republic is a juice factory, as I have documented in previous writing. Latin players face unique challenges. Colleges usually don’t do any testing for drug abuse in baseball and more high-schoolers use steroids than you would think.

But a lot of what is out there is very difficult to prove, and that is part of the challenge. I saw Barry Bonds when he started his career and he looked quite different 10 years later – a much bigger head, among other things. An amazing player at all times, even without 70-plus assisted homers. Same with Ivan Rodriguez, who looked impossibly powerful when I saw him in a hotel shuttle. He was traveling with his entourage at the ’99 All-Star game. Just massive in his body shirt – tough, rough and buff. Take a look at the drop-off in his numbers after the Canseco book when he presumably stopped juicing, in 2005.

Who knows? I don’t, and neither do the Hall-of-Fame voters.

But they do…

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Eric Nelson

SPORTS NUGGETS: Brian’s song should only be heard in Minnesota

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By Eric Nelson
December 6, 2016
GAMEDAY GOLD

 

MINNEAPOLIS – Sports Nuggets from the frozen north…

 

•Tradewinds: MLB’s winter meetings began this week in National Harbor, MD. The Minnesota Twins are looking to improve their ball club after a 2016 season in which they completely unraveled. Yes, when a team goes 59-103 changes are necessary. The Twins need pitching of all kinds – starters, middle relievers and a closer. There is speculation that Minnesota will dangle 2B Brian Dozier as trade bait to get some pitching. Hopefully that won’t happen. Unless the Twins get a Jake Arrieta, Corey Kluber or Clayton Kershaw-type pitcher in return, Dozier should stay put. It makes no sense to peddle a franchise cornerstone…

•Brian’s Song: Dozier had a monster season in 2016 batting .268 with 42 home runs, 99 RBI and 104 runs scored. Dozier was also solid defensively – he had just eight errors in 151 games at 2B. Dozier is a fan favorite, a leader in the clubhouse and one of the team’s few building blocks. Unless the Twins get an overwhelming offer, there is no reason to peddle Dozier. The last thing fans in Twins Territory want to see is Dozier being dealt for prospects that they have never heard of. This has been the Minnesota m.o. for too long…

•Moving Up: The Twins have promoted Deron Johnson to Senior Advisor of the Scouting department and Sean Johnson to Director of Scouting. Deron Johnson has been with the Twins organization since 1994. Sean Johnson started with Minnesota as an area scout in 2002…

•Playoff Push: If the Minnesota Vikings are going to qualify for the NFL post-season for the second straight year they will need a fast finish. The Vikings (6-6) probably need to go 3-1 or 4-0 to make the playoffs. Minnesota plays at Jacksonville Sunday and has no margin for error. The Jaguars (2-10) have lost seven straight games and are desperate for a win. Jacksonville QB Blake Bortles has thrown for 2,930 yards, 20 touchdowns and 15 interceptions this year…

•Final Four:  After Jacksonville, the Vikings host Indianapolis (6-6), travel to Green Bay (6-6) and then finish the regular season in Minneapolis against Chicago (3-9)…

•Dress Code: The decision by Carolina coach Ron Rivera to bench Cam Newton for one series against Seattle on Sunday night was comical. Rivera sat Newton because he did not wear a tie on the Panthers flight from Northern California to SeaTac Airport. Rivera’s decision takes the No Fun League to a new level. Who cares if players wear ties on flights? Casual dress should be good enough. Rivera whiffed on this one…

•Dressing Down: If I were coach, I would want my players comfortable when they travel. Sweat suits would be allowed. These guys aren’t stock brokers going to work in the financial district. Let them dress the way they want. Good character and on-field performance should be what counts – not wearing a coat and tie…

•Taxing Situation: Newton has played three times in California this year – Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara and regular season games in Los Angeles and Oakland. According to USA Today, any athlete who works in California is taxed on income they earn in the Golden State – which will cost Newton $220,000…

•Say What?: It is mind boggling that the LA Rams have given HC Jeff Fisher a contract extension. LA is 4-8 this season and according to ESPN, Fisher’s 164 career losses are the second most in NFL history, one behind Dan Reeves. This decision definitely won’t have Rams fans rushing to buy tickets. The Rams second honeymoon in So Cal will be quicker than a Kim Kardashian marriage if they don’t start winning soon. Losing is not tolerated in star-obsessed Los Angeles, where the fan base has too many other options…

•Bowl Bonanza: College football’s 41-game bowl season starts later this month and Minnesota plays Washington State on December 27 at the Holiday Bowl in San Diego. The Gophers (8-4) and Cougars (8-4) are both unranked and will be eager to finish their season on a positive note. Washington State is coached by Mike Leach – yes the same Leach who was Texas Tech’s coach when the Red Raiders rallied from a 31 point third quarter deficit to stun Minnesota 44-41 in overtime at the 2006 Insight Bowl in Tempe, AZ…

•Validation Victory: If the Gophers knock off the Cougars, it would be their best win of the season and give the program momentum for 2017. Minnesota needs a signature win and the Holiday Bowl is one more chance for the Gophers to finally beat a good team…

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Eric Nelson

SPORTS NUGGETS: It’s a Golden finish for Detroit against Minnesota

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By Eric Nelson
November 7, 2016
GAMEDAY GOLD

 

MINNEAPOLIS – Sports Nuggets from the Glass House…

 

•Purple Pain: The Minnesota Vikings are the shakiest first place team in the NFL. Their 5-0 start has vanished, replaced by a three-game losing streak that has exposed their most glaring flaws. The most recent loss was a 22-16 dagger defeat in overtime against the Detroit Lions before 66,807 fans at US Bank Stadium. It was a Golden finish for the Lions as QB Matthew Stafford threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to Golden Tate in OT. Tate caught 11 passes for 79 yards and punctuated his walk-off winner with a somersault across the goal line…

Detroit Lions wide receiver Golden Tate eludes the Vikings tacklers

Golden’s day

•No Norv: One guy who did not see the carnage in person was former Vikings OC Norv Turner – who left the team last week. Daryl Johnston – who was part of the FOX broadcast team that called the Lions-Vikings game – was stunned when he found out Turner had quit. “I was,” Johnston said. “I had an opportunity to talk to Norv. It was a situation here in Minnesota where there was just a disconnect between he and Mike Zimmer and he felt the best thing for the team moving forward was for him to step away so they were allowed to move in the direction that they wanted to move in…”

•Cowboy Connection: Johnston knows Turner well from his days in Dallas when Turner was the Cowboys OC and they won three Super Bowls in the mid-1990’s. “I had a lot of respect for somebody doing that,” Johnston said. “There’s a lot of outside opinions that will say he left the team, and that’s not the case at all. It just gives Minnesota the best chance to win. He said it was the hardest decision he has ever made in his life. It will be interesting to see how Minnesota navigates it…”

•Divisional Logjam: Detroit’s win in Minnesota has created gridlock in the NFC North. The scrum includes the Vikings (5-3), Lions (5-4) and Packers (4-4), as they battle for first place. Like Minnesota, Green Bay is in free fall mode. The Packers lost to Indianapolis 31-26 on Sunday at Lambeau and now embark on a three-game road trip that takes them to Tennessee, Washington and Philadelphia…

•Laquon Sighting: Minnesota WR Laquon Treadwell is no longer missing in action. The Vikings top draft choice from Ole Miss actually caught one pass for 15 yards against Detroit. It will be a bonus for the Vikings if they can get contributions from Treadwell in the second half of the season…

Vikings rookie wide receiver Laquon Treadwell is in the game

Vikings rookie wide receiver Laquon Treadwell is in the game…

•Walsh’s Woes: Vikings K Blair Walsh continues to be inconsistent. Walsh missed an extra point and had a field goal attempt blocked in the loss to the Lions. In a game where every point counted, that adds up. Walsh is 13 of 16 on extra points and 12 of 16 on field goals this season…

•High Stakes: Saturday night’s Gophers-Cornhuskers game in Lincoln is crucial for both teams. Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin are tied for first place in the Big Ten West division with 4-2 records. The Gophers (7-2) have won four straight and have a chance to go to a bowl game with some juice. But their next three games – against Nebraska, Northwestern and Wisconsin – figure to be challenging…

•Sputtering Start: There was plenty of hype, hope and optimism surrounding the Minnesota Timberwolves entering this season. Unfortunately, the Wolves (1-4) have gotten out of the blocks slowly and have blown huge leads in most of their losses. The Wolves fan base will continue to stay away from Target Center until this team proves it can win…

Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns rises with the ball

Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns up and over from ten feet…

•Three is not a charm: Minnesota has been horrible in the third quarter this season and needs to fix that problem asap. The Wolves play at Brooklyn on Tuesday and Orlando on Wednesday…

•Free Agent Plums: According to MLB.com, the top 5 free agents this off-season are – Justin Turner (LA Dodgers IF), Yoenis Cespedes (NY Mets OF), Edwin Encarnacion (Toronto DH/1B), Dexter Fowler (Chicago Cubs CF) and Josh Reddick (LA Dodgers OF)…

•Goal Oriented: Minnesota United forward Christian Ramirez has won this season’s Golden Boot award that goes to the player who scores the most goals during the season. Ramirez had 18 goals for Minn U and a career total of 50. Ramirez has won the Golden Boot in two of his three years in the NASL…

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Thomas U. Tuttle

Cubs Blog – – A Long Time Coming

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by Thomas U. Tuttle

My love of the Chicago Cubs goes back to the days of Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Billy Williams and the rest of the gang who blew a 10 game late-August lead to the ’69 “Miracle Mets” who featured Tom Seaver in the lead role. It might have been the greatest emotional pain I’d experienced in my young life to that point, exceeded only by the loss of my grandfather a few months later.

Hall-of-Famers Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo, Fergie Jenkins along with the estimable Don Kessinger, Glenn Beckert and Randy Hundley just couldn’t get it done despite a tremendous ballclub and a solid pitching rotation. Remember a guy named Leo Durocher? I do. Even as a kid, it was obvious he poisoned that team with his lack of grace when the going got tough. And yes, Seaver and the Mets (who won the World Series) played great team baseball.

The Cubs were not done disappointing me, as after a baseball/academic career (not in that order) at Northwestern University, I moved down to Wrigleyville just in time to witness as a journalist the five-game failure of the Cubbies (by now occasionally referred to as the flubbies) in a playoff loss to the San Diego Padres.

It wasn’t just that they lost to the Padres, there was also the matter of how they did it – how they managed to fail getting to their first World Series since 1945 (when all the able-bodied men were in the military anyway). Rick Sutcliffe had gone 16-1 on the year, and he won the opener at Wrigley. Chicago won the second game and then proceeded to drop a fast pair of games out west, including a 7-5 defeat in game four that should have sealed the deal.

With the deciding fifth game in the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field, and Rick Sutcliffe on the mound, things still looked pretty good. My home was near the corner of Racine and Addison, a block from the ballpark, and there was a good vibe around the old grounds that morning. Remember, there was no night baseball at that time and the party started fairly early at Murphy’s Bleachers.

I remember being in the press box and seeing the late, great Harry Kalas in the ancient press box getting ready for his radio call. Harry Carey was at his best before the contest, but by the late innings he was liquid sour as the Curse of the Goat took over once again in a 6-3 loss. First baseman Leon Durham had a crucial Bill Buckner moment on a relatively routine grounder, Sutcliffe was below average and Steve Garvey finished a stellar league championship performance as MVP.

It was the last time a league series was determined in five games – the following year and in every year since it has been a seven game set. The Cubs started playing under the lights in 1988 (I had moved to Southport and Waveland, next to the Music Box Theater, and wrote a piece called City Under The Lights, tying Cubs baseball into the fabric of Chicago and the mayoralty of Harold Washington) and continued a determined lack of success until the Bartman Ball in 2003.

Yes, that failure was also unbelievable. Bring on the goat once again.

Today they are running a big Parade from Wrigley to Grant Park in downtown Chicago. A presentation will forgive Steve Bartman. I’m sure it will be great fun, but I won’t be watching. They deserved to win and it was a great series but I’m suffering from a little too much Bill Murray (he stepped out of a Limo and peed on a tree near Murphy’s after a ’84 ballgame, can’t remember which one) and the enormous bandwagon that revs up anytime a Chicago team has success. Sports has a way of validating human existence, certainly since Roman times, that little else does.

The 1985 Chicago Bears of Iron Mike Ditka, the late, great Walter Payton, Jim McMahon, Dan Hampton, Richard Dent and others, along with the  great Michael Jordan – Scottie Pippen Chicago Bulls teams – those legendary squads pulled an awful lot of weight, but this may have been even more special and energizing. After all, it was 108 years.

I’ve never seen Chicago so emotionally revved up. Every other person you see on the street is wearing a piece of Cubs attire, and everyone seems to be smiling. Joy to the World, my brothers and sisters. (Remember, there are no murders in Kingston, Jamaica in the days surrounding a Usain Bolt sprint title!)

Well done Cubbies, you have made a lot of people, an entire city – heck, half of the country – happy, and that has to be a good thing. Actually, quite a wonderful thing in an increasingly challenged world shortly before a miserably divisive election. Cub fans of all breeds are ONE, baby!

And congratulations to the Cleveland Indians, what an outstanding year you gentleman had! But to the victors go the spoils- and the Parades!

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Eric Nelson

SPORTS NUGGETS: On Halloween night, Chicago’s Midway Monsters make Minnesota look scary

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By Eric Nelson
November 1, 2016
GAMEDAY GOLD

 

MINNEAPOLIS – Sports Nuggets from the home of Wheaties…

 

•Haunting Performance: On Halloween night in the Windy City, Chicago’s Midway Monsters turned Minnesota into a scary looking team. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler carved up the Vikings like a pumpkin (252 yards and 1 touchdown pass), RB Jay Howard gashed them on the ground (153 yards and 1 TD) and the Bears defense dominated the Vikings offense. Chicago (2-6) won convincingly 20-10 and suddenly Minnesota (5-2) looks very ordinary…

•Purple Problems: In the last two games Philadelphia and Chicago overpowered Minnesota’s “soft” offensive line and shut down the Vikings on the ground and in the air. The Eagles and Bears have designed a template on how to exploit Minnesota’s weak spots. Look for future opponents to do the same…

•Newton’s Law: Carolina’s Cam Newton has every right to complain about lack of protection from NFL referees. In an era where defensive players are flagged just for breathing on a quarterback, Newton is the exception. Newton is a human punching bag who gets hit high and low in the pocket, yet penalties are never called. Just because Newton is a physical freak who looks like Superman (6-5, 245), does not mean he should be treated any differently than Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson or any other QB…

•Comical: I find it hilarious and hypocritical that many blame San Francisco QB Colin Kaepernick for the NFL’s declining television ratings. Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the Star Spangled Banner, is his way of protesting racial oppression in the USA – which is a real and serious issue. Kaepernick is simply exercising his first amendment rights, the right to free speech – which is guaranteed by the Constitution. The same critics and detractors who rip him for this, are the same folks who cry about their second amendment rights whenever the topic of logical and sensible gun control comes up. It doesn’t add up…

•Patriot Games: After a convincing 41-25 win in Buffalo on Sunday, New England (7-1) is on top of the AFC East, and once again in prime position to make another Super Bowl run. NE has won 11 of the last 12 division titles and according to the Boston Globe, it’s been 15 years since the Patriots were swept by an East opponent…

•Good Theater: FOX-TV’s pre and post-game show for the World Series has put together analysts Alex Rodriguez, Pete Rose and Frank Thomas, along with host Kevin Burkhardt. The combination clicks and despite all the baggage A-Rod and the Hit King have, these guys know baseball…

•Self Hook: According to the Chicago Tribune, Cubs P Jon Lester pulled himself from Sunday’s World Series game after six innings because he wasn’t, “pitching like an ace.” Chicago manager Joe Maddon wanted Lester to remain on the mound, but Lester did not want to return. That set the stage for fireballing closer Auroldis Chapman to record an eight-out save as the Cubs won 3-2. The Indians lead the WS 3-2 and Game 6 is Tuesday night in Cleveland…

•Candid Cub: Give Lester credit for knowing his limitations and being blunt about the situation. Many athletes in the macho world of sports, would never have done something like that in similar circumstances…

•Spring Flings: The Minnesota Twins 2017 Grapefruit League schedule features 35 games (18 home, 17 road). The Twins home opener is at the CenturyLink Sports Complex in Ft. Myers, FL against the Tampa Bay Rays on February 24. The Twins then go across town for their first road game on February 25 at JetBlue Park against Boston…

•Hoops and Pucks: Tuesday is the first night this season when the Minnesota Timberwolves and Wild play home games at the same time. The Wolves host Memphis in their home opener in Minneapolis and the Wild play Buffalo in St. Paul…

•End of an Era: Saturday was an emotional night at the National Sports Center in Blaine, MN. The New York Cosmos blanked Minnesota United 1-0, ending the Loons hopes of making the NASL playoffs. The crowd of 8,609 saw the final game at NSC Stadium after 25 years of professional soccer in the venue. Minn U moves up to MLS next March and will play games at TCF Bank Stadium before a new soccer specific facility is built in the Midway section of St. Paul…

National Sports Center - Blaine, MN

Soccer fans on a cool night in Blaine, Minnesota

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Eric Nelson

SPORTS NUGGETS: Magic Johnson sees playoffs in the Minnesota Timberwolves future

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By Eric Nelson
October 25, 2016
GAMEDAY GOLD

 

MINNEAPOLIS – Sports Nuggets from the North Star State…

 

•Magic Endorsement: NBA legend Magic Johnson thinks the Minnesota Timberwolves are trending up. The Former LA Lakers great – who now owns the WNBA Sparks and is part-owner of the MLB Dodgers – is high on the Wolves. “They have the pieces now,” Magic said. “Everybody’s a year older. You can never underestimate experience. Now everybody will know what to do and how to do it…”

•Playoff-bound: Minnesota has not been in the post-season since 2004 – the longest current playoff drought in the NBA. Magic is high on Andrew Wiggins and Karl -Anthony Towns, and believes the Wolves are ready to end their post-season dry-spell. “It’s a complete roster and a complete team,” Magic said. “You have to be complete to make the playoffs. I see a complete team and they are ready to challenge now…”

•Tom Terrific: Magic gave a glowing review of new Wolves HC Tom Thibodeau. “This dude can coach,” Magic said. “I love him and I’ve always promoted him because he’s so super smart. He’s one of the best in the game at making in-game adjustments. A lot of coaches can coach but they can’t see something ahead. He can see ahead and he can make great in-game adjustments…”

•No “D”… No Play: Defense is Thibodeau’s hallmark and Magic says anyone playing for him better be good in that phase of the game or they won’t get much playing time. “You don’t play d,” Magic said, “you’re going to be sitting down…

•Vin’s Void: Magic wants to see a statue of iconic broadcaster Vin Scully put up outside Dodger Stadium and hopes that Scully comes back someday to do a guest inning of play by play – no matter what the cost. “He is Dodger baseball,” Magic said. “The sweetest voice we’ve ever heard. He’s going to be so missed because the fan base associated Vince and the Dodgers. Now you just have the Dodgers and that’s going to be a rude awakening for our fan base. Even if our team was struggling, people would tune in just to hear Vince call the game…”

•Minnesota Makeover: The renovation of Target Center is underway. The $130 million project has been going on for 5 1/2 months and is expected to be finished in one year. The new video board is already installed along with some major upgrades to club/suite areas. Twin Cities-based Mortenson Construction is handling the renovation. Mortenson has built many sports venues, including Target Field, TCF Bank Stadium, US Bank Stadium and the Xcel Energy Center. Target Center is the first sports facility Mortenson ever built, so the company has come full circle…

•In Demand: Mortenson is currently working on 170 sports and entertainment projects totaling $9 billion, including the Milwaukee Bucks new arena…

•Eclipsed by success: The Chicago Cubs-Cleveland World Series match up takes some heat off the NFL teams who play in those two lakefront cities. The Cubs and Indians are generating plenty of attention, meaning that the woeful Bears (1-6) and winless Browns (0-7) won’t be getting ripped as much as normal. The Bears are anemic and the Brownies are baked…

•Windy City trip: The Bears might be just what the Minnesota Vikings need to get back on track. Minnesota and Chicago play next Monday night at Soldier Field. The Vikings (5-1) lost their first game of the season last week in Philadelphia, 21-10…

•200 Club: Miami RB Jay Ajayi gashed another defense on Sunday. Ajayi ran for 214 yards in the Dolphins 28-25 win over Buffalo, becoming just the fourth player in NFL history to log back-to-back 200 yard rushing games. Ajayi – who is in his second season – is a well-traveled guy. He was born in London, UK, played HS football in the Dallas suburb of Frisco, TX and went to Boise State…

•Crunch Time: Minnesota United lost at Carolina 1-0 on Saturday 1-0, dropping to 5th place in the NASL. Minn U (41 points) hosts the New York Cosmos Saturday night in the last game of the regular season. A Minnesota win combined with a Rayo OKC loss, would put the Loons in the playoffs for the third straight season…

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Larry Fitzgerald, Sr.

There are plenty of reasons to cheer for the Minnesota Lynx

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By Larry Fitzgerald
October 19, 2016
GAMEDAY GOLD

One of the greatest joys over my 38 years as a journalist who has weathered the test of time has been watching the growth of the WNBA and locally covering the Minnesota Lynx.

I have a great appreciation for the business of sports, and believe me it’s a business in which you find out who you can trust. You also find out in time how some in the business are quick to climb on the backs of dedicated professionals.

The Lynx keep climbing the ladder. They have established a standard of greatness, and all the other sports teams in town should be taking note.

Minnesota Lynx fans

Number 1 Lynx Fan!

Mainstream media throw much of their attention at the Vikings-Twins-Gophers-Wild and Timberwolves in that order. They have larger followings, and more macho men go to their games. In many ways the Lynx are treated and covered by some as if they are the secondary story.

We are in a unique time. It’s an election year, and we are about to potentially elect a woman as U.S. president for the first time in history to lead the most powerful nation on earth. Women at one time could not vote and had no rights in this country, and Black women were treated unfairly due to both race and gender. But as the old saying goes, “They’ve come a long way.” The WNBA, a platform that allows women, and predominantly Black women, an opportunity to compete and shine, is now in its 20th year.

The Lynx are trying to win back-to-back WNBA titles. Sunday’s remarkable 85-79 win at Los Angeles was a test of character and the will of this great team.

With four Olympic starters and the WNBA Coach of the Year Cheryl Reeve, they are indeed a talented group. Superstar Maya Moore excelled with 31 points and nine rebounds, while Lindsay Whalen made back-to-back buckets to break a 69-69 tie.

Sylvia Fowles and her game-high 13 rebounds, Seimone Augustus slashing inside, and Rebekkah Brunson doing all the dirty work grabbing loose balls and rebounds — what a team. What heart they have collectively. I know something about winning championships. You have to impose your will and desire to win for it to happen.

The Lynx have beaten Los Angeles four times in seven regular season meetings and Finals. Thursday night, at the construction site called Target Center, the Lynx will try to grab another piece of history by going back-to-back as champions.

Good luck, Lynx, and thanks for showing the big boys how it’s done.

Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to info@larry-fitzgerald.com, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.

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Eric Nelson

SPORTS NUGGETS: Idle times equal good times for the Minnesota Vikings

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By Eric Nelson
October 18, 2016
GAMEDAY GOLD

MINNEAPOLIS – Sports Nuggets from the land of 10,000 fall colors…

•Bye week bonus: Idle times equal good times for the Minnesota Vikings. Things are going so good for the Purple that even when they don’t play, their lead in the NFC North increases. The Purple had a bye week on Sunday, but saw their North lead grow to two games as Dallas rolled over Green Bay 30-16 at Lambeau Field. The Packers (3-2) have lost their offensive mojo and the Vikings (5-0) are the class of the division so far…

•QB homecoming: Minnesota is back in action this Sunday against Philadelphia at The Linc. It’s a return to Philly for ex-Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford – who was dealt to the Vikings before the season started. Rookie QB Carson Wentz is the new Eagles starter. Philadelphia (3-2) lost to Washington 27-20 last week and has dropped two straight games…

•Draft bonanza: The Cowboys (5-1) continue to get great production from rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. Prescott (a fourth round selection from Mississippi State) is the steal of the 2016 draft. He threw for 247 yards and three touchdowns against the Packers. Elliott (a first round choice from Ohio State) gored Green Bay on the ground as he ran for 157 yards. Elliott leads the NFL with 703 yards rushing…

•4-score: How ironic that on a day when the Packers put Brett Favre’s number 4 in their ring of honor, another number 4 – Prescott – was the star of the day…

•Dairyland downers: It was a rough weekend for football fans in cheeseland. In addition to the Cowboys win over the Packers, number 2 Ohio State squeaked by eighth ranked Wisconsin 30-23 in overtime on Saturday night in Madison…

•Fastballs and spirals: The folks who run the athletic department at Highland Park HS in Dallas have to be beaming. Clayton Kershaw and Matthew Stafford – who were teammates at Highland Park – both had impressive games on Sunday. Kershaw pitched seven shutout innings and gave up just two hits in the LA Dodgers 1-0 win over the Chicago Cubs in Game 2 of the NLCS. Meanwhile, Stafford threw for 270 yards and 4 touchdowns in Detroit’s 31-28 win over the LA Rams…

•Carolina blues: Clearly the most disappointing NFL team is Carolina. The Panthers (1-5) are in free fall mode after a 41-38 loss at New Orleans this week. Carolina was 15-1 in 2015 and lost Super Bowl 50 to Denver…

•Cut up: Move over Curt Schilling you have company. Cleveland P Trevor Bauer is now part of MLB’s bloody history. In Game 3 of the ALCS Monday night, Bauer left in the first inning with a cut on his right pinkie finger that was dripping blood. It was a graphic visual. However, the Indians lights out bullpen came to the rescue and six relievers combined to shut down Toronto 4-2. Cleveland leads the series 3-0…

•C-town success: Hard to believe, but once title-starved Cleveland, could have two championship teams in the same year. The Cavs are the NBA champs and the Indians are five wins away from winning the World Series. Another confetti parade through downtown Cleveland is a definite possibility…

•Hoops showdown: It’s only fitting that Los Angeles and Minnesota will play a Game 5 in the WNBA Finals on Thursday night. The Sparks and Lynx have been the top teams all season. With the series tied at 2-2, this is for all the marbles and a Lynx win would give them back-to-back titles and four in franchise history…

•Goal-oriented: Minnesota United soccer star Christian Ramirez scored two goals in a win against FC Edmonton last Saturday and leads the NASL with 51. Ramirez is three goals shy of breaking the league record, set by former Minn U player Pablo Campos. This week Minn U travels to Carolina…

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Thomas U. Tuttle

Twins Face Facts

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by Thomas U. Tuttle

Watching playoff baseball the past week brings to mind bad memories of a brutal 2016 campaign by the Minnesota Twins. This was the team that couldn’t shoot straight – that couldn’t pitch, couldn’t hit with consistency or under pressure, and played poor defense at key positions, particularly shortstop and anywhere you tried to hide Miguel Sano.

The worst year ever, with 103 losses (which happens to be the same number of Chicago Cubs wins) and that says something. Minnesota has had bad years in the past, in fact the recent past, but nothing quite like this – the downside record setter for the team. Horrific with a capital “H”.

There is enough blame to go around, with the departed Terry Ryan owning a good deal of the disappointment by insisting on the competitive potential of Ricky Nolasco, Kyle Gibson, Tyler Duffey, Jose Berrios and several other unproductive pitchers and position players. One of my favorite people in baseball, it was time for Terry to move on – although we might have hoped for him to finish the season. Once he was informed by the Pohlad leadership that he would not be returning, Ryan stepped away.

Which should have given Manager Paul Molitor free reign to pull the squad together, his players taking the field on his terms. And there is substantial fault to be found in Molitor, a tremendous baseball man who could not coax wins out of his squad despite having full control of the Twins after the departure of Ryan. Minnesota won a number of games heading into the All-Star break, beating a good Texas club three out of four, but could not maintain any cohesion going forward. After the break, they seemed to take a giant step backwards.

They were terrible in the second half of the season, and while Molitor showed his usual saintly patience, it was brutal to watch from the seats. That may be one of the problems with Hall-of-Fame skippers – they struggle to comprehend lousy, not to mention occasionally imbecilic play, from inferior players. As many of us saw from the seats, Paul had his right leg up on the top dugout step, watching and monitoring the action at all times, game after game, loss after loss. He witnessed a lot of bad baseball and three-hours plus defeats.

A classic moment was when rookie shortstop Jorge Polanco, after failing to make a play against Kansas City in the closing game of a sweep by KC in August, tried to alibi for the tough play. Molitor would have none of it, defending his lone quality pitcher, Ervin Santana, who was charged with an earned run. “That’s a play that needs to be made,” said the skipper. “A tough play but a major league play.” Mollie even petitioned the official scorer for a change of scoring, actually seeking to put an error on the rookie. His frustration was beginning to emerge.

But the man is patient. During postgame interviews he was invariably calm and cool. That’s who he is, but maybe this young team needed a little more fire. Maybe. My guess is he realized that they simply didn’t have the pitching to compete, and bad defense and poor hitting just piled on to the debacle. But 103 losses? Just as he won a number of games in last year’s overachieving season, this year he went the other way. When you are running Jose Berrios’s 10+ run ERA out to the mound in September, are you really looking to win?

No, you are not. You are trying to figure some things out, who you have and what they are made of, and the heck with the record . Losing is losing to a winner like Molitor. And I believe that Paul is looking forward to Spring Training, and a chance to put his stamp on this ballclub.

The new “GM” Derek Falvey, really the boy-wonder-hire as “Director of Baseball Operations,” is young enough to be Paul’s son and has but one year of assistant GM experience in Cleveland. Despite the Indians success this year, it is amazing that a young fellow who was an intern a decade ago is now running the Minnesota Twins. Can and will Molitor be able to deal with the kid? My guess is probably yes, but that’s not a certainty.

Mollie’s coaches have contracts that expire at the end of October, and none should be invited back, except Eddie Guardado in the bullpen. Tom Brunansky failed as a hitting coach and Neil Allen did the same with the pitching staff. Go to Florida with fresh eyes, and hold a lot of meetings figuring out who can play this game. The 2016 squad had a bunch of guys who simply couldn’t get it done. Play better or move on must be the rule.

Let’s go to camp fresh, moving forward with a number of changes and a lot of youth. Look at a bunch of new arms – encouraging competition and refusing to leave Florida without a fighting chance to win some games. Molitor, who has rarely failed in baseball, will not be kidding around. This could be interesting in 2017, and fun to watch. It has to be, or we will be seeing the last of “the Ignitor.”

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Eric Nelson

SPORTS NUGGETS The Minnesota Vikings are the NFL’s shining light

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By Eric Nelson
October 11, 2016
GAMEDAY GOLD

MINNEAPOLIS – Sports Nuggets from the capital of the Purple Nation…

•Bright light: On a sun-drenched October Sunday in the Twin Cities, light was cascading through the glass roof at US Bank Stadium. This natural illumination gave everyone a clear view of Minnesota dominance, as the Vikings lit up Houston 31-13. Minnesota (5-0) is now the NFL’s shining light and the only perfect team left this season…

•Purple trifecta: In the win, the Vikings got contributions in all three phases of the game. Minnesota’s crushing defense bottled up Texans QB Brock Osweiler (184 yards passing, one touchdown, one interception) and the Texans running game (59 yards total). Their opportunistic offense was solid as Sam Bradford threw for 271 yards – including TD tosses to Adam Thielen and Cordarrelle Patterson. And the Vikings special teams was special, as Marcus Sherels returned a punt 79 yards for a TD in the second quarter…

•Purple power: The Vikings are on a roll and have morphed into an NFL powerhouse. They lead Green Bay (3-1) by 1 1/2 games in the NFC North. Minnesota has a bye this week before returning to action on October 23 in Philadelphia…

•Titletown collision: With no Vikings game to follow this week, the Minnesota fandom can focus on the Dallas-Green Bay matchup at Lambeau. Can Cowboys rookie gunslinger Dak Prescott outduel Packers star Aaron Rodgers? That will be the main focus in Wisconsin as Dallas (4-1) tries to stay hot…

•Miami makeover: Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium has a new look after a $500 million renovation. The facility now has a canopy that shields 92 percent of the fans from the South Florida heat or rain. According to the Miami Herald, Hard Rock opened in 1987 and was originally named Joe Robbie Stadium. It has also been called Pro Player, Land Shark, Sun Life and Dolphin Stadium. Miami will host Super Bowl 54 in 2020…

•Lofty ranking: Former Pittsburgh Panthers star Larry Fitzgerald Jr. is the top WR in college football history according to Sports Illustrated. Fitzgerald now plays for Arizona and grew up in Minneapolis. Marshall’s Randy Moss was ranked second…

•Carolina monsoon: That was quite the downpour Notre Dame and North Carolina State played in on Saturday in Raleigh. Thanks to Hurricane Matthew, conditions were more fit for fish than football players. The Wolfpack (4-1) splashed their way to a 10-3 win over the Irish (2-4)…

•Element ball: Weather games are one reason why football is so popular. Seeing teams play in pouring rain, blizzards, hurricane-like winds or scorching heat is always good theater. Weather translates into high television ratings because viewers like to see elite athletes cope with difficult conditions…

•Rebound game: Minnesota needs a bounce back effort Tuesday night against Los Angeles in the WNBA Finals. The Lynx lost Game 1 on Sunday 78-76 at Target Center. Game 3 of the best of 5 series is Friday night in Sol Cal…

•Breaking news: Madison Bumgarner is human. San Francisco’s post-season pitching ace actually gave up three earned runs in five innings Monday night in the NLDS against the Chicago Cubs. Jake Arrieta’s three-run home run off Bumgarner in the second snapped his playoff scoreless innings streak at 24. However, the Giants won 6-5 in 13 innings and trail 2-1 in the series…

•Going, going, gone: The Los Angeles Sports Arena is being torn down. According to the LA Times, The arena was the initial home of the Lakers after they moved to LA from Minneapolis, and the Clippers after they moved there from San Diego. Muhammad Ali then known as Cassius Clay once boxed there, and Michael Jackson closed out his first solo concert tour, “Bad” in the arena…

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