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Thomas U. Tuttle

Twins Roar Ahead

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by Thomas U. Tuttle

Years ago, when yours truly was playing high school baseball in the Chicago area, pitching won a bunch of games for us, but a dynamic offense won a lot more. We would put the hammer down with a diverse bunch of talent and outscore the opposition en route to a 26-4 record and a league title. Speed and power and solid defense was a fun way to win.

While most of us will agree that pitching wins ball games, we clobbered teams with bats, led by future Chicago Cubs first round draft pick Brian “Ozzie” Rosinski. He was the biggest threat, but not the only one; a trip down memory lane reminds me of the names Bobby Brasher, Ronnie Strong, Brian Walker, Bobby “Chief” Schwartz and a host of others. They could hit, night and day…

We also had an ace on our generally passable staff, big Cazzie, and when he was on the hill we were awful tough to beat (a state tournament-ending loss revolved around a blown call at second base involving yours truly with Caz on the hill). He was our Ervin Santana and that tourney loss might have been one of two defeats he suffered all year.

Ah, Glory Days, baby, as Boss Springsteen so brilliantly put to music! “He could throw that speed ball by you, make you look like a fool, boy…”

Yep, the Twins are living in the best of both worlds, as exemplified by their 14-7 offensive thumping of Baltimore which was followed by a 2-0 Santana gem and another Jose Berrios confidence builder, a 4-3 victory concluding Minnesota’s sweep of the Orioles. Look out Ma, the Boys have won four in a row and have led the Central for more days than any other team in the division. And with Cleveland’s best hurler, Corey Kluber, on the disabled list, there is no way the Indians are going to run and hide like last year

If the Twins have a solid June, they should stay relevant for the balance of the season – not bad for 2016’s worst team in baseball.

This year’s Minnesota team doesn’t have a bunch of cannons coming to the plate, but they can manufacture runs and even had a record tying 16-game home run streak. And while they are not going to flat-out crush you on most days (they’ve only scored in double figures a couple of times), they are led by the increasingly formidable Miguel Sano, who looks to be developing into one of the best power hitters in the game and is putting fear into American League pitchers – hanging around the league leaders in 4-baggers, slugging percentage, RBI’s and runs scored will tend to do that.

Sano leads the offense, brings a great attitude almost all the time, and is the unofficial leader of the Twins sizable Latin brigade. “Love to hit, love to hit…” he told a few of us after a strong game this spring. “Just doing my thing.” You can’t help but think of the one-time young Minnesota slugger David Ortiz when our big Miggy talks, smiles, hits etc…

The Latin thing is for real, with major contributors to offensive – and pitching – success coming from locations around the Caribbean. Jose Polanco, strong at shortstop and strengthening as a hitter; Kennys Vargas, potentially an important piece of a successful offensive ballclub; Eddie Rosario, Eduardo Escobar, Santana, Berrios, Santiago, etc…etc…

These guys from the warm winter spots, although they exhibit occasional youthful inconsistency, can really play. And they’re a lot of fun to watch as they mature, playing much better baseball than last year.

It’s also fun to see Joe Mauer look like he’s enjoying the game a good deal more than he has the past couple of years. He had his first three-hit game since last August, ’16 recently, and Mauer’s glove has been just short of brilliant at first base. He’s both laughing AND leading – one can almost remember why we’re paying the man about $25 million a year.

Almost…Monopoly money aside, this is a team that mixes and matches their players well. “It’s a well thought out team,” said Orioles manager Buck Showalter after being swept in the three game set. “You can see how the parts fit.”

Max Kepler is becoming a major leaguer, the solid Brian Dozier is strengthening and leading, and Jason Castro is the serious catcher that he was expected to be. In a word, he’s exceptional at handling pitchers. The Byron Buxton saga continues – and is going to continue for a long time, hopefully including some offensive production to go along with the Gold Glove center fielder. My sources say he’s getting close to being the steady offensive threat that is expected; all of us are waiting for the arrival of consistency at the plate.

Pitching wins more games than hitting, so they say. The Twins will need to add a few pieces on the mound and likely at the plate to truly contend for a pennant. But one has to give manager Paul Molitor credit; he has stayed patient while staying the course and keeping faith in his young squad – emerging, once again, as an early manager of the year candidate.

Back in Chi-town, in the glory days, things could have ended awful sweet…just a few outs away from a state title. There was something about a missed tag at second base, surely a blown call by a visionchallenged umpire, and a baseball dream that slipped away.

It was just one of those crazy things that happen in the sport, something like going from worst to first at the major league level. You just never know about about baseball, but I’ve got to tell you – I tagged him!

HE WAS OUT!

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Thomas U. Tuttle

Twins Starters Hold The Key

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by Thomas U. Tuttle

 

The Minnesota Twins are only a few games from being a quarter of the way through the 2017 season, and things are looking – and feeling – pretty good around Target Field. And well they should, as the squad holds onto a share of first place as of this writing.

Starting pitching has been pretty solid in general, with the recent upside surprise from Jose Berrios adding to the positive vibe. Of course, just about anything he delivered would have looked better than most of last year’s outings. Berrios was considered a key to a successful 2016 campaign and his miserable 8.00 ERA – in a fair sampling of outings – matched the futility of Minnesota’s entire baseball season, the worst in its history.

It’s awfully early in his return to offer predictions, but JB (as Brian Dozier likes to call him) looked like a different pitcher his first time out – pitching with the command and confidence that was sorely lacking last year. For the Twins to make a meaningful run in 2017, Berrios could be critical. Count me among those who think he’s going to continue on a new path this year.

Ervin Santana has been outstanding, with the exception of the blowout loss to the Red Sox, where he gave up a trio of four-baggers and poured a little gasoline for the bullpen to ignite. He’s throwing well, keeping the ball down and staying among the league leaders in ERA, innings pitched, and won-loss record. At least for now, Ervin is one if the best guys on the mound anywhere, and this true team player is enjoying it. Look for Santana, tough after the break last year, to keep his mojo going.

Of course, the Twins need to have a strong Santana because the other starters inspire significantly less confidence, despite winning records at this early stage. That does not include the departed Kyle Gibson, the number three hurler jettisoned along with his 8.20 ERA on May 4th. Gibson has good stuff, as he displayed during a strong spring, but move him up here and things have consistently turned frustrating – maddeningly so.

The great St. Thomas baseball coach Dennis Denning always preached, “work fast, change speeds, throw strikes.” A simple mantra that he demanded from his pitchers, and they were rewarded with results including a national championship. Gibson might have had trouble pitching D-3 for Denning, as he worked slow (frequently going deep into counts and taking his time doing it), struggling mightily to control his sinker while showing little confidence in his fastball – and generally getting rocked once he found himself in trouble.

“It’s not working. He’s putting us in a bad spot more times than not,” said manager Paul Molitor in sending him down. I’ve regarded Gibson as a key to the Twins success over the past couple years, given his tools and potential, but I could be completely done with him if Berrios can rise to the occasion. Jose has jumped into the number four starter spot, and we need him to perform well immediately – which he did! That said, good luck Kyle Gibson – here’s hoping you make it back to MLB – somewhere…

Starters Phil Hughes and Hector Santiago have benefitted from pretty good run support and fairly solid defense. That said, Hughes has had good command of his pitches despite giving up a lot of hits and runs, per usual. Phil has to use his multi-speed change-up effectively, and thus far he has, utilizing veteran knowledge and experience to make his less-than-overpowering stuff work for him. Watch his ERA, already high, and if it heads north expect the Twins to start heading south.

Same kind of thing with Hector Santiago, the new lefty who throws hard and can be outstanding when he is on. He’s a strikeout pitcher when things are right and is super-tough on left handed hitters with his delivery and pace. Molitor likes him and said earlier this year in Florida, “he’s a major league guy with big-league stuff who is going to help us this year.”

Hector is a competitor known for his intensity and is eager to have a great year; he should be, given his mediocrity after the Twins obtained him last year (but thanks for helping us dump Ricky Nolasco!). Santiago has always been around the .500 mark during his runs with the White Sox and the Angels, was 3-6 in Minnesota last year, and could break out this year. He needs to – and like Phil Hughes, if he stumbles badly the challenges will be great. But so far, pretty good…

Let’s hope the new rotation can hold things together.. The Twins need the starters to remain accountable, particularly given the uncertainties of the bullpen, led by the gutty closer Brandon Kintzler and a few guys named Moe (everybody else in the pen with ERA’s over four). Can this rotation stay solid? Clearly this is strictly a wait and see for Twins fans, but if Berrios can fill a big gap in keeping us off the Tyler Duffey feed-bag and win a bunch of games, things could stay tight in a winnable division.

And that’s because the offense is interesting. More on the lively Minnesota bats and the awesome Miguel Sano later this week.

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Thomas U. Tuttle

Wild ghosts of days gone by…

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by Thomas U. Tuttle

 

When I was a young guy, there was a youth hockey team called the Minor Hawks that played out of Chicago and traveled around playing the best teams that could be found. Unlike the famous NHL Blackhawks, indoor ice time was at a premium and outdoor rink hockey was at the whim of the weather spirits. Still, this early traveling all-star team was about as good a squad as any in the Midwest.

Or should I say “lower” Midwest. Because of a fair amount of local-area success, the coaches decided to play some more serious competition late in a 1970’s-era season, so up we went to Madison, Wisconsin, where the competition ramped up and the losses, while consecutive, were fairly competitive.

Then it was on to tournaments in the Twin Cities and Duluth, and soon a whole new understanding of the  game of hockey was brought to our attention – along with fast skating, solid checking, tape-to-tape passing, wicked wrist-shots, solid slap-shots and serious goaltending. There was a group realization by the Chicago kids that not only were we overmatched and outscored – we really really didn’t belong in the same building with the guys from Minnesota. They might have been 13 and 14 years old, but the dudes from the State of Hockey schooled us big-time and the numbers on the scoreboard reflected that.

I’m not sure this reminiscence has much to do with the Minnesota Wild’s demise in the first round of the NHL playoffs, although the Wild ended up being schooled in five games by the St. Louis Blues and coach Mike Yeo. Yes, goalie Jake Allen was stellar in the nets – particularly in the first game when he stood on his head in making 51 saves on 52 shots – and the Blues were timely on offense, but it seemed like Mike Yeo knew what needed to be done for victory and executed his plan perfectly.

While Allen certainly deserves all the credit for the victory in game one, Yeo ramped up his defense for the rest of the series, using his knowledge of Minnesota and its players to turn up the heat on the Wild scorers. The Blues played a super-physical brand of hockey and made the Wild work hard to get any scoring opportunities, using guys with names like Bortuzzo and Bouwmeester, Pietrangelo and Parayko to clog up the middle and make sure the W’s offensive threats knew what they were up against.

And actually, this reminded me of our best guys on the Minor Hawks, Ray and Eddie and Big Al, being shut-down in the Twin Cities and Duluth on our trip up north. Every time our top players started to move up the ice, looking for some space to execute, here would come two or three big kids ready to bust things up. In our case, we had never seen pressure like that, and it didn’t let up. Just scoring a goal was a cause for major celebration (I think we scored six during our week in Minnesota).

The Wild have been in tight checking games, and they are not young kids. But take a look at the production of Minnesota’s top offensive threats in the playoffs versus the regular season. Leading scorer Mikael Granlund was almost invisible, with no goals in the playoffs. Nino Niederreiter and Zack Parise were largely neutralized, as was the power play – and the normally strong blue line contribution was minimal. Hey, Minnesota scored just five goals in the first four games of the series – a mere 1.25 goals a game. When they finally busted loose for three goals at home in game five, it fell short again in a 4-3 overtime loss.

Bruce Boudreau’s history of getting knocked off in the playoffs continues (this was his ninth playoff exit, four with the Washington, four with Anaheim, and now the Wild) and the pressure on the coming season will be intense. Part of his problem is the perception that he’s a great coach (leading the Mighty Ducks to first place each year of his tenure; the Wild to their best record ever) who simply can’t win in the playoffs – a leader who is unable to  “win the Big One,” if you will.

You have to know this dilemma will carry over to next year and, unfortunately, lead to the regular season being a kind of tune-up for the “real” season: the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It really is a different deal in post-season hockey, with the top-seeded Blackhawks vanishing in four straight against the Nashville Predators and the number two Wild departing to the Blues – sayonara to Montreal as well.

Us old Minor Hawks kids know the feeling of getting beat, if not by close scores. Ray and Eddie, our leaders and most talented players, never quit (unlike accusations that Parise and Ryan Suter cost Mike Yeo the locker room prior to his exit from Minnesota) and I don’t believe the Wild gave anything less than their best. But it simply wasn’t enough against a tough defensive team that knew how to play the Wild and executed a solid game plan. And it is hard to argue that Yeo wasn’t the better coach in the series.

Mike Yeo was genuinely classy in victory, as many of us in the media knew he would be. Minor Hawks coach Atkinson was classy, too, when we succumbed to defeat by big numbers. We never won the big one (or any big game), but we learned a great deal and still had fun.

Unfortunately for coach Boudreau, he needs to win a big one badly, and that rough road is going through Chicago or St. Louis or somebody tough – that just how NHL hockey goes in the springtime. Fun only accompanies winning.

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GDG rundown for Easter and Passover weekend (Apr. 14-16)

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It’s another loaded week of sports across the country.  Let Eric and Larry condense it all down for you.  They pour through all the bits and pieces to bring you the big news from the Downtown Minneapolis studios.  The Wild begin their postseason run, while the Wolves get set to watch another playoff season at home (Wolves point guard Ricky Rubio offers his thoughts).  The Twins continue to impress early on.  Out west, Oakland just can’t seem to hold on to its sports teams.  And former NFL player (and Super Bowl champion) Ryan Harris discusses the importance of Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney.

The Disappearing Oakland Sports Scene

Segment 1: The reaction is still pouring in from last week’s announcement that the Oakland Raiders will be heading to Sin City.  Our hosts revisit the impact that this move will have on the east side of the Bay Area.  And what’s up with Oakland’s struggle to keep sports franchises?

 

Steel to the Core: Remembering Pittsburgh Owner Dan Rooney

Segment 2: The NFL world is mourning after the death of Pittsburgh Steelers CEO Dan Rooney on Thursday.  Larry reveals a familial connection to the owner, while Eric explains how he embodied the franchise that he ran.  Plus, will St. Louis be successful in their pending lawsuit against the NFL?

 

K.C. Connections & Triumphant Twins

Segment 3: Falling back on memories of days past, the guys revisit their respect for Kauffman Stadium.  The Royals, however, haven’t had a glowing start to the season.  A lot of that had to do with the Twins.  Speaking of…what are the reasons this edition of the team has seen some early success?

Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City, Missouri

Kauffman Stadium – Kansas City, Missouri

 

Eric, Larry, & Ricky Rubio Lament Lost Chances for the Wolves

Segment 4: The Timberwolves’ season has come to an end.  Larry briefly discussed this lost campaign with point guard Ricky Rubio.  Then, our hosts recap another season where the organization missed out on the playoffs.

Minnesota Timberwolves new Logo displayed on giant scoreboard above court at Target Center - Minneapolis, MN

Timberwolves unveil new logo at Target Center

 

GDG Chats with Ryan Harris About a Legendary Owner and a Puzzling Free Agent

Segment 5: One man that got to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dan Rooney is Twin Cities native Ryan Harris.  The former offensive lineman discusses the owner’s legacy.  Plus, what does he think of Colin Kaepernick’s inability to find a new team?

 

A Wild Tussle to Open the Playoffs

Segment 6: The fellas take a minute to look into the hot button topic of the man that was dragged off of a United Airlines flight.  After that, the Wild were bogged down in Game 1 of their First Round postseason series against St. Louis.  What should we expect from the rest of the series?  Eric and Larry break down the angles.

 

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GDG rundown for the weekend of Apr. 7th-9th

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It’s the week where some things wind down in the sports world, while others are just getting wound up.  This week, Eric and Larry are back together at the Downtown studio in Minneapolis (well, at least, most of the time).  They dig right into the story of the week…those lovable, winnable Minnesota Twins.  How did the Twinkies score wins in their first three games of the new year?  GDG’s own Tom Tuttle has his thoughts, along with some on the playoff-bound Wild.  Plus, did Tony Romo just get a sweeter gig than quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys?  The Timberwolves will look to next season…again.  And the college basketball season wraps up in thrilling fashion.

Break Up Those Twins

Segment 1: Opening Day has not been kind to the Twins over the last few years.  Boy, did they turn that around this week.  Eric and Larry are in studio to recap the team’s opening series sweep over the Royals.  Can the team build momentum?  And, with so many event options, can they draw fans back to Target Field?

 

The GDG Trio: Eric, Larry, and Tom Tuttle Get Into the Weekly Headlines

Segment 2: There’s a lot to discuss as the guys invite GDG CFO Tom Tuttle on the air for some sports chatter.  They touch on the Twins’ impressive start, the NCAA basketball championship game, and the latest edition of an annual charitable event.

 

Three’s Never a Crowd: Eric, Larry, & Tom Talk Twins and Wild

Segment 3: The trio dives back into the Twins’ opening series of the regular season.  What are the expectations after the sweep of Kansas City?  Then, the Wild are gearing up for another postseason appearance.  Are they finally ready to make a deep run into May?

 

Analyzing Tony Romo’s Move to Analyst

Segment 4: The Tony Romo sweepstakes is over, and the winner is…CBS.  Our hosts talk about the former Dallas QB’s decision to retire from the game and walk straight into the broadcast booth.  Speaking of quarterbacks, will some of the former NFL starters be able to get picked up out of the free agent pool?

 

Jeter the Owner?  And the Wolves Wind Down

Segment 5: Derek Jeter was one of the faces of Major League Baseball for the last 20 years.  Could he become the next former player to turn his career path to ownership?  The fellas look into which team he may be buying into, and whom his competition could be.  After that, the Timberwolves will once again miss the playoffs.  What can the franchise do to break their postseason-less streak in 2018?

 

Evaluting the End of the College Hockey and Hoops Seasons

Segment 6: Larry had pressing business to attend to, so GDG producer Jonathan Lowe steps in to chat about college sports with Eric.  How good does the NCHC look as they represent half of the NCAA’s Frozen Four?  Then, they put a wrap on the college basketball season (both men’s and women’s).

 

 

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Thomas U. Tuttle

Twins Looking North

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by Thomas U. Tuttle

It certainly looks like the Minnesota Twins will be heading north with the same 1-2-3 starters that they left Fort Myers with last season; Ervin Santana in the number one spot (fresh off his loss for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic), spring training stud Kyle Gibson as the number two, and the ever-mediocre Phil Hughes in the three hole.

It appears that swapping starting spots between the tall (6-6), underachieving Gibson with the heavy-duty (6-5, 250) Hughes is the best we are going to see opening the 2017 season. Gibson, for all of his promise, has but 32 wins under his belt to date (plus a major arm surgery) and Hughes, considered a lock for MLB stardom when drafted by the Yankees years ago, shows inconsistency when not getting rocked while pitching for giant money (nine million dollars per) in Minnesota.

Big Phil used to gas the ball up to the plate in the mid-90’s, but now works to paint the corners in the high-80’s while relying heavily on his off-speed stuff, particularly the changeup. Why the team gave him big cash when he had already lost major league pace on his fastball remains a mystery, but it does reveal why Brian Dozier was being shopped for a starter during the off-season.

For a team that lost 103 games to trot out the same top-three starters doesn’t seem to most baseball people like a very good sign. And then mixing in guys with names like Santiago, Duffey and Mejia for the bottom three spots and you are going into the opener looking like a MLB squad destined for mediocrity. Nothing really looks better or improved in a substantive way. Only time will tell with these three, but for now the top Minnesota starters have not initiated a run on season tickets.

The bullpen doesn’t inspire major confidence either, with some tweaking and experimentation the most notable changes from 2016. Can Brandon Kintzler succeed as a closer and will the rehabbing Glen Perkins be any kind of factor in the pen this year?

Can righties Ryan Pressly and Matt Belisle, along with lefthanders Taylor Rogers and Craig Breslow, lead a youthful relief corps? Arms from the farm could emerge in the form of Alex Wimmers who impressed this spring or from the talented but underachieving Jose Berrios. Both could find themselves throwing to solid defensive catcher Jason Castro in Minneapolis this summer, should they perform up to expectations.

This is a team that is breaking camp while retaining most of the challenges of last year. While in Arizona at the SABR analytics conference, I had a chance to ask Chicago Cubs GM Jed Hoyer (architect with Theo Epstein of the World Series champs) what he thought of new Twins leader Derek Falvey. He was unhesitating in his reply; “Derek is a great choice for that franchise, and he should do well. He’s very strong with pitching…”

That is what the man said, just outside the men’s restroom at the Phoenix Hyatt, following a panel discussion. More on that later. Then came another big statement from Hoyer: “It was time for a change up there. Terry Ryan is a friend, (but) the new leadership in place has a lot of potential. And I like Paul Molitor. They need help with their pitching.”

We will see what happens this year and into the future, of course, but the Minnesota Twins have gone the analytical path in bringing in bright young management – which is the way of the game now. Epstein won a couple of titles (2004 and 2007) in championship-deprived Boston while in his ’30’s and then ended Chicago’s 108 year drought in 2016 – age 42.

Jed Hoyer is also in his early 40’s. Derek Falvey just turned 34. He played a little baseball, low level stuff. He’s as different from Terry Ryan as night is from day. But so far, the pitching staff closely resembles what it looked like when Terry was running things, precisely one year ago. If Falvey has a special talent for finding/analyzing/understanding pitching – and pitchers – bring it on!

In the meantime, we will go Santana, Gibson, Hughes…

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Thomas U. Tuttle

Start the Madness

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by Thomas U. Tuttle

It’s that time of year again for basketball fans, tourney time, those giddy days of intense college hoops known as March Madness – which leads, for a select few teams, to April gladness (or sadness). Yes, the semifinals take place on April Fools Day (the 1st) with the finals on the 3rd, all in Phoenix Arizona.

The usual suspects are at the fore, as expected. Duke looks tough, although inconsistent at times and with a wildcard star (Grayson Allen) who tends to act out crazily on the court (check out the videos of his purposely tripping players during regular season contests). Kansas, Villanova, North Carolina and Gonzaga are the top seeds in each region, with all but Gonzaga (in my opinion) a threat to win the tourney.

Much has been made of the fact that no dominant teams have emerged this year as heavy favorites to make a title run. Defending champion Villanova (who won a title-game thriller last year) comes in at 31-3, but similar to Gonzaga, doesn’t get tested on a week to week basis like several of the other contenders. North Carolina looks good to me, but two of their losses are to Duke and they looked bad in those defeats.

The Big Ten is represented well, with seven teams at the party but most of those unlikely to dance for long – I don’t envision a scenario where a team from the Ten makes it to Phoenix, unless Michigan continues to astound as it did to close the season. Or if Wisconsin’s underrated and eighth-seeded senior squad gets hot right now and uses a perceived lack of respect to get rolling.

Minnesota is a good club this year, but will miss Akeem Springs (injured against Michigan State and out for the duration) and has a tough opener against giant-killer Middle Tennessee State. They knocked out a two-seed last year (MSU) and bring back a number of starters from that squad. A Gopher win probably brings them Butler, always solid and a victor over #1 seed Villanova earlier in the season. The sweet-sixteen is doable, but getting there is going to require strong, consistent play for it to happen.

My alma mater Northwestern has made the tournament for the first time, which you have been made aware of by throngs of NU media alums. Stephen Colbert, Julia Louis Dreyfus, Brent Musberger, Michael Wilbon, Christine Brennan, Etc…Etc… There has been a lot of attention paid to the Wildcats accomplishment – too much, and I can’t fault anyone for being exhausted by the Cat mania. Hey, I’m an alum and I’m tired of all the blather regarding this squad. Yes, I’m proud they knocked off Maryland and didn’t back into their first NCAA tourney, but the hammering by Wisconsin in the semi’s of the Big Ten tournament was discouraging – and a big reality check. The Cats play Vanderbilt and should be one and done.

Minnesota goes off at 100-1 odds in Las Vegas to win the tourney, while Northwestern lists at 300-1. Hey, are you kidding me? While the Gophers could somehow pull off a surprise or two, and Northwestern could conceivably win a game, I’d make the odds something like 1000 to one for the Goph’s and maybe 10,000 to one for the Cats. It ain’t happening and for anyone who thinks it will, I’ll take your money.

A few years ago, when Minnesota made their run to the semifinals under Clem Haskins and (unfairly) had to forfeit the season, I put $20 on Arizona’s Wildcats to win the whole thing – back in November. When I showed up in Nevada to watch the final four, I put a few more dollars on AZ to win it all. They did, and I was paid well both ways. What fun, and I owe eternal gratitude to my buddy “Hondo” in Tucson who saw that train coming.

This year, Arizona is back, and they are good. I’m going to stick with them to take me back to the promised land. I like UCLA, too, but not quite as much. My thinking is that the number-one seeds are not going to win it this year – not like last year, when they all showed up strong. The exception is North Carolina, who might be ready for this despite the disappointing Duke defeats. Those bad losses could be a motivator for the Tar Heels.

And Duke Blue Devil head-case Grayson Allen can really play – if he stays under control and provides the leadership his team thrives on, Duke could pull off something special.
But count me among the Wildcat backers – just not Northwestern’s breed of basketball Cat. The Arizona Wildcats to win it at home in Phoenix.

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Thomas U. Tuttle

Hope Springs Eternal…

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by Thomas U. Tuttle

A Couple of Thoughts

Adrian Peterson took his last hand-off for the Minnesota Vikings last year, and it’s a sad goodbye that is being played out in the press and behind the scenes. AP is owed serious money ($18 million for 2017) that the Vikings are not going to pay and the story should reach a conclusion in the next week, or two weeks at the latest.

There’s a major cap-hit upcoming that the Vikings are unwilling to take, and that’s going to prompt this near-immediate action. One may recall that Peterson made his big money in 2014 despite being suspended for the severe paddling of his 4-year old son, an event whose repercussions cast the Purple in a bad light; and was perhaps made more grievous when AP’s response was that the league (and to a lesser extent, the team) was coming down on him unfairly.

Minnesota General Manager Rick Spielman spent much of his recent exclusive press conference saying things like “Adrian will always be a Viking” when he wasn’t talking about the plethora of quality running backs available in this years draft. Folks, that is what you call the handwriting on the wall of Peterson’s career in the Twin Towns, a tenure that was spectacular, if now sagging to the finish line.

The powerful running back doesn’t believe he’s done yet, and the great competitor in him is determined to finish his NFL run on a higher note. No doubt he would like to compete for a Super Bowl championship in the twilight of his grand career. New York’s football Giants could be a landing spot for Peterson (at less money), as they have created salary cap space with a couple of high-profile player releases. The Giants came close in 2016 and a healthy AP could seriously assist Eli Manning’s pocket survivability.

He’s going to be 32 the next time he “suits up and shows up” on the Gridiron. A lot of hits have been rained upon Peterson’s phenomenal physique (maybe the most athletic and pound-for-pound powerful build this journalist has ever seen in any locker room). But time waits for no man, and it won’t wait for AP. The big business of the National Football League spares no one. It will be interesting to see where Peterson plays this fall. One thing is certain – it won’t be in Minneapolis.

 

ON THE BASEBALL FRONT, the Minnesota Twins are into the exhibition season down in Fort Myers and looking for improvement just about everywhere – which should be the case regarding a team that lost 103 games. With the notable exception of Brian Dozier (who hit 42 home runs, played excellent defense, and may be the best second baseman in the game) this is a team that needs to get better ASAP in every department.

The good news is that I believe they will show solid growth this year, and will provide Twin Cities baseball fans with some exciting baseball along with an additional 15-20 wins. When you are at rock-bottom, the only direction one can look is up. And so it is with Minnesota and its cast of underachievers, a number of whom should be ready to break out.

I’m talking about the speedy Bryan Buxton finally playing up to his billing, like he did in September of last year (he hit 13 homers between AAA and the Bigs). What a catalyst he could be at the top of the line-up, setting the stage for Dozier, Miguel Sano and Joe Mauer et. al. Bux needs to cut down on his strikeouts and show more general discipline at the plate – which he should, with skipper Paul Molitor working with him daily this spring.

The Twins have brought a bunch of old-timers down to camp, including Torii Hunter, Mike Cuddyer, Dave Winfield (for several days, he resonated big-time with Buxton) and a few others. Jack Morris will be around for the pitchers, along with Bert Blyleven. After last year, its all hands on deck for 2017! Molly is encouraging these guys to communicate and contribute as they see fit, within his guidelines.

I say, great! Let’s get Sano rolling and playing a solid third-base with about 30 homers and 30 doubles…the man has good-buddy David Ortiz written all over him! Max Kepler is the best-hitting German in the world – and he can play Major League Baseball. Kennys Vargas will finally emerge, and Jorge Polanco will turn into a major league shortstop, and  Jason Castro will be the answer at catcher…

Hey, spring training is for dreamers! But the Twins do have some talent to work with. Ervin Santana needs a little more luck than last year to win a cool 20 games, and Kyle Gibson is ready to shed his youth and man-up on the mound. Phil Hughes should be on a short-leash but could succeed, and let’s see Jose Berrios finally live up to his potential.

I’m in Florida soon, and will report back after watching a few ballgames. As of this writing, the boys have dropped their first two spring training outings. Mauer and Dozier haven’t played yet and spring games don’t count any more than wedding cake at a divorce. Yet, believe me, Molitor is watching things like a hawk. That HOF’er and World Series MVP takes 103 losses personally, and it’s not going to happen ever again.

In fact, just like 2015 when Las Vegas had the Twins to win 70 games, plus or minus, and they won 83 – LV has Minnesota at 70 again, which would mean they would lose 90+ games. Head to the bank! Those suggested betting numbers are not going to happen, and my money is headed out west on Minny. They will be a .500 club at least. Without my upcoming visit to Florida in hand, I nonetheless see improvement at every defensive and offensive spot, as well as the mound.

Yeah, call me a dreamer… but I’m not the only one. Bottom line; I just don’t believe they are very far from being a decent-to-good MLB team. An updated report in a couple of weeks.

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Thomas U. Tuttle

The Greatest Super Bowl

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by Thomas U. Tuttle

Yes, The Greatest Super Bowl Yet…

 

New England 34, Atlanta 28 in overtime. The first Super Bowl overtime in 51 renditions of the mega-football games, and the largest point comeback in SB history. It was an amazing battle, I’m sure we all agree, an ultimate contest that did more than secure Tom Brady’s reputation for all time.

Could there be a “more fabulous” contest in the future? Maybe… In a way, that’s why you play the game. Things happen. But for now, even the guys who have seen a lot of Super Bowls, and know the history of all (including GDG’s Eric Nelson and Larry Fitzgerald, with over 60 between them), call this one the Epic of Epics.

There have been a lot of great Super Bowl’s, but this one had it all…

Several of my friends (and a stunned family member) actually went to bed before all heck broke loose in the second half of SB 51 (yes, LI, but I’ve long been burned out on the Roman Numeral thing). Hard to fault those who nodded off as history was made, because the game was over, for all intents and purposes, midway through the 3rd quarter.

28-3 Atlanta Falcons? Are you kidding? Your Patriots squad is all done against this formidable Georgia Army in Houston, Texas. They were at that moment washed up like a beached New England codfish, all done and ready for the final foldolo. My feeling was it might go to 38 to 10 or so and hold my over-under bet of +/- 49 points – not to mention my Atlanta and the points wager.

Not so fast… Don’t start counting your money just yet. Not against the Bill Belichick-led New England Patriots. Certainly not against the one-and-only Tom Brady, not versus stellar running back and awesomely-stubborn James White (who caught 14 passes, scored three TD’s and could/should have been MVP, if not for the incredible Brady) – and the man who will receive Brady’s MVP-awarded automobile from the QB in a token of grateful appreciation.

Not against the clutch, super quick Julian Adelman – Danny Amendola led receivers or the never-say-die defense, which had looked shaky at the start of the game but fought tooth and nail to the finish. And this was a fight to the finish of historic proportions.

This loss had to hurt Falcons fans at a level even beyond the devastated 1998-99 Vikings crowd that watched the Randy Moss-led home team blow an NFC title game lead against these same Dirty Birds.

And yes, this game cost a lot of people money, cash that was safely in the bank mid-3rd qtr. A sad but true confession – I was letting people know about my great wisdom in picking Atlanta beginning at half-time – until all heck broke loose and the Pats epic comeback put me in my humble place. I’m still in shock…

This one had it all – two great football teams, great quarterbacks and numerous storylines. How about Tom’s mom, Galynn, quite ill for well over a year, coming to this phenomenal match? And bringing some magic? Sure feels like it….

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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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