Sunday, November 14, 2004

Where are they Now?

Last week we took a look at Randy Bush, a player that spent his entire career in a Minnesota Twins uniform. This weeks feature is on a player, Chuck Knoblauch, who should have spent his entire career with the Twins. Chuck Knoblauch stepped into the Twins starting line-up in 1991 and transformed the Twins weakest positions into one of their strongest.

The 1990 Minnesota Twins finished in last place in the American League West. They had a platoon of second basemen in Al Newman, Fred Manrique and Nelson Liriano that combined for a .243 average and a .295 on base percentage. The next season chuck Knoblauch stepped in and batted .281 with an OBP of .351 on his way to Rookie of the Year honors. In the post season his remarkable play continued as he hit .326 while getting on base .423. Knoblauch helped take the Twins from worst to first.

His career in Minnesota continued to thrive. In 1994 he was on pace to break Earl Webb's major league record of 67 doubles before the season was cut short due to strike. He finished the season with 45 doubles in 109 games. Knoblauch hit career highs in homeruns and batting average in 1996 as he hit .341 with 13 homers. He had become the best second basemen in the league. Chuck Knoblauch played the game the way it was meant to be played, with 100% pure hustle. He was a great role model for any youth learning the game.

In August of 1996 Knoblauch said he wanted to be Twin his entire. He then signed a longterm contract with the team. The following year he stole a career high 62 bases and won the Gold Glove award. However, by the end of the 1997 season the losing in Minnesota started to get to Chuck. His relationship with Tom Kelly was on the rocks and an incident with a Twins fan gave him a bad rep in Minnesota. In September Knoblauch demanded a trade to a contending team. That offseason he was dealt to the Yankees. He finished his Twins career with an average of .304, an OBP of .384 and 276 stolen bases.

His first two years with the Yankees looked promising. Knoblauch hit 17 and 18 homeruns and the Yankees won two World Championships. However, two years removed from his gold glove season Knoblauch developed a mental tic in the field. After fielding the ball he would hesitate before making a throw to first. This caused a career high 26 errors. Midway through the 2000 season it was clear that Knoblauch would nolonger be able to play second base and he was moved to left field.

Returning to the Dome in 2001 marked one of the saddest moments I ever had as a Twins fan. Never before in my life was I embarrassed to call myself a Twins fan, but that was the case when Knoblauch returned. Here was a guy who helped lead the Twins to a World Championship, stole more bases then anyone else in team history, hustled his butt off for seven seasons and did everything that was asked of him. When upper management would not surround him with any other players he asked to leave. How did we repay Knoblauch? By throwing batteries at him in left field. He was booed and tormented to the point that Tom Kelly had to escort him to his position to get fans to stop throwing foreign objects.

After his downfall at second base Knoblauch's career quickly ended. By the start of the 2002 season he was playing with the Royals. His limited playing time and lack of production led to his retirement following the season. Where is Chuck Knoblauch now?

Today Knoblauch is still retired and at the age of 35 is watching more baseball then he had when he was playing in the majors. He is loving retirement and enjoys watching games from his home in Houston. He has been following the career of another Yankee very closely. Bubba Crosby was coached by Knoblauch's father growing up and Crosby helped lead his father's team to a state title in his final season of coaching at Bellaire High School. Bubba Crosby credits the Knoblauch's with a lot of his success today. In fact before the 2004 season began Chuck had Bubba Crosby over for dinner. Bubba's chances of making the Yankee roster were pretty slim. Knoblauch told him not to let the Yankees cut him. Bubba did just that. Having a great spring training he made the final roster (although he was sent down to the minors later in the season).

Knoblauch has been sited at many ballparks around the country. Only this time in the stands, not on the field. His return to the majors is very unlikely, but I will always cherish the years he spent in Minnesota. Hustling around the base paths and making great plays at second is his trademark. Part of me always hoped that he would make a Blylevenlike return to Minnesota, but Chuck has insisted that those days are behind him. Who knows, maybe one day he will be spotted at a Twins game cheering on his old team.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Once Again Johan Santana is Lights Out

Even when it came to Cy Young voting this year Johan Santana was lights out taking a clean sweep of the first place voting. Personally I thought there would be at least one idiot out East who would give Curt Schilling a first place vote. While Johan Santana wins his first Cy Young award let's take a look at the brilliance of his season.

Johan finished the season with 20 wins, a 2.61 ERA, 265 strikeouts, a .92 whip, opponets batting average of .192 and only 54 walks in 228 innings. He was lights out in the playoffs against the Yankees pitching 12 innings allowing just one run and striking out twelve. The most amazing thing about Johan's season is that at the All Star break he wasn't even playing well enough to be an All Star.

Before the season started Santana lost arbitration and made only $1.6 million. After offseason surgery Johan started the season with a 2-3 record and 5.46 ERA through May. At this point in the season I knew something just wasn't right. From then on Johan went 18-3 with a 1.51 ERA and 211 K's in a 167 innings. Even more amazing is what Johan did from July 17th on. He was 13-0 with a 1.21 ERA and a 129 K's in 104 innings. Toward the end of the season he had a stretch of 34 straight scoreless innings in which he allowed only 14 hits, 2 walks and struck out 47 batters.

Hopefully the Twins will be able to lock Santana up to a multi-year contract this offseason. Not only is Johan a great baseball player, but he is also a community leader. He is a strong supporter of Twins Fest and works with a local pastor to improve the lives of many from his home country of Venezuela and younster in the metropolitan area.

Something that sets Johan aside from other major league players of his caliber is his humbleness. After winning the award Johan said, "I'm surprised this has been a unanimous decision. I thought this was going to be a real tough race." He went on to say, "It was amazing. To me, (Schilling) was just a hero. He did great things for Boston and for baseball. That's a role model for a young baseball player to follow."

At the start of the 2005 season Johan will be 26 and coming off four consectutive seasons of vast improvement. Look for him to continue his dominance as he strives to become the best pitcher in baseball. Every Twins fan knew this day was coming in the middle of the 2002 season when Johan first became a starter. As a 22 year old kid he was going out and making veterans look foolish using raw talent. He continues to develop his pitches and his ability to call his own games. Congratulations Johan and good luck next year. Keep wowing your opponents and go out and win Minnesota another World Series.

Lehman Named 2006 Ryder Cup Captain

As the US looks to snap their Ryder Cup woes they appointed Tom Lehman as their captain for the 2006 match played in Ireland. Many people think that Tom Lehman is an underachiever in comparison to past Ryder Cup captains as he won only 5 times on tour. 1996 clearly marked the high point in Lehman's career as he won the British Open and the Tour Championship. He also won player of the year and was the money leader. He had a chance to win all four majors that year finishing in the top 10.

What sets Lehman aside from the captains of the past two years is his ability to win in the Ryder Cup. The Ryder Cup was much bigger then major championships to Tom Lehman and it shows as his record is 5-3-2 including 3-0 in his individual matches. He's already that he'll select players who are winning. If someone steps up big toward the end of the summer and is playing hot Lehman won't be afraid to make that player a captain's pick. That will include himself. We have not had a Ryder Cup captain play in the event since 1963 when Arnold Palmer played at East Lake. Watch out Europe, the last thing you want to see is a fired up Lehman playing on Sunday of the Ryder Cup.

Sim League Sports

Recently I was introduced to Sim League Football on Although friends had been pushing me to join baseball sim league in the past I never made the commitment. Finally, I threw down ten bucks and signed a team up for sim league football.

Nothing has brought me this much enjoyment since my first year of fantasy football. I am not sure if you can remember your first fantasy football experience but mine came as a 6th grader back in 1992. I could not wait for Sundays to come around. The experience was so new, so fresh and nothing could beat it. At last something has beat that fantasy football experience.

Sim league football is a different type of thrill with more strategy involved. In fantasy football the most important part of the season is the draft. Obviously one can improve their team after the draft using early pick ups and making trades. However, after the draft very little strategy is needed. Sim league football is just the opposite. While the draft is still important, there is a lot of strategy that goes into each game.

Instead of drafting from a pool of professionals in the game today you can draft any player from any era. For example, if you loved watching the Packers growing up, as with my father, then Jim Taylor may be your main man in the backfield. For those Redskins fans out there that know Joe Theismans career was cut way too short now you have the chance to let him play again. There are no limitations to the players you can have on your team other then the $60 million dollar salary cap.

After teams are selected you can decide what type of defensive and offensive schemes you will run. Whether you want to be a pass happy or pound the ball down their throats. On defense you can bring the house or sit back in coverage. You can shut down the run or play the pass. You decide when to use the dime package or the nickel back or even if you want to stack eight in the box to shut down the likes of Barry Sanders, Jim Brown and Eric Dickerson.

After you have set up your schemes the computer simulates games based on how you run your offense and defense. Using players stats from the past they figure out how much you can run the ball with certain players or pass with others. Some guys like to draft Troy Aikman to see what his career may have been had he passed 35-45 times a game. Others try to pound the run using a great offensive line and a solid 2000 yard rusher. Whatever you style of football is sim league will get you there, but once the season starts then you can see if you style wins out.

I can only hope that more people will share in the thrill of sim league sports.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Where are they Now?

Last week we took a look into a clutch Minnesota hitter in Brian Harper. Harper was a player that achieved success in the limited amount of time he started in the big leagues. Randy Bush, or you probably know him as Bush Commander Randy, was another clutch performer for the Twins.

Randy Bush was a second round pick (37th overall) of the 1979 amateur baseball draft. He broke into the big leagues three years later, just in time to ruin Jim Clancy’s chance at a perfect game. Pinch hitting in the ninth inning Bush singled off Clancy and broke up his perfect game no hitter. Pinch hitting would be Bush’s specialty. In 1986 Bush tied an AL record with back to back pinch hit homeruns and in 1991 he led the AL with 13 pinch hits. This would be a trend that Minnesotans would get use to. Bush stepping in off the bench and delivering.

Although Bush played 12 major league seasons, he was full time player for only six. Of those six seasons he reached double figures in homeruns five times despite never having more then 400 at bats. His power was respected by others teams and was never more evident then it was in 1988 when he recorded 14 intentional walks.

Fielding never came easy for Randy Bush and it really limited his playing time in the big leagues. He was a full time outfielder for 4 seasons but was a liability in the field. He was not particularly fast and did not have a great arm. Even Tom Brunansky beat out Bush as the full time right fielder for the Twins from 1982 to 1987. That is saying a lot because Brunansky himself was a not a particularly strong outfielder. Desperately trying to get Bush more at bats lead to him filling at first base when Hrbek needed a rest. However, the majority of Bush’s career games were played as a DH.

After the 1993 season Bush decided to hang up his mitt. He played his entire career with the Minnesota Twins and apart of two World Series Championship teams. He was the first player ever to hit a ball of the roof of the Metrodome (it was caught for an out in fall territory). He also tied the club record for RBI’s in a single game with 8. Where is Randy Bush now?

Today Randy Bush, 45, is enjoying the life of a retired baseball player/coach. This summer marked the fifth and final season for Randy as the head coach of the University of New Orleans. His resignation was a move that shocked the entire program. In his first season as head coach Bush led UNO to their first Sun Belt Conference title since 1988 and their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1996. He was a great role model for the young men in the program as their welfare, both academically and athletically, was always his first priority. Now he is enjoying retirement with his wife Cathy and will continue to host the occasional hitting clinic. However, something tells me we haven’t heard the last of Bush Commander Randy.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Harsh Words about a Horrible Human Being

After mocking Ray Lewis with a dance in Sunday's 15-10 victory over the Ravens, Terrell Owens wasn't done. Wednesday he had a few words about Ray as well.

During his weekly press conference Owens said, "It's discouraging at times that I get labeled and put in that same mold and that I'm the worst guy that ever put on a uniform. It's funny. I listen to all the comments and it baffles me.

"You have a guy like Ray Lewis, who, I mean, I thought pretty much he was my friend. I mean, this is a guy, you know, double-murder case, he could have been in jail. Seems like the league embraces a guy like that. But I'm going out scoring touchdowns, having fun, but I'm the bad guy."

In very few instances can I say that I agree with Terrell Owens. In fact this is probably the first, but Owens makes a legitimate case. Here we have a guy less then five years removed from a murder trial in which he rolled over on two of his buddies and got off nearly scott free. By no stretch of the imagination would I call Ray a poster child for the NFL, but the media, announcer and just about every one in the league embraces this guy. One year after the murders took place the league gave him the Super Bowl MVP when other guys, namely Trent Dilfer, were just as deserving if not more. I found this to be an extremely embarrassing time for the NFL and was proud of Wheaties and Disney World for not allowing Ray to be apart of their advertising.

Ray Lewis has shown absolutely no remorse for his actions. He has not owned up to any of the wrong doing. He obstructed justice. He hung his friends out to dry. Worst of all, he has done nothing to heal the wounds of the victims’ families. In fact he has spun the whole thing to make it look like a personal trial God put him through. Give me a break Ray.

I have absolutely no respect for this guy. Ray, you need show some sympathy and remorse for the families of the victims. You need to say you're sorry. You need to offer anything you can to help them heal. You need to own up to what you did. You need to tell the truth for crying out loud.

Instead Ray hides behind his coaches and players anytime the media brings up these events. Ray Lewis might be a great player, but he is a horrible human being. Terrell Owens might be an idiot. But at least we don't hear about him driving drunk, smuggling drugs, raping women, or worse yet getting wrapped up in murder cases. When Terrell Owens is on the field he is a total jerk. However, jerk doesn’t even begin to describe what Ray Lewis is as a person.

Where are They Now?

Last week’s feature on Tom Nieto took a look at a great defensive catcher. This week we look at a catcher who went on the offensive for six seasons with the Twins. Brian Harper had a great career with the Twins and had he become a Twin sooner may have put up great career numbers in the big leagues.

In his senior year of high school Brian Harper hit .490. This was good enough to earn a full ride scholarship to Pepperdine University. For the non-baseball fans out there Pepperdine is a baseball powerhouse. Harper decided to decline the offer in favor of playing major league baseball for the California Angels. He was a 4th round pick in the 1977 amateur draft.

In Harpers first year of professional baseball he hit .293 with 24 homers and 101 RBI at Quad City. Then in 1979 playing in El Paso he hit .315 with 37 double and 90 RBI followed by another great season batting .350 with 45 doubles, 28 homers and 122 RBI in the Angels AAA Salt Lake City. However, after five impressive seasons in the Angels minor league system he was traded to Pittsburg.

This trade made absolutely no sense as Harper was forced to play behind a great catcher in Tony Pena. After three seasons as Pena’s backup, he went to St. Louis and backed up Nieto. He bounced through Detroit and Oakland before finally landing with the Twins in 1988.

By the time the ’89 season rolled around Harper beat out Tim Laudner as the Twins starting catcher. Playing nearly full time he batted .325 with 32 extra base hits and 57 RBI. In six years with the Twins Harper never batted lower then .294 and went on to hit .307 for the Twins. He was a big part of the 1991 World Championship team as he hit .391 in the World Series.

Looking back at Harper’s career, perhaps the saddest thing that happened to him was not being given the chance to play. By the time he finally became a starter he was nearly 30 years old. When he left the Twins in 1994 he was 34 and his better years were behind him.

Something interesting about Brian Harper’s career was his ability to put the ball into play. Harper finished his career with only 188 strikeouts. This breaks down to 1 strikeout every 17 at bats. To put this in perspective Adam Dunn finished the 2004 season with 195 strikeouts or nearly 1 every 3 at bats.

However, something even more interesting about Harper was his inability to walk. Usually hitters that don’t strikeout often walk more frequently. Harper finished his career with only 133 walks. Ty Cobb had over 1200 walks and struck out about 400 times. Wade Boggs had about 1400 walks while striking out around 700 times, and Tony Gwynn walked nearly 800 times while striking out about 400 times. All three of these hitters were hitters who did not strikeout often, but all three finished their careers with nearly a 2 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio.

So where is Brian Harper now? Since he finished his career in 1995 Harper has become a great teacher of the game. His passion for the game has not diminished one bit. He coached high school baseball in Scottsdale for 4 seasons before becoming the manager of the Mesa Angels in 2002. He continues to put on hitting clinics and loves working with kids. I wish the best of luck to Brian Harper as he continues his career in professional baseball and will continue to follow his Mesa Angels for years to come.