Saturday, January 26, 2013

My Top 10 Minnesota Twins (with pictures!)

I have received two complaints in my entire life.  1.  You don't illustrate enough.  2.  You haven't made your 10 favorite Twins of all time clear enough.  I plan to take care of both of those complaints in one fell swoop.  I have drawn representative images of each of my 10 favorite Twins, using Paint.  Each image portrays the player as I remember them.  Some are portraits, some are scenes and some are more conceptual.  I'll analyze the image and discuss the player as we count down from 10 to 1.  I have only been a fan since about 1986, due to my inability to have been born and then form memories prior to that.  Blame science if your favorite player is not on my list.

10.  Jacque Jones

The image is a bit unsettling to me for some reason.  My favorite Jacque Jones quirk happened only every so often, but it was great when it happened.  He would get a ball in the outfield, rear back and then just rifle the ball straight into the ground.  This is my artist's representation of that phenomenon.  I always hoped the ball would burrow into the ground, but it usually just bounced off the Metrodome turf.  This is probably one of the best images you are going to see in the series, so get settled in.  

Jones was miscast as a lead-off hitter, but certainly had his moments.  Whenever he would hit a home run  Torii Hunter would seem to come up and swing out of his shoes trying to hit one too.  Jones never walked much, but hit for high averages during his early years.  He had a really great 2002, posting a 3.7 rWAR and helping the Twins make the playoffs for the first time in over a decade.  I always liked him because he was smaller, he played hard and he seemed to enjoy himself.  That is really all it takes for me.

Oh dear, there is a lot to discuss here.  This is a strike zone chart, I guess.  I am trying to illustrate Radke's pinpoint control.  See, the joke is that he only threw two balls his whole career!  He did paint the corners, much as I did in this image.  Now, Radke did not pitch only to strange alien-like creatures with extremely tiny arms and faces that look like they are being blown in a hurricane-strength wind.  In fact, most of the hitters he faced did not have thinning hair.  If he had, he may have been even better.  As it were, Radke was an underrated pitcher during a hitters' heyday.  His career ERA+ was 113, so he was statistically above-average.  His final game was pitched on my 24th birthday.  I celebrated the one-year anniversary of that event by renting a car.

8.  Chuck Knoblauch

As a Social Studies teacher, I know how important a good key can be.  On maps, a key explains the important parts of the map and what each symbol means.  In the case of this image, the key is the only possible way that this joke can land.  Many forget that Chuck Knoblauch was a Kabuki performer while on the Yankees.  I didn't.  Chuck Knoblauch was a really excellent player for a good 6-7 season stretch.  He had the audacity to ask for a trade from Minnesota and Twins fans were a mix of sad and mad.  It did not help that he was traded to the Yankees, and immediately started playing for Championship teams.  See, we have a bit of an inferiority complex here in Minnesota, and we tend to be a bit provincial when it comes to our state.  Knoblauch left, had team success and we responded in the most rational way possible.  We threw batteries at him.

Well, I should clarify that WE didn't throw anything at Knoblauch.  In fact, I've never thrown anything at Chuck Knoblauch.  In addition, I recycle my batteries at the local Best Buy (Minnesota company, you know!) like a good human being.  However, I may have missed a press conference where Knoblauch asked the fans to pelt him with dangerous objects and if that is the case, I apologize.  Look how sad he is in the drawing; do you really think he asked for this?  Either way, Knoblauch developed a throwing issue that moved him off of second base, to Kansas City and out of baseball at age 33.  It's kind of sad, I think he may have been heading toward a Hall of Fame career if the second half of his career had gone better.

7.  Justin Morneau

This doubles as an homage to a nation that I love.  As we know, Canada is known for terribly drawn Maple Leaves, hockey, curling, grizzly bears, and The Basketball Jones, a daily video NBA podcast.  I'm not going to lie, that grizzly bear is kind of cute.  Justin Morneau is from Canada.  Many have articulated that he struggles when he plays the Blue Jays, because he is trying too hard in his home nation.  This would ignore the fact that Morneau is from British Columbia which is about a billion miles from Toronto.  Oh well.

Morneau might be playing his final season with the Twins.  He won the 2006 MVP and hit a lot of huge home runs.  I remember being in Milwaukee when he was first coming up.  He hit a ball so far that it hit the scoreboard and broke some lights.  It was impressive.  I was hooked.  That same game I said that Joe Nathan would be out as closer by the end of the season and Jesse Crain would take over.  I am pretty sure I was right about that, but the over 200 saves Nathan recorded from that point on make me question myself.

6.  Shane Mack

I recreated the 1991 Fleer Shane Mack card for you.  These were some of the prettiest yellow cards of the early 90s.  I think I have roughly 100,000 of these cards.  Younger Brad didn't seem to understand how much space old baseball cards take up in a future crawlspace.  Shane Mack was my little brother's favorite player.  He collected his cards.  I think I made fun of him.  WHO'S LAUGHING NOW?!?!  Younger Brad didn't know how to properly value players.  He was a bit of a dummy.  Looking back, Shane Mack was a very underrated player, living in Kirby Puckett's shadow.  He had a good power-speed combo and played good defense.  He was a patient and dangerous hitter.  I'm glad I understand how to value players now, but I am sad that I never had the chance to tell Shane how much I care.

5.  Kent Hrbek

This is how I remember that play ending.  Kent Hrbek triumphantly standing on Ron Gant's back after pulling him off of first base to record the final out of the 3rd inning in Game 2 of the World Series.  There were no other players on the field and Hrbek and Gant had doubled in size.  Hrbek raised his arms triumphantly and the Twins went on to win Game 2 and take a 2-0 lead in the World Series.  The moment was properly immortalized as a bobblehead doll.

This moment isn't the only reason why Hrbek is in my top 5.  He had a quietly good career, ending with a 35.7 rWAR as a full-time first baseman.  He hit 293 home runs, drove in over 1000 runners and had a career OPS+ of 128.  He was a legitimately above average or maybe even better hitter.  He retired at 34 after the strike-shortened 1994 season.  He had been relatively effective that season, but was starting to decline.  In some ways, he was the offensive Brad Radke.  Not because he told naughty jokes but because he was a good player, sometimes a great player and he retired before he declined too much.  Plus, he is from Minnesota and we just love that here!

4.  Johan Santana

I'm still bitter about the 2005 Cy Young Award vote.  If you look at the stats, Bartolo Colon stole that award from Santana.  Santana was better than Colon in all ways other than wins and lbs.  Santana didn't even finish second, he finished third behind Mariano Rivera.  Santana definitely should have 3 consecutive Cy Youngs and possibly a 4th (see 2008, his first season in New York). Drawing Bartolo Colon in this way was very cathartic.  I now feel so much better about that vote and so much worse about myself as a person.  Santana was not shorter than Colon either.

Johan Santana was so much fun to watch.  He worked quickly and you could just see his confidence on the mound.  His changeup is just amazing.  You knew it was coming and you somehow still didn't expect it.  Hitters looked terrible trying to make contact.  He wasn't a big, overpowering pitcher, but he was extremely effective.  I really hope he has a little career renaissance in the coming years and puts up some good to great stats.  He took over the title as best pitcher in baseball from Pedro Martinez and held it for a good 5-6 year span.  He was working on a Hall of Fame career and I sentimentally hope he resumes it going forward.

3.  Joe Mauer

I may have exaggerated the sideburns.  Joe Mauer is a player that I have been critical of in the past but have really grown to appreciate over the years.  Again, younger Brad had no idea how to value players.  I wanted dingers.  I ignored all the great things he did at the plate and as a catcher.  He has a career .405 OBP.  The fact that he only makes outs roughly 60% of the time that he bats makes him an extremely valuable player.  Early in his career, he was a dynamic defensive catcher and while he isn't really one anymore, his offense at the position makes up for it.  Twins fans are likely watching a Hall of Fame player in his prime.

Mauer is one of the best offensive catchers ever and he is only 30 years old.  He has a career OPS+ of 135!  If he can put up 6 or 7 more healthy seasons, he'll earn his massive contract.  He is the face of the franchise and seems like a legitimately nice, unassuming guy.  The "Aw Shucks" in the picture is a bit of a joke, as Mauer gets that "Average Joe" label a lot.  I have written a few times that we as fans can either continue to worry about the home runs he doesn't hit, the games he doesn't catch and the fire he doesn't show, or we can simply enjoy the fact that those are pretty much the only 3 negative things we can say about him.  He is also from Minnesota, so bonus points.

2.  Frank Viola

I drew the Frank Viola blue because I had never seen a blue Frank Viola before and to be honest with you, I just wanted to see a blue Frank Viola.  Actually, I think I didn't fill in a line and everything turned blue when I used the fill tool to color the background.  He also seems to be really clenching his teeth.  I certainly remember him with wild, untamed hair and just a great mustache.  He also financed a baseball field in my old neighborhood and it was creatively named "Frank Viola Field."  Finally, I tell people I named my dog after him, which is a lie.  I just liked the name Frank.

Frank Viola ranks this high on my list because I watched him as a child.  I feel that most people have favorite players who they watched as they grew up.  Number one on my list certainly fits that mold, but Viola was a pitcher and I wanted to be a pitcher.  Specifically, I wanted to be a left-handed pitcher.  This would ignore the fact that I am right-handed, but young Brad was pretty uninformed about how handedness worked.  When the Twins traded Viola in 1989, I remember being pretty sad.  Kids don't really understand the business of baseball.  Or, some do, I don't talk with a lot of kids about it.  I just know that Viola is the reason I am a Twins fan.  I remember watching him in the 1987 World Series and trying to repeat his delivery.  Being right-handed, it was somewhat awkward.  Regardless, I was hooked on baseball and the Twins from that point on.  Every 5-year-old's favorite team should win the World Series.  I will run for President on that platform.

1.  Kirby Puckett

Do you remember how thin Kirby Puckett used to be!?!?!?  He also seems to have a hole in his head and had lost all his muscle tone.  I drew this image from memory, just so you know.  This would be a demonstration of how many times I have watched this moment in my life.  The 1991 World Series was so much different from the 1987 World Series.  I was 9 instead of 5.  I had like 20 Twins shirts and about 12 million Kirby Puckett baseball cards by 1991.  In 1987, I was just becoming a fan, but by 1991, I was a superfan.  It meant so much more, because I was aware of what was happening.

Game 6 was crazy.  It was a Saturday, and my Sister was at a birthday party.  I was home with my Mom and my 5-year-old Brother.  My Dad went to watch the game with some friends.  We knew that we had to pick up my sister at some point, but the game was likely to be over by then.  I was a wreck.  The Twins had just lost 3 straight games in Atlanta and my David Justice hatred was at DEFCON 1.  The game started as well as it could have, with the Twins scoring 2 runs in the 1st inning and likely preventing this particular 9-year-old from having a heart attack.  In the 3rd inning, Kirby Puckett made a ridiculous catch that I would try to re-enact for the next 5 (honestly 21) years.  It saved the game, as much as a 3rd inning catch can save a game.    

The Braves tied the game in the 5th.  Always resilient  the Twins immediately took the lead back in the bottom of the 5th on a Kirby Puckett sacrifice fly.  The Braves then tied the game at 3 in the top of the 7th.  In addition to that, it was getting closer and closer to the time when we had to leave to pick my Sister up at the Shoreview Community Center.  Now, I can't remember all the details, and it might have had something to do with the baseball game actually, but the Community Center was open later that night.  This will help to explain later events.  Anyway, innings 7, 8, and 9 passed and the game moved to extra innings.

After the 10th, my Mom had to explain to two crazy Twins fans that we had to stop watching the game to go pick up my Sister.  She said we could listen to it on the radio.  I'm sure I took that really well.  My Mom is the greatest, so I know she felt really badly about the whole situation.  Luckily, the Community Center was pretty close by.  I knew that Kirby would lead off the bottom of the 11th.  We listened to Rick Aguilera get through a relatively easy top of the 11th as my Mom drove toward our destination.  I remember wishing it would have been a longer inning, with the same result.  It was literally no more than a 10 minute drive, but it seemed like an eternity once that inning ended and the commercials began.

As we pulled into the parking lot, the broadcast came back from commercial break.  I knew Kirby was coming up, so I bolted from the car toward the Community Center, I suppose just hoping there was a TV there that I could watch.  I'm not sure I even waited for the van to stop.  We had a van.  You had to park pretty far from the entrance, so it felt like I had run a marathon.  I got in the building and there was a TV on right where you enter, just above the area where you could watch the pool.  Right as I looked up, Kirby launched that home run over the fence.  It was the replay, but I didn't care.  No one in the parking lot spoiled it for me, so I was on cloud nine.  I jumped up and down in that lobby area like a crazy person.

I don't remember anything from that moment on.  Not in my life, you know, I'm not Memento.  But I remember nothing else from that night.  I may have passed out in the van on the way home.  I was just so happy.  My favorite player just won the game for my favorite team, and I got to see it.  The next night I got to watch my favorite team win their second World Series in my short life.  I couldn't have been happier.  The 1991 World Series meant so much more to me because I lived every single game from 1988 to that moment.  While I have had happier days since, I'll always remember Game 6 and my own personal fun story that I get to have.  One of my favorite childhood memories was given to me by this extremely talented and charismatic person named Kirby Puckett and that is why he will always be number 1 for me.

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