erik lundegaard

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Saturday May 16, 2015

When Billy and Reggie Met

From “Billy Martin: Baseball's Flawed Genius,” by Bill Pennington:

When the A's came to Minnesota for the first time [in 1969], Billy was irked when Oakland's twenty-three-year-old slugger Reggie Jackson slammed two home runs as the A's built a 7–0 lead. When Reggie came to the plate late in the game, two pitches whizzed by his head. Jackson charged the Twins pitcher, Dick Woodson. The benches cleared.

“That's the kind of manager Billy Martin is,” Reggie said after the game. “If someone is beating his club, he's going to put a little fear in that team's heart. I don't blame Woodson. He was following orders. I blame the manager.”

Billy denied he was throwing at Jackson and said that as the two teams were being separated on the field, Jackson threatened him. “He yelled at me that he was going to get me,” said Billy, not looking overly worried. “I want somebody to write that so that if we ever get in a fight, he won't be able to sue me and say I started it.”

Billy Martin, Cesar Tovar, 1969 

Billy Martin with leadoff hitter Cesar Tovar on Camera Day in 1969. Despite improving the team by 18 games and taking them to the first ALCS, he would be dismissed at the end of the season for 1) getting into bar brawls, and 2) pissing off the owner. Twins fans were pissed off by the dismissal for years. 

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Posted at 07:23 AM on May 16, 2015 in category Baseball
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Monday May 11, 2015

Why Do We Remember What We Remember? Oct. 4, 1970

It's a vague memory.

My parents were at Pearl Park on a Sunday afternoon playing volleyball but my brother Chris and I didn't go. Had I been sick? (I was a sickly child.) Was I faking it to get out of going to Pearl Park? (I didn't like Pearl Park much.) Or was it because the Twins were on TV?

That afternoon, they were playing the Orioles in the American League Championship Series, but for some reason my father thought they didn't have a chance. And he was right. He also probably wanted us to get out and exercise in the fresh air rather than watch our professional athletes lose to their professional athletes on the boob tube. He was right about that, too. But Chris and I stayed behind.

1970 ALCS game 2Here's what I remember. At one point in the game, the Twins two best players, Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva, hit back-to-back homers, and Chris and I went a little crazy, throwing throw pillows around and generally mucking up the living room. I remember it being a kind of futile celebration because the Twins didn't win. (They didn't win any of those ALCSes against the O's.) We also didn't clean up after the celebration, so when my parents returned home from volleyball, the living room was still a mess and we got chewed out for it. I remember thinking the chewing out was somehow unjust. “But Killebrew and Oliva went back-to-back!” I said, or something like it. No good. We were punished in some way. The Twins were punished in another. 

Here's what I wonder: Why do I remember this?

  • Because Killebrew and Oliva went back-to-back?
  • Because we were admonished?
  • Because it was the first time we were allowed to be in the house by ourselves? (Chris was 9, I was 7.)
  • Because I knew we should've cleaned up the mess in the living room but still felt betrayed that we were admonished since Killebrew and Oliva went back-to-back, which is surely a cause for a messy celebration?

Here's what I love about the Internet: I can find out the exact day that happened.  

Even pre-Interent it would've been fairly easy with the right book. It was obviously one of six games—the two best-of-five series the Twins played with the O's in 1969 and 1970, in which they never won a game. Just get the box scores. Find out when did Killebrew and Oliva both hit homeruns. See if it was in the same inning.

But with the Internet, and, it's so much easier. Bing, boom.

It was Oct. 4, 1970, Game 2 of the ALCS (the Twins had lost the first one 10-6), bottom of the 4th inning, Twins down 4-0. Leo Cardenas walked and Killebrew followed with a homer. Then Oliva hit a homer. Suddenly it was 4-3. We were back in it. Time to whoop it up. Time to throw throw pillows.

Looking over the game, the 5th innning is when it gets interesting. First, the O's loaded the bases with nobody out when Stan Williams was summoned to replace Bill Zepp. He got: foul out, fly out, strike out. Nobody scored. Nice! Then it was the Twins turn for futility. With one out, Stan Williams (again) walked, Cesar Tovar singled, and Leo Cardenas singled. Except for some reason Williams was sent home on a single to left and was thrown out at the plate. So instead of the bases loaded with one out for Harmon Killebrew, it was two men on with two out, and Harmon popped up. We had a chance to chase O's starting pitcher Dave McNally. Instead, McNally went the distance, and even hit a double in the top of the ninth to start a seven-run rally that really drove the nail into the Twins' coffin. Final: 11-3.

By this point, though, I was probably getting reamed for the messed-up living room.

Photo: Early Topps attempt for live-action baseball cards led to some less-than-spectacular results.

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Posted at 09:28 AM on May 11, 2015 in category Baseball
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Thursday May 07, 2015

Jim Palmer ... Minnesota Twin?

The following is from Bill Pennington's extensive bio, “Billy Martin: Baseball's Flawed Genius,” which is fun to read. As a Twins fan, however, this passage was not:

[As a scout, Billy Martin] begged the Twins to sign a young high school pitcher from Scottsdale, Arizona, he had scouted even though the pitcher, James Alvin Palmer, wanted the princely sum of $50,000 as a bonus. Billy himself had negotiated the deal and the Twins would have first dibs. Billy insisted it would be worth it. But [Twins owner Calvin] Griffith balked.

Jim Palmer ... Minnesota Twin?Your mind immediately clicks into “What if?” territory.

So if the Twins had signed Palmer ... could he have helped them win the 1965 World Series? Probably not. Palmer was a 5-4 rookie, and pitching wasn't really the Twins problem against the Dodgers. Or their pitching wasn't the problem. Sandy Koufax's was. 

What about '67? The Dream Season for the BoSox, who won the four-way tie for the AL crown. Surely Palmer would've helped the Twins win two or three more games, and thus the title. Well, maybe. But that was the year he got injured for a season and a half.

1969 is when it gets interesting. Palmer returned, went 16-4 with a 2.34 ERA for the Orioles, who won 109 games and swept the Billy Martin-led Twins in the newly devised American League Championship Series. But put Palmer on the Twins instead of the O's? Does the balance shift? Do the Twins go the World Series against the Mets? And do we keep Billy Martin as manager as a result? And is it the Twins pitching staff that suddenly becomes acclaimed? Three Jims and a Dave: Palmer, Perry, Kaat and Boswell. I might've grown up cheering on a championship team. I might've grown up feeling like a winner.

Instead, poor Palmer had to settle for a 268-152 Hall-of-Fame career, in which he won three Cy Young awards and the hearts (or something) of women everywhere with his '70s underwear ads. During his reign, the O's won six pennants and three World Series Championships. The Twins during the same period won bupkis. They would have to wait until three years after Palmer retired before they won their first championship. All because of a $50,000 bonus. 

There's a reason Charlie Brown is from Minnesota. Rats.

 Photoshop courtesy of pb branding & design.

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Posted at 06:13 AM on May 07, 2015 in category Baseball
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Monday April 06, 2015

SLIDESHOW: Opening Day 2015

  • SLIDESHOW: Opening Day! OK, so technically it was yesterday, at least for two teams (Cards/Cubs), but I'm a Monday traditionalist, not to mention a Mariners fan, which is why this annual look into the active leaders in the major (and a few minor) categories appears today. The big retiree is, of course, Whatshisface. Dejer Something. Minka Kelly's ex. Shortstuff for the Highlanders. I think he runs a website now? A shame his team didn't appreciate him more when they had him. I mean, can't a brother get a proper goodbye? Or a gift certificate to Baskin Robbins or something? Anyway, he's gone, but the following guys are still bringing it ...

  • BATTING AVERAGE: A year ago, the active batting champion was Joe Mauer, and for several years before that it was Albert Pujols, and even earlier it was Ichiro. All of those guys are still playing, but their batting averages keep dropping: Mauer hit .277 last year, Albert .272 and Ichiro .284. That's why Miguel Cabrera's on top of this category with a .320 career mark.

  • ON-BASE PERCENTAGE: Joey Votto's lifetime .417 OBP is the 21st-best in baseball history, sandwiched between Halll-of-Famer Stan Musial (.416) and future Veterans Committee Hall of Famer Edgar Martinez (.418). But it, too, is dropping. For the first time since 2008, Votto's OBP last year was below .400 (.390) and for the first time since 2010 he didn't lead the league in the category (Andrew McCutchen, at .410, did). But barring disaster he's got this category for a while: only two other active players have OBPs over .400: Uncle Albert, whose OBP in the past five years has dropped nearly 25 points (.426 to .403); and Joe Mauer, at .401 and falling.

  • SLUGGING PERCENTAGE: Albert has led this one since 2005, when his career slugging percentage was .621. It topped out a year later at .629—which would have been behind only Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Lou Gehrig on the all-time list. Now it's down to .588 (T-7th all-time). Expect lower: for the last two years he's slugged in the .400s. Miggy is currently second at .563, A-Rod (welcome back!) is third at .558. Then Braun, Ortiz, Votto, Howard. 

  • OPS: Albert again, way in front with .991; then Miggy (.950), Joey (.949) and A-Rod (.942). Albert's is 9th-best all-time.

  • GAMES, AT-BATS, HITS: And now onto the counting categories. Last year, games, at-bats and hits all belonged to Dejer the Munificent, but now they're the province of his one-time teammate, and even more one-time pal, A-Rod, who has 2,939 hits in 9,818 at-bats in 2,568 games. The top three in hits, by the way, are all former Mariners: Ichiro with 2,844 and Adrian Beltre with 2,604. A lot of longevity there. Just not in Seattle. 

  • SINGLES: Speaking of: Jeber led in this category last year, too, and retired with 2,595 one-baggers—fifth on the all-time list. Now it's Ichiro's turn to lead: He's at 2,311 and counting. (And you know he's counting.) No active player is close. A-Rod is second with 1,736, Beltre is third with 1,650, and Jimmy Rollins fourth with an even 1500.

  • DOUBLES: It's Uncle Albert with 561, followed by David Ortiz (547), A-Belt (528) and A-Rod (519). In a year or two, Albert should become the 15th man in baseball history to hit 600+ doubles. Only four men have done 700+: Speaker, Rose, Musial, Cobb. Craig Biggio (5th) came close at 668.

  • TRIPLES: Last year, it went Carl Crawford (117), then Jose Reyes (111) and Jimmy Rollins (107). Last season, Crawford hit 3 triples, Reyes 4, Rollins 3. So not much change. Crawford's 120 is tied for 97th all-time.

  • HOMERUNS: Can A-Lex come back after a year away, at the age of nearly 40, with new hips and thinner biceps, and started hitting homeruns and driving in runs again? He last went deep on Sept. 20, 2013 with a grand slam, his 24th, breaking Lou Gehrig's longtime career mark. I wrote about it here. With 654 career dingers, he needs just seven to pass Willie Mays for fourth all-time. 

  • RBIs: A lousy season and A-Rut could still move from 6th all-time in ribbies (1969), past Gehrig in fifth place (1995), and past Barry Bonds (1996) to claim fourth place. He just needs 28. Third place is a fer piece ahead: Cap Ansen with 2,075. Then Ruth, second, Aaron, first. Actively, A-Puj is second with 1,603, then D-Ort with 1533 and A-Belt with 1384. 

  • BASES ON BALLS: Last year, this was Jason Giambi, followed by Adam Dunn. Both retired, A-Rude returned, so now it's his. He's at 1,240. Tapping him on the shoulder is David Ortiz with 1,162, then Uncle Albert with 1,115. That's it for the over-1,000 crowd. No young bucks yet. The 20-something player with the most lifetime walks is Andrew McCutchen. With 445. 

  • INTENTIONAL BASES ON BALLS: Albert rules. He's at 286—third all-time—and he needs only eight more free passes to move past Hank Aaron into second place. But it's a long climb to first. Someone named Barry Bonds has the all-time record with ... wait for it ... 688. That's right. More than twice the amount of Hank Aaron. Roids or not, that's pretty amazing. On the active list, second-place Miggy is nearly 100 behind Albert at 190. 

  • STRIKEOUTS: What a shame Adam Dunn retired before he could break Reggie's all-time mark. Dunn left us with 2,379 whiffs (third all-time), while A-Yuk, the active leader, is currently fifth all-time with 2,075. Torii Hunter, returned to Minnesota, is second on the active list with 1,636, while Ryan Howard, stuck in Philly with the overpaid blues again, is third with 1,591.

  • STOLEN BASES: Can Ichiro get 500 this year? He's at 487 and last year stole 15 bases, so he's got a good shot. He's followed by Carl Crawford (470, 23 last year), José Reyes (455, 30), and Jimmy Rollins (453, 28). Ichiro or Crawford would be the 38th man in baseball history with 500+ steals.

  • SACRIFICE HITS: Elvis Andrus is the youngest active leader in any of these categories (he's only 26) but he's already slowing down in this one. From 2010 to 2013 he averaged 16.5 sacs a season; last year, he was down to 9. Of course, last year, who did he have to sacrifice? Elvis has 87 SHs lifetime, which is one more than 37-year-old platoon player Endy Chavez. The all-time leader? Hall-of-Famer Eddie Collins has 512, which is 120 more than second-place finisher Jake Daubert. The closest recent player is Omar Vizquel, tied for 35th with 256. We don't sacrifice like we used to. Blame Babe.

  • GROUNDED INTO DOUBLE PLAYS: This is the GDP you don't want, and Albert rules. Last year he led the league with 28, bringing his career total to 297. That's 10th all-time. Another 28 and he's fourth all-time. if he does it again he's first: Cal Ripken holds the record with 350. Second place on the active list is Torii Hunter with 248, followed by A-Rat with 240.

  • WINS: A year ago, this category was a tie, at 205, between Tim Hudson and C.C. Sabathia. Neither went the full Chesbro, or even a quarter Chesbro. Hudson had a 9-13 mark for the Gints, while Sabathia went 3-4 for the Yankees Suck; so it's now Hudson alone at 214. Bartolo Colon won 15 games last year to join them in the 2000 club: He's got 204. Mark Buehrle's at 199. 

  • LOSSES: A year ago, this read Mark Buehrle (142), A.J. Burnett (132), and Bartolo Colon (128). But Buehrle went 13-10 for the Blue Jays while Burnett went 8-18 for the Phillies. So now it's neck and neck. If you're a betting man, you might go Burnett ... except he's with the Pirates now. He actually gave up $4.25 million to play with them rather than the Phils. Ouch. That's a W.C. Fields-sized insult. 

  • STRIKEOUTS: C.C.'s still got it with 2,437, followed by Burnett (2,370) and Colon (2,101). The up-and-comer here? King Felix, at 29, has 1,951 strikeouts, sixth-best on the active list. 

  • BASES ON BALLS: Burnett, at 1,051, is the only active pitcher with more than 1,000 BBs. That's 96th all-time. Odd, isn't it? In an era when it seems more guys are walking, there are fewer pitchers with massive amounts of walks.

  • ERA: It's Clayton Kershaw and then everyone else. He's at 2.48, followed by Adam Wainwright at 3.00, followed by King Felix at 3.07. Their numbers are getting lower, by the way. Post PEDs, pitchers are partying like it's 1968. 

  • INNINGS PITCHED: Buehrle is the active leader with 3,084, followed by Tim Hudson (3,003) and C.C. (2,821). Where do they rank all time? 121st, 134th, and 166th, respectively. Career leader is Cy Young with 7,356. Bon chance. No pitcher in baseball history is within 1,350 IP of him. 

  • COMPLETE GAMES: Last year C.C. had 37, Bartolo 35 and Mark Buehrle 29. This year? The same three lead with the same numbers. Stick a fork in this stat. If C.C. manages one more C.G., he'll wind up in a six-way tie ... for 997th on the all-time list.  

  • SHUTOUTS: Same deal. Active leader Roger Clemens retired in 2007 with 46 shutouts, active leader Randy Johnson retired two years later with 37, then active leader Roy Halladay left us with 20. Now the active leader is Tim Hudson with 13. But there's hope: both King Felix and Kaiser Clayton have 9 apiece. We might see 20 again. All-time leader: the Big Train with 110.

  • SAVES: The story isn't the top 3 in this category—Joe Nathan (376), Francisco Rodriguez (348) and Jonathan Papelbon (325)—but the man in ninth place, Craig Kimbrel, who, at 26, already has 186 saves. For the past four seasons, he's averaged 46.25 saves. If he does that for another 10 years, he'll be only 4 away from mighty Mo.

  • WAR FOR PITCHERS: Buehrle, Hudson and Sabathia are the curent leaders (58.2, 56.9, 53.9), but in fourth it's the young buck, King Felix, at 45.4. Kershaw, two years younger, is at 39.7. This could get interesting in a few years.  

  • WAR FOR POSITION PLAYERS: It goes A-Rod (116), then Albert (97.0), then Beltre (77.8). Wait, Beltre? Right, because he gains 23.2 in defensive WAR while Miggy loses 13.2. Based on bat alone, it goes A-Rod, Albert, Miggy.

  • DEFENSIVE WAR: Quick quiz: On the all-time defensive WAR list, who is the only player in the top 10 who didn't play on the left side of the infield? The active leader in this category is another left-side guy, Beltre at 23.2 (24th all-time), followed by Yadier Molina (18.7), Chase Utley (17.6), and then Clint Barnes, J.J. Hardy and Brendan Ryan. As for the all-time list? It goes Ozzie Smith (43.4), followed by three Orioles (Belanger, Brooks, Cal). The only non-SS/3B in the top 10 is Ivan Rodriguez tied for 8th place at 28.7.

  • EXIT MUSIC FOR A SLIDESHOW: Damn right. ¿Por qué no nosotros? *FIN*

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Posted at 06:12 AM on Apr 06, 2015 in category Baseball
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Saturday January 24, 2015

Ernie Banks (1931-2015)

Ernie Banks

Ernie Banks missed his 84th birthday by a week. He was born January 31, 1931, and died yesterday, January 23, 2015, on my father’s 83rd birthday.

Has Banks’ legacy been reduced to three words? “Let’s play two!” he’d say, and mean it. Maybe it was 10 words: “It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame: Let’s play two!” Those aren’t bad words to be remembered by. Most Americans want to be cool but engaged is better. Enthusiasm is more fun.

He was at the end of his career when I first began watching baseball, and in the other league from my Minnesota Twins, but I knew he was the last guy to hit 500 homeruns before Harmon Killebrew did. Banks was ninth in baseball history (in May 1970), Killebrew 10th (August 1971). Banks would stop at 512.

He never went to the World Series; playing for no other team than the Cubs will do that to you. He was probably the greatest player never to make the World Series until this latest round of great, bereft players: Rod Carew (Twins, Angels); Ken Griffey Jr. (Mariners, Reds). My guys.

I’ve spent part of the day looking over Banks’ lifetimes stats at He remained thin and lanky to the end but apparently was never fast. He got caught stealing (53 times) more than he stole (50). His lifetime batting average wasn’t great (.274), nor his lifetime OBP (.330). His lifetime slugging percentage didn’t quite topple from its lofty perch (.500).

If he was a revelation at shortstop, a power-hitting, Gold-Glove MVP, he was a mediocre first basemen during the second half of his career. Here’s his line at short: .292/.355/.562 with 264 homers. And at first: .259/.307/.447 with  207 homers. Joe Posnanski’s written about this before—in a piece in which he declared Banks the 55th greatest player of all time.

How many times did he live up to the quote and play two? Someone must know. In his last season, 1971, the Cubs played the usual number of doubleheaders but Mr. Cub always sat out one of the games. Too old anymore to play two. His last real doubleheader was on July 4, 1970, just before the All-Star break, against Roberto Clemente’s Pirates. Banks went 1-4 and 1-5. The Cubs lost the first, won the second.

His last game in the Majors? Sept. 26, 1971, a Sunday. Banks batted fourth. In the 1st inning, two quick outs followed a leadoff single; then Banks singled and Ron Santo followed with a single to plate a run; Banks went to second. After a walk loaded the bases, Don Kessinger grounded out, stranding Banks at third. In the 3rd, Banks drew a walk around several outs, and would never get on base again. Grounder in the sixth, infield popup in the eighth. Cubs lost 5-1 to the hapless Phillies. The Cubs played another series in Montreal but Banks didn’t. He ended his career in the friendly confines.

In 1977, he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame with 83% of the vote. Besides the inaugural Hall of Famers (Ruth, Cobb, Mathewson, Johnson, Wagner), and the special cases (Gehrig, Clemente), Banks was just the eighth man in baseball history to be elected to the Hall on the first ballot. Last year, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Pres. Obama—just the ninth baseball player to receive that honor.

Here’s the first reference to Banks in the New York Times. It’s from Sept. 1953:

 First mention of Ernie Banks, New York Times

Here’s the last.  

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Posted at 03:38 PM on Jan 24, 2015 in category Baseball
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