December 28, 2006

Link-O-Rama

I'd like to say that I have something special planned for you today, given that this is the final blog entry of 2006, but unfortunately all I have is the usual end-of-the-week collection of random, relatively useless links that come along with no real redeeming value. Enjoy!

  • As odd as this sounds, I have mixed feelings about the latest pictures of Jessica Biel in a bikini. On one hand, she's clearly extraordinarily attractive and the fact that she's playing paddleball on a beach in the shots somehow makes it approximately 14,256 times better. On the other hand, her working out has gotten to the point that she's bordering on too muscular/manly. Of course, she could lift weights 24 hours a day for the next 10 years and still look just slightly better in a bikini than Tara Reid.
  • I'll probably never be accused of being too muscular or too manly, but after losing 90 pounds this year I can only assume I'll be on the male version of this list once it's released. Or this one.
  • Music tends to take a backseat to about 50 different topics in this space, but here are five random albums from 2006 that I really enjoyed:

    - James Morrison, Undiscovered
    - John Legend, Once Again
    - John Mayer, Continuum
    - Corinne Bailey Rae, Corinne Bailey Rae
    - Amos Lee, Supply and Demand

    There are a lot more, of course, but those are the five albums I find myself listening to over and over again. After far too much internal debate I'm going to give Morrison's Undiscovered my album of the year, which is interesting (to me, at least) given that I was turned onto his music after reading one of Mayer's blog entries.

  • Speaking of Mayer's blog, he recently used it to tell the story of how he came to be a Dundie winner.
  • On a marginally-related note, the world lost one hell of an entertainer this week in James Brown. Not only did Brown produce a catalogue of music that remains fantastic decades after the fact, he was one of the most inexplicably amusing guests in the history of Howard Stern's radio show. Yes, even better than Brad "On My Back" Radke.
  • NBC's new late-night show, Poker After Dark, premieres on January 1. I'm already more than busy enough between baseball and football writing, shooting video reports, and doing various other work for NBCSports.com and RotoWorld, but my goal for 2007 is to somehow become involved in the poker coverage. In fact, if NBC told me I had to choose between football and poker as the second sport I'll be covering in 2007, along with baseball, I'd go with poker and not even think twice about it.

    Whether or not I ever get a chance to meet the lovely Shana Hiatt or even the not-so-lovely Mike Matusow, I'm genuinely excited about a late-night poker show airing six days each week, all year long. And yes, I realize I sound like a complete shill for NBC saying that, but it's true. I am able to keep my infatuation with poker relatively quiet because there's not much money in writing about it and I'm not all that good playing it, but I'd be glad to bore you with bad-beat stories if given the chance.

  • I'm waiting to make an official announcement until after the calendar flips to 2007, but (extremely not-safe-for-work) evidence like this goes a long way towards convincing me that Keeley Hazell is the right choice to become the third Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com. The door remains open for a late charge from Jenna Fischer or past title holders Jessica Alba and Elisha Cuthbert, but Hazell is definitely the leader in the clubhouse at this point.
  • Every once in a while I learn something so extraordinary that I can't fathom how the information has avoided being common knowledge. Soon-to-be NFL MVP LaDainian Tomlinson's wife is named ... wait for it ... LaTorsha. That's right, LaDainian and LaTorsha Tomlinson. Seriously, what are the odds? Given the staggering amount of useless information television announcers bombard viewers with, how does this not get mentioned at least a half-dozen times during every Chargers game?

    Oh, and here's the kicker: According to LaTorsha, "The girlfriend before me was LaKeisha."

  • I'm not sure if this says more about me or about the state of women's sports in general, but I've literally never heard of the Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year.
  • On the other hand, I have heard of Serena Williams. I did not, however, realize she was capable of looking like this.
  • Even after watching a series marathon this week I still have no idea who the star, Rob Dyrdek, is and the show does a better job of being about nothing than Seinfeld, yet for some reason I find MTV's Rob & Big absolutely fascinating. I've only seen a half-dozen episodes or so, but I'm convinced that Christopher "Big Black" Boykin is among the greatest handful of characters in the long and storied history of reality television.
  • I'm generally of the opinion that Patrick Reusse of the Minneapolis Star Tribune does a good job, especially compared to Minnesota's other sports columnists, but I had to laugh when I got to the end of his column about Tarvaris Jackson's first start. After going out of his way to paint Jackson's outing as disastrous--when in reality he had little chance to succeed and made just one major mistake--Reusse concluded by saying he "played the worst game a Vikings quarterback ever has played."

    Jackson's final numbers were indeed ugly, but there's just no way that's possible. He went into Lambeau Field in horrible weather, played a team with a relatively good pass defense while having perhaps the league's worst receivers at his disposal, had defensive linemen in his face all night, and still committed exactly one turnover. I understand that newspapers and their columnists feel the need to write controversial things, but I typically think of Reusse as beyond that kind of silly hyperbole.

  • Speaking of the Star Tribune, it was announced this week that it's been sold to "a private equity firm" called Avista Capital Partners. The thing that stood out to me about the sale is that the Star Tribune was purchased for $1.3 billion eight years ago, yet was sold for $530 million this week. I've made my thoughts on the newspaper industry clear here many times in the past, so suffice it to say that it doesn't surprise me one bit that a major newspaper is worth a fraction of what it was less than a decade ago.

    My initial reaction to the news was to gloat a bit, which I tend to do when the subject of print media's decline comes up around here, but the truth is that I find the situation far more intriguing than gloatworthy. I know quite a few people involved with the Star Tribune, both on the writing and editorial levels, and my impression has always been that it was among the few truly successful newspapers in the country financially.

    If that's true--and I'm just going by what I've been told by people who seemingly should know such things--then it says some awfully damning things about the industry as a whole that the sale price has plummeted so far in eight years. I have no idea what direction the new leadership will take, but I'm not confident that they'll be able to reverse what is now a pretty steady decline in readership, profits, and influence, both at the Star Tribune and in the newspaper business overall.

    In fact, unless and until the people running newspapers cease clinging to their out-dated, misguided beliefs about the industry, I think the decline will continue to pick up speed. I've said that before plenty of times, in any numbers of different ways, but one of the Star Tribune's articles on the sale quoted the president of a merger-and-acquisition firm named Robert Broadwater, who summarized my position better than I typically do:

    News stories are available for free online, so why would anyone pay for a newspaper subscription, Broadwater said. The Internet has also fragmented the newspaper audience, setting the industry on the course taken by television 50 years ago when the nightly variety show was slowly replaced by a plethora of channels and programs appealing to individual tastes, Broadwater said.

    "You no longer have this monolithic claim of all of the news that's fit to print comes in one package to your doorstep," Broadwater said.

    I read the Star Tribune each day online, scanning the front page for interesting items before diving into the sports section, but I haven't read a physical, paper copy of the newspaper regularly for years. To me, the Star Tribune isn't the news delivered to my doorstep in a plastic bag, it's just one of countless websites with stuff that's worth reading. That's an important distinction on a number of crucial levels, and one most people in the newspaper business need to discover before it's too late.

  • All this time I figured I was being smart buddying up to the Star Tribune's LaVelle E. Neal III by naming him the Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com, but perhaps it was the other way around. After all, if things get really ugly there under new management, I'm pretty sure I can get LEN3 an interview with the decision-makers over at NBCSports.com. Luckily for Jim Souhan, he can always go back to doing his Shecky act while telling a half-empty comedy club to enjoy the veal and tip their waitress.
  • My RotoWorld column earlier this week included a mention of how much I enjoyed Dwight Smith's quote about whether or not he's happy to see the Vikings' disappointing season come to an end, but many of you probably don't read that regularly and it's worth repeating anyway:
    I'm never glad for a season to end. That means no more checks, and I can't be violent without getting in trouble.

    For those of you wondering, Smith was arrested for allegedly having sex in a public stairwell earlier this season, has been benched several times for disciplinary reasons, and has a history of problems with guns. That admittedly sounds bad, but I believe he qualifies for sainthood in coach Brad Childress' "Culture of Accountability." (Thank you! Enjoy the veal and tip your waitress.)

  • Last but not least, I can't possibly let the year end without saying thank you to everyone who has supported this blog over the past 12 months. I can honestly say that 2006 was the best year of my life, and this blog and the people who read it are huge reasons why. I have little idea what 2007 holds in store for me, although I already know of some very exciting possibilities, but at the very least I know that if 2007 is anything like 2006 I'll be one happy blogger come next December.

    Thank you for giving me a life in writing. It's all I ever wanted and it's all I'll ever need. See ya in 2007.


  • When Worlds Collide: Radke on Stern

    While we were discussing Brad Radke's retirement last week, Will Young tipped me off to the fact that Radke once appeared on Howard Stern's radio show. Being perhaps the single most rabid Stern fan in the state of Minnesota--he hasn't been on the radio here for at least a half-dozen years and only lasted a couple years when he was on locally--I looked up the date of Radke's appearance and found the CD of that month within my vast collection of shows. Seriously.

    It turns out that Radke appeared on August 1, 1997, along with backup catcher Greg Myers and the team's assistant athletic trainer (whose identity was never revealed beyond "Jimmy"). The Twins were in New York to play a three-game series against the Yankees, which explains Radke's presence, and Radke was 11 games into a historic 12-game winning streak, which explains why Stern had a relatively unknown pitcher from a small-market team on the show despite having almost zero interest in sports.

    After announcing that "the Minnesota Twins" were about to stop by--not such a stretch, given that Radke won 20 games for a team that went 45-82 when he didn't start--Stern tells sidekick Robin Quivers that perhaps the players will help offset the number of women who get undressed in the studio by showing her "their athletic asses." Stern then says Radke and Myers asked to come on the show because they're big fans, despite Stern's show being relatively new in Minnesota at the time.

    When the three guys come into the studio, Stern incredulously asks the trainer, "You're a ballplayer?" When told that no, he's a trainer, Stern responds, "Yeah, you didn't look like a ballplayer to me." He then clarifies the situation by saying, "You're the guy who gets the towels, right?" After unsuccessfully trying to convince Radke and Myers to undress for Quivers, Stern informs the audience that they are "a couple of good-looking jocks" who "look like male models."

    After Radke and Myers meekly introduce themselves, producer Gary Dell'Abate informs everyone that "Brad is on a major roll right now ... he's one of the first 15-game winners and he's won 11 games in a row." Dell'Abate then opines that Radke "will probably be a 20-game winner," to which Stern responds, "Gary, man, you're so homo for both players." Dell'Abate responds that it's "my job to know" before Quivers asks if seeing Radke and Myers in person is "as good as bare breasts for you, Gary?"

    In an effort to break the ice, Stern tells Radke, "You should see me pitch, man, I suck." He goes on to tell a story about how the only time he ever played catch with his father as a kid resulted in Stern's first throw "hit[ting] him in the nuts ... and that was it." Stern tells Radke that whenever he tries to play catch now, his shoulder hurts, and then asks, "Doesn't your shoulder hurt after you pitch?" Radke replies, "You better believe it does." Nearly a decade later, shoulder problems ended Radke's career.

    When told Radke is married and Myers isn't, Stern asks if there are "a lot of groupies, especially when you're on a roll?" The trainer says, "Nah, not really," to which Quivers yells out, "Not really?! Not for the assistant athletic whatever!" Stern adds in, "Yeah, look who's answering!" Stern then tells Quivers she should "date a baseball player" because "it's like a modeling agency in here." Always nose-obsessed, Stern then asks if they've "had nose jobs or something?"

    Stern asks how they're in such good shape, at which point Myers says it's because they have good trainers. Stern quickly turns to the trainer and says, "Then how come you don't have a good physique?" After Stern asks again about how much his arm hurts after pitching, Radke says, "Oh yeah, I pitched three days ago and it's still killing me." He then laments that he has to spend "about six months" each year like this. As expected, Stern then turns the discussion to sex, leading to this exchange:

    Stern: Seriously, when you're with your wife, on top of her, doesn't it hurt? I'm talking about your shoulder.

    Radke: I try and stay off of it.

    Stern: Oh, you try and stay on your back? Is your wife a stripper or something?

    Garnering little response from Radke, Sterns tries a slightly different line of questioning:

    Stern: You met a nice girl, a Christian girl?

    Radke: Um, yeah. She's pretty nice looking.

    Stern: She does everything?

    Radke: Yeah, everything I say. [laughter]

    Quivers changes the topic, asking, "How are the Minnesota Twins doing this season?" Myers chimes in to say that "we're like in fourth, fourth place ... about eight games back." Stern briefly discusses the Yankees' playoff chances and then says, "I mean, I wish you guys luck too, but it doesn't look so good for you." He tells them "there's always next season" and then asks Radke, "Isn't it a bitch, when you win 11 games in a row and the team can't even follow through on it?"

    Stern, Quivers, and Dell'Abate then have a discussion about Radke's contract situation, with everyone marveling at how little a third-year player makes ("who negotiated your contract, Jackie Martling?"). Stern tells him it might be best "not to play so damned hard" and advises him to avoid hunting, gardening, and various other activities involving the use of his arm, showing he has some semblance of sports knowledge by evoking the names Monty Stratton, Bob Ojeda, and Brien Taylor.

    "Well, I do a lot of fishing," Radke offers. Noticing that Radke and Myers are doing little besides adding a random "yeah" or "uh huh" to the conversation, Stern says, "You guys are like hypnotized by me, you can't even talk." They then have the following exchange, which involved the most talk from Radke during the entire interview:

    Stern: Brad, you seem kind of young to be getting married. How old are you?

    Radke: Twenty-four.

    Stern: Twenty-four?

    Quivers: And how long have you been married?

    Radke: Almost three years.

    Quivers: Good lord.

    Stern: Oh man. Getting a little itchy, are we?

    Radke: Uh ... I don't know about that. [laughter]

    Stern: I say he's got another year on his marriage. Got kids?

    Radke: Yep, one.

    Stern: Boy, you're roped in. What, did you meet her in college?

    Radke: No, one of my sister's best friends. She's about a year older than I am.

    Stern: When you're a great ballplayer, don't you know that there are going to be plenty of fish in the sea? I got married at 24, but I didn't know I was going to be anything. I just figured I'd be a big ugly guy the rest of my life. [laughter]

    Quivers: Where are you from?

    Radke: From Florida.

    Stern: Oh, that's why. Back there, you boys take a while to grow up. You don't realize what's out there.

    Radke: Yeah, I guess.

    Stern: You marry the first good-looking girl you see.

    Radke: Yep.

    That train gets derailed when Myers tells Stern that he's divorced after eight years of marriage. Stern asks how he broke the news to his wife, but Myers says he "found out a few things ... found out a few things here and there." "Really?" Stern asks, presuming that Myers meant his wife was cheating on him. "Good-looking guy like you?" The conversation quickly turns to the sexual exploits of Mark Whiten and Luis Polonia, both of whom had been in the news recently.

    Stern asks Radke if he's pitching in New York and, after being told that he's not, says, "So you just sit there and watch the games?" Myers confirms that, saying, "He's only a starter. He doesn't do anything." The interview then wraps up with this exchange:

    Stern: Just watch your arm, man.

    Radke: I'll be laying on my back most of the time. [laughter]

    Stern: Oh, excellent. You brought the wife with you?

    Radke: Yeah, she's here.

    Stern: Is she here today?

    Radke: She was going to come in here, but she might be a little hungover. [laughter]

    Stern: Oh, that's nice. It's good to get her drunk. When you go cheat on her, she won't know anything happened.

    As Radke, Myers, and the assistant athletic trainer leave the studio, Stern continues to marvel over how good-looking they are, saying Radke looks "like a manly man" and Myers looks "like a marine," but "I look like a woman." Offering the final word on the interview, Quivers says, "When guys like that leave, women say, 'You know there was a man here.'" Eight days later, after Radke beats the Blue Jays for his 12th straight win, the Yankees snap his streak with a 4-1 win at the Metrodome.


    December 21, 2006

    Link-O-Rama

    AG.com was a little light on content this week, with just two entries prior to this one, but I'm hopeful that you'll excuse my lack of daily content for two reasons. First, several of my favorite bloggers have already taken off for the rest of the year due to the ongoing and upcoming holidays, which hopefully makes my taking Tuesday and Thursday off slightly more forgivable. Beyond that, this week has simply been a weird one for me.

    The week started with my being mentioned and quoted (sort of) in a Bill Simmons column over at ESPN.com, under what can best be described as odd circumstances. Then, as if that hadn't already made my month, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer stopped by the house Monday afternoon to interview me for several hours. Seriously. A couple days later the pitcher whom I've watched start more games than any other retired after a dozen seasons in Minnesota. All of that, and it's not even Christmas yet.

    This probably isn't the last AG.com blog entry of 2006, since I'm sure I'll be back blogging at some point next week, but at the very least these links will have to hold you over until Tuesday ...

  • I received a ton of amusing e-mails from people regarding my Art Shell rant that got me mentioned in Simmons' column last week, but none of them can compete with the following photo-shop job that was sent to me from David Bester of WideRight.com:

    I'm pretty sure that's exactly what Al Gore had in mind when he invented the internet.

  • Elisha Cuthbert took over for Jessica Alba as the Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com and held the title for over a year, but I ended her reign last month despite the lack of a clear replacement. Many called it a mistake on my part, saying that the OFGoAG.com throne should never be left vacant, but it looks like I made the correct decision after all. Apparently Cuthbert, who has been showing major signs of decline for a while, is now friends with none other than Paris Hilton.

    Now, the good news is that hanging out with Hilton typically leads to being pictured drunk and without various articles of clothing (see: Spears, Britney). On the other hand, the bad news is that hanging out with Hilton almost can't help but lead to fewer and fewer people actually wanting to see you pictured drunk and without various articles of clothing (see: Spears, Britney). I think Cuthbert is at the start of a Dale Murphy-like decline and things could get ugly for her in 2007. It was fun while it lasted, though.

  • Over at his ESPN.com blog, Buster Olney had an interesting stat showing the percentage of 1-2-3 innings from closers in 2006:
    LEADERS               PCT          TRAILERS              PCT
    Joe Nathan 47.0 Ryan Dempster 28.0
    Jonathan Papelbon 45.5 Francisco Cordero 29.3
    Huston Street 41.3 Francisco Rodriguez 30.1
    J.J. Putz 41.0 Chad Cordero 32.8
    Takashi Saito 41.0 B.J. Ryan 33.3

    Joe Nathan leading all closers with 47 percent of his innings ending 1-2-3 probably doesn't surprise anyone who watched him flawlessly slam the door on late leads so many times last season, but it's always interesting to see something you've observed laid out in actual numbers. I'd love to see what Eddie Guardado's 1-2-3 percentage was from his days as Twins closer, because the perception was that he often had to wriggle out of jams to get his saves.

  • The form for the comments section here allows you potentially fill in as many as three boxes with information, asking for your name, e-mail address, and a website address. Many of you take advantage of this by linking to your blog, which has led to me discovering several good sites that I otherwise might have missed. The other day, in the comments for my Brad Radke tribute, someone named "Shelley" left a note praising Radke and linked to a blog.

    I clicked the link, as I usually do when I see a new commenter, and discovered the blog of someone who appears to be my soulmate. OK, that's a massive overstatement and I don't mean to sound so stalkerish, so instead I'll just say that the blog is written by an attractive-looking college-aged girl who apparently reads (and comments on) this blog, describes herself as an "avid fan of Minnesota Twins baseball," and appears from her writing to have a good sense of humor and a similar taste in music.

    I bring this up not because I'm trolling for dates in the comments section of my own blog--although I'm not completely opposed to that, in theory--but because it never ceases to amaze me the wide array of people who read this site. I've met many of you and the majority look like older/younger/fatter/skinnier versions of me. You know, guys. Yet for every thousand of us, there are apparently a few Shelleys too. I knew being brave enough to admit to being a big John Mayer fan would pay dividends at some point.

  • As Ron Gardenhire hinted they would when I interviewed him at the Winter Meetings, the Twins re-signed Rondell White to a one-year contract Thursday. White will make a base salary of $2.75 million in 2007 and can make up to $750,000 in additional bonuses based on plate appearances. If he tops 525 plate appearances in 2007 an option for 2008 vests at $3.75 million, although that total could also rise based on how often he plays. If he doesn't bat 525 times, the Twins owe White a $250,000 buyout.

    Much like the contract that originally brought White to Minnesota last offseason, it's a complicated, incentive-laden deal that limits the Twins' risk and potentially gives them a solid hitter at a bargain price. I liked bringing White in last winter and, even after a disappointing season, I approve of the decision to bring him back. That's not something I expected to be saying in July or even September, but given the current market and the way he played down the stretch it seems like a relative no-brainer.

    The Twins have essentially committed to paying White $3 million in 2007, which isn't the type of money that buys much in terms of viable corner-outfield bats. Guys like David Dellucci, Jay Payton, and Frank Catalanotto all received multi-year deals and most one-year signees got significantly more than White. Of course, some would question whether White himself is a viable corner-outfield bat after hitting a measly .246/.276/.365 last season, but a look at his overall totals doesn't tell the whole story.

    Whether because of shoulder problems or something else, White was a complete mess in the first half. However, he came back from a two-week demotion to Triple-A hitting like the Twins expected him to from the start, batting .321/.354/.538 in 45 second-half games. White hit a combined .289/.341/.476 in the previous three years coming into 2006, so I'm inclined to believe the guy we saw in the second half is closer to what the Twins will get in 2007 than the guy who hit a homerless .182 in the first half.

    White prefers to play left field rather than designated hitter, which shouldn't be a problem given Jason Kubel's knee issues. He has one of the few throwing arms that could give Shannon Stewart a run for the "worst in baseball" title, but White has more than enough range for the position and likely grades out as above average overall. Given Kubel's health situation and the Twins' lack of power and outfield depth--Jason Tyner and Lew Ford are the current backups--it's a move that was begging to be made.

  • Saturday Night Live produced its annual funny bit last weekend, with Justin Timberlake and Andy Samberg coming up with a perfect parody of mid-1990s boy bands with the sure-to-be-overplayed "Dick in a Box" Christmas love song. The whole thing (shown below) is pretty brilliant and the chorus is the punchline, obviously, but my favorite part was the singing-from-atop-the-hoop shots that brought back all kinds of Boyz II Men and Color Me Badd memories I had been suppressing.


    One, cut a hole in a box. Two, put your junk in that box. Three, make her open the box.
  • If reading my tribute to Radke in this space following his retirement earlier this week wasn't enough for you--or if you'd simply like to read it again in a different format for some odd reason--you can also read essentially the identical piece on NBCSports.com (sans a few hand-picked pictures and blog-related references, and plus a cliched Minnesota-centric headline).

    Before someone inevitably accuses me of giving my blog audience less than a full effort, I want to make it clear that I wrote the Radke piece solely for this site and only agreed to have it run on NBCSports.com when my editor read it here, liked it, and asked if he could use it as well. I'm not one to turn down a byline and Radke deserves the added attention, so I agreed.

  • Mainstream writers starting blogs hosted on newspaper websites are hit-or-miss propositions, but so far at least Michael Rand of the Minneapolis Star Tribune is showing himself to be a fine blogger. Rand's month-old blog has already worked its way into my daily routine thanks to a quick-hitting style and pithy attitude, and he's taken the one sure-fire path to gaining my acceptance. That's right, he mentioned me, saying my "writing work perhaps appears in more places than the law allows."
  • I'll have to ask Rand if this gets me safely below the legal limit for writing gigs or not, but my departure from The Hardball Times is now public knowledge. Those of you who've read this blog regularly have known that for a while now, as I've been hinting at it for months, but Dave Studeman made things official in his year-end "State of The Hardball Times" address this week:
    The biggest change of the year, however, is that our co-founder and spiritual leader, Aaron Gleeman, is no longer involved with the site. Aaron has parlayed his baseball-writing-from-bed habit into a full-time gig at NBCSports.com, covering football, baseball and who knows, maybe curling too. Aaron had the vision and set the tone for THT early on, and although he didn't contribute many articles the past year he was still editing the site. Alas, Aaron will have to give up any involvement with THT at all, due to the demands on his time from people who actually pay him.

    We would wish Aaron luck in his new endeavors, but we know that would be redundant to how he's actually going to do. The key thing for you to know is that THT will not only continue without Aaron, we will continue to grow.

    Way back in 2003, Matthew Namee (who was then Bill James' assistant) and I were chatting one day when we decided it'd be a good idea to create a website featuring baseball analysis from a lineup of columnists that included the two of us and some of our favorite online writers. Namee eventually left the site, at which point Studeman stepped in as my co-owner, and in the years since I'm proud to say that THT has thrived while developing into far more than I ever could have imagined.

    I'm sad to leave the site at a time when it's flourishing--THT's third book was released earlier this month and readership continues to rise--but I'm confident that the leadership that remains in place will keep it headed in the right direction. In a perfect world I'd still be writing for and leading THT, because it was incredibly rewarding and a lot of fun, but the opportunities presented to me at both RotoWorld.com and NBCSports.com were too good for me to pass up at this stage in my life.

    I'll continue to support THT in any way that I can and I'll continue to make it my first stop each morning in my never-ending search for good online baseball writing. It's a tremendous site featuring the work of talented writers who're also baseball nuts and great guys, and co-creating it years ago is one of the my biggest accomplishments. My hope is that one day someone will look at the success THT is having and compare my exit to Shelley Long leaving Cheers or David Caruso leaving NYPD Blue.


  • December 20, 2006

    Radke Retires

    Brad Radke officially announced his retirement yesterday afternoon, calling it quits after a dozen major-league seasons, all of them in Minnesota. Radke peaked as a 24-year-old in 1997, winning 20 games for a horrible Twins team while finishing third in the AL Cy Young balloting behind Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson. He never won more than 15 games in a season after that, but remained one of the most consistent, durable, and underrated pitchers in baseball for the next decade.

    I'll have a lot more to say about Radke's place in Twins history once I get to his profile in my ongoing Top 40 Minnesota Twins series, so for now I'll simply say that he was without question among the best and longest-tenured pitchers in team history. Radke wasn't a great pitcher, but was safely in the "very good" category for nearly his entire career and would have won significantly more games if he hadn't gotten his start pitching in one of the least-successful periods in franchise history.

    As it is, Radke finishes with a solid career record of 148-139 (.516 winning percentage) in 378 games, all but one of them starts, and logged a total of 2,451 innings with a 4.22 ERA. Among active big-league pitchers, Radke ranks 14th in innings and starts, 16th in wins, and 25th in strikeouts. He also went 2-3 with a 3.60 ERA in six playoff starts, including 2-0 with a 1.54 ERA in a first-round matchup against the A's in 2002, helping the Twins advance to the ALCS in their first postseason appearance since 1991.

    Radke's career ends on the sour note of being forced to retire due to a severe shoulder injury that he somehow pitched through for much of last season. It's possible that Radke would have retired anyway, having talked about doing so for years, but the injury forced his hand and in many ways lessened the impact of his announcement. The Twins danced around the subject, saying they'd love to have Radke back, but it was inevitable that he was done from the moment he left the Oakland mound in October.

    My final memory of Radke will be of him sitting alone in a visitor's dugout, sullen and teary-eyed, as the Twins' season came to a sudden, disappointing end and the notion of his career being over perhaps truly sunk in for the first time. After battling through a painful season and helping the Twins win their fourth division title in five years despite an awful start, Radke's shoulder let him down in his final game, showing that Hollywood endings aren't always easy to come by.

    However, that won't be my lasting memory of Radke. I'll remember his long, lanky frame in an effortless delivery that ended with changeup after changeup easing out of his right hand and freezing hitters who had been planning to tee off on his mediocre fastball. I'll remember the first-inning struggles that so often turned into late-inning success. I'll remember his painting the corners like few others in baseball history have.

    I'll remember his odd ticks on the mound, which included blowing on his hands, raising and extending his arm between pitches, and constantly adjusting his uniform at the shoulder. I'll remember a guy who could be penciled in for 200 innings of quality pitching every year for a decade, took less money to stay in Minnesota, and was incredibly well-respected among teammates despite rarely making a public show of leadership.

    I'll remember Radke as the bridge between the Kirby Puckett-Kent Hrbek-Tom Kelly Twins and the Johan Santana-Joe Mauer-Justin Morneau-Torii Hunter Twins. After World Series titles in 1987 and 1991, the Twins went through some incredibly lean years in the late 1990s and early 2000s, often with Radke as one of their few standout players. After surviving that, he was the link to and oft-overlooked contributor on a team that has emerged as one of the most successful in Twins history.

    In fact, in many ways the Twins' current approach to pitching is based on finding the next Radke. More than any other organization, the Twins acquire and develop pitchers who throw strikes and change speeds without the benefit of an overpowering fastball, a combination for which Radke is the prototype. Radke's 1.63 walks per nine innings is the lowest total among active pitchers, safely ahead of control artists like Jon Lieber (1.71), Greg Maddux (1.84), and David Wells (1.86).

    His walk rate ranked among the AL's top half-dozen every season but one from 1995 to 2006, including a league-leading 1.04 walks per nine innings in 2001 and seven other top-three finishes. If ever there was an example of why pitching is more important than throwing hard, Radke is it. His fastball often struggled to creep past 90 miles per hour, but Radke thrived anyway by relentlessly pumping strikes that were seemingly just off the plate and keeping hitters off balance with a world-class changeup.

    Drafted in the eighth round four months before the Twins became champions in 1991, Radke was the Opening Day starter in nine of his 12 seasons, giving way to Scott Erickson in 1995, Bob Tewksbury in 1998, and Johan Santana in 2006. He retires with the third-most wins in team history, behind only Jim Kaat and Bert Blyleven, and only Kaat started more games in a Twins uniform. He'll be missed, but with $60 million, a dozen years of memories, and a loving family, Radke will be just fine.


    December 18, 2006

    Brush With Greatness

    After uncharacteristically being away from the computer for a couple hours Friday afternoon, I signed back online to find several dozen confusing, relatively urgent-looking e-mails waiting for me. It turns out that Bill Simmons mentioned me in one of his columns over at ESPN.com. That's enough to warrant a slew of e-mails by itself, since I'm a huge fan of Simmons and have made my admiration of him very clear here over the years, but there was more behind my e-mailbox being full.

    Simmons' piece Friday was a "mailbag" column, where his readers send him random e-mails that he publishes and then responds to. Apparently one of the e-mailers decided to take something that I wrote in one of my RotoWorld columns last week and pass it off as his own thought, leading to this question-and-answer exchange in Simmons' article:

    Q: Some day, someone may very well write a riveting book about the mess that is the Oakland Raiders in Art Shell's second stint as head coach. If that day comes--and the sooner the better I say, so someone get David Halberstam on the phone--my suggestion is that the first chapter begins with this quote, which came out of Shell's mouth earlier this week: "We're doing the right things out on the practice field, but then taking it to the game has been a problem for us."

    As soon as I saw that in print, I immediately pictured the Raiders in an offense-only practice drill, with Aaron Books flawlessly racking up huge yardage on long bombs to Randy Moss with no defenders in sight and Shell repeatedly nodding his head "yes" from the sidelines. That's probably not quite what Shell meant, but I still think "It Worked So Well In Practice: The Art Shell Story" would be an excellent title for the as-yet-unreleased masterpiece.

    --Jon S., San Francisco

    SG: First of all, we'd like to apologize to Aaron Gleeman of RotoWorld.com, since that e-mail was completely ripped off from his column Thursday. (Our apologies, we found this out after we posted the column. Can we all agree not plagiarize other writers for mailbag questions? Thanks.)

    Anyway, here are the top-seven sports books that need to be written:

    Simmons went on to name his top seven "sports books that need to be written," listing "It Worked So Well In Practice: The Art Shell Story" in the No. 3 spot. Those of you who read my "Daily Dose" column Wednesday will recognize that title and the entire Shell passage quoted above, because they were lifted word-for-word from me. Apparently "Jon S." passed it off as his, Simmons published it, and then someone who read Simmons' article noticed the plagiarism and sent him a link to my article.

    From start to finish, the whole thing went on while I was away from the computer, which is why the many e-mails I found upon my return were initially so confusing. It's odd having a quasi-incident you're tangentially involved with start and end before you even knew it existed. In a way I feel sort of robbed, because I'm curious about how I would have reacted if, say, I stumbled across the plagiarism before Simmons had been tipped off to it. It's possible I missed out on having a hissy-fit, which is a shame.

    The moral of the story--if there is one, which is doubtful--is that Simmons acted very quickly to issue a correction of sorts within his column and even went the extra mile by sending me a personal e-mail to explain the situation. As I told Bill (we're such close friends now that I feel comfortable calling him by his first name), I'm honored to have been mentioned in his columns, regardless of the circumstances that got me there.

    Actually, I somehow managed to coax three e-mail responses out of Simmons, which was quite a thrill for me. We talked about Kevin Garnett, Allen Iverson, Marko Jaric, Jim Peterson, The Godfather, last year's Timberwolves-Celtics trade, and the Sports Illustrated article that featured both of us. In fact, I "introduced" myself to Simmons by saying, "I'm the guy writing from bed with the Boston Terrier on his lap in the Sports Illustrated article about you."

    I always knew being profiled in the world's most influential sports magazine would come in handy some day. At one point in our e-mail exchange Simmons called what I wrote about Shell "really funny, excellent work," which makes me want to get plagiarized more often. Hell, now that I've managed to exchange e-mails with one of the best and most famous sportswriters in the world, the next step is to work being plagiarized into a date with Keeley Hazell. Let's see "Jon. S" make that happen.

    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

    My latest video appearance is on NBCSports.com's "Baseball Fantasy Fix" show, which is scheduled to air each Friday throughout the offseason. The show is hosted by my RotoWorld colleague Gregg Rosenthal and Tiffany Simons, who've hosted the "Football Fantasy Fix" show throughout the NFL season. Since Gregg and Tiffany shoot the show on the East Coast and I'm in Minnesota, the plan is for them to throw it to me for one segment each week.

    I'd encourage everyone to watch the first episode and, as always, feel free to offer up (constructive) comments and/or (realistic) suggestions. Also, if you missed my video report last week on Daisuke Matsuzaka signing with the Red Sox, please check that out as well. If nothing else, all this appearing on video stuff has me shaving a lot more regularly, which makes my grandma very happy. And really, if you think about it, that's the goal.


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