December 30, 2010

Harmon Killebrew diagnosed with esophageal cancer

Sad news about Hall of Famer and Twins great Harmon Killebrew, who released the following statement today:

I was recently diagnosed with esophageal cancer. With my wife, Nita, by my side, I have begun preparing for what is perhaps the most difficult battle of my life. I am being treated by a team of medical professionals at the Mayo Clinic. While my condition is very serious, I have confidence in my doctors and the medical staff and I anticipate a full recovery.

The Mayo Clinic is one of the largest and most experienced medical centers treating esophageal cancer in the world. In the past decade, they have made tremendous advances in the treatment of this disease. Nita and I feel blessed to have access to the best doctors and medical care. I thank everyone for their outpouring of prayers, compassion and concern. Nita and I ask for privacy during this difficult journey.

December 28, 2010

Top 40 Minnesota Twins: #27 Larry Hisle

Larry Eugene Hisle | LF/CF/RF/DH | 1973-1977 | Career Stats

Philadelphia selected Larry Hisle in the second round of the 1965 draft out of an Ohio high school. He batted .433 at low Single-A in 1966 and .302 at high Single-A in 1967, and after an impressive spring in 1968 made the Opening Day roster at age 20. Hisle made his big-league debut on April 10, 1968 and went 2-for-3 in each of his first two games, but received just one more start and was sent down to Triple-A in late April.

Hisle hit .303/.359/.446 in 69 games at Triple-A, but his season was cut short in mid-July when doctors diagnosed him with hepatitis. According to a July 13, 1968 article from the Washington Post: "Doctors sent Hisle to his home in Portsmouth, Ohio, ordered him to follow a strict protein diet and get plenty of rest." After taking nearly a year off Hisle had another impressive spring training in 1969 and was the Phillies' center fielder and leadoff man on Opening Day.

He batted just .159 in April, but the Phillies stuck with him and watched as Hisle put together a fantastic rookie campaign, hitting .266/.338/.459 with 20 homers and 18 stolen bases to finish fourth in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting despite missing the end of the year with a broken thumb. Hisle fell off a cliff in his second year, hitting just .205/.299/.353, and when he got off to another slow start in 1971 the Phillies demoted him to Triple-A.

Hisle hit .328 with a .597 slugging percentage in 62 games there, but struggled again when the Phillies called him up near the end of 1971. Philadelphia traded him to Los Angeles for Tom Hutton during the offseason and Hisle spent all of 1972 at Triple-A, hitting .325/.410/.561 in 131 games. He was traded to St. Louis that winter, and after spending less than a month as property of the Cardinals they shipped him to the Twins for Wayne Granger.

In two years Hisle had gone from being one of the most promising young players in baseball to being a minor leaguer suddenly with his fourth club, but landing in Minnesota turned his career around. Rather than spend yet another season at Triple-A, the Twins handed Hisle the starting job in center field. He went 4-for-5 as the Opening Day leadoff man, hit .304/.360/.609 overall in April, and finished his comeback season at .272/.351/.422 with 15 homers in 143 games.

Hisle was even better in 1974, hitting .286/.353/.465 with 19 homers while splitting time at all three outfield spots. Those numbers may not look particularly great, but it was a low-offense era and Hisle's seemingly modest .465 slugging percentage actually ranked ninth in the AL. Hisle was on track for the best season of his career in 1975, batting .314/.361/.518 with 17 steals through 57 games when a bone spur in his elbow forced him to the disabled list.

To make room on the roster for his return from the DL three weeks later the Twins sent down first baseman Tom Kelly, who hit just .181 in 49 games during what would be his only season in the big leagues. After just one start and a few pinch-hitting appearances Hisle was sidelined again. This time he missed nearly two months, returning to play 15 games in September, and finished the year at .314/.376/.494 with 11 homers and 17 steals in 80 games.

Hisle bounced back to play 155 games in 1976, and while his .272/.335/.394 mark isn't overly impressive even considering the era, he did hit 14 homers while driving in 96 runs and stealing 31 bases. Then in 1977, with free agency just around the corner, Hisle had the best year of his career. He hit .302/.369/.533 with 28 homers and a league-leading 119 RBIs to make his first All-Star team and finish 12th in the MVP balloting (Rod Carew hit .388 to take the award).

The timing was perfect for Hisle, who received several big offers when he hit the free agent market that winter. Hisle said at the time that he was interested in staying with the Twins, but talks reportedly broke down over some complicated contract details that included a loan and bonus money. Hisle eventually decided to sign with the Brewers, inking a six-year deal worth a then-massive $3.1 million. According to a November 19, 1977 article in the New York Times:

[The deal] put the 30-year-old outfielder in a financial league with Catfish Hunter of the Yankees (five years, $3.5 million), Mike Schmidt of Philadelphia (six years, $3,360,000) and Reggie Jackson of the Yankees (five years, $2.9 million).

In the same article, Hisle described his decision to leave Minnesota:

I had enjoyed my five years in Minnesota and it wasn't going to be easy for me to pack up and leave everyone. The Twins mentioned the fact that they really wanted me and they made me an offer, but I had decided 100 percent that Milwaukee would be the place to play.

Hisle was well worth the money in his first year with the Brewers, hitting .290/.374/.533 with 34 homers and 115 RBIs to finish third in the MVP balloting behind Jim Rice and Ron Guidry. He was on his way to a similarly outstanding season in 1979 when disaster struck on April 20:

On a chilly night in Baltimore, Milwaukee Brewers' left fielder Larry Hisle made the throw that changed his life. Mike Caldwell was on the mound for the Brewers, and Hisle didn't expect to see many balls hit his way because Caldwell, a sinker-ball pitcher, usually induced a lot of groundouts.

On this night, however, Caldwell didn't have his best stuff and the Orioles were ripping line drives into the gaps. On one hit to left, Hisle came up throwing and felt searing pain knife through his right shoulder.

"That," he said, "was basically the end of my career."

He had suffered a torn rotator cuff.

Hisle stayed in the lineup for a couple weeks as a designated hitter, but the injury soon ended his season and, as Hisle said, eventually his career. Hisle came back as a DH in 1980 and was hitting .283/.421/.583 through 17 games, but aggravated the shoulder injury while sliding into a base on May 19. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

A year of painful rehabilitation failed to strengthen the shoulder sufficiently, so he underwent surgery. In 1981, he had another operation.

By 1982, the year the Brewers went to the World Series, the pain was unrelenting. Hisle couldn't raise his right arm to shave, so he grew a beard. He ate left-handed. He slept with his right arm tied to his side, because re-occurring dreams about playing baseball made him thrash about.

"I remember my wife being awakened many, many nights by me getting up and going downstairs," he said. "Once it starts to hurt, even the medication doesn't help enough to allow you to sleep."

After suffering the initial injury in 1979 he played just 67 more games over four seasons before finally giving in to the pain. Hisle retired following the 1982 season as a two-time All-Star with 166 career homers despite bouncing around in the minors during his early 20s and having his last full season at age 31. Hisle's career with the Twins was short and sweet, with 662 games spread over five seasons, yet he's all over the team leaderboard.

Hisle ranks among the top 20 in batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage, homers, steals, and RBIs, with a top-10 mark in adjusted OPS+, and his 1977 is one of the top years by any outfielder in Twins history. And all that came in low-offense eras. If you adjust his Twins totals to today's offensive levels they'd look something like .295/.360/.510, which along with good speed and the ability to patrol center field on a regular basis is pretty damn good.

TOP 25 ALL-TIME MINNESOTA TWINS RANKS
Steals                 92     9th
Adjusted OPS+         127     9th
Batting Average      .286    14th
OPS                  .811    14th
RBIs                  409    16th
Slugging Percentage  .457    16th
Homers                 87    18th
Isolated Power       .171    18th
On-Base Percentage   .354    19th
Triples                23    21st
Runs Created          399    22nd
Runs                  369    24th
Total Bases          1113    25th
Extra-Base Hits       219    25th

December 23, 2010

Link-O-Rama

• In honor of Festivus, this week's Link-O-Rama is a day early and super-sized ...

And here's a little more about my favorite holiday:

On a related note: The Economics of Seinfeld.

• Be honest, you'd walk around all day with your hand there too if you could.

• I picked the right profession, apparently.

• On the other hand, suddenly "thief" is looking like a pretty easy gig for me.

• In fairness to Natalie Portman, it's tough to look that good next to the Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com.

• And as the Notorious B.I.G. once said: If you don't know, now you know.

• On a related note I almost don't want to see Black Swan because it can't possibly be as good as it is in my mind.

• One-liner of the week, from SI.com media writer Richard Dietsch about NFL pregame shows: "Outside of Michael Irvin, most NFL pregame analysts will eventually provide some interesting insight and analysis."

• Hopefully his new career will provide a better platform for showing people how we do it.

• How to go from being a Baseball Think Factory and The Hardball Times writer to international scouting director for an MLB team.

• I sometimes can't help but wonder if there's a marketing department somewhere inventing food specifically for me to buy.

• Sure, it seems like a lot of money, but $12,000 is really only $3,000 per inch.

• Here are highlights from Kevin Love's recent 43-point, 17-rebound game versus the Nuggets set to "God is Love" by Marvin Gaye:

If you didn't like that, we probably can't be friends.

Jose Canseco wants to show you his bat speed.

David Simon, the Washington Post, and how one little word can change everything.

• Next time someone makes that old joke about the book of famous Jewish athletes being just a pamphlet, I'll send them here. And then wait patiently for them to make a different joke.

• My latest podcast discovery: "Comedy and Everything Else" with Jimmy Dore and Stefane Zamorano (and for the first 60 episodes Todd Glass). They mix silly and serious as well as any podcast I've heard (albeit with a bit more politics and a bit less comedy than I'd prefer), and often have on great guests too.

• Speaking of good podcasts, here's a worlds colliding moment: One of my favorite podcasters, Jesse Thorn, talked baseball with Carson Cistulli of Fan Graphs. Not only is he a big baseball (and specifically Giants) fan, Thorn was nice enough to comment here after I wrote about liking his podcasts in a previous Link-O-Rama.

• And speaking of Fan Graphs interviews, Eno Sarris chatted with my main co-worker.

• IFC has rapidly become one of my favorite channels by resurrecting several of the best and most underrated shows of the 1990s and 2000s.

• I really, really wanted to like The Walking Dead on AMC, but throughout the first season I was bothered by the cheesy dialogue, over-acting, paper-thin characters, and silly decision-making needed to push certain plot lines along. Suffice it to say I wasn't surprised to read this.

Karl Pilkington is coming to the Science Channel, so hopefully they'll now study why he has "a head like a f***ing orange."

Miley Cyrus seems like fun.

• French bulldog puppy versus doorstop, who ya got?

Winner of that matchup takes on the winner of shadow versus light from flashlight in Round 2.

• They may not be quite as amazing as expected yet, but this photo is pretty badass. And the story behind it is interesting too.

• Speaking of LeBron James, this article about his longtime relationship with former Cavs and current Heat reporter Brian Windhorst is very interesting.

• I like to think of myself as the white, talentless version of Cee-Lo Green. Or in other words, just fat and weird.

• Hall of Fame or not, Ron Santo ranks among the all-time great third basemen.

• I'm probably a 5.5 on a 1-10 scale of Bruce Springsteen fandom, but I absolutely loved the recent HBO documentary on the making of his 1978 album "Darkness on the Edge of Town." If you like Springsteen even a little bit, try to catch a replay or rent it. Incredibly compelling.

• Speaking of documentaries, ESPN's film about Marcus Dupree was incredible. It was so good that I randomly spent 10 minutes recapping the whole story for my mom despite her having no interest. In fact, after I was finished her only response was to ask, "Is he married now?"

Joe Posnanski's latest bit of awesomeness was about Zack Greinke.

• The most underrated performer in radio history talks to my second-favorite radio personality of all time, largely about my favorite radio personality of all time. I liked it, shockingly.

According to the Pew Research Center eight percent of "online Americans" use Twitter, which makes me think I should have way more followers.

• Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video is "Tighten Up" by The Black Keys:

December 21, 2010

Hardball Dynasty league openings

I'm addicted to WhatIfSports.com's excellent Hardball Dynasty game and my league has a few franchises open with the new season set to begin next week. Hardball Dynasty is not fantasy baseball and in fact has nothing to do with fantasy baseball. It's much better. From rookie-ball to the majors it's an incredibly detailed simulation of running a fictional MLB organization, with fictional players and everything from the Rule 5 draft to international signings.

Due to the steep learning curve involved in the game and extensive time commitment required to master it we're looking first and foremost for owners with some previous Hardball Dynasty experience. Mostly, though, we're just looking for good owners and despite the sales pitch-like tone of this post I get absolutely nothing in return for someone signing up (except for a better league to enjoy, of course). If you're interested, let me know.

December 20, 2010

Twins Notes: Nishioka, Morales, Bargas, Ullger, Hudson, and Punto

Tsuyoshi Nishioka's contract turned out to be a little more team-friendly than expected. He'll earn $3 million a season for three years, which is slightly less than first reported, and the deal also includes a $4 million team option or $250,000 buyout for 2014. If he proves to be a good player the option lets the Twins control him at a reasonable cost for a fourth season and if he struggles their total commitment (including posting fee) will be $14.55 million for three years.

Vice president of player personnel Mike Radcliff noted that the Twins have scouted Nishioka in Japan for several years, so the front office had no shortage of reports and information from which to base their opinion on him. On the other hand, somewhat surprisingly (to me, at least) Ron Gardenhire revealed that he's never even seen video of his new starting middle infielder in action:

I don't know anything about him. I don't know anything about his swing, nothing. I haven't seen video on him or anything. Just the reports from our scouts. He's supposed to be a good player. I'm going to get this kid down there [to spring training] and see what happens, see what he looks like, see where I think he's most comfortable, and talk to the kid.

Gardenhire apparently isn't much for YouTube. There were plenty of interesting quotes uttered during Nishioka's introductory press conference, but my favorite came earlier when he said the following upon arriving in Minnesota: "I was so surprised by this cold weather because it was colder than I expected. Even the stadium was covered by snow." For his sake hopefully no one is taking Nishioka to the Vikings game.

• Lost in Nishioka signing is that the Twins also dropped Jose Morales from the 40-man roster, trading the 27-year-old catcher to the Rockies for relief prospect Paul Bargas. I'm far from the biggest Drew Butera fan and would've preferred if the Twins gave Morales more of a chance to be Joe Mauer's backup, but injuries played a factor as well and at this point he's a marginal player without minor-league options who the team seemingly never trusted defensively.

Morales hit .297 with a .370 on-base percentage in 181 plate appearances for the Twins and .304 with a .367 OBP in 1,163 plate appearances at Triple-A, and those numbers coming from a switch-hitting catcher definitely make him a viable big leaguer. However, with just 11 homers and a measly .095 Isolated Power between Rochester and Minnesota he doesn't have enough pop to be an asset at another position if the Twins weren't willing to use him behind the plate.

• Bargas was a 13th-round pick in 2009 and shifted to the bullpen as a pro after starting for three years at UC-Riverside. He's posted very good numbers in the low minors with a 3.12 ERA and 98-to-27 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 98 innings, and the 6-foot-1 southpaw has been death on left-handed batters early on. He's far from a top prospect, but Bargas certainly represents a reasonable return for a 27-year-old backup catcher and at age 22 has some upside.

• I can't recall any fan base ever loving a third base coach. For the most part the job involves going unnoticed when you perform well and being vilified when you perform poorly, because the successes blend into the flow of a game and the failures bring things to a screeching halt. With that said, Scott Ullger has seemingly been an extraordinarily poor third base coach, with a tendency to get the Twins' slowest runners thrown out at the plate by the widest margins.

He's been relieved of third base duties and will now serve as bench coach, switching jobs with Steve Liddle. Aside from Al Newman being let go as third base coach in 2005 there's been a remarkable lack of coaches leaving the staff during Gardenhire's decade-long tenure with the Twins, but Ullger has been moved (or perhaps more accurately, demoted) from hitting coach to third base coach in 2006 and from third base coach to bench coach now.

• There was never any chance of the Twins re-signing Orlando Hudson, but he's landed on his feet (and then some) with a two-year, $11.5 million deal from the Padres. Reportedly as part of a gentleman's agreement Hudson promised the Twins ahead of time that he'd decline their arbitration offer, so they'll get a compensatory draft pick between the first and second rounds for letting the Type B free agent walk.

Good defense at second base and hitting .268/.338/.372 in 126 games made Hudson a sound one-year investment for $5 million, and if you toss in a top-50 pick that also carries significant value it turned out to be a very positive signing even if the Twins didn't enjoy his presence in the clubhouse enough to bring him back. Hudson is coming off arguably a career-worst season and had to settle for one-year deals in 2009 and 2010, so getting a two-year deal now is odd.

• Mauer missed some time in September with left knee problems and recently underwent what the Twins are calling a "minor procedure" that leaves him with plenty of room to recover before spring training. Since missing most of his rookie season because of a knee injury that required surgery in 2004, he has the most plate appearances of any catcher in baseball.

• In the least surprising news since my last weight-loss attempt failed, Charley Walters of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that "Gardenhire has asked the Twins' front office if it can bring back free-agent infielder Nick Punto." No word on if Gardenhire has contacted Punto, but if he did I imagine it went something like this:


















He's supposed to be a good player.'

Gardenhire said he has no immediate plans to slot Nishioka either at second base or shortstop.

"I'm going to get this kid down there (to spring training) and see what happens, see what he looks like, see where I think he's most comfortable and talk to the kid," he said.


















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