Great Missed Opportunity: 2006 Minnesota Twins


The Minnesota Twins great run of Division Titles has run its course. From 2002 until 2010, the Twins won the Central Division Title six times in nine seasons (and narrowly missing a seventh title in 2008 in a one game tie breaker.)

It was a remarkable reversal of fortune for a franchise who was rumored to be contracted after the 2001 season only to go on a wonderful post season run that began in the Metrodome and finished in the beautiful new Target Field.

Chances are few will remember the Twins as an October regular moving forward. The team is in full rebuilding mode and the squad never made it to the World Series, only winning the Division Series in 2002. Teams that don’t win it all seldom are remembered. Teams that fail to win the pennant are even more obscure.

But the year the Twins will probably regret letting the pennant slip away the most is 2006.

So many elements were working in the Twins favor that year to make 2006 potentially the greatest and most loved team in Minnesota history.

Yes, greater than the 1991 World Champions, who Jack Morris led to victory in the greatest World Series of the last 30 years.

Yes, more loved than the 1987 World Champions, who looked like a slow pitch softball team and took advantage of a scheduling quirk that gave them home field advantage over a superior Tigers and injured Cardinals squad.

And perhaps even more revered than the 1965 squad who came so close to beating Sandy Koufax and the Dodgers in the World Series.

This was a star studded team of stars whom Twins fans could claim as their own.

Johan Santana won his second Cy Young Award that year and was establishing himself as the top pitcher in baseball and a potential Hall of Famer.

Gold Glove winner Torii Hunter was one of the most exciting players in the game, hit a career high 31 homers in 2006 to go with his speed and exceptional defense.

Home town hero Joe Mauer became the first AL catcher to become the batting champion, doing so by hitting at a .347 clip and an OPS of .936.

In fact an argument could be made that Justin Morneau was the 4th best player on his own team. But his .321 average, 34 HR, 130 RBI and .934 OPS helped him win the AL MVP.

Luis Castillo, Michael Cuddyer and Jason Bartlett all were terrific in the lineup while Joe Nathan and Dennys Reyes set up one of the game’s top bullpens.

The 2006 season did not start well for Minnesota. Kirby Puckett, the beloved yet secretly troubled Hall of Famer of the 1987 and 1991 teams, died during spring training. The team itself began the season 25-33 and fell far behind the defending World Champion White Sox and the surprising Detroit Tigers.

But two things happened that ignited the Twins: Francisco Liriano emerged as a second ace alongside Santana. Then the Twins dominated the National League in Interleague Play.

Minnesota took 16 of 18 interleague games and made the AL Central a log jam. Eventually they passed the defending champion White Sox and with a wild September clinched a playoff berth despite losing Liriano to injury.

The Tigers needed just one win against the 100 loss Royals at the end of the season to clinch the Central, but they got swept. The Twins moved into a first place tie and on the last day of the season, clinched the AL Central. Game 162 was the only day the Twins had first place to themselves.

The mad dash for the Central title was more than a formality. The Twins would avoid the Yankees, who knocked them out of the post season in 2003 and 2004 (and would do so later in 2009 and 2010.) Instead they drew the Oakland A’s, a fine team but hardly world beaters.

They would have home field advantage in the Division Series instead of starting on the road in the Bronx. And their luck was further extended as the Tigers dusted themselves off and made quick work of New York, winning in 4 games.

But they ran into two problems: Frank Thomas’ bat and a hit that even Torii Hunter couldn’t catch.

Thomas missed the 2005 post season with injuries and did not play in the White Sox World Series run. Now healthy and with Oakland, Thomas launched two homers in the opening game in the Metrodome. Barry Zito out dueled Johan Santana for a 3-2 Oakland win.

Game 2 was another close affair as Boof Bonser pitched 6 solid innings and the score was tied 2-2 in the 7th. With two outs and a runner on in the 7th, Torii Hunter attempted one of his signature highlight reel catches on a line drive by Mark Kotsay. It eluded Hunter and went for a 2 out go ahead 2 run inside the park home run. The A’s would hold onto the 5-2 victory.

By the time the series returned to a carnival atmosphere in Oakland, the series was knotted up. Oakland jumped all over Brad Radke and cruised to an easy 8-3 victory, the only post season series victory to date for the Billy Beane A’s.

The Twins were out and their great comeback against the Tigers was a footnote. It would be Detroit who would go on to win the pennant and lose to a streaking St. Louis squad.

How would the Santana-Hunter-Mauer-Morneau-Cuddyer-Nathan Twins have fared against the Cardinals that year? Would 2006 be the year that Ron Gardenhire had the honor of being the manager of a World Series winner? Would that have been the moment where the Twins had the final laugh against the contraction rumors?

The Twins would go on to be competitive, winning the Central in 2009 and 2010 but being swept by the Yankees in both years.

But those teams did not have the star power of the 2006 squad. By 2008 Santana was a Met and Hunter was an Angel. By then the Twins seemed like the obligatory entry from the Central, an afterthought rather than a legit pennant contender.

The team in 2006, with the elite players hitting their prime and the comeback and the path cleared by Detroit eliminating New York, had everything align to be one of the great teams and highlights in the history of the franchise.

Mauer would have led his childhood team to the title. He and Morneau would have formed the new “M&M Boys” and given that combo some substance with their wonderful style.

Santana’s Hall of Fame credentials would have received a shot in the arm as would have the legacy of Torii Hunter.

Instead a pennant has eluded all of those stars to this day.

Gardenhire’s legacy would be similar to Mike Scioscia’s, whose 2002 Angels won it all and his subsequent Division Titles helped his legacy rather than hurt it.

All of this could have happened if 2006 went their way.

Instead they are just another team who got swept in the Division Series and lost to history.

Alas a great missed opportunity for the Twins.

10 Reasons why the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim winning the World Series would be good for baseball

My series of Why Each Team’s Potential World Championship Would Be Good For The Game moves on with the California Angels.

OK Fine, The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

It’s a stupid name. A great organization but a stupid name. There. I got that out of the way. And I won’t make any more references to the silly name.

The organization is a damn good one and they could very well have a big time contender for years to come. I picked them to win the West and the pennant at the beginning of the season on the strength of their starting pitching. However their recent 5 game slide has put them a full week behind the Texas Rangers.

If the slide continues, I won’t be able to include them as a contender. So let’s knock this out.

10 Reasons why the

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

winning the 2011 World Series

would be good for baseball

1. Mike Scioscia’s Hall of Fame resume would be undeniable

I would argue that Scioscia is the best manager in baseball today. Maybe even a notch about LaRussa and Leyland. He took over an Angels team in 2000 that had never won a playoff series.

By 2002 they were the World Champions. Players have come and gone but the Angels returned to October baseball as Division Champions in 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008 and 2009 and made it to the ALCS in ’05 and ’09.

He already has as many World Series titles as Leo Durocher and Earl Weaver. If he wins again, then he will have a completely different roster than the 2002 Champs. His resume is already impressive. Another title (plus the fact that he already has 12 years under his belt and doesn’t seem close to retiring) would mean he would join his mentor Tom Lasorda in Cooperstown.

2. It would break Bobby Abreu’s bad luck streak

Bobby Abreu has logged in 15+ solid and sometimes spectacular big league seasons. The former All Star, Silver Slugger and Gold Glove winner played 8 1/2 seasons in Philadelphia but was traded away before they won the World Series in 2008.

He spent a few more years with the Yankees but was in an Angels uniform when they won the 2009 World Series. He’s played in the post season with three different organizations (the Astros, Yankees and Angels) and has yet to play in the World Series.

He has earned a long October.

3. A ring for Torii Hunter

I like Torri Hunter. There are a lot of reasons to like Torii Hunter. He plays with passion. He plays with respect for the game and its past.

And in his prime, he was the most dynamic defensive outfielder not named Jim Edmonds and could hit too.

He’s outspoken and colorful, but isn’t it nice to have a star who isn’t bland?

And he sets up tons of college scholarships through his foundation. Do we really want him to finish his career RINGLESS?

4. The Age of Ace Pitchers will move to the American League

We could be in an age of having 1-2 ace tandems in for contending teams. Halladay-Lee, Lincecum-Cain, Lester-Beckett etc. You are hard pressed to find a better 1-2 punch than Jered Weaver and Dan Haren. Throw in Ervin Santana and the Angels would have probably the most lethal 1-2-3 of any American League staff.

Plus these aces winning would take away some of the sting of 2006. Dan Haren was a member of the Cardinals who was dealt away in 2005 for Mark Mulder. The Cardinals won the World Series that year but Mulder was injured and Haren was in Oakland. Mulder was replaced by Jeff Weaver, Jered’s brother. Jeff was cut by the Angels to make room for Jered. It would be nice to see the Weaver brothers compare rings.

5. Old and Young Angels would be rewarded

The picture to the left shows 35 year old Torii Hunter high fiving 19 year old Mike Trout. This team can be a wonderful bridge between veterans fighting for their first title and young kids hoping to get their quest for a title over with early.

Vernon Wells, Abreu, Hunter and Joel Pinero know their window is closing. Players like Weaver, Trout, Tyler Chatwood, Jordan Walden, Peter Bourjos and Mark Trumbo all hope to be fixtures in Anaheim for a while. This year could be a wonderful bridge for two eras of Angels baseball.

6. FINALLY some tourists would discover Anaheim!

Seriously. I feel so badly for the Chamber of Commerce of Anaheim.

Without the Angels, why would any tourist come to Orange County. If only there was SOMETHING in Anaheim that could draw in tourism without being solely dependent on the fate of the Angels.

We’ve got to brainstorm about that.

7. It would be further humiliation for Frank McCourt… which is a good thing

The Dodgers actually play in Los Angeles and they have the deep rooted love and devotion of the city (even though they arrived in Los Angeles only 3 years before the Angels were formed.)

But with the Dodgers in disarray, losing in front of empty seats, dumping players and needing to be bailed out by baseball, one of the marquee franchises has become a laughing stock.

Having them not only endure this disastrous season but seeing their nominal neighbor win it all would only help getting McCourt and this whole mess out of the game.

As entertaining as it has been, it has run its course.

8. Arte Moreno is a great owner and great owners should have a title.

Moreno took over the Angels after they won the World Series under Disney. So he took over a quality team. But what has happened under his leadership is stability in management, a quality product on the field and class in the organization.

They have developed good players, traded and signed others and consistently contended. And their owner clearly cares to not only win but make the Angels a proud organization.

You think that’s par for the course? Why not drive up the 5 and visit Chavez Ravine, then get back to me.

Like Mark Cuban in basketball, owners who really care and put their guts in the team deserve a title.

9. It’s best that all teams that won in the Steroid Era win another title soon.

Look, we all had fun during The Steroid Era, but it would be best for the game that it goes away as soon as possible.

The teams that won during the peak would all be better off if they pick up another title so their last October heroes weren’t sitting under a black cloud.

When 2002 World Series MVP Troy Glaus’ name came up in the steroid investigations, a Giants friend of mine said “See! We should have won if they weren’t juicing!” I pointed out that the Giants had Barry Bonds.

Seriously… let’s put it all behind us.

10. Maybe another title will FINALLY make the Angels one of the cool marquee baseball franchises

A few years ago, I wrote about how everything was underrated with the Angels.

From Rod Carew and Nolan Ryan building up their Cooperstown credentials to Don Baylor and Fred Lynn launching homers to Reggie Jackson’s last October hurrah and Jim Freaking Abbott, the Angels have always provided some great moments and likable stars. And they had Gene Autry owning the team and loving them until the day he died. (Why isn’t the stadium called “Gene Autry Park?”)

Maybe their lack of championships despite having star players hurt them in getting national exposure. Maybe playing in Orange County instead of in the city has given the Angels an aura of being a suburb franchise and not a cool city team.

But they ARE a model team and have given their fans lots of great baseball. They should be mentioned as one of the top tier teams. Maybe tying the Red Sox and Yankees with World Series titles this century will do just that!

Now as a Red Sox fan, I’ve never been a big Angels fan. But there is no denying lots of positives would come about from an Angels title.

If they lose a few more games, it would make this whole post moot. Then again, because I picked the Angels, I suppose I should be kind of rooting for them.

If you liked this then go ahead and read the entries for the other teams.




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Sully carefully writes about Torii Hunter

I love you, my dear readers… but some of you really need to think before sending me an e mail.

Case in point: I’ve received a bunch of e mails asking me “when are you going to write about the Torii Hunter comment?” or saying “Man, you must be chomping at the bit to write about Torii Hunter!”

First of all it is a racial issue, and unless the topic is “Explain why the Yawkeys were scumbags” I tend to shy away from race.

It’s a lightning rod that nobody can look good for bringing it up.

For those of you who don’t know, Torii Hunter was asked about race in a USA Today article and said the perceived rise of African American players in the bigs is misleading. Most of the players of color are Latino and not African American and he called them “imposters.”

And at that point Torii Hunter, one of the good guys in baseball and supposedly a great teammate, was painted with the broad brush of racially insensitive.

And you lunatic readers want to hear the point of view of a white guy who grew up in a well off family in the suburbs of Boston and San Francisco?

OK, fine. I’ll say my thoughts… and I will walk more carefully than Indiana Jones in that temple at the beginning of Raiders where the wrong step meant a dart in the ankle.

Was “imposters” the wrong word choice? Probably.

But can’t we take two nanoseconds to think about what he said. I would imagine the experiences of being an African American in this day and age would be different than being Latino. And someone like Torii Hunter has been at the forefront of trying to get baseball more involved with the inner cities and an African American communities.

And (Sully steps carefully) equating the signing of black players from the Domincan Republic (where baseball is already king and the big leagues mean a ticket to America) with recruiting African American players from the inner cities (where basketball and football dwarf baseball in popularity and relevance) can be disingenuous. And maybe baseball should ramp up their efforts, like RBI, to become a presence in the inner cities the way they have embraced Latin America.

Everyone has their racial Spidey sense turned up to 11 that even the genuine racists in this country resort to code words like “birth certificate” these days.

And frankly I think racial sensitivity can be a positive thing… but also think of the context of people’s comments.

Do you really think Torii Hunter disrespected Vlad Guerrero, Johan Santana, Bobby Abreu and any other Latino teammate he has had?

So yeah, the word “imposter” wasn’t the best use of words… but he’s Torii Hunter, not William Jennings Bryan. Cut him some slack.

And yes, an African American talking about African American issues should have more slack than a white kid from the affluent suburbs of Boston and San Francisco.

(Sully looks around… sees if the temple is collapsing around him.)

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