Following are opinions from Mille Lacs County Times editor-sports editor Gary Larson, reporter Luther Dorr, former Times intern Logan Marxhausen and sports fan Ben Johnson. Note: This feature is written on Monday each week.
•Question: Relief pitcher Eddie Guardado was inducted into the Minnesota Twins Hall of Fame last Friday, along with longtime public relations director Tom Mee. Guardado joined players Rick Aguilera, Bob Allison, Earl Battey, Bert Blyleven, Rod Carew, Gary Gaetti, Greg Gagne, Kent Hrbek, Jim Kaat, Tom Kelly, Harmon Killebrew,Tony Oliva, Camilo Pascual, Jim Perry, Kirby Puckett, Brad Radke, Zoilo Versalles and Frank Viola. Who do you think will be the next player in the Twins HOF?
-Dorr: I was surprised at both of those inductions so I don’t think I have much of an idea who will go in next. In fact, I can’t think of anyone not currently on a roster who would be the next likely one. While looking through some all-time stats for the Twins I did notice that Shane Mack, an outfielder on a World Series team, and Brian Harper, a catcher on one of the World Series teams, were over .300 with the Twins - Mack at .309 and Harper at .306. I’m not suggesting either should be in the Minnesota hall of fame. And I can’t find a pitcher I think will be next. But I probably missed someone who will be eligible, or they’ll come up with a guy like Mee. Got to know Mee a little because he played minor league ball with Pete Finelli, a former sportswriter/broadcaster from Princeton. He’s a very nice guy. I was there last Friday and Guardado gave the longest induction speech I have ever heard. But the fans loved it and chanted “Eddie, Eddie” like they back when he was pitching. Give him credit – he had an average fastball but would never back down from a hitter. By the way, Perry, who pitched decades ago, and Aguilera and Radke, looked in good enough shape to step on the mound and throw today.
-Marxhausen: Eddie Guardado and Tom Mee joined a great cast of Twins history in the Minnesota Twins Hall of Fame. It is tough to decide who will be the next on the list as most of my candidates are still playing today. My guidelines will be broken down into four basic outlines for which they are nominated. 1. The length a player wore a Twins uniform. 2. A player’s statistics over his time as a Twin. 3. Whether a player has held any franchise records. 4. The impact they have had on the fan base. Dan Gladden was one of the seven players who won both World Series with the Twins in 1987 and 1991. He scored the winning run in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series playing as an above average outfielder with a great awareness for stealing bases. Johan Santana played for eight seasons with the Twins from 2000 to 2007. He was a two-time All-Star, two-time AL Cy Young winner, and one-time Gold Glove winner. Joe Nathan was acquired in 2003 from the San Francisco Giants. He was the Twins’ closer from 2004 to 2011. He holds the team’s single-season record for saves with 47 (2009) and career saves with 260. He is also ranked sixth in games played by a pitcher in a Twins uniform. Torii Hunter was the Twins center fielder for 11 seasons, making the All-Star Game twice and he won seven Gold Glove awards. Hunter was a fan favorite and had a huge impact on the team’s fan base. If Dan Gladden is not inducted into the Twins Hall of Fame, then the next one to retire from the list I mentioned will be the next player inducted into the Minnesota Twins Hall of Fame.
-Larson: As Logan points out the next player to be chosen for the Twins Hall of Fame is likely still playing. The obvious picks are already in the honor group. Who’s going to retire first, Joe Nathan or Torii Hunter? That player will be the next inductee.
-Johnson: A strong case can be made for Torii Hunter to be inducted to the Twins Hall of Fame. He played for the Twins for 11 years and was a centerpiece to four playoff teams during those years. He is 8th in home runs with 192 in team history and he is arguably the best center fielder the Twins have had (competing with Kirby Puckett). Chalk Joe Mauer in as a future Twins Hall of Famer. Depending how Justin Morneau’s future pans out, I think he is a likely candidate for the Twins Hall of Fame. Others that might receive attention are Johan Santana and Joe Nathan.
•Question: The Major League baseball season has passed the one-third mark and closing in on its midpoint. From one to four, rank who you feel are the top four teams in each of the leagues?
-Dorr: It’s certainly not the Angels and the Dodgers, both of whom have huge payrolls but have records nearly 10 games under .500. They are proof, so far, that big-money players don’t necessarily win you anything. In the AL I’d say Detroit first, Oakland second and then Boston, Baltimore and Texas in any order you like. Detroit has a great lineup but, more than that, great pitching so far. That has surprised me a bit. In the NL you can take your pick between St. Louis and Atlanta for first place and then go with Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. The Cards, Reds and Pirates are all in the Central Division. Of course, those are the picks after 65 to 70 games. I’m sure things will change by August or September, with one of those Central Division teams perhaps falling off a bit. My surprise teams, so far, are Oakland, Arizona and Colorado where Michael Cuddyer has the longest hitting streak of his career. And may I say that StarTribune columnist Jim Souhan, usually a writer who slices people up, was wrong Sunday when he said Joe Mauer has been worth $23 million a year.
-Marxhausen: In the American League at No. 4 is Detroit. Even though the Tigers have not run away with the Central Division, they are the clear-cut favorite in everyone’s book just because of the talent they have in their everyday lineup and starting rotation. While Detroit has just the fourth highest winning percentage in the American League, it does have the highest point differential, not to mention back-to-back hitters Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. Oakland is No. 3. There is nothing fancy about the Athletics, but looks can be deceiving. In the last 160 games played, including last season, the Athletics have the highest win percentage with a record of 102-58. Don’t take them lightly. Baltimore is No. 2. The Orioles are led by Chris Davis, who is second in the American League in batting average and RBIs behind Miguel Cabrera and first in home runs with 24. The top AL team is Boston, which started out very strong, but has faltered the past few weeks to become more of an average team. Still the best record in the American League does not go unaccounted for. Pittsburgh is No. 4 in the National League. For the past three seasons Pittsburgh has thrived before the All-Star break only to falter and fall from division leader to terrible. Whether the Pirates do that once again is tough to say but being in a division with three teams with over 40 wins each has to be tough. Atlanta hasn’t had much of a challenge in the NL East and is No. 3 overall in the NL. Cincinnati, my pick for No. 2, has a very decent everyday lineup built to bring in runs, but it is not as good as the Reds’ starting rotation which is comprised of quality pitchers. The Reds have a complete five-man rotation that can shut teams down every day. St. Louis is No. 1. The best team in baseball is the best-hitting team in baseball. In the entire league they are second in runs and batting average and third in on-base percentage. That, along with a pitching staff that has compiled the second overall ranking in earned-run-average in the league, adds up to a very good ball club. The thing that really stands out about the Cardinals is that they win at home (20-12) as well as on the road (25-13).
-Larson: Detroit is the best team in the AL, followed by Boston, Baltimore and Oakland. Detroit has that great starting pitching as well as the best hitting punch in the league. In the NL it’s Atlanta, followed closely by St. Louis, then, a ways back, Cincinnati and Arizona. The rankings are likely to change before the All-Star break.
-Johnson: The best team in the American League is Detroit. It has excellent starting pitching and the best lineup in baseball. Behind Detroit I have, in order, Boston, Texas, and New York. I think both Baltimore and Oakland will fall in the standings and I still believe the Angels will get hot at some point and start digging out of the huge hole they are in. I think the National League has much better “top tier” teams than the American League. The top four in the NL are Atlanta, St. Louis, San Francisco, and Cincinnati. Washington has too many injuries to sustain a good record. Arizona and Colorado have quietly made their way into the spotlight but I think that is short-lived. How about the Dodgers and their $220 million payroll to accompany their 29-39 record?
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