Ask the Sportswriters

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.

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•Question:  Last week Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Patrick Reusse wrote that Minnesota Twins management should do the right thing and dismiss manager Ron Gardenhire during the All-Star break. He wrote that Gardenhire should not have to watch another miserable half-season of poor play, which likely will continues for another season or two. Which of these options would you follow through with if you were general manager Terry Ryan?

-Let Gardenhire go now.

-Let Gardenhire go at the end of the season.

-Bring Gardenhire back for another season.

-Dorr: I think Reusse was having a bit of fun at the team’s or manager’s expense. Still, a third straight losing season, especially one with more than 90 losses, would probably mean a new manager for 2014. I do think it’s too early in the season to say that Gardenhire should be fired. I was talking with a bunch of baseball people the day before the Yankee series last weekend and predicted the Twins would win at least two of the games, and possibly sweep the series. They all thought I was crazy and after the Friday loss at rain-infested Yankee Stadium, so did I. But the Twins played two good games and won the series (they are, by the way, 6-6 in their last 12 games in New York), perhaps even surprising themselves. The point is, we don’t know how the rest of the season will go, although most suspect it won’t go well. I’m not a big Gardenhire booster but the truth is that the Minnesota roster isn’t a very good one. The Twins have the only pitching staff in baseball where the ERA of the starters is over 5.00, and the team usually doesn’t score many runs. Is that Gardenhire’s fault? Probably not. And I haven’t heard anything from all the folks who wanted Tom Brunansky to replace Joe Vavra as the hitting coach. If the Twins limp in with another horrible record, though, Gardenhire is likely gone.

-Marxhausen: I don’t entirely blame Gardenhire for the misfortunes that have befallen the Twins organization. The talent level that’s in the Twins dugout has dropped substantially as many talented players have ended up on the rosters of other teams. It’s tough to say how long the Twins will put a losing team on the field. The team’s young talent in the minors appears too inexperienced to be able to play with the parent club for a few years yet. The Twins are in need of one or two pitching aces. The hitting has been less than desirable with nearly everyone on the team batting below expectations. With what Gardenhire has done for the team in his tenure in Minnesota, he deserves to make this decision on his own with no other contributors weighing in on the outcome. If he wants to stay, then let him stay and manage his team to whatever outcome ensues.

-Larson:  First, can Terry Ryan fire himself? He set the stage for at least a couple more sad years during this past off-season.

It would make no sense to fire Gardenhire until this season is over. Then, both Gardenhire and Ryan should go. While Gardenhire had much previous success, he has to take some of the blame for the team’s dismal showing the past two-plus seasons.  While the team’s talent has been mediocre at best, the Twins have shown no improvement from the start of the season to the end of the season, and part of a manager’s job is to improve his team. And, the Pohlads should shoulder their share of blame for what’s been happening at Target Field. All that added money that the new park would generate certainly hasn’t been spent on improving the Twins.  The Twins make financial decisions, not baseball decisions.

-Johnson: I am a Gardenhire fan. I think he is a very knowledgeable baseball man. He handles his teams well and I think he protects his players when he needs to.  You cannot blame the last two and one-half seasons on him.  Pure lack of talent is the reason for the struggles in recent years.  There are a number of polls which have rated Gardenhire as one of the top 10 managers in baseball in 2013, even with the record the Twins had in 2012.  Gardenhire should stay.  Rick Anderson should be let go if anybody at all.  Anderson is known for taking all of his pitchers and trying to make them all throw the same way.  His philosophy of attacking the strike zone is good but every pitcher throws differently.  Altering the way a pitcher throws takes years and years of work and does not fair well with most.  I remember Fransisco Liriano when he was in Class AAA.  They held him in AAA for so long because he wasn’t throwing the number change-ups that the pitching staff wanted him to. Matt Garza had the same dispute with the organization. Both of these players should have been brought up to the big leagues sooner.  Bring them up and let them do what they are best at, which for Liriano and Garza was throwing hard and throwing nasty off-speed pitches.  Both of them had great potential for being a solid ace for years to come and now neither are with the team. By trying to change the way they pitched, Anderson and the rest of the pitching staff hindered the potential of both of these players as well as many others.  Terry Ryan should think about digging into the owners’ pockets and bringing in some real talent and not about who to fire for the team’s lack of success.

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•Question:  University of Minnesota Athletic Director Norwood Teague has announced a $190 million plan to upgrade the school’s athletic facilities. The plan, which would be financed through fund-raising, would include a new training facility for football and new practice facilities for the men’s and women’s basketball teams. It would also include money for the other sports programs. How important are top-notch facilities to the success of college athletic programs? 

-Dorr: I’m not sure. Most of the programs that have had success DO have such facilities, or so we are told. So, is the success a product of those facilities, or are they just window dressing? Would Duke, for example, have the winning basketball tradition that it has without those facilities, or would it have a run-of-the-mill basketball program? I don’t think there’s any doubt that having nice facilities is an attraction for some athletes. In this generation that seems to pay a lot of attention to how things look instead of how things are, new facilities will probably get you an athlete or two, or maybe many more than that.  And it might attract a coach or two that wouldn’t otherwise have signed on. Teague’s program is an ambitious one and it’ll be interesting to see how raising that much money goes.

-Marxhausen: Improved facilities would greatly impress young recruits and welcome them to the University of Minnesota. It is tough to get behind spending more money, with the TCF Bank Stadium recently built, but as Athletics Director Norwood Teague put it, “we need this.” From the basketball perspective, the only two teams without a basketball practice facility in the Big Ten are Northwestern and Minnesota. If a practice facility for the basketball teams helped put wins on the board and bring in top recruits for all the sports teams, then this project will pay dividends.

-Larson:  The best college teams are the ones that have the best coaches and players. It’s that simple. And, wonderful practice facilities are a plus. However, when top high school recruits are pondering which college they will attend, facilities rank down on their list. For football, it’s how many times has a team played in a bowl game? What kind of success has the coach had? Will I be playing in front of packed stadiums. How many players from this school have advanced to the pros? Great facilities are a bonus. I do commend Teague for his ambition.

-Johnson: The facilities themselves may not be that important in fostering better practices or games but they will probably attract better talent in student athletes.  The facilities and venues for practices and events are often times a deciding factor for recruits.  I don’t think it is necessary to practice or play in anything better than what they currently have but if I were a recruit and I had two schools relatively equal in choice, I would definitely pick the one with the state of the art facilities.  Once your team is set for the year, coaching is the number factor for success, not the facilities.  From a recruiting standpoint, they are important.  From a playing/practicing standpoint, they are not very important.

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Do you have an opinion on any of this week’s questions? Do you agree or disagree with the sportswriters? Let us know by sending an e-mail to editor.millelacscotimes@ecm-inc.com or a note to Mille Lacs County Times, 225 S.W. 2nd St. Milaca, MN 56353. Or comment online.

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