|Git yer Uncle Jumbo
February 28, 1996
When all is lost, head for Florida
The year before Zubaz broke I found
myself living back at home with my mother in a town without a sports bar or a bowling
alley. This would have been early autumn of 1986, and my retreat from the Twin
Cities had been desperate to say the least.
March 13, 1996
Clear the rinks, its time for
Its no secret that I am
not a hockey fan. Its more or less science fiction to me, or, worse yet, opera:
loud, absurd, and completely inexplicable, not to mention poorly costumed.
April 3, 1996
Start of baseball season the ultimate grand
Uncomfortable admissions have long
been my specialty, and heres a whopper: I once wore a toga emblazoned with Lenny
Faedos number to a Twins opener.
April 17, 1996
Terrible woman or crazy, bigoted
You know that there is something
seriously wrong with the American Dream when a ridiculous backwards hag like Marge Schott
gets to own a Major League baseball team.
May 15, 1996
Sad west coast trip beats fishing
Loneliness is the scourge of
American life, and it is sad and amazing to learn again and again to what pathetic and
ridiculous depths it will drive a man.
May 29, 1996
Fat guys play the sport Air Jordan
I know its pathetic,
but whenever Im watching a game and I see a guy like Frank Viola looking a little
chubby I always feel sort of good about it.
June 12, 1996
One long halftime show
I grew up in a
yawning little town called Blooming Void, raised on chipped beef-on-toast and Fritos, 14
miles from the nearest pinball machine.
July 3, 1996
Transistor radio catches mixed signals
I live in this attic apartment in the
middle of the city, not a particularly comfortable arrangement for a guy whos
carrying around some extra pounds and sweats when he whistles.
July 17, 1996
The Last Dance
Doo Wop is the 20th century equivalent of the
Gregorian chant, and Friday night found me sitting in my dark apartment in my underwear,
weeping intermittently and shuttling records to and from my turntable, letting every sad
song I could find pound away at the heavy bag that was my heart.
July 31, 1996
In summer of gold medals, Knoblauch
Every year for several years
now Ive taken a week of unpaid vacation and a couple buddies and I have headed for
the Wisconsin Dells, the quintessential idiots free zone.
August 14, 1996
Worn out as 26th
Olympiad mercifully ends
Would someone please tell me that the
closing ceremony of the 26th Olympiad is really over, because I am just flat
worn out and I dont know how much longer I can keep my mojo working.
August 28, 1996
Snake Attack garners another
One weekend every summer I return to
my old stomping grounds for the annual Drungo Hazewood Whiffleball Classic...
September 11, 1996
Purple blood still a mystery
after all these years
Every Sunday during football season I
dutifully take my place on a bar stool down at Glums, my neighborhood saloon, and
sit there tight-lipped with one of the human fixtures of the place, Sweating Bobby Verdi.
September 25, 1996
Molitors big day witnessed
Many years ago I was falsely accused
of stealing Rick Wakemans "Six Wives of Henry VIII" album from my local
public library. I loved that record, but God knows I wouldnt have settled for a
hacked library copy...
October 9, 1996
Remember the Alomar
Theres really no getting around
the fact that professional sports are loaded with reprehensible characters, and baseball
is no exception.
October 23, 1996
Excellence is boring
Here I am, on the brink of the
punishing season. When the boxscores disappear for the winter I find myself bundled up on
the floor of my dark apartment...
October 30, 1996
Mercedes stalls in the Bronx
What was it gonna be, dynasty or
destiny? The Mercedes ran out of gas in the Bronx and the reform school boys in pinstripes
stripped it bare.
December 11, 1996
Heres a new wrinkle in the
gray, clanging days before Christmas: Uncle Jumbo has been playing miserable pet store
February 5, 1997
Granted, I contribute little to the
local economy outside the gerbil-on-a-wheel/slum lord/convenience store circuit, but I
swear to you, I cannot live in a city without a major league baseball team.
March 5, 1997
Jewell of Spring
The return of baseball to the Spring Training
camps in Florida and Arizona is always such a hopeful and optimistic harbinger that it
pains me to have to report that I am now living in a cramped and filthy house with three
other poor slobs and I am working at my third Mall of America kiosk in three months...
March 26, 1997
Spring training at the Mall
After many years of working one lousy service sector job after
another I have developed a simple rule that will henceforth be known as Jumbos Law:
Never Let The Customer Feel Your Pain.
April 2, 1997
Your first baseball glove is right up there
with your first dog or your first beer. I would say it was right up there with your first
kiss, if I could say so with any kind of authority.
April 16, 1997
Uncle Jumbo's Mailbag
Due to the sheer volume of mail the
good Doctor Jumbo receives each week it is necessary from time to time to give some of my
critics an opportunity to spew their bile and take their potshots...
April 30, 1997
Jumbo's early years
The brain trust at SportsPage have
kaboshed the proposed serialization of my mammoth two volume autobiography ("Too
ambitious for our sophisticated yet easily distracted readership," Im told)...
May 14, 1997
Greetings from the road. Heres the
latest Jumbo scam: A passing acquaintance from my days in the hotel shuttle business gives
me a call out of the blue a couple weeks ago and says hes moving to Las Vegas...
May 28, 1997
Blooming Void reunion turns
When the band at my old friend Junie
"Boneyard" Sandovals wedding reception broke into Little River Bands
"Reminiscing" I knew that I was going to get very, regrettably drunk for the
first time in many years, and I couldnt have been more right.
June 11, 1997
Where are all the baseball fans?
Here are some sad facts: In the big
picture scheme of things there really arent a lot of real baseball fans in the Twin
Cities, a hard truth that has been plenty apparent to the serious fan for as long as there
has been a professional team in the state.
June 25, 1997
A Hallmark moment
Many years ago, after floundering around the
University of Minnesota for 12 years piling up incompletes and parking tickets and
watching as one wave of acquaintances after another actually graduated and moved along
into the real world, I was in a campus laundromat one afternoon when I had the sudden and
horrible revelation that everyone else in the place was at least 10 years younger than me.
July 23, 1997
Wheels spin at Loose Meat Festival
In my home town of Blooming Void the
weekend after the Fourth of July has traditionally been set aside for the staging of the
communitys annual Loose Meat Festival.
August 13, 1997
I dont know about you, but all this 1987
World Championship reunion baloney has got me bluer than Hank Williams, Sr. at his
October 18, 1997
What can I say? The other day
I found myself driving around town looking to buy a trombone.
|Why are the Twins so bad?
by Uncle Jumbo
|Posted October 18, 1997
|What can I say? The
other day I found myself driving around town looking to buy a trombone. At some point the
logic of my search disappeared on me and I drove back home and sat down in front of the
television with a can of pork and beans and a big 1987 World Series plastic souvenir cup
full of Hawaiian Punch. Sandwiched between the casino shills was an advertisement for an
upcoming program called "When Animals Attack 4," the prospect of which
gave me some small pleasure of anticipation.
The Minnesota Twins will leave and I can see clearly enough a
scenario in which I will become a blubbering and blubbery sidewalk problem for local
I have no explanation for why I thought I might need a trombone. Its just one of
those odd things; from time to time I am seized with some idiot notion that something as
seemingly inconsequential as a trombone might change my life. The truth, of course, is
that I have absolutely no patience for anything that would actually pass for a hobby, but
every year as the baseball season disappears into the fat folds of my memory I am left
with this terrible void, and the increasingly dire prospects for local baseball have me
floundering more desperately than ever this year.
Twins will leave and I can see clearly enough a scenario in which I will become a
blubbering and blubbery sidewalk problem for local authorities. I will be cited again and
again for urinating in public. You will find me on lovely summer evenings bellowing in the
sculpture garden and hurling insults at patrons scurrying for the sanctuary of the Guthrie
Youll see me poking around in public trash receptacles with a
whiffleball bat, scrounging for aluminum cans, my prized Tom Brunansky jersey now
threadbare and horribly stained with grease and bile and mustard. You know me. My pants
will be riding halfway down my ass. My nights will be nothing but a muddled succession of
pre-dawn phone calls to talk radio programs, ranting about all manner of conspiracies. The
obscene caricatures of Carl Pohlad and John Marty you will encounter on bathroom walls all
over the Twin Cities will be from my hand. Pohlad flabby and naked except for a pair of
drooping black socks, sprawled across a flophouse mattress, rheum puddling in the hideous
folds beneath his eyes. Marty? He will be pictured as an appallingly gaunt and rouged
little wooden headfor what does he resemble above all else but a terrifying
ventriloquists dummy?-- perched obscenely on a lecherous giants lap, his
hinged jaw falling open in delight.
Its been a long, hard summer for a local baseball fan, and the
winter whose campfires are even now visible in the distance promises to be a cruel one.
The saddest truth is that there are no good guys in this whole local
stadium mess, and there has perhaps never been a time when the Twins have inspired so
little optimism. The 1997 season was such a dreary, knee-walking spectacle that it is easy
to lose sight of the small triumphs and compelling dramas that are a part of even the
worst baseball seasons. If someone had told you going into Aprilwith the additions
of Terry Steinbach, Bob Tewksbury, Greg Swindell, and Greg Colbrunnthat Brad Radke
would win 20 games, Chuck Knoblauch would steal 62 bases and score 117 runs, and Ron
Coomer would emerge as a solid everyday third baseman and run producer, you would have
expected, at worst, a .500 record.
Yet the Twins finished at 67-94, 12 games below last year, and managed
once again to post a team Earned Run Average over five runs a game (second worst in the
American League), and again failed to have a single player with either 20 home runs or 100
RBIs. They were the only team in the American League without at least two players with 20
or more home runs, and the only team without a single player with a slugging percentage of
over .500. All of which, of course, makes the accomplishments of Radke and Knoblauch all
the more extraordinary. (Two of the three 20-game winners in the AL, in factRadke
and Clemensplayed for lousy, last-place teams.)
There is plenty of blame to go around for the Twins miserable
season, and for their discouraging showing five years running. General Manager Terry Ryan
has a spotty track record at bestkeep in mind that perhaps the most significant
occurrence on his watch was the signing of Knoblauch, a deal that was actually brokered by
Dark Star. There are also perhaps at this time some questions about the ability of the
scouting and player development departments to find and nurture genuine major league
talent. Having said that, however, it should be pointed out that virtually all of the
players the Twins have taken in the first rounds of the draft have been consensus picks,
and these are, in fact, the people who signed Knoblauch, Scott Erickson, Radke, and Marty
Cordova, who it may be forgotten was the Rookie of the Year three seasons ago. And Ryan
did go out and sign Steinbach, a move that was widely applauded on all sides, and the
beleaguered GM can hardly be blamed for the fact that Steinbach responded with a decidedly
It has been amazing to watch the ways in which Tom Kelly has always
managed to deflect blame for the poor performance of his ballclubsoffering up
excuses ranging from insufficient talent to small market limitationsall the while
managing to trade on his two World Championships, for which he has always assumed an
inordinate amount of the credit. There is no denying that the game has changed
dramatically since 1991, but the reality is that many of the so-called small market teams
still continue to play competent and surprising baseball. Year in and year out a number of
the big stories in baseball revolve around small market success stories. Witness this year
the dramatic improvements and scrappy play of teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates, Houston
Astros, Detroit Tigers, and Milwaukee Brewers.
The name of the game is still player development, and it is only through
the development of homegrown prospects that the nucleus of good teams is built. Take a
good look at the Yankees, the prototypical model of the large market team: At
least four of the key players on the Yankeesplayers instrumental in turning around
the teams long-floundering fortunesare homegrown products (Andy Pettitte,
Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, and Mariano Rivera). Granted, Steinbrenners money
allows him to sandbag and surround those players with big-ticket additions, but without
those products from the farm system the Yankees are still exhibit A in the argument that
money cant buy success in the Major Leagues. Ditto for teams such as the Atlanta
Braves and the Seattle Mariners. Market limitations may limit you in keeping the good
young players your system develops (See: Montreal Expos), but that doesnt excuse the
Twins failure to bring their prospects along and help their transition to big league
At this stage the evidence would seem to be irrefutable that Kelly and
his moribund field staff have failed miserably in evaluating and developing the young
players theyve been given. In 1987 and 1991 it can convincingly be argued that Kelly
won with squads whose nucleus by and large managed themselves. Players who have thrived
under Kelly have almost always tended to fall into the category of self-starters, guys who
come to the majors with a complete package of skills and the intensity and make-up to
Its interesting that Kellys real success storiesaside
from the journeymen relievers and utility players he is inarguably adept at
handlinghave been players whose success has been largely uncredited to Kelly or his
staff, players who Kelly can send out there with confidence that they can do the job,
coaching staff be damned. The real challenge for Kelly has come in dealing with young
players unfamiliar with his passive-aggressive style and harsh demands and criticisms,
players who may struggle and benefit from the confidence or patience of the coaching
Yes, part of it is throwing the guys out there and letting them play,
and there are certainly a number of young players to whom Kelly has given ample
opportunities and who have been huge disappointments thus far (Rich Becker, Scott
Stahoviak, Todd Walker, and Frank Rodriguez, to name just four of the current batch), but
there is also the stuff that goes on outside the lines of the playing field, the
preparation and coaching and development and nurturing that constitute a very large part
of a major league manager or coaches job. Kelly and his staff cannot possibly be regarded
as anything but failures in this regard. Inevitably when a player scuffles Kellys
response had been to lose patience, and either to consign the player to the bench or
bullpen, or to move them to another club (its a long list, but it arguably includes
players from Gary Gaetti and Tom Brunansky to Scott Erickson and Kevin Tapani).
In 1996 Kelly routinely gave at bats and playing time to obviously
marginal players at Ron Coomers expense, and even went so far as to belittle Coomer
on his radio show and in print. It is certainly apparent now that the Twins could have
profited with Coomers bat in the line-up. The same was true for much of the first
few months of this season, when Kelly time and again trotted out to the mound a gallery of
incompetents ranging from Scott Aldred to Rich Robertson to Kevin Jarvis. Meanwhile, as we
learned in the last month of the season, potentially promising pitchers like Dan Serafini
were languishing at Triple A, and Greg Swindellby any measure a better alternative
to any of the above namedwas pitching out of the bullpen.
Kelly and his hopeless pitching coach, Dick Such, can hardly be blamed
for the performance of the bums they trotted out to the mound, but they certainly should
be held accountable for the performance and progress of the younger pitchers that come
through their system. And they should certainly be held accountable for the fact that they
sent those bums to the mound in the first place.
You honestly cant name another professional sports coach or
manager who has been allowed to endure five straight losing seasons without being asked to
either step down or make some significant changes in his field staff. Kellys loyalty
to his coaches is admirable on a very human level, but is inexcusable at the level of
professional sports. Its a scary situation when a manager of a team that has lost as
consistently as Kelly now has, and whose teams have demonstrated an almost
across-the-board falling off in performance, remains the most obviously powerful figure in
Now that he seems as resolute as ever in bringing back the coterie of
dog track cronies that passes for his coaching staff, its time to acknowledge what
has long been plenty obvious to those of us who have suffered through every one of the 810
games over the last five seasons: If people really want to point fingers for the huge
current public indifference regarding the Twins, they might very well start by pointing a
finger squarely at Tom Kelly.