Since the teacher in me has the day off today, but the baseball fan (as always) does not, I thought it might be interesting to write a little on race and baseball in Minnesota.  It's is a subject we don't think about it too much, and to squash our thoughts about it into one day a year may be a bit of a disservice, but the Twins do have many sincere stewards of the game, from Kirby and Dave Winfield's work supporting the RBI League to honest and serious community builders like Torii Hunter and Denard Span. It feels like we've done well.

St. Paul Colored Gophers (1909?)
Yet, for all the fuzzy feelings about our team today, it's unfortunate that the Twins' history in Minnesota begins with an unpleasant truth. The Washington Senators, having faded from the glory of their days with Walter Johnson and Goose Goslin, were eager to move out of their home in the nation's capital. The team was only marginally profitable, the rosters were full of the marginally talented (and Harmon Killebrew), but the full reasons weren't clear until the 1970s when owner Calvin Griffith explained: 
"I'll tell you why we came to Minnesota. It was when we found out you only had 15,000 blacks here. Black people don't go to ballgames, but they'll fill up a rassling ring and put up such a chant it'll scare you to death. We came here because you've got good, hardworking white people here." (Source here)
Griffith may have hemmed and hawed about this, claiming misquotation, libel and the old "it-was-a-joke" routine, but that seems unlikely. Brad Snyder's excellently researched Beyond the Shadow of the Senators explains how, despite Hall of Fame calibre talent on the Negro League squad who shared Griffith Stadium with the Senators (Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige and Buck Leonard to name but three), the Senators owners refused to integrate their team either when these players were at the peak of their talents (and the Senators were desperate for talent) or for seven years after Jackie Robinson debuted, thereby dooming their team in Washington DC and necessitating the move to Minneapolis.

Twin Cities Colored Giants
That our Twins were born of such short-sighted narrow-mindedness is unfortunate, but if there is a comfort it rests in the fact that Calvin Griffith was an ignorant shmo. Because while our minority population may be small, we've long been able to support minority baseball as well as anybody else. 
The truth is that African-Americans have been a part of baseball in Minnesota for far longer than the Griffiths could ever be (see Steve Hoffbeck's excellent chronicle of black-baseball in Minnesota). The same year Moses "Fleet" Walker was playing for Toledo, Bud Fowler was playing second base for Stillwater. From George Wilson and Billy Holland with Waseca, to Alex Irwin and Milroy McCune with the Minneapolis Keystones, to stars Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe and the visionary Andrew "Rube" Foster, citizens (both black and white) turned up to see games and players and teams throughout Minnesota. 

The Twin Cities supported two Negro League squads including the Twin Cities Colored Giants and the St. Paul Colored Gophers, and fans came and cheered because they liked the game and-- regardless of what the Griffiths' might have believed--the support was there for good baseball no matter who played it and no matter who was allowed in to watch it. 
Let's pretend he was ours
Even later, after integration began, Minneapolis and St. Paul warmly welcomed stars in the making Roy Campanella and Willie Mays. The enticing white crowds the Griffiths wanted were excited and dedicated to pitchers like Mudcat Grant and Les Straker, they had affinities for role players like Chili Davis and Shane Mack, and they worshipped the centerfield legend: Kirby Puckett. 

These are our teams and our players and, as fans, the gulf between cheering for one or the other never seems quite as great as the Griffith's made it seem. It's easy to say that, as an old Baseball Magazine put it: "[all men are equal] at a ballgame: banker and bricklayer, lawyer and common laborer." But in reality, I'm writing from a very different time than the Griffiths. And though fans today excitedly look past many of our largest differences we are prone to forget the challenges and struggles and accomplishments that people like Fowler, Wilson, McCune and others had to go through to build the enduring legacy for players like Denard Span and Ben Revere and fans like all of us.

Today is a day to remember more than the successes and the struggles of race relations throughout our country. It's more than a time to cringe at Calvin Griffith's quote or puff ourselves up with some of our history. We can be satisfied with how far we've come and appreciative of how seriously we take our heritage, but we can also consider what comes next: maybe the Twins might hire an African-American manager, or maybe we'll hire an African-American GM to take over after Terry Ryan. But above all we can continue the work of Kirby Puckett, and Denard Span and St. Paul's own Dave Winfield and encourage local kids to pursue their goals through athletics and work ethic and teamwork. 

This is more than a day off, it's a call to action and at the risk of being a preachy teacher, it's not just what Dr. King might have dreamed of, or what Rube Foster might have imagined, but what we can all do personally, locally and immediately to help our community.


You're Good...But are you Plaque Good?

While voting continues for the Peanuts From Heaven Hall of Fame (see widget at the right), today marks the announcement of the inductees to that OTHER baseball hall of fame: the one that places "accomplishment" and "excellence" above nobler pursuits like "amusing us" and "inspiring goofy photoshops." (Seriously--vote for the most amusing Twins who left the team this last year and do it now!)

Last year the Baseball Hall of Fame enshrined Bert Blyleven (two years after we did, it should be noted), and Bert's special day became a highlight in an otherwise stinktastic Twins season. This warm and fuzzy memory led us to wonder if another Twins legend could get the call and brighten up our summers in the near future.

After all, if the Cubs had four Hall of Famers {Ernie Banks, Ferguson Jenkins, Billy Williams, Ron Santo} on their roster during a period of time where they won absolutely nothing (1966-1971), then you would assume that the Twins might have had two or three serious candidates during a five year span (02-06) of four division titles.

So we did a very un-Peanutly thing and crunched a few numbers (hopefully correctly). Using Baseball-Reference.com's list of all time Wins over Replacement (WAR) leaders, we compared a few favorite Twins to the top 100 Hall of Famers and similar players who haven't been elected to Cooperstown yet. We figured if Wins over Replacement tell you how valuable and effective certain players are, and if the voters for the Hall of Fame become nerdier and more SABR-metric-y in the next decade or so (SPOILER: they will), then comparing our current player's WAR/Season against those of the game's legends should give us a sense of their chances. Here's how a few favorites stack up.

Hall of Fame WAR/Season Average: 4.68; Pitchers--4.68; Hitters--4.46
Non-Inductees WAR/Season Avg.: 3.86; Pitchers 3.86; Hitters--4.04 (subtract admitted/named steroid users and it's 3.86)

Classic Twins
Jim Kaat (1.65) and Tony Oliva (2.83) are frequently mentioned as "could be" inductees who are just waiting on their chums on the veteran's committee to give them the thumbs up. The problem is that both Oliva and Kaat rate below their peers already in the hall on overall WAR, even when you account for Oliva's short peak his per season WAR rates below all but three of the top 100 (Carlton Fisk, Harmon Killebrew and the immortal Bobby Wallace). So, our suggestion is for Kaat and Oliva to bake some cookies, or cakes or coquitos and woo some of their old playing buddies.

Jack Morris (2.18) is perhaps the best pitcher on the ballot this year but after getting a little more than 50% of the vote last year seems unlikely to leap up to the 75% thresh hold for induction. It doesn't help matters that Morris rates below all current hall of famers and a whole bunch of others who will get on the ballot next year. While we love Black Jack for his broadcasting and St. Paul roots and buying a ranch house near my childhood home and for the sheer genius of Game 7 it looks like he might be waiting longer for a call from Cooperstown longer than I waited for a call from the head cheerleader (wait was that a burn on Morris...or me?).

When you look at this year's ballot and realize that Brad Radke (3.14) is on it, you might feel, that time is a fleeting thing. Bradke hasn't been gone that long has he? 5 years, really? Sure enough the Twins' work horse is officially out to pasture and pretty well guaranteed of being chucked from the ballot with little consideration. Sure he's a local favorite and our judgement might cloud our judgement--but is worth noting that he has a better per season WAR over his relatively brief career than Curt Schilling, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. Of course those guys all have fancy hardware on their mantlepieces and World Series rings on their fingers and Radke, you know, doesn't. (Sorry, Brad)

Current Players, Future Balloteers
While Radke's contributions to our run of success were important, he wasn't at his best then, and indeed some of those who were young and vital to the team are still playing, compiling stats and dreaming of that little Bronze Plaque. 

Hugs make missing the Hall of Fame feel less painful
Torii Hunter (2.12) stuck around for all four of those early division winners as he nears the twilight of his career he's a long way away from enshrinement levels (but he will be a free agent next winter, HINT-HINT). Ditto Joe Nathan (2.01), because while standards for closers are different than for other players, our beloved Dread Pirate will always be known to writers outside of the Midwest as "that really good closer who wasn't Mariano Rivera." Justin Morneau (2.17) is an interesting case because, while he had a stellar three-year-run, he also has been pretty much lost two years in his prime. If he'd been healthy and consistent during that time he might be approaching consideration...as is he seems like a Canadian Roger Maris. (No offense intended to either Morneau or Maris--that would be a good, though somber, three-four combination.)

The real talk has to start with Johan Santana (4.23), you know, that ace pitcher we bade farewell a few years ago--without whom our rotation has never really been the same--not that we're bitter or hold a grudge or anything. With just 11 years in the league Senor Santana has a solid WAR and WAR/Season, he's a little behind the top 100 average but well ahed of the guys who are about to get on the ballot. (Schilling, Glavine, Smoltz, Randy Johnson, etc.) He'll need to come back from shoulder surgery, but if he acquits himself well for the next three or four years he can show off his two Cy Youngs and have a great shot at immortalization (and seriously...no way he goes in with a Mets cap).

But the man we'll most likely be seeing on the walls of Cooperstown with the interlocking TC on his hat is Joseph Patrick Mauer (5.04). Sure there's a lot to be seen as he returns from pneumonia/knee surgery/bilateral leg weakness and hits in the middle of a fairly unprotective line-up and tries to catch and hit and do all those Mauery things, but here's the deal: through 8 seasons Mauer's WAR/Season is better than Johnny Bench, Jimmie Fox, Napolean Lajoie and Mel Ott; just a hair behind Frank Robinsons. Even with a sharp decline in his last two years he should best the Hall Average and be ready to deliver a speech full of scintillating Mauerisms "You know...umm...I'm really glad to...you know...umm...be here with...umm..you know..."(Sorry Joe, we kid because we love!)
Blessings on you my...you know...children