5 Minnesota Twins Are the stripped-down Twins still a major league team? Depends on whom you ask

March 29, 1999

Spring training has always been a time for managers to review
the basics of the game with their players, but this year Twins
skipper Tom Kelly took the concept to the extreme. During
Minnesota's first week of camp in Fort Myers, Fla., Kelly
gathered his players around him and told them to keep one thing
in mind when they took the field this season: The Twins are
still a major league ball club.

That may sound fairly obvious--unless, of course, you spent a
little time at Minnesota's spring training facility and got a
look at Kelly's 1999 ball club. There has been a good deal of
talk of the growing divide between haves and have-nots in
baseball, and there is no doubt on which side of the canyon
Kelly's heroes can be found.

"We understand winning is a little more realistic for some clubs
than others," says Kelly, who's entering his 14th year as the
Twins' manager, the longest tenure of any current manager or
head coach in American professional sports. "I just told my guys
they should still carry themselves with pride. If we come
prepared, you never know: Maybe something funny will happen."

Something funny has already happened in the Twin Cities, though
Kelly isn't laughing. Only eight years removed from their team's
last World Series championship, Twins fans have replaced their
Homer Hankies with white flags, essentially surrendering the
season before it begins. Last year Minnesota set a club record
with its sixth straight losing campaign, and the worst, it
appears, is yet to come.

Minnesota ownership has decided that if the franchise is going
to lose, it might as well lose on the cheap. During the
off-season general manager Terry Ryan was ordered to slash the
payroll from $27 million to under $15 million. By Opening Day,
the entire Twins roster could be making less than Kevin Brown,
and by October Minnesota will probably be looking at 100 losses.

Though he received feelers from the Dodgers during the
off-season about filling their then-vacant managerial post,
Kelly chose to remain at the helm of this sinking ship. That
decision was about the only bright spot in a long, dark winter
for Twins fans. Paul Molitor retired and took a job as a
part-time instructor in the organization. Bob Tewksbury, who
averaged fewer than 1.5 walks per nine innings in '98, also
called it quits, and centerfielder Otis Nixon (37 stolen bases)
bolted for Atlanta as a free agent. The most discouraging move,
however, might have been the front office's decision not even to
offer arbitration to reliable shortstop Pat Meares. The Twins
say that even if they had beaten Meares in an arbitration
hearing, they couldn't have afforded to keep him.

Meares signed a one-year deal with the Pirates for $1.5 million,
further depleting an already thin Twins infield. During his
team's first full-squad workout in late February, Kelly had
plenty of players on the field but few proven infielders. Todd
Walker is firmly entrenched at second, and Kelly says he'll
likely go with Doug Mientkiewicz (10 days of big league
experience) at first, Corey Koskie (20 days) at third and former
utilityman Denny Hocking at shortstop. That's an infield with a
total of less than five years of major league experience.

The one position at which the Twins have no shortage of
experience--or talent--is catcher. After sifting through more
lucrative offers in the off-season, veteran Terry Steinbach
decided to return to his home-state team. Of course, Steinbach
first had to decide which home-state team that was, the Twins or
his brother's town league team, in New Ulm, which is 100 miles
southwest of the Twin Cities. This time the Twins were not
outbid, and Steinbach chose to come back for another season at a
cut-rate salary of $800,000. In addition to being a topflight
catcher, the amiable 12-year veteran serves as a cheerful
antidote to the creeping sense of doom for big league baseball
in the Twin Cities.

"We're all here to win," says Steinbach, "but we've all got
other goals in mind too. I'm looking forward to working with a
young pitching staff. Two years ago I caught Brad Radke, and he
surprised everyone by winning 20 games. That was a lot of fun."

Despite a subpar second half in 1998 (3-8, 6.27 ERA), Radke is
still Minnesota's most marketable player. The Twins would like
to hold on to their ace and trim other salaries from the
payroll, but that won't be easy. Closer Rick Aguilera ($3.25
million) has a no-trade clause, and outfielder Marty Cordova ($3
million) has little trade value, his production having slipped
from .309 with 111 RBIs three years ago to .253 with 69 RBIs in
'98.

Given their dim prospects, the Twins could draw fewer than a
million fans, though they boast the cheapest average ticket
price in the majors ($8.22). Last season they were nearly
outdrawn on a few occasions by the neighboring St. Paul Saints
of the Northern League, an independent minor league oufit. While
that may prove that fans in the Twin Cities can appreciate minor
league ball, they'd probably prefer not to see it being played
by a major league team.

--G.C.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO Classy veteran Steinbach sacrificed more cash and a shot at the postseason to stay home with the Titanic-like Twins, and he couldn't be happier. COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES

By the Numbers

1998 Team Statistics (AL rank)
1998 record: 70-92 (fourth in AL Central)

BATTING AVERAGE .266 (9)
RUNS SCORED 734 (11)
HOME RUNS 115 (13)
OPP. BATTING AVG. .294 (13)
ERA 4.76 (8)
FIELDING PCT. .982 (7)

Staying the Course

After guiding the Twins to world championships in both 1987 and
'91, Tom Kelly has endured six straight losing seasons. Since
1900 only four other managers have had six consecutive losing
years with one team, and only one manager has stayed at the helm
of his club following seven or more consecutive losing seasons.
That was Connie Mack, who survived two such streaks with the
Athletics. (Of course, Mack was also the club owner.)

Losing Combined
Manager, Team Seasons Years W-L Pct.

Connie Mack, Philadelphia Athletics 13 1934-46 736-1,245 .372
Connie Mack, Philadelphia Athletics 10 1915-24 528-963 .354
Gene Mauch, Montreal Expos 7 1969-75 499-627 .443
Phil Garner, Milwaukee Brewers 6 1993-98 419-487 .462
Tom Kelly, Minnesota Twins 6 1993-98 396-509 .438
Bucky Harris, Washington Senators 6 1937-42 409-506 .447

Next Up...

During the winter Matt Lawton lost to the Twins in arbitration,
but even he admits this isn't such a bad thing. If the
27-year-old rightfielder had been awarded the $2.4 million he
was seeking, the payroll-paring Twins might have dealt him. With
Minnesota, Lawton will play every day and get a chance to build
on his surprising second-half performance in '98. After a slow
start nearly earned him a ticket back to Triple A, he wound up
leading the Twins in home runs (21), RBIs (77), total bases
(266) and runs (91). Those numbers earned Lawton the team's MVP
award and ignited a small spark of excitement heading into
another bleak Minnesota summer.

Projected Roster With 1998 Statistics

Manager: Tom Kelly (14th season with Minnesota)

BATTING ORDER B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

CF Chris Latham (R)* S-R 159 .324 11 51 29
2B Todd Walker L-R 71 .316 12 62 19
LF Marty Cordova R 202 .253 10 69 3
DH David Ortiz L 117 .277 9 46 1
RF Matt Lawton L-R 91 .278 21 77 16
3B Corey Koskie (R)* L-R 192 .301 26 105 15
1B Doug Mientkiewicz (R)[#] L-R 214 .323 16 88 11
C Terry Steinbach R 188 .242 14 54 0
SS Denny Hocking S-R 336 .202 3 15 2

BENCH

IF Ron Coomer R 174 .276 15 72 2
OF Torii Hunter (R)[#] R 301 .282 6 32 11
C A.J. Pierzynski (R)* L-R 305 .255 7 30 3
IF Brent Gates S-R 321 .249 3 42 3

STARTERS PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

RH Brad Radke 69 12 14 6.7 1.32 4.30
LH Eric Milton 113 8 14 5.4 1.54 5.64
RH LaTroy Hawkins 143 7 14 5.8 1.51 5.25
RH Benj Sampson (R)* 191 10 7 5.8 1.55 5.14
LH Dan Serafini 197 7 4 5.1 1.65 6.48

BULLPEN PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Rick Aguilera 49 4 9 38 1.21 4.24
RH Mike Trombley 179 6 5 1 1.36 3.63
LH Eddie Guardado 270 3 1 0 1.43 4.52
RH Bob Wells[1] 281 2 2 0 1.35 6.10
RH Joe Mays 336 5 3 0 1.45 4.99
RH Frank Rodriguez 303 4 6 0 1.69 6.56

[1]New acquisition (R) Rookie B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning
pitched

PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 154)
*Triple A stats [#]Double A stats

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)