Monday, March 16, 2015

Three things the Twins need to do to compete in 2015: Part III: Fix the attitude.

This is the third and last, but not least, segment in this series.  You can find the first segment (fixing the bullpen) and the rationale for the series here, and the second segment (fixing the outfield) here.  I think that the most important (and some times the hardest or the easiest) thing to fix for the Twins to win, is the team attitude.  

How do you measure attitude and how does attitude prevent some one to win, and what is that "attitude" thing anyway.  Isn't that thing that your parents and teachers talked about when you were growing up, or something else.  Well, as far as baseball goes, I will let former Twins' player and Texas Rangers' manager Ron Washington describe it in this 30 second video.   To borrow Washington's words from there, a winning attitude is when you "expect to win" and "do everything you need to do to win".  Arguably, the Minnesota Twins the last couple of decades has as motto (at their best,) do all you can do (aka bust your tail) and you win some, you lose some.  Those were exactly the words of a smiling Michael Cudduyer at the Twins' dugout, on September 30, 2008, after the Twins lost game 163 at the White Sox (and part of the reason was that Cuddyer did not do what he needed to do to win, colliding with and forcing the ball out of AJ Pierzynski's glove to score.)

And giving it all and being "good enough" has been the Twins' motto.  And the majority of the fans were ok with "good enough", winning the title of the weakest division in baseball about half of the time, going belly up during the post-season and when they played the AL East, in the 00s.   And if the fans are happy with "good enough", you get a brand new ballpark and brand new season ticket sales and that is more that "good enough" as far as revenue goes, when it is not broken, why even bother to think about fixing it?   That was the Twins' past decade of "Glory", in half a paragraph.  And then it went South.

What happened? Well, the Twins did not even do all they could do in the ballpark; add that to a culture of favoritism in the clubhouse, where it did not matter to whether the veterans did all they could do, but when people outside the inner circle opened their mouths were thought under the proverbial bus; add that to not expecting to win, to start with, and you got 99 + 96 + 96 + 92.  And most importantly, no excuses for even the most single-sighted fans to believe that this team can win, thus a drop in tickets, thus a drop in revenue, thus...

To win, a team needs a leader who expects to win and make sure that his players and coaches do everything they need to do to win.  Here was the most common expression of the previous Twins' leader during games the last several seasons (hanging on to the dugout railing optional) :



Is this the expression someone who is doing all he needed to do to win and lead by example.  Is this the expression of someone who expects his team to win?  Or is this the expression of someone who looks defeated and solemn?  Rhetorical question.

There was not a more obvious time for me to see that the Twins players not only doing what they needed to do, but not even all they could do, and was fine with the manager and the coaches, than this particular game last spring training.  Before I went down there last season, I did have hopes that with the changes they made in the rotation, plus some players improving, had a chance to break even and have an 81-81 record.  But after what I saw, I predicted that the Twins will end up the 2014 season with a 70-92 record.

That is the past, and tomorrow I am landing at Fort Myers where I will be for more than a week and be able to see how thing are, but I have a good feeling that they are heading the right way.  Other than getting rid of their manager and pitching coach, which by itself is adding 10 wins pretty much, and replacing them with good baseball people and a Hall of Famer as manager,  they brought back Torii Hunter.  It did not make much sense at the beginning, and I think that they guy is a prick, plus he left the Twins' in free agency just for money and he added insult to the injury, by singing with the biggest division rival in his second free agency, but there might be something positive:  As I indicated here, Hunter can help the young players (who were tainted by the Twins' clubhouse attitude, it is no secret) realize that they have to at least give it all and lead by example. 

I have seen signs from Molitor that he is leading his players towards doing what they need to do.  First example, was the no-cell phone policy during game days, which was awful last season.  Players need to focus in the game and not in their social media during game day.   Second, he benched Aaron Hicks during a game for losing track of outs; a gesture that has not happened during a Twins' Spring Training since 1965, when Sam Mele, the Twins' manager, took Zoilo Versalles (the eventual 1965 MVP) out of the lineup because of lack of effort.  And you know what the Twins did in 1965.  Also, after a couple of mishaps in short fly balls and lack of communication between infielders and outfielder, Molitor had extra drills of those circumstances with the whole team.  The whole team.  In previous years, veterans and the inner circle would be excluded and only few would participate in similar drills.

There are a lot of positive signs about (at least) a realization that the teams attitude needed to change to win, and actual steps taken this direction.  I will be able to know more about how things will play out in this department, in 10 days or so, after I return from Fort Myers and see the team play this Spring.  Last year I predicted that 70-92, based on what I saw, I hope that this year, it is the reverse...


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