Sunday, January 10, 2010

Minnesota Twins Decade Retrospective: 2001

It’s a new week, which means I am dipping into the Twins top five best seasons of the decade. If you haven’t read last week’s entries yet, you should check them out. You should also follow me a Twitter. That’s what all the cool kids are doing.

Without a player in the starting lineup or starting rotation older than 30, the 2001 Twins were going to sink or swim with youth. Hardly a new phenomenon for the ever-frugal Twins, fans were understandably skeptical with the 2001 squad -– the same team had lost 93 games the year before after all.

The 2001 Twins, however, flew out to a 15-3 start, and the team’s fans, equal parts confused and excited, began to wonder if they were for real.

When the Twins followed up an 18-6 April with a 16-11 May, Twins fans truly began to believe. The ever-entertaining team built on speed and defense had sucked everyone in with a group of players who were actually likeable. For the first time in about ten years, there was a buzz surrounding the Twins. We were all in.

Unsurprisingly, after spending 96 days in first place, the team faltered after their unbelievable start, and tapered off in the second half to finish with an 85-77 record, good for second place.

Disappointing finish aside, the 2001 season was an undeniable success for a franchise that hadn’t caught a whiff of a .500 record since 1992. And, most importantly, 2001 reenergized a fan base that had been dormant for years, and set up an amazing decade that featured five playoff appearances and eight winning seasons.

If you don’t know the criteria by now, I am offended that you haven’t been reading my other entries. But, if you need a review, click here. And, remember, I know memorableness still isn’t a word.

Successfulness – 4

I struggled with ranking the 2001 Twins in terms of success. While the team didn’t make the playoffs, 2001 was one of the more important seasons of the decade because of the way it set up the Twins forthcoming success.

In the end, I decided to rank the teams on more technical success in order to be more consistent. So with that in mind, and because I still don’t know who the fuck John Barnes is, the 2001 Twins check in with a successfulness score of 4.

That comes, with all due respect to how important the 2001 Twins were in setting up the rest of the decade.

Memorableness – 6

What I remember most about 2001 isn’t so much the Twins on-field play. I most remember the off-field buzz.

I was in eighth grade in 2001, and I remember as the Twins started their late spring/early summer run, all the “Twins fans” began coming out of the woodwork. Was it annoying to see all these people who had been ignoring the Twins for years suddenly become fans? Of course, but at that point I figured I would take what I could get.

Minnesota is a staunchly fair-weather fan base, so I was just happy to know that (a) people were actually talking about the Twins and (b) I was way better than all these bastards who didn’t know who Scott Klingenbeck was. (When I was in third grade a classmate responded to something I said with the rhetorical phrase “tell me something I don’t know.” To this I responded that Dave Hollins leads the Twins in home runs -– which he did at the time –- because I knew that was something he didn’t know. What can I say? I was a weird little kid.)

Point being, I followed the Twins through all the crap, so I felt smugly superior to all the fake fair weather fans. Plus, I legitimately enjoyed the Twins success, unlike everyone else who only pretended to enjoy it to be “cool.”

Likeability – 7

The 2001 Twins introduced us to a new cast of characters, and more importantly, a cast of characters we actually enjoyed. Doug Mientkiewicz became a quick fan favorite because his hot start helped propel the Twins early season run. Not to mention his weird name and hot kindergarten teaching wife.

Torii Hunter energized both teammates and fans with his infectious energy, and after several years of up-and-down play, Hunter broke out with 27 HR, 92 RBI.

Throw in A.J. Pierzynski (the trash talker), Cristian Guzman (the fast guy), Corey Koskie (the Canadian), and Brad Radke and Matt Lawton (fan favorites from the 90s) and you have a wholly likeable team.

And, of course, let us not forget Jason Maxwell.

Intangibles – 7

Everyone was confused in 2001.

The fans. The front office. Sports Illustrated. Everyone.

Naturally, this led to the above groups all overreacting to the Twins success.

The Fans: For a group that had completely forgotten what a good baseball team looked like, the 2001 Twins were a godsend. The problem, of course, was that nobody knew how to react, so we overrated everyone. Mientkiwicz was the best hitter in the league. Brad Radke was a legit ace. Joe Mays had talent. All of these claims were ridiculous, of course, but, hey, we didn’t know any better.

We were just happy to have a real team.

The Front Office: The Twins front office forgot what a winning team looks like. Because of this, they got confused and traded a veteran player at the trade deadline, because that’s what they always did. The difference was they traded that veteran for another veteran. What can I say, they were confused.

I am, of course, talking about the Lawton for Rick Reed trade. Now, technically this wasn’t a bad trade. Reed and Lawton were similar talent-wise, but it just so happened that Lawton was also the Twins most consistent hitter. While the trade ended up working out fine (the Twins almost certainly wouldn’t have made the playoffs with Lawton, and Reed had a solid 2002 campaign) it was a questionable move at the time, especially since the Twins didn’t replace Lawton’s bat.

Sports Illustrated: Matt Lawton on the cover of Sports Illustrated in April, under the headline, “Do you Believe in Miracles?" And while it was certainly exciting (and terrifying) to have the Twins on the cover of Sports Illustrated, I feel like the magazine jumped the gun a little with that story. Probably should have held off until June for the token small-market-team-gives-the-league-a-shocker piece.

So what did all this mass confusion do? Why it made for a very entertaining 2001 of course.

Overall – 24

Had 2001 taken place after 2002, it certainly would have landed much lower on this list. The Twins featured a competitive team, but ultimately feel short of the playoffs.

Ranking 2001 is a lot different than the other years, however. With the post-Puckett Twins of the 90s running out players like Orlando Merced, Darrin Jackson, Greg Colbrunn, Greg Swindell, Gregg Olson, Scott Klingenbeck, Otis Nixon, Bob Tewksbury, Dave Hollins, Roberto Kelly, and Jose Parra, among many others, Twins fans were hungry, nay starving, for a legitimately successful team.

The 2001 Twins were able to satiate fans appetites by proving the team could be competitive once again.

The 2001 Twins returned hope to a franchise that everyone had deemed hopeless.

No comments:

Post a Comment