SI Vault
 
Baseball
Jeff Pearlman
May 10, 1999
Kelly's Heroes Tom Kelly, loyal Minnesotan and the low-budget Twins' veteran skipper, tries to make a winner of a club with 10 rookies
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
May 10, 1999

Baseball

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

PLAYER, TEAM

1998 ABs/RBI

1999 ABs/RBI

1. Mark McGwire, Cardinals
36 at bats since his last homer

3.46

6.00

2.Juan Gonzalez, Rangers
.313 with runners in scoring position in 1998; .216 in '99

3.86

4.90

3. Manny Ramirez, Indians
Already has 10 multi-RBI games this year. Beware, Hack

3.94

3.28

4. Albert Belle, Orioles
Mr. Clutch? With bases empty, hitting .333; with runners on, .204

4.01

5.53

5. Sammy Sosa, Cubs
Lacking power and punch: only four homers, all of them sob shots

4.07

7.25

6. Jeff Kent, Giants
5.0 at bats/RBI before Bonds was hurt, 17.7 since

4.11

8.45

7. Tino Martinez. Yankees
Fast starter had 63 April RBIs in '97 and '98, but just nine this year

4.32

8.30

8. Ken Griffey Jr., Mariners
Grand slam barrage last week turned his stats around

4.34

3.75

9. Vinny Castilla, Rockies
Played only five games at Coors RBI factory so far

4.48

8.00

10. Barry Bonds, Giants
Had league-leading .805 slugging percentage before going on DL

4.53

3.42

SOURCE: ELIAS SPORTS BUREAU

Kelly's Heroes
Tom Kelly, loyal Minnesotan and the low-budget Twins' veteran skipper, tries to make a winner of a club with 10 rookies

It wasn't like this four years ago, when leftfielder Marty Cordova would enter the Twins' club-house, dart to his locker, get changed and pray not to be noticed. That was back when a rookie in Minnesota was not only rare but also a target "Kirby Puckett, he set the tone," says Cordova, the 1995 American League Rookie of the Year. "He used to say rookies were made to be seen, not heard." Now, however, says Cordova, Twins rookies have more of an attitude. "I guess they can," he adds. "Look at all of them."

It's hardly a positive sign of the times that the Twins are carrying 10 first-year players. In fact, many would say it's emblematic of everything that's wrong with the major leagues. Low-budget team with $19 million payroll needs to save bucks. Low-budget team eliminates vets. Low-budget team gets slaughtered.

One catch: Minnesota, 10-15 through Sunday, offers so much that's good for the game. Torii Hunter, the rookie centerfielder, still wakes up every morning and smiles. Why? "I smile every time I can put on a Twins uniform," he says. Leftfielder Chad Allen, a .262 Double A hitter last season, calls people "Sir." Cristian Guzman, a 21-year-old shortstop, runs the bases as if being chased by a starving cheetah. And how can you not love righthander Joe Mays, 23, an undistinguished minor league starter who has emerged as manager Tom Kelly's primary long man? "I was lying in bed last night," says Mays, who was 0-0 with a 5.25 ERA through Sunday, "and I thought, Man, you're in Minnesota, playing for the Twins, pitching against the best hitters in the world. It gives me chills!"

Kelly, the 13th-year Minnesota skipper who led the Twins to World Series titles in 1987 and '91, also gets chills—of a different kind. Before the season Los Angeles general manager Kevin Malone asked Kelly if he would be interested in the Dodgers' managerial vacancy. It could have been the perfect gig—high salary, unlimited talent, major market Kelly, however, considers Minneapolis his home. Besides, he says, "there's something to be said for loyalty." Even to a team averaging 15,703 fans per game? "The city has been good to me. I want to be good back." Hence, he's as much babysitter as manager, hoping his town will learn to embrace his tykes. "The hardest parts are the little things I used to take for granted," says Kelly. "When to take the extra base, hitting the cutoff man. We've missed an astounding number of signs so far."

The centerpiece of these new Twins is Hunter, a Gerber-faced 23-year-old who dazzles one minute and drives Kelly bonkers the next. Against the Red Sox on April 26, Hunter hit a fourth-inning grand slam to lead Minnesota to a 6-2, come-from-behind victory. Two days later, also against Boston, he failed to tag up and advance from second to third on a fly out "Torii's high, high maintenance," says Kelly. He's also high impact: Through Sunday, Hunter was batting .222 with 13 runs batted in but had already run into the outfield wall a handful of times in the Twins' first 25 games. He, along with fellow rooks Allen (.236, three homers, eight RBIs), third baseman-DH Corey Koskie (.302, 12 RBIs) and first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz (.273), provide Minnesota with enthusiasm for now and hope for the future. "It's so much fun now, being around the guys you come up with," says Mays. "Imagine how great it'll be when we win."

Leyland Takes Charge
Rocky Start In Colorado

Barely a month into his first season as manager of the Rockies, Jim Leyland has been through the ringer. On April 19 Leyland, who guided the Pirates to three consecutive division titles between 1990 and '92 and the Marlins to the '97 World Series crown, sat slumped in his Coors Field office. His new team had just completed a molar-grinding, three-runs-in-the-ninth win over the Expos—one night after getting spanked for 20 runs by the Braves. Said Leyland through a haze of Marlboro smoke, "I'm going to look like Don Knotts and Telly Savalas all rolled into one by the time this season is over."

Leyland was more relaxed last weekend in Pittsburgh—perhaps because, with Colorado in the midst of a 13-game road trip, he could count on two weeks away from the bizarro baseball world of Coors. It may also have been because he was back in the city where he enjoyed his first big league success and where he still makes his home. Most likely, though, Leyland was just happy to be settling into a groove. Sunday's 8-5 loss at Three Rivers Stadium may have been the Rockies' second in three games against the Pirates, but it marked the first time all season that Colorado had played as many as six days straight. The Rockies, who began the year as a dark horse in the National League West, had a 9-10 record in April, during which they played the fewest games in the majors and had unscheduled off days for reasons ranging from rain to snow to the Columbine High shootings. "We need to get out on the field," said Leyland.

Colorado's offense has been as spotty as its schedule. In their five appearances at Coors the hitters scraped out a sea level-like total of just four dingers. They also lost three games in which they allowed four runs or fewer, something they didn't do for the first time last season until May 7.

Continue Story
1 2