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Friday, June 3, 2011

Clubhouse Fights

Year in and year out, Twins players seem to get along pretty well together. They show up at each other's charity events, have lived together during early stages of careers as heterosexual life partners, and even have served as groomsmen for teammates. Generally, they really epitomize the fact that the players collectively are as much a family as they are co-workers. Maybe this year's Twins are a little too close, a little too friendly. After all, the team is simply awful. How thrilled can they be with each other now? I have to imagine tempers are flaring in the clubhouse, much more than has been reported. But Twins' fights--those that have been reported, anyway--have been few and far between (in full disclosure I'm not counting the "fights" that may have occurred in the 1990s when Twins trainers politely asked Kent Hrbek to lay off the 6th beer and 5th helping of food from the post-game clubhouse buffet).

I remember hearing about a classic "Dazzle" Dan Gladden fight with Steve Lombardozzi back in 1988. Gladden, and other Twins players, apparently didn't like the fact that Lombo went to the clubhouse during the game after Tom Kelly had pulled him for a pinch hitter. The matter was "settled" the next day on Gladden's front lawn. Great imagery there. Apparently Gladden even broke a finger, but wanted in the lineup so badly that he refused to tell TK about it until after the next game.

Then, of course, was the disappointing season of 2005, which culminated when Torii Hunter took a swing at Justin Morneau, presumably for Morneau wanting to sit when injured, but instead ended up slugging Nick Punto instead. That same season, Kyle Loshe took a bat to Gardy's clubhouse door.

Now, of course, 1988 and 2005 won't go down in the annals of Twins history as great seasons. But that's what happens when your team is bad: tempers flare. Things that you might have let go if your team was on pace to win 100 games suddenly start to really bother you, and all of the sudden Nick Punto's nose is bleeding, or Dan Gladden's child is asking why Steve Lombardozzi is curled up in the fetal position next to the garden hose.

I'm curious what--or who--will be the breaking point in 2011. My first guess is that Justin Morneau will be using his words to communicate. I don't think he's in any position to be hitting guys, given the fact that he is still coming back from the concussion and also has a pinched nerve. Still, though, he's a veteran and his words should carry a lot of meaning. Now, as far as guys who I think are likely to "get after it" with each other, I'd have to put Delmon Young at the top of that list. First, he's a big guy who is having an awful year, offensively and defensively. Between the odd circumstances surrounding his trip to the disabled list and his failures on the field, he has somehow managed to go from a player many thought should be offered a long-term deal, to a player that is probably talking his way out of Minnesota. I'm not even sure that he really likes playing for the Twins anyway. If his poor performance continues, I wouldn't be surprised to hear about a scuffle between him and one of the more senior members of the team, like Michael Cuddyer, who at least goes out there and tries to compete every game.

As far as pitchers, Kevin Slowey may also be on his way out, but he's too smart to get involved in any of that stuff. I mean, he has a list of recommended reading on his off-season blog. My bet would be Jose Mijares. I actually like the guy, but we all know that he and Delmon already clashed back in 2009 after Young was hit by a pitch in retaliation for Mijares throwing behind a Tiger batter. Importantly, when that incident happened, the Twins were in the midst of an incredibly hot streak of baseball that resulted in their winning the division. Now, they're already 19 games under .500 and it's only beginning of June. If Mijares and Young were capable of flaring tempers during such a hot streak, I can only imagine what could happen now.

I'm not advocating any violence here. Hopefully no Twin suffers a broken finger or nose. But when a team is this bad, and when individual players are already trying to talk their way off the team, things are eventually bound to boil over.


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