One of the great things about the Twins' organization is that, if you are a fan and live within driving distance of the Twin Cities, you have many options throughout the year to meet the players. When I was in high school in 1997, Kirby Puckett and Al Newman came as part of the Twins' Caravan. I also remember seeing Chuck Knoblauch at the Twins' Pro Shop in Roseville during what would be his Rookie of the Year season in 1991. Back then, he was a nice, humble guy. In fact, I remember that the people in front of us had a newborn baby, and Knoblauch asked to hold the baby. How times changed for Knobbie. More recently, my wife and I attended the 2011 Justin Morneau Casino Night, which was a fundraiser for juvenile arthritis. Unlike the Pro Shop appearances, this event was not free, but, when all was said and done, it wasn't a whole lot more expensive than good tickets to a game at Target Field, parking, a few beers and some food. And, considering the Twins' 2011 on-the-field product, I probably fared better seeing that crew off-the-field. It seems like almost every player has their own charity stuff going on. There are plenty of opportunities for Twins' fans -- and they are mostly affordable opportunities -- to at least shake Denard Span's hand, or get a Joe Benson autograph on a Saturday morning in Roseville. It's a hallmark of the Twins' organization. And I can tell you firsthand from living in the New York and Boston media markets, that similar opportunities at similar price points are rare for Yankees and Red Sox fans. Good luck meeting David Ortiz, A-Rod or Derek Jeter, unless you are willing to fork over a lot of money.
When I attended last week's New Britain Rock Cats Hot Stove Luncheon, a comment made by Rock Cats' President & CEO Bill Dowling sort of surprised me. Dowling mentioned that when Terry Ryan or Bill Smith telephoned Dowling about players the Twins were thinking of calling up, one of the first questions was always, "what is the player like in the community?" In other words, as Dowling later elaborated, the front office was concerned with whether the player was active with the fans, was easy to deal with, and if he caused any trouble off the field. These are certainly valid inquiries, and it's something that many fans probably like to hear. But it got me thinking.
As long as I have been following the Twins, they have come across as a family-friendly organization. Almost as a rule, the players are always polite, and it's unusual to hear of a Twins player being arrested, or even suspected of illegal conduct. Clearly, along with the requisite baseball skills, the Twins' front office does have a concern that prospects will continue to represent the Twins in a positive light, and will not bring negative publicity to the team. Those are both laudable goals, and I can also understand that negative press would be bad for the bottom line.
But I wonder, over the years, which players the Twins have passed on (mostly via trade, I suppose), citing probable personality issues. Is it possible that, for example, in 2008, the organization could have made a trade for a jerk of a player that would have made the team just one game better, thus avoiding a Game 163 loss? Is it possible that the Twins have passed on a good draft pick because of personality issues? It's tough to imagine that, if it came down to it, the organization would be worried more about clubhouse culture and family friendliness than it would with the bottom line of putting a winning team on the field, but it's at least interesting.
The team is very quick to deal away perceived bad apples, such as Kyle Lohse and Kevin Slowey. Are they equally as quick to avoid dealing for players that are rough around the edges? For my money, anyway, I'd rather have a couple jerks on the team that can hit .300 and play good defense, than I would a team very nice young men who play "Twins style baseball," but can't turn on a major league fastball. Clubhouse culture is certainly important, and there's no denying that. But the Twins take a big risk by perhaps over-relying on a player's personality when it comes to drafting, calling up, and trading players. What do you think? Do the Twins over-emphasize being "nice guys," or can they in fact have it both ways?