P.J.R.: There's strong perception the Twins aren't trying
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The Twins are in big trouble in this market for one reason: The sporting public doesn't think they are trying.
Zygi Wilf's honesty can be questioned by a New Jersey judge, he can strong-arm the state and its biggest city into providing a new billion-dollar stadium at very little cost to him, he can assess hefty advance fees for 75 percent of the seats in that stadium, and the sporting public will forgive him because it knows that Zygi tries to win.
This was confirmed again late Sunday night, when the Vikings prevailed in the pursuit of Josh Freeman as a quarterback. There was reasonably vigorous competition for Freeman after he was released by Tampa Bay, but the Vikings didn't flinch at the $2 million and change needed to bring in Freeman for the final 12 weeks of the regular season.
Wilf bought the Vikings early in the summer of 2005 from Red McCombs, who had turned very tightfisted as he prepared to make the sale. It took until the following March for Wilf to show for certain that he was a different owner than McCombs.
The Vikings made a king-sized offer to Steve Hutchinson, the NFL's best left guard, and got him away from Seattle. This came with price tags of $16 million guaranteed and a possible $49 million over seven years.
Here was our strange little man from New Jersey, the Zygmeister, pirating away a premium player from Seahawks owner Paul Allen and his Microsoft billions. Wow.
In April 2008, the Vikings made the trade with Kansas City and signed Jared Allen, the sack master, to a six-year contract with $31 million guaranteed. Wow-za.
And a year later, here came Brett Favre. That sealed it. Nothing a judge or a governor said, or the bottom line on a stadium deal revealed, was going to change the sporting public's opinion:
We weren't so sure that was the case when Bob Naegele owned the Wild. Doug Risebrough ran the hockey operation and had a tendency to throw around Naegele's coins as if they were manhole covers.
Craig Leipold headed a partnership that bought out Naegele in the summer of 2007. The Wild made a big deal out of winning the Northwest Division that winter, and were immediately whipped 4-2 by underdog Colorado in the playoffs.
The Skating Ws missed the playoffs in 2009. Leipold fired Risebrough and replaced him with Chuck Fletcher. There were no playoffs for the next three seasons. Those families of four from Woodbury with their full sets of authentic $300 Wild jerseys were getting disgruntled.
That took care of Leipold for life with Wild fans. He's going to try to win.
Glen Taylor made a deal brokered through the NBA to buy the Timberwolves in October 1994. Saving the franchise from possible relocation made Taylor such a local hero that the media nominated him to buy the Vikings from the group of 10, and the Twins from Carl Pohlad.
Taylor had signed Kevin Garnett to a six-year, $126 million contract extension in 1997, so we figured money was no obect in the pursuit of victory for the billionaire originally from Comfrey, Minn.
A decade later, Taylor signed off on the trade of Garnett to Boston. Then, he brought in David Kahn as the basketball boss and nobody knew what was going on.
There were nine non-playoff seasons in a row. Taylor had the team for sale. And then this summer, he reaffirmed his ownership, and brought back Flip Saunders to replace Kahn. Flip brought in Corey Brewer and Kevin Martin, and re-signed free agent Nikola Pekovic to a big deal.
Conclusion: Glen Taylor was back to trying.
That leaves the Twins. They went in the tank in 2011. Jim Pohlad fired Bill Smith and convinced Terry Ryan to return as general manager.
Since then, nothing significant has been done to indicate the Twins are trying. They started the 2013 season with a rotation that had zero chance to be competitive. And soon, lineup turned into every bit the embarrassment as was the pitching.
There are four pro teams of major significance in this market (sorry, Lynx). Zygi tries mightily to win. So does Leipold. Taylor is trying again.
The public's perception is that the Pohlads are not trying.
And actually, for the past two off-seasons, it has been more than perception. It has been reality. We'll see if that changes in the winter of 2013-14.
--PATRICK JAMES REUSSE.