[from The A.V. Club Chicago / April 9, 2010]
As much fun as crosstown carping is, the true thorn in White Sox fans’ collective side over the past decade has not been the self-righteous bullshit factory across town, but the infernal Minnesota Twins. While the Sox prayed longshot gambles and gaudy home run totals would bring success, the Twins combined smart drafting with scrappy playing and just enough scoring to make the playoffs five of the past nine seasons. But suddenly, a trio of unlikely conspirators have evolved the team from annoying (yet begrudgingly respectable) to fully dangerous—and threaten to make every Sox fan’s life even more miserable.
Even as the Twins kept winning the division, their failure to win a World Series provided cold, spiteful comfort to Sox fans. Even better, the Twins’ best players, from hot-hitting second baseman Chuck Knoblauch to lefty ace Johan Santana, inevitably landed in richer pastures once they hit their primes and commanded larger salaries than what the Twins would pay. Crippling departures, all of them, and all courtesy of then-owner Carl Pohlad’s notoriously tight fist.
Although ranked 102nd on Forbes’ 400 Richest Americans list at the time of his death in 2009, Pohlad thankfully refused to increase the Twins’ miniscule payroll—such spending could have made the difference between just making the playoffs and actually winning once there. Now, with the elder Pohlad out of the picture, Twins brass has started doing what it must to retain players that can put them over the top: Not only did an $80 million deal keep 2006 MVP Justin Morneau in Minneapolis, but the club recently handed catcher Joe Mauer eight years and $184 million—the fourth-richest contract in baseball history.
Admittedly, money alone doesn’t guarantee victory (as a certain piece of $134 million crap in Chicago has repeatedly proven). But an open, expanding wallet coupled with an endless stream of new talent (the Twins also have baseball’s second-best farm system), gives Minnesota an unfortunate pair of advantages over the cash-strapped, prospect-poor White Sox for the foreseeable future—or at least until a well-placed Bobby Jenks fastball smashes Michael Cuddyer’s wrist.
The new lineup for the new park
At the same time, after decades spent enjoying professional sports’ most laughable home-field advantage in the cavernous Metrodome, the Twins move to brand-new Target Field, a mashers’ park complete with short outfields (339 feet to left field and 328 feet to right) and a miniscule amount of foul territory. Ideally, this would provide relief to the traditionally homer-happy Sox, whose every trip to the ‘Dome became a horrific how-to guide on watching the Twins’ weak bloop hits become turf-aided singles and losing countless fly balls against the blinding white ceiling.
But by moving to an open-air, power-friendly ballpark and replacing their customary, cheap singles hitters like Jason Bartlett with power threats like Jason Kubel, the Twins have actually become a superior version of the long ball-reliant club the Sox have fielded for the past 20 years. Four players on the 2010 Twins hit 25 or more home runs last season; of current Sox players, only Paul Konerko managed that many in 2009.
The White Sox
Armed only with outmoded threats like the all-gas, no-mash Juan Pierre and Mark “average power” Teahen, the Sox are built to battle a Twins team and ballpark that no longer exist, all while still playing half their season at U.S. Cellular Field, a renowned launch pad ready to inflate the abilities of any power-hitting squad—the new-model Twins, for example. Sox fans used to loathe the Twins for simply beating the Sox on their own terms; suddenly, the Twins sit poised to beat the Sox at their own game on their own turf, and now even their stupid dancing bear is talking shit. This will not end well for anyone involved.