Torii Hunter and Flip Saunders are related in my mind because they took moribund franchises who had sucked for the better part of 10 years and turned them around into consistent playoff teams. Jerry Kill was attempting to do the same thing at the University of Minnesota, and I guess the next 20 Gopher games will tell us whether he succeeded in doing so, or simply just couldn't quite get over the hump.
I will take the three guys in the reverse order of my fondness for them:
3. Flip Saunders -- Philip Daniel Saunders was (I am told, I was 9 and living in western NY) an excellent point guard at the University of Minnesota. He became a coach and was a successful coach on every level (college, CBA, NBA). He was particularly good at offensive basketball. The Wolves during Flip's first run were able to run sets that simply baffled opponents and resulted in good shots virtually every time down the floor.
Flip is regarded as a great guy by those who knew him well. Oddly, despite the fact that I have been a Timberwolves season ticket holder for 26 years, I never met or talked to Flip. Never once. I saw him speak. I know people who know him. But I never shook his hand or had a conversation with him. Even in my times around him or in listening to him speak to the media, his charm as an individual never really shined through to me.
As a coach, Flip was a huge upgrade from what we had with the Timberwolves (Jimmy Rodgers, Sidney Lowe, Bill Blair) but I cannot help but wonder why Kevin Garnett could go to Boston at roughly 75% of his Wolves Ability and win a title immediately and (but for injury) would have won two in a row. Flip had Garnett at a point in time where he was a top 4 NBA player (Shaq, Duncan, Kobe, Garnett were the best 4) and certainly the most versatile player in the NBA. However, KG in Minnesota won only 2 playoff series (both in 2003-04). You can blame the organization or you can blame Flip, but I think there is enough blame to go around.
Flip in Detroit had great veteran teams -- never won anything. In Washington, the Wiz actually got BETTER when they fired Flip and went to Randy Wittman. Yikes. I never felt Flip's teams were very tough - physically or mentally.
Anyway, you may wonder why there was not an immediate Flip tribute on the Blog. I have always had really mixed feelings about Flip. And I never was able to experience the greatness of his personality that everyone else described. But it is safe to say that many, many people loved him and he reached a high level of success in everything he ever did. So he will be greatly missed by Minnesota sports fans.
2. Torii Hunter -- what I am most upset by regarding Torii's retirement is the number of people saying we should not honor Torii because he is anti-gay rights and make other comments that stated he was uncomfortable around gay people. Look, he was a black kid who grew up in Arkansas and then spent his later formative years around professional baseball players. Do you think with that upbringing and history that he will be a liberal? I hate to tell everyone, but for people who are 40+ years old and from the South, being against gay marriage and generally anti-gay does not make you an outlier.
Here is what I do know about Torii Hunter - 1) he was a terrible hitter who made himself a very good hitter who amassed almost 2,500 hits along with decent power; 2) he was a multiple Gold Glove winner; 3) he was good in the clubhouse and cared for younger players; 4) he wasn't constantly in the training room or on the disabled list, his ass was available to play; 5) his teams generally won more than they lost; and 6) he cared a LOT about the Twins and the State of Minnesota and worked his ass off to promote the team and the state.
Democrats (and I am one) who promote "diversity" and "tolerance" are willing to go on Twitter and say that a man who reached the top 5-10% of his chosen field should not be honored AT ALL upon his retirement because he doesn't believe gay people should be married and has made anti-gay statements. That sucks. I am glad that everyone is so perfect and has never said or done anything that would call into question their own character. I have a number of Republican friends who believe stuff that I deem to be ridiculous. They are still my friends because I recognize good things in them that I feel make them, on the whole, a good person. We all have flaws. But as Del Griffith once said, "It must be nice to be so perfect AND odor-free."
Again, I never met Torii, but his personality did come across to me as someone who cared a great deal for people (OK, at least most people) and his profession and who worked hard and wanted to win. I will miss Torii.
1) Jerry Kill -- when I heard that Jerry Kill retired, I cried. The primary reason for that is my daughter has epilepsy, and I had always held Jerry Kill up to her as an example of someone who could be a public figure and an important person and do his very difficult job despite epilepsy. But the epilepsy and the job just could not co-exist.
A major side effect of epilepsy medication is drowsiness. My daughter struggles to make it through a day without 10 hours of sleep. If you don't want to be drowsy all of the time, you can take less medication. Of course, taking less medication puts you at risk of seizures. How do you know the level of medication you can take and not have a seizure? "Trial and Error." Great. Imagine walking a tight rope and being told you can use a shorter balance pole. OK, great, how much shorter? Eh, get up there and we will see.
Now imagine that you have a job where working 12-18 hours a day is not unusual. But you need 10 hours of sleep to feel good. So you go to your doctor - "Well, you could take 20% less medication." And then I will feel better? Maybe, but you also may have a seizure. And if you have a seizure, for example, while driving, you could die and/or kill someone else. If you have a seizure at home while lying in bed with a doctor and a nurse there to monitor you, you will be OK, but you are not supposed to drive until you are 6 months seizure free. OK, great.
Kill has basically stated that when his team started to struggle in 2015 that he cut back on his exercise, dropped his dosage of medication, and began to work ridiculous hours. People reported seeing him leaving the facility at 2AM and returning at 6AM. He started to have seizures. He was basically killing himself.
Listening to Jerry Kill's press conference, even setting to one side my personal experience with my daughter's epilepsy, my heart was breaking. Imagine a man who came from little or nothing, chose a career in which he started out making little or nothing, excelled at that career for 30 years despite suffering from cancer and epilepsy....and then what he knows is all taken away at age 54. He literally has never held any other job. Truly sad.
The positive note with Jerry Kill is that he is still alive. And he can be productive working (most likely) in a 9-5 job where he raises funds for the University. He can find a way to get sleep and exercise and see his family. He has the same opportunity you used to see portrayed in old films like "Baby Boom" and "Regarding Henry." He has the opportunity to change his life and find a way forward that is far different from what he imagined, but. perhaps, far better in certain ways.
I am rooting for Jerry Kill. but I will miss him as a symbol for Minnesota and, more importantly, for my daughter.