Exit the Minnesota Twins' clubhouse and the first thing you’ll see is a quote from former manager Tom Kelly written in silver lettering above the doors leading out of the room.
"We’re all in this boat together. Everybody grab an oar."
It is fitting that Tom Kelly’s number retirement ceremony took place on Saturday when the team entered their contest against the Cleveland Indians with a 56-82 record—the lowest in the American League.
After all, Kelly may be remembered for winning the World Series in 1987 and 1991, a year after becoming the manager in 1986. But two years following the latter title, his team endured seven straight losing seasons from 1993 to 2000 before setting the table for current manager Ron Gardenhire with a strong 2001 season.
That year, his team went 85-77 (ironically, the record the Twins had in 1987) and came in second in the AL Central—a division Minnesota would win from 2002 to 2004 despite coming close to being contracted.
The 2003 and 2004 teams lost to the Yankees in the ALDS (1-3).
And after a one-year hiatus from the playoffs, the 2006 team was swept by Oakland in the first round.
Then, as we all know, the team would advance to the playoffs in 2009, the last year in the Metrodome, and in 2010, the first year at Target Field, but would be swept in back-to-back series against New York.
Even though Gardenhire has arguably experienced more success in his 10 years at the helm of the franchise, his recent teams have been compared to the ones Kelly managed from 1993 to 2000.
“Fortunately and unfortunately, I was a part of that too,” said Gardenhire, who served on the staff from 1991 to 2001 before being named manager.
“The coaches, we went through tough times too in the mid-to-late 90s where it was an adventure every day coming to the ballpark.
“Not unlike what we’re going through right now, finding pitching, trying to get through nine innings and also making the players respect the game at the same time.”
Gardenhire realizes that there is no panacea for the team’s current woes, but he says that the lesson he learned while working under Kelly was that respecting the game comes first, and winning will come as a result.
“TK was all about respecting the game,” he says. “He preached that constantly.”
It was not Kelly’s “oar quote,” that Gardenhire recited, but rather a lesser-known adage that the current manager adheres by as he tries to get his franchise out of the cellar.
I don’t care if you give me bad, I don’t care if you give me good, but give me your all.
This one is not written in the locker room. It doesn’t have to be.
“It just resonates through this organization,” says Gardenhire. “All he wanted was good or bad, you just go out and give it.
“We talked about it all the time.”
Right now, the players are giving more bad than good.
“Our players are giving it their all right now,” he says. “It’s just during the tough times you have to live with it and you’re hoping you get on the right side of it.”
With that number in the loss column inching toward 100 for the first time since 1982, fans are becoming frustrated. In 2010, the team had three million fans show up for the first time since 1988. They hit that mark again in 2011.
But with attendance numbers dipping below 30,000 for a couple games down the stretch and little hope of sudden improvement next season, the primary incentive for season-ticket holders to renew is the upcoming All-Star game in 2014.
Even at the ceremony, which represented an important moment in Twins history, the upper decks were sparsely populated—especially sections 333 and 334.
The fear is that Target Field, a bustling baseball mecca for two years, may end up with rows of empty seats like recently built stadiums such as Pittsburgh’s PNC Park, Milwaukee’s Miller Park and Baltimore’s Camden Yards.
Years of poor baseball will do that, and once lightning has escaped the bottle, it’s hard to capture once again.
Camden Yards was erected in 1992 amid the team’s glory years with Cal Ripken Jr. Attendance boomed immediately when the O’s were a flagship franchise, but years of losing drove the fans away.
Decreased payroll and a poor baseball venue were at the root of the problem for Kelly’s poor teams—two obstacles that should not affect Gardenhire’s future clubs.
The Pohlad family has shown a willingness to spend in order to keep prospects in the Twin Cities, and Target Field is a premier venue in Major League Baseball.
As long as Gardenhire gets the talent he needs, you know he will get the most he can out of them.
And that, sports fans, is a recipe for success.
All quotes were obtained first-hand.
Tom Schreier writes a weekly column for TheFanManifesto.com.