Ron Gardenhire has long been considered one of baseball’s best managers.
In 2009, he proved his mettle once again by leading the Minnesota Twins to yet another division title in the American League Central.
The pennant marked his fifth division title in eight seasons as the Twins’ skipper.
It very well could have been the sixth, but Minnesota lost to the Chicago White Sox in a one-game playoff to determine the division champion after the 2008 regular season ended with both clubs in a tie for first place.
In addition to the five pennants, Gardy has also amassed a record of 709-558, ranking him 79th all-time on the career wins list and 11th among active managers.
With Gardenhire at the helm, Minnesota has never finished lower than third in the AL Central and the club has only finished with a sub-.500 record once, in 2007 when the team finished a mere four games below the mark.
He has also led the club to six seasons with 87-plus wins and four seasons with 90-plus wins.
At this point, I think you get the idea.
Gardenhire is a pretty good manager.
He often gets credited for “doing the most with the least.” And let’s be honest, anyone who can win with Nick Punto, Brendan Harris, and Matt Tolbert receiving regular playing time deserves all the credit he gets.
Yet, despite all his success and obvious skills as a field general, he’s yet to win the coveted Manager of the Year Award.
In 2002, his first season as manager after eleven years as the club’s third base coach, he finished third in the voting. Since then he’s finished as the runner-up four times, in 2003, 2004, 2006, and 2008.
Gardenhire’s four runner-up finishes are second only to Tony LaRussa, who has finished second five times. For LaRussa, the sting of finishing in second-place is lessened by the fact that he’s brought home the hardware four times.
This season, however, Gardenhire may finally get his due.
In mid-September the Twins were on the skids. The club had lost seven of ten and sat two games below .500 with just 20 left to play. To make matters worse, an already injury-riddled squad lost All-Star first baseman Justin Morneau to a back injury.
The Twins could have folded and simply played out the stretch, and blamed the lost season on injuries and bad luck, but Gardenhire wouldn’t let that happen.
He took the same fiery energy and passion that’s gotten him ejected nearly 50 times in his career and led the club on a torrid stretch, winning 16 of the their final 20 games and forcing a historic one-game playoff with the Detroit Tigers for the division crown.
That final month alone could win him the award, but when you realize what he dealt with all year long, the mere fact that the club was within striking distance that late in the season is a miracle.
Here’s a quick rundown of the mess Gardenhire had to muddle through during the season:
MVP candidate Joe Mauer missed the first month of the season with lower back inflammation.
Free agent signee Joe Crede was limited to just 90 games with back issues before undergoing season-ending surgery in August.
When Alexi Casilla flaked as the full-time second baseman, the club was forced to use a rotating crew of benchwarmers at three infield positions.
The club saw three-fifths of its Opening Day rotation rendered useless by injury or ineffectiveness, and had to rely on Carl Pavano as a rotation anchor down the stretch.
And that was all before Morneau’s season-ending injury in September.
Yeah, I’d say Gardy is pretty good at what he does.
Perhaps this will be the year that the Baseball Writers Association of America finally gets it right.