To most he is known as Ron Gardenhire. To his players he is simply, Gardy. He is what is commonly known as “a player’s manager”. However, this is not always a good thing.Most “player’s managers,” or “players coaches” in other sports, are not usually all that successful.
But there are exceptions.
Joe Torre has been able to toe the line between success and also being a manager the players love. You could say the same about Red Sox skipper Terry Francona.
And Ron Gardenhire is another. One of the most successful yet unassuming managers in the game today, Gardy wins and, Gardy is fun to play for. But it’s not all fun and games. The Twins, and Gardenhire in particular, demand from all their players’ effort, dedication and a strong emphasis on defense. If you can’t field, you probably aren’t going to succeed in a Twins’ uniform. But then again, if you can’t field, you probably aren’t going to be given the opportunity in Minnesota. Under Gardenhire the Twins have always been known as a team that is fundamentally sound. This is true year in and year out.
Gardenhire took over the Twins in 2002 from his long time friend Tom Kelly. Although Kelly led the Twins to two World Series titles (’87 and ’91), the Twins had fallen on lean years through the late 90’s and into the beginning of the new century.
Gardenhire, a successful minor league manager, had been moved up to the big club in Minnesota to coach third and, at the same time, be groomed as Kelly’s successor.
2002 was the year Gardy was given the reigns. He led the Twins to 94 wins and a division title his first year. He won the division again in 2003 with 90 wins, and then again in 2004 with 92 wins. Gardenhire became only the fourth manager in the history of Major League Baseball to finish in first place his first three years as skipper.
After missing the playoffs in 2005, although still having a winning record, the Twins returned to the playoffs in 2006, winning 96 games en route to the central division title. 2007 was Gardy’s only losing record as they missed the playoffs. But they came back strong in 2008, chasing down the White Sox to tie them at the end of the season; but losing the one game playoff.
In 2009 again the Twins chased down another team, this time the Tigers, catching them on the last day of the season. This time they were able to win the one game playoff and capture their 5th division title in 8 years under Ron Gardenhire's leadership.
Of course, those 5 playoff appearances have been frustrating for Gardy and the Twins. Just once, the first time, in 2002, did the Twins win a series. They beat the Yankees in 2002, but lost in the ALCS to the Angels. In 2003, 2004, 2006 and 2009 the Twins were one and done in the playoffs. The Yankees have been their chief adversary in the post season.
That brings us to 2010. This season has a different feel for Minnesota, and there are two main reasons why.
The first thing different about the 2010 Twins is, of course, the ballpark. Target Field, baseball’s newest crown jewel, has replaced the Metrodome as the new home of the Twins. It has opened to rave reviews, and already many are calling it the best ball park in baseball.
And reason two; for the first time in his tenure as skipper of the Twins, the team went out and spent some real money. The Twins have the tenth highest payroll in baseball. Doesn’t sound too impressive? Well, consider between 2002 and 2009 the Twins average payroll was $57 million, and their average rank among all teams during that time was 21st .
In 2002, Gardy’s first year, the Twins payroll was 27th in the league at $40 million. Here’s a quick look at the Twins’ payroll in the Gardenhire era, and how they’ve done with it:
(Team payrolls compiled by the Associated Press)
Year Payroll League Rank Record
2002 $40 Million 27th 94-67 (playoffs)
2003 $55 Million 18th 90-72 (playoffs)
2004 $53 Million 19th 92-70 (playoffs)
2005 $56 Million 20th 83-79
2006 $63 Million 19th 96-66 (playoffs)
2007 $71 Million 18th 79-83
2008 $56 Million 25th 88-75
2009 $65 Million 24th 87-76 (playoffs)
2010 $97 Million 10th ?
No one has done more with less. Which begs the question, how will Gardenhire do with a payroll that ranks 10th in the league? Granted, even at $97 million, the Twins payroll is not even half that of the Yankees; but it is a heck of a lot more than Ron Gardenhire has ever been given before.
The Twins have started off well. Through the first 18 games they are 13-5 and tied for the best record in baseball with Tampa Bay. They have won their first 6 series’ of the season. They own arguably the best player in the American league in catcher Joe Mauer, coming off his MVP season. And they have another great player in 1st baseman Justin Morneau.
But things aren’t all perfect in Minny. All-star closer Joe Nathan is out for the year following Tommy John surgery, and the Twins lack a true ace of the staff.
But, with Gardenhire at the helm, you figure they’ll adapt somehow. They always have. They adapted to losing the game’s best pitcher in Johan Santana. They adapted when they lost their true leader and heart and soul Tori Hunter. They find a way.
Baseball’s best manager and perhaps most unassuming, Ron Gardenhire will, seemingly, always find a way. Interesting to note, Gardy has never won the American League Manager of the Year. He finished 2nd in 2003, 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2009. He was 3rd his first year in 2002. How this man has not won this award is beyond belief. Gardy is the Susan Lucci of baseball managers. Of course, Susan eventually got hers, and Gardy will get his.
But I’m sure he’d trade that award in in a heartbeat for a playoff series win over the Yankees. Who knows, maybe this is the year?