Gardenhire Education

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By David Palmer

The job of a Major League manager is not an easy one.  You have to motivate your team to play everyday for six months, you have to appease the relentless media with interesting commentary after 162 games, and you have to perfect the chewing tobacco, bubble gum, sunflower seed trifecta.  I can attest to the latter being one of the hardest things in sports.  I would pay to see Michael Phelps try this without blowing chunks.  When asked, I would wager that almost everybody close to the Twins would heap praise on our manager Ron Gardenhire or “Gardy” as Minnesotans affectionately call him.

I think very highly of Gardy as a person, and would love to go ice fishing or bar hopping with him.  With that said, I feel like he has gotten a pass by the media over the last couple of years, and criticism of him has been very light.  I attribute this to three things:

1.    His down to earth personality and uncanny ability to give good quotes to reporters on a daily basis.

2.    His on-field success since 2002, with a very limited payroll.

3.    His almost robot-like managerial style.
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It is not hard to see why Minnesotans like him Gardy.  He is just like us.  He’s slightly overweight, but doesn’t seem to care. He openly talks about drinking and enjoys freezing his ass off in an ice shack or on a snowmobile.  I feel like he’s just like Lou Brown in Major League.  If he weren’t managing the Twins he would own a tire store in St. Cloud.  His personality is also a stark contrast of our previous manager Tom Kelly.  TK made Denis Leary seem like Mickey Mouse.  He was notorious for being cantankerous, irritable and blunt with reporters who asked stupid questions, and not surprisingly, often criticized.  I compare Gardy to the Celtics’ pre-championship Doc Rivers.  Even though Doc was wallowing in the cellar of the Eastern Conference before the big three came to town, he retained his job because he was such a supremely nice guy.  Now, the Twins are hardly cellar dwellers, but when was the last time you heard someone second guess one of Gardy’s decisions or say something even remotely critical of him?  He is so well liked by reporters, announcers, fans, owners and beer distributors that he rarely receives any criticism when he makes a mistake or the team is struggling.
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Consistently giving a good post-game quote to reporters is one of the easiest ways for any manager or coach to deflect criticism and keep his job in professional sports.  When you make the reporter’s job easier it’s hard for them to bash you.  The Twins could lose 0-13 and all Gardy has to do is say, “Glad this one is over, I can’t wait to go home, dig out the Maker’s Mark, fire up a cigar, watch Roseanne re-runs and forget about it.  We’ll come back tomorrow and see if we can do better.”  Inevitably, Jim Souhan and company eat it up and forget about any managerial missteps that may have caused the lopsided score.

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Probably the biggest, and most obvious, reason for Gardenhire’s non-criticism is the team’s success ever since he took over for Tom Kelly in 2002.  He has taken us to four post-season appearances in seven years despite routinely having a payroll in the bottom third of the league.  I cannot overstate this accomplishment.  He has done a lot with very little.  But, does he really do anything differently from what Kelly did?  He pretty much kept things status quo once he was hired.  They both place a high value on starting pitching, defense and fundamentals.  It’s a formula that will get you about 80-92 wins with any sort of offensive help.  The difference has been that Gardy has had much more front office help than Kelly did.  Before current general manager Bill Smith, Terry Ryan was regarded as probably the second savviest GM in the league behind Billy Beane.  It also didn’t hurt that we consistently drafted in the top five from 1993 through 2001, and are now reaping the benefits from those players who have come up through the system.  Hmmm, sounds eerily similar to Tampa Bay’s surprising success in 2008.  A first year coach who takes over a team full of blue chip, top five picks that are finally coming into their own.  I guess a decade as a doormat is also a formula for success.

You could argue that Gardy is the anti-Ozzie Guillen.  He is even-keeled, never gets too high after wins or too low after losses.  Ozzie loves calling out players, front office guys, ball boys, bullpen catchers or basically anybody he can think of (kind of like Peter Christian).  Whereas Gardy will go to bat for his guys and never say a negative thing about them in the media.  This is one thing I like very much about him.  But I kind of wish his in-game managerial style was a little more like Ozzie’s.  There are no X’s and O’s in baseball, so it is a game based on situational managing.  Lineups, steals, calls to the bullpen, pinch-hitting and such can be decided in only one of two ways.  Either it is based off logical numerical statistics (which baseball has an inordinate amount of) and match-ups or pure hunch.  Gardy uses the former, Ozzie uses the latter.

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Gardenhire will rarely use a starter for over 100 pitches.  In the words of Bert Blyleven, I guess they explode on the mound after the 100th pitch.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched him yank a starter with a lead after 7 strong innings and 94 pitches, only to see the bullpen blow it.  We would have won the division by five games last year if he allowed Scott Baker to throw about ten more total innings.  He will almost religiously follow righty-lefty match-ups with both hitters and pitchers.  Why else would you pinch hit Craig Monroe for Jason Kubel in a late game situation?  This style is easy because it doesn’t allow second-guessing.  When you tell reporters that you were just playing the match-up or keeping a pitch count they can’t argue.

By no means do I want the Twins to fire Ron Gardenhire, let’s make that clear.  There are very few managers in baseball that are fully capable of doing what he does.  I just think we need to look at him with a more critical eye, and not pass blame to everyone else on his obvious errors.  All I can say is pass the Maker’s Mark, and I’ll try and do better tomorrow.

Special Announcement: Twins fans, Brewer haters and Brewer fans alike will appreciate Trenni Kusnierek discussing Brewers and MLB Network.  10pm Central at MiLBRadio.com

You might recall my appearance on this show this past summer. You can listen in here, I come on right around the 40 minute mark.

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Comments

  1. always a good thing to have a Lou Brown reference….”oh I don’t know I have someone on the other line about some whitewalls”

  2. “that’s a helllllll of an idea…”

  3. Peter Christian says

    screw the curveball ricky, give’em the heater

  4. Charley Davis says

    Unappreicated fact about Gardenhire and Education. Ron Gardenhire has such an astute baseball mind that he choose to send his son to play for Itch Jones at the University of Illinois.

  5. paulmbanks says

    I-L-L!!!!! Holla!

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