I’ve not always been a big fan, but I’ve never — in beer-soaked late night conversations or in print — called for the Twins to fire Ron Gardenhire.
He’s been the Twins skipper since 2002, and through that time I’d rate his job performance as being pretty consistently between 6 and 8 on a scale of 1-10.
This year, with Gardy entering the season in the last year of a contract, half his staff dismissed last fall and the Twins on their way to a third straight 90-loss season, there has finally been real chatter that Gardy may be not long for the job.
Pat Reusse of the Star Tribune wrote this column suggesting Gardy should quit, or be fired to save him the misery, and Gardy admitted to reading and actually kind of enjoying the piece. But he stressed he’s not quitting. Terry Ryan insisted that Gardy will not be fired — this season.
One of the best points Reusse makes in his column is that in most of Gardy’s postseason failures, the Twins were an overmatched team, and thus, blaming him for the Twins not reaching a World Series isn’t exactly fair.
Talk about the Yankee mystique all you want, they were better than the Twins every year they squared off in the playoffs, except for perhaps — perhaps — 2010.
And nobody, not even Gardy’s biggest detractors, will try to tell you that the Twins’ current roster is good enough that the Twins should be in contention right now.
That said, I think I, as a Twins fan, am ready to move on. I’m ready for a change. I see no point in ditching Gardy now, or at any point before the end of the season, but when the year is over, I just don’t know how you can justify signing Gardy to a new (sure to be two or three-year) contract.
They say you can’t blame Gardy for the losses because he doesn’t have good players, well, than why does he deserve any credit for the Twins’ six division titles? After all, the Twins had pretty good teams most of those years, and the added benefit of a weak division and consequently weak schedule.
And about those ‘no good players’ the Twins don’t have.
Watch the All-Star Game Tuesday.
You’ll see that the starting shortstop for the American League is JJ Hardy, a guy Gardy had, and decided he did not want.
Carlos Gomez will be on the bench for the National League, after the Twins had decided he was a bust (and traded him for Hardy).
David Ortiz’ borderline Hall of Fame career is still going strong (the Twins decided Matt LeCroy was a better fit at DH, in part because, well, Ortiz wasn’t that great in a Twins uniform), while Jesse Crain and Joe Nathan are in the AL bullpen. The Twins were confident they could adequately replace those two in-house.
Yes, some of this, perhaps much of this, is on the front office. They, after all, assemble the roster. But Gardy and his staff were unable to get out of Gomez and Ortiz what others have. They couldn’t get Francisco Liriano straightened out. He’s now thriving in Pittsburgh. They were the ones who didn’t want JJ Hardy as their shortstop because he wasn’t fast enough.
Gardy has made lots of little mistakes over the years, from stupidly using his closer according to the rigid qualifications of earning a ‘save’ to putting banjo hitters in the 2-hole over far better hitters to demonizing Kevin Slowey for having the audacity to be an intellectual baseball player. Those things have bothered me, but they’re not fireable offenses.
Instead, I think the real reason things have gone south on Gardy is that he’s let his guard down. Baseball is constantly evolving. You can’t stick with one central philosophy or reject new ideas and expect to be successful. I would guess Gardy would deny that his staff opposes information, but they’ve made it pretty clear over the years that they’re highly skeptical, if not downright hostile, towards anything that they didn’t think of themselves.
As Terry Ryan said this week: “Teams used to say they wanted to emulate the Twins, but they’re not saying that anymore.”
They’re the last to embrace anything that eventually becomes standard, from using high OBP guys in the leadoff spot to using their closer in the game’s most important spot to using infield shifts with other batters besides Jim Thome.
It makes sense then, that the Twins didn’t really fall off a cliff so much as their precious ‘Twins Way’ has been slowly poisoned as the Twins have failed to keep up with the times.
There were so many dumb articles written over the years praising the Twins and their staff for ‘doing things the right way’ that I think after awhile they got too caught up in believing their own press clippings, which led them to think they had no reason to change or evolve.
The ‘Twins Way’ didn’t have nearly as much to do with ‘preaching fundamentals’ as it did having good defensive players and smart baserunners.
'Pitch to contact' has never been a particularly good concept, but it kinda/sorta worked because Brad Radke and to a lesser extent (at various times) Rick Reed, Kenny Rogers, Joe Mays and Carl Pavano were good enough pitchers to overcome a lack of dominant stuff.
It’s as though it never occurred to the Twins that Nick Blackburn, Liam Hendriks, Scott Diamond, Kevin Correia, etc., are not Brad Radke.
It’s just time.
The things that made Gardy a good manager are still there. He’s a good guy. He backs his players on the field and in the media. I don’t know how he does it, but he obviously cultivates a pretty positive atmosphere inside the clubhouse and within the franchise.
In my mind he proved all this again this spring by getting the Twins off to an 18-17 start. Every time you’re ready to bury him and the Twins appear destined for a true bottoming out, they do something unexpected like take two of three at Yankee Stadium.
And more than perhaps any other manager in pro sports, he’s a part of the community. He cares about the Twins because Minnesota is his home and he cares about the people there. I really believe this is more than a job to Gardy.
Whenever he does go, it’ll be a sad day for a lot of reasons.
But sometimes, well, it’s just time. The Twins need a new identity. They need a fresh voice who’s willing to think outside the box, not one who wears his old-school stubbornness and reliance on his gut as a badge of honor.
If Gardy goes, there are some in-house candidates in Terry Steinbach, Tom Brunansky and Paul Molitor. I’d be opposed to Molitor, but potentially open to the other two. Doug Mientkiewicz is also intriguing, as he’s having a fine season as the manager at Single-A Fort Myers.
Of course, going outside the organization sure wouldn’t be a bad idea, either.
For now, I’m just going to hope the Twins avoid the embarrassment of a 100-loss season, and continue to keep tabs on the minor leaguers that are tearing it up to give us at least a little hope for the future.
As great as I felt like Tom Kelly was, I sometimes wish he’d have stepped down sooner. He’s the best manager in Twins history, but seven straight losing seasons in which he didn’t really have a chance seriously damaged his legacy. If he had a winning record, his two World Series titles probably would’ve put him in the Hall of Fame.
I don’t really want to see the same thing happen to Gardy. He’s had a great run. He captained the most prolonged era of success in Twins history. But that era has been over for awhile now.
Let Gardy go out with dignity and get whatever he can out of the Twins in the second half, and let the new era begin in 2014.