Twins manager benefits from team’s past success
April 23, 2009
Ron Gardenhire is the most overrated manager in Major League Baseball. His track record is strong; his lifetime managerial record through 2008, all with the Minnesota Twins, is 622-512 with four division titles.
However, he has been more a benefactor of circumstance than anything else. His first season managing the Twins was 2002, replacing Tom Kelly, who lead the Twins to two World Series titles from 1986-2001. They were coming off a surprise year in 2001 in which they had contended for the division crown but faded in September to end with an 85-77 record.
The nucleus of that team; Torii Hunter, Brad Radke, Eric Milton, Doug Mientkiewicz, Corey Koskie, A.J. Pierzynski, Jacque Jones, etc.; was drafted and developed under the regime of Kelly, and Gardenhire inherited a strong core that was already about to contend.
They proceeded to win division titles from 2002-04 and make Gardenhire look good, when really he was only in the right place at the right time.
The next season, 2005, was a down year with the Twins barely finishing over .500. They got off to a slow start again in 2006, before catching fire in June; thanks in large part to Francisco Liriano; and stealing the division crown from the Detroit Tigers on the last day of the season.
Another down year followed in 2007 with a sub-.500 finish and as we all remember vividly, they lost the division on the last day of the 2008 season in a one-game playoff with the Chicago White Sox. So let’s look at the big picture: three division crowns inherited from a previous regime, two bad years, one solid year (2008) in a very weak division and one more Liriano-fueled division crown.
I’ll start with what Gardenhire is good at. He’s a nice guy, the fans love him and he has a reputation that players like to play for him. That definitely counts for something, but it’s not entirely true, because he obviously plays favorites. And his favorites aren’t always the best options.
The Twins’ best players are guys like Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan; easygoing guys and good in the clubhouse, which is apparently the most important characteristic of a player to Gardenhire.
The problem is, other players who are easygoing and good in the clubhouse are not quality players, but they get a pass because Gardenhire likes them; at the expense of more talented players who might be more emotional and hard to work with. And as soon as Gardenhire decides he doesn’t like them, they’re run out of town.
How would David Ortiz look at DH right now? Or Matt Garza and Kyle Lohse in the starting rotation? How about Jason Bartlett at shortstop?
No matter how poorly his favorites play, they receive an endless amount of playing time to continue to suck while superior players rot on the bench. He is loyal to a fault and turns a blind eye when his favorites don’t do well.
A favorite example of mine is Juan Castro starting at shortstop for the first two months of 2006 and batting .231, before Bartlett, who was destroying AAA, finally got the chance to start. Or Lew Ford batting .226 that same year and somehow getting into 104 games.
How about Nick Punto’s legendarily bad 2007 when he hit just .210 while STARTING at third base the entire year! Those are just scratching the surface; I could fill up this entire page with stupid Gardenhire roster decisions.
This year, Gardenhire is continuing his Punto infatuation by starting him at shortstop while Brendan Harris sits on the bench. Harris is no superstar, but Punto is a utility player at best. His worst decision, though, is starting Michael Cuddyer over Delmon Young.
I realize nobody likes Young because he cost the Twins Garza and Bartlett and came to Minnesota with ridiculous expectations. But he didn’t have a bad year; it was basically a replica of his 2007 season when he almost won Rookie of the Year; and he’s still only 23.
Can somebody explain why he is benched in favor of Cuddyer, who batted .249 with three home runs last year and hasn’t been above average since 2006? Young is better, younger and cheaper, and actually has a future with the Twins. The worst part is he has total job security.
The ‘Minnesota-nice’ cliché’ and the easygoing personality that Gardenhire loves is embodied by the Twins’ front office; they haven’t fired a manager since 1986, while other teams go through managers like the Twins go through crappy infielders.
No matter how poorly the Twins play and how idiotic his managing is, he will never be fired unless the incriminating photographs that Punto and Cuddyer apparently have of him surface.
Ben Brewster is an alumnus of UW-River Falls. He was editor of the Student Voice during spring semester 2009.