11:10 update: Fox9 is reporting that Ron Gardenhire will return with a 2-year deal. Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com was the first to report the news. The Pioneer Press is saying all the coaches are coming back, too. The Twins have scheduled a 2:30 p.m. press conference to “discuss the 2013 season.”
If the Minnesota Twins fire manager Ron Gardenhire today after 12 seasons, Gardenhire and General Manager Terry Ryan will have pulled off the most convincing con since Paul Newman and Robert Redford fleeced Robert Shaw in “The Sting.”
In 25 years covering Major League Baseball, the first 14 in Boston and New York, I’ve never encountered a manager and general manager more in tune with each other, more joined at the hip, than Ryan and Gardenhire. In pre-game sessions with reporters every day on the final homestand — always separate, never together — neither showed one iota of irritation with the other, or contradicted the other.
They talked frankly, and brutally, about the stench of this third consecutive 90-loss season. If you watched enough games, you already know the causes: awful starting pitching; too many one-dimensional position players; a preposterous amount of strikeouts for a team with modest power; and a maddening inability to knock in runs, even when the other team played back to concede them.
Twins starting pitchers tossed the fewest innings and allowed the most runs in the American League. Their batters struck out 1,430 times, the third-highest total in baseball history. Baseball history. I could go on, but why? The biggest miracle is that the Twins avoided finishing last.
“Just not enough talent in the room,” Gardenhire said. “We had kids. We had guys who were more role players than everyday players, and we played them a lot. Some of our veterans didn’t perform like you would hope they would. They had off-years. That happens.
“I like the effort. I said all along, ‘These are a good bunch of guys. They root for each other. They try hard.’ We were just a little short this year.”
Without the traded Justin Morneau and the concussed Joe Mauer in September, the Twins came up even shorter, losing 19 of their last 24 games to finish with the same miserable 66-95 record as last year. The Twins couldn’t even get Gardenhire his 1,000th career victory. He ended the season with 998.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do. A lot of work,” Ryan said. “We’ve got serious issues here. How many people do you want to write in ink on that roster? We’re going to have to bring in a lot of people. We’re going to have to change some things up.”
When a team is this bad, the tension between the manager and GM is palpable. Usually the manager, whether he says it publicly or not, blames the GM for sticking him with lousy players. (In this case, he’s right.) And the manager is constantly on edge, because everyone knows who gets fired first.
There is none of that here. Last month, Gardenhire said, “I’m not going to sit here, if this is my last year, and mope, believe me. If it is my last year in Minnesota, I’m going to enjoy the hell out of it.”
And despite the losing, he has. On multiple occasions, Gardenhire talked about next season as if he planned to be part of it. Even Sunday, Gardenhire kept the mood light while reporters broached the uncomfortable subject of his future. Gardenhire has never used an agent in dealing with Ryan, and used that to set up a joke.
‘If I can’t deal with a general manager and negotiate with him, then I’ve got issues,” Gardenhire said. “I don’t need someone to stand here and say what I can say and pay him 5 or 7 percent [the typical agent’s commission]. I can do that pretty well myself.”
Then Gardenhire looked around, sizing up the room. “Agents are good,” he said. “I see what they do for players. I had an agent as a player.” Pause. “He got me nothing.” Everybody cracked up. Gardenhire never can hide when he’s angry or agitated. He certainly wasn’t acting like someone about to lose his job.
Ryan and Gardenhire are expected to meet Monday, with an announcement possible by this afternoon. Their interactions suggest Gardenhire will be back, possibly with one or two coaching changes. But nothing would surprise me. Ryan, the ultimate poker player, has not tipped his hand.
Some teams announce extensions for managers and coaches in the final days of the regular season to eliminate uncertainty before the players leave town. Milwaukee, for instance, said several days ago that its coaching staff will return. The Twins aren’t one of those teams. Every time the Twins extended Gardenhire’s contract, those talks never commenced until the season ended.
In many cities, a manager would not get a chance to lose 90 games three years in a row, even one with Gardenhire’s six American League Central titles. He would have been fired already, maybe as soon as last year. Gardenhire knows that. He played in one of those cities, as an infielder with the Mets from 1981-85.
Unless Ryan finds better starting pitchers and a few veteran hitters to guide the kids, the Twins will stink next year, too. The two most promising hitters in their system, Brian Buxton (Baseball America’s minor league player of the year) and Miguel Sano are at least two years away. And the pitching, even with a handful of promising arms, remains too thin to predict.
Given that, why would Gardenhire want to come back? He certainly doesn’t need the aggravation. And he might return to postseason faster with another team.
“This is my home,” Gardenhire told MinnPost last week. “I want to see this through. I’ve seen it through good times. I’ve seen it through tough times. I don’t want to say, ‘This is what I left.’
“I like it here. It’s my favorite place. I’ve been here a long time. I’ve been with this organization a long time. But if it’s the best for the organization that they go in a different direction, I wouldn’t hold it against them. I have the utmost respect for the owner. I have the utmost respect for the general manager.”
Gardenhire is so well respected in baseball that should Ryan fire him, he would not be out of work long. Detroit manager Jim Leyland and Cleveland’s Terry Francona both praised him this week. “I think he’s one of the better managers in the game,” Francona said Sunday. “I think if you ask every manager, they’d say the same thing. And I’ve know him for a long time.”
Closer Glen Perkins said, “The players want him here. We all like him and we like playing for him. He’s done a really good job here with more talent.”
And Sunday, after a 5-1 season-ending loss to the Indians, Mauer added his strongest support for Gardenhire.
“It’s not his fault,” Mauer said. “Hopefully they realize that and they bring him back. He’s a great manager, and I love playing for him. We just didn’t get it done this year.”
We should know the answer today.