Tom Powers: Good man gone: 90-loss seasons spell Gardy’s end
An unfortunate byproduct of four 90-loss seasons is that the Minnesota Twins found it necessary to part ways with a good man. And right to the end, Ron Gardenhire remained loyal, going out of his way to smooth over his own firing. "I get it," Gar...
An unfortunate byproduct of four 90-loss seasons is that the Minnesota Twins found it necessary to part ways with a good man.
And right to the end, Ron Gardenhire remained loyal, going out of his way to smooth over his own firing.
“I get it,” Gardenhire said early Monday afternoon shortly after hearing the news that he would not return as manager.
“Something needs to be done here. Maybe a new face, a new voice, who knows? When you lose this many games, something needs to be done. You’ve got to fix things.”
Gardenhire met Monday morning with Twins general manager Terry Ryan to discuss his future. He said he didn’t expect to be fired in that meeting, but deep down, he knew it was a possibility.
“Terry started to say some things,” Gardenhire noted, “and I said, ‘Terry, you don’t have a choice here. Do what you have to do.’ ”
The Twins finished 70-92 this season, last in the American League Central. It was the fourth straight season under Gardenhire that the Twins lost at least 90 games.
There’s no question that Gardenhire suffered through four years of the worst starting pitching in baseball. Did he deserve a chance to lead the revival? That’s a topic that will be debated throughout the winter. Right now, that awful pitching is somebody else’s mess.
Later in the day, after some of the raw emotions had retreated, Gardenhire sat side by side with Ryan during a convivial news conference announcing the firing. The Twins refused to call it a firing, which apparently sounds too harsh. Instead, they said they were “replacing” Gardenhire.
“I agree with this,” Gardenhire said of his own firing.
He could afford to be magnanimous. As much as he hates leaving Minnesota - and he does hate the thought of that - he will be a hot commodity this winter. Plenty of offers will come his way.
Gardenhire has managed the Twins the past 13 seasons. He took over in 2002 with the franchise coming off the brink of contraction and led the team to the playoffs. The Twins made the playoffs in six of his first nine seasons as manager.
But the organization has fallen on hard times in recent years. The embarrassing starting pitching has resulted in four straight 90-plus loss seasons.
Ryan has not been able to patch up the rotation while waiting - hoping, is more like it - that minor leaguers develop. For every Phil Hughes signed by Ryan there has been a Jason Marquis, a Mike Pelfrey and, perhaps worst of all, a Ricky Nolasco. It has grown increasingly clear over the past few seasons that Gardenhire was losing patience with the unproductive veterans and no-future minor leaguers being sent his way.
After the final home game Wednesday, Gardenhire mentioned that he wanted to talk to Ryan to gauge his plans for improving the pitching in 2015.
“I have questions, too,” he said at the time. “I need to find out some things.”
The two had a similar discussion heading into 2014. At that time, Ryan promised to spend money on free agent pitching. He signed Hughes, a big success, but also Nolasco, who did more to cost the manager his job than anybody else.
The firing was a surprise in a sense that Gardenhire still had a year left on his contract. The Twins rarely eat contracts. Some thought Ryan instead might try to replace some of Gardenhire’s coaches as he had done two years ago. There was potential for conflict there as Gardenhire is fiercely loyal to his coaches. But the subject never came up during Monday’s meeting.
“It wasn’t about changing coaches or anything like that,” Gardenhire said. “Although changing coaches, that wouldn’t have flown. It is what it is and I had it in the back of my mind, in my thoughts, this might happen. We’ll go forward from here. The Twins have been great to me.”
Probably the toughest part about the firing - from Gardenhire’s perspective - is that he won’t get a chance to manage that next wave of prospects. He always became animated when talking about the great potential he saw in youngsters Danny Santana and Kennys Vargas. And he couldn’t wait for kids such as Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano to arrive.
Now he won’t get a chance to manage those kids, who represent a potential turnaround. Same for pitchers Alex Meyer and J.O. Berrios, who ended up just out of his reach.
Gardenhire said his plans are to head to Oklahoma to visit his daughter, who is expecting, drive from there to his home in Florida and then fire up his RV and drive back to Oklahoma for the birth, which is projected for the end of October.
As for his immediate plans: “I’m actually in the process of getting a new phone,” he said with a chuckle. “This is a Twins phone.”
He said he hasn’t thought about next season or even next month. Right now, he just wants to take a breath. Twins fans should wish him well. A proper farewell is: “May you have good luck and good pitching.” Not necessarily in that order.
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