Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire hangs out in the dugout during a game against the Phillies on Wednesday. / Jack Hardman/news-press.com
Ron Gardenhire, dressed in a T-shirt and shorts, heads outside the Minnesota Twins’ clubhouse to catch a ride on his 30-foot pontoon boat back to his Fort Myers beach house.
He can get to his office in 15 minutes by boat, instead of the 45-minute drive by car. It’s where he plans to permanently reside, putting his home in the Twin Cities up for sale. He and his wife, Carol, now empty-nesters, have decided they will rent in the Twin Cities once they sell.
These next six months will determine whether a rental agreement is even needed.
Gardenhire, considered one of the elite managers in the game, is one of 10 managers working this season without a contract past this season.
“I’m not going to worry about it,” Gardenhire says. “The biggest problem is when you don’t have a year.
“Then, you start worrying.”
Gardenhire laughs uneasily.
The Twins once were as stable as IBM. They had only two managers, two general managers and two presidents from 1987-2011.
Now, they’re just like everyone else, where losing is unacceptable.
It cost general manager Bill Smith his job a year ago, when he was replaced by predecessor Terry Ryan.
Three coaches were fired last winter and two others reassigned, their biggest shakeup in three decades.
Gardenhire, who has been with the organization since 1986, and on the coaching staff since 1990, is teetering.
The firings weren’t his decision, Gardenhire says. Those were made by Ryan, disgusted by the Twins’ 96-loss season, preceded by a 99-loss season. If it wasn’t for Gardenhire’s pleading, his entire coaching staff may have been gone.
Now, he is on the firing line.
“I like managing, I like the ballclub, and I’d like to stay here,” Gardenhire says. “If it works out, it works. If it doesn’t work out, here, will I manage somewhere else?
“Well, I know I’m not ready to quit being a manager.”
Gardenhire laughs uneasily, well aware there could be a massive managerial carousel of change this year. Three managers who won World Series championships are on their final year: Charlie Manuel of Philadelphia Phillies, Joe Girardi of the New York Yankees and Davey Johnson —who has said this is his final year —of the Washington Nationals.
Mike Scioscia of the Los Angeles Angels, Kirk Gibson of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Fredi Gonzalez of the Atlanta Braves all will feel scrutiny if their teams miss the playoffs.
“Ron and his coaches are as well respected as any staff,” says Giants manager Bruce Bochy, whose team has won two of the last three World Series titles. “Everyone admires how they play the game.”
Two years ago, it was unimaginable Gardenhire could be fired. His teams won six American League Central titles in nine years, with three consecutive seasons of at least 90 victories, despite playing with one of the smallest payrolls in baseball.
The loss of expensive talents like Cy Young winner Johan Santana and Gold Glove center fielder Torii Hunter were overcome, at least until the well from their farm system dried up. Trades backfired. First baseman Justin Morneau started getting concussions. Target Field stripped catcher Joe Mauer of his power.
The Twins, once the model of baseball franchises, lost 96 and 99 games the past two seasons, their worst such run since 1955-56, when the franchise was in Washington D.C.
“I hate losing, I can’t accept it,” Gardenhire says. “People tell me losing helps you become a better manager. I’m trying to figure that one out.
“You hear people, too, say you never take it home. But it always goes home. It stayed with me all winter. “
This year could even be worse. The Twins traded away two center fielders, Denard Span and Ben Revere. They have only two starters on the staff - Scott Diamond and Kevin Correia - who won more than six major-league games last season.
Their best off-season acquisition this winter was the Houston Astros switching to the American League, knowing that no matter how ugly it gets this summer, they won’t be the worst team in the league.
Gardenhire sees the void of talent, but refuses to complain. It’s the same burden he saw his predecessor, Tom Kelly, bear when they finished last or next-to-last eight s seasons.
“It always comes down to talent,” Gardenhire says. “I feel we have some talent, and now I have to figure out how to get them to play together, and how to win again.
“And if I don’t get the job done, I get what I deserve.”