September 17, 2014

Should the Twins fire Ron Gardenhire?

Ron Gardenhire Twins

I started writing about the Twins during Ron Gardenhire's rookie season as manager, 2002, and for that entire time some fans have called for him to be fired. Such is life as an MLB manager, but now that winning division titles on a regular basis has given way to losing 95 games per season on a regular basis the fringe of Twins fandom has become the people thinking Gardenhire should be allowed to stick around rather than the people calling for Gardenhire to be fired.

I've never called for Gardenhire to be fired and I probably never will. That's just not my style and it has nothing to do with Gardenhire. However, anyone who's read this blog for any length of time surely knows that I'm not a Gardenhire fan and even during the Twins' run of success his batting orders, lack of platooning, small-ball tactics, public call-outs of young players, and various other traits never fit my personal managing ideal.

Once upon a time my criticisms of Gardenhire were met with people taking me to task for having the gall to question the manager of a consistent winning team, but now those same criticisms of Gardenhire--and surprisingly little has changed in terms of what irks me about him--are met with people taking me to task for not being harsh enough toward the manager of a consistent losing team. Such is life as a baseball blogger, I suppose.

Here's the thing, though: Gardenhire has managed the Twins to four straight 90-loss seasons and possibly four straight 95-loss seasons. Only two managers in baseball history have kept their jobs after four straight 90-loss seasons. One was Connie Mack, who did so with the Philadelphia A's from 1940-1943 and also happened to own the team. The other was Tom Kelly, who did so with the Minnesota Twins from 1997-2000 and also happened to be the manager Gardenhire replaced.

In addition to owning the team that continued to employee him as manager Mack was, at the time of his four straight 90-loss seasons, an 80-year-old five-time World Series winner and nine-time pennant winner with more than 3,000 career victories. Kelly didn't have quite that same level of job security, but it was pretty close and for fairly good reason: He managed the Twins to a pair of World Series titles before all the sustained losing started.

Gardenhire is not the owner of the team, nor does he have multiple World Series titles. In fact, during his 13 seasons as manager the Twins have never gotten to the World Series and have advanced past the first round of the playoffs just once, in his first season on the job. His career record is barely above .500 in the regular season and 6-21 in the postseason. He's managed the Twins to 90 or more wins just once since 2007.

Even his 2002-2010 run of six division titles in nine seasons came at a time when the American League Central was extremely weak and often there for the taking with only 87-92 wins despite the unbalanced schedule keeping the more powerful divisions away. You can only play the teams on your schedule and certainly the Twins took advantage of their good fortunate, but "six division titles in nine seasons" was, at the very least, propped up by mediocre competition.

In the entire history of baseball there are a grand total of two instances of a manager keeping his job after four consecutive 90-loss seasons and both cases included circumstances which clearly do not apply to Gardenhire. He doesn't own the team, he doesn't have a Hall of Fame-caliber resume, and his pre-losing run of success is not World Series titles but rather division titles against weak competition followed by historic ineptitude in the postseason. Why should he be the third?

Forget for a moment how much responsibility for four consecutive 90-loss seasons should fall on Gardenhire's shoulders versus the front office. Forget for a moment whether you think a different manager could have coaxed these awful teams to slightly less awful records. Here is the far more important question: If and when the Twins re-emerge as contenders is Gardenhire the manager you want at the helm to get the most out of that new core of young talent?


For a lengthy Gardenhire discussion featuring a reporter who's covered him for years, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode with Phil Miller of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

  • blindeke

    i agree with you about Gardy and wish he’d go live on a farm somewhere in Okie and leave Minnesota baseball alone, but i think you can’t say any more that you “never called for him to be fired”.

  • Adam J

    I agree with blindeke. You may have never written or said the words “I think the Twins should fire Gardenhire,” but this post lays out in no uncertain terms your opinion about your opinion on how much longer he should manage the team. Additionally, in your podcast from a week ago (the one with David Brauer), you argued that Terry Ryan should be relieved of his job, and his replacement should clean house.

  • Uh, What?

    To answer your question: No.

    • Karl Noel

      Why bother to post that if you can’t explain why?

      • Uh, What?

        Gleeman’s Question: “If and when the Twins re-emerge as contenders is Gardenhire the manager you want at the helm to get the most out of that new core of young talent?”

        My Answer: No.

        Your question: Why bother to post?

        My Answer: Have you read anything from AG (and MANY other baseball observers)? I think we’ve had enough consecutive 90-loss seasons don’t you? And all of 1 postseason series win is enough to say no, I don’t want Gardy doing things “the twins way” and potentially turning what could be a hopeful future with young talent into the same mediocre-to-bad teams on the field year in and year out. It’s time for a change. I’d love it to be the Pohlads but that isn’t going to happen. So, lets start with Gardy, Anderson, and the training and conditioning staff.

        • Karl Noel

          Since the column is titled “Should the Twins fire Ron Gardenhire?” and you didn’t specify which question you were answering, it appeared to me that you were defending the absurdly ahistorical notion of retaining Gardenhire. It appears we are in complete agreement about what the Twins need to do.

          • Uh, What?

            sorry. i was answering his last question. Nobody wants Gardy in charge of the next 10 years of possible talent.

  • sandbun

    I’ve never understood your obsession with not saying the words “He should be fired.” It’s not like you have the same consideration for players.

    • Karl Noel

      While I have no problem with saying I’d like to see the Twins part ways with Gardy, my guess is that maybe Aaron just isn’t comfortable with saying he should be fired because it feels like wishing someone ill. Just a guess.

  • Ben

    Wasn’t it you who created the “Gardenhire files”, which listed all the reasons he should be fired? And I think it was also you who kept insisting that managers have little to nothing to do with a team winning every time Gardenhire has been praised over the last decade.

  • Terry

    The answer to your last question is: Yes

  • ajr

    I first wanted him fired in, oh, 2007ish. So I’m going on eight seasons of having to suffer through his dated philosophies that are even more dated now.

    At this point “should he be fired” is academic; “will he be fired” is the more appropriate question. And if I were to bet, I’d say Gardenhire is managing next year. Terry Ryan has no spine to fire him, out of a similar fear of change, and the Pohlads, who really have the ability to change things, have even less of a spine. This franchise is doomed.

    Why does this organization refuse to listen to an outside voice? It’s really sad, this echo chamber that’s been in place for 20 years since TR took the helm. As Aaron said, the 6 division titles bit is a mirage, and was the worst thing to happen to this team, as it gave them the illusion that the “Twins way” even worked at all.

  • Wookiee of the Year

    I tend to fall into the camp that managers don’t make that much difference to team records, at least at the MLB level, where they’re dealing with upper-echelon talent and where their replacement is nearly assured to be a highly talented manager. But you make good points about the rare manager tenures that have lasted as long as Gardy’s.
    At a certain point, whether it’s an attempt to change a losing culture, to show a willingness to try anything that might help, or simply to send a message about accountability and the unnacceptability of multiple terrible seasons, dismissing the manager makes too much sense.
    All of that said, it is funny the way you call out local media for being too soft on the front office and coaching staff and for not calling for a house cleaning, but then refuse to “call for” Gardenhire’s firing–whatever that means, after a post like this.

    • Joel Thingvall

      I agree with your list of negatives, especially battling oder and platooning (or even working with management for good bench construction). Combined with Anderson and the times when a guy pitches one batter too many, and just using the bullpen as a rotation rather than as needed, it is time for a change. But it has to happen even hieehr up. We need a new GM, and that could mean a lot of new bodies in field staff and even players on the field. If we go from within, we have Rob Anthony, and there are a nice crop of guys to fill coaching rosters (Dougie M, Jake, Watkins, Smith, Glynn, Cuellar) and some of the current bodies could be processed back into the system (Ullger, Bruno as hitting instructor, Vavra down to Cedar Rapids and such). If you need a stop gap manager, I would go with Steinbach over Molitor. But it would be a good time to sign up someone capable of running with the team for maybe a decade as it grows, shines, has a downer, shines, grows into the following generation of play come 2025. Next year will probably be another losing season, so might as well give the new guys a chance to try things and go forth than same old same old.

  • Kirk

    Going into 2014, I was convinced of two things RE: Gardenhire and why he was still managing at this point. (1) The Twins wanted him to get his 1000th victory; (2) TR was tired of Gardy complaining about personnel and let him bring in Bartlett, Kubel, and Guerrier. At this point going into 2015 I can’t see how he can be retained. I just can’t see it…

  • Ben

    I was convinced he would be gone after last season, and yet here we are. Nothing this team does will surprise me anymore. I think the only way Gardy or Ryan are gone is if they do it voluntarily.

    I could see them forcing Anderson out and Gardy stepping down in protest, but I think it’s just as likely that nothing changes. The Twins are VERY content with the status quo, and I still don’t get the feeling from anyone in the organization that they think anything is wrong.

  • littleedog01

    Earlier this week the Twins sold fewer than 20,000 tickets for the first time in the history of Target Field. I’m guessing the crowds for next week’s series against Arizona will be even smaller. We all know ownership will see that. Of course that won’t be the sole reason for a change, but it will be another case for it.
    This team is just completely lifeless. Gardenhire has had 13 years, THIRTEEN, to try and do something special. I agree with Aaron when he mentions the six division titles coming when the division was a low hanging piece of fruit. I look at those division flags and think of the golden opportunity that was lost. I wanted Paul M in 2002, and I still want him in 2014, although Doug M is making a strong case for future consideration.
    To answer your question; yes he should be fired. Let someone else have a crack with the young talent we have coming up.

  • William Tasker

    My problem is that he has been entrenched and has a lot to do with the team philosophy. So, yeah, he is an obstacle that has to be removed.

  • J.S.

    I’m actually astounded he’s still got a job. He’s managed to squander talent, ruin arms, mismanage line-ups, alienate young talent, stick to boneheaded “small ball” talk (when they’re playing nothing of the sort). I admit, I’ve never liked the guy as a manager (he’s a likeable guy) and think he’s long skated by on minimal success in a weak division.

    • Jeff in Coon Rapids

      I think you only keep Steinbach and Molitor, maybe Bruno. Everyone else including Terry Ryan must be new

  • ML

    The actual answer is this: Gardy should be fired. But it should be by the next GM.

  • bs

    So Joe Mauer’s gaudy career OPS was “propped up by mediocre competition” then too, right?

  • joe

    I thought I had heard Buster Olney in the off-season say that no manager, before Gardy, had ever kept his job after 3 95-game-losing seasons. Is that accurate? Perhaps he meant in the modern era?

  • joe

    I’m not much of a Gardy fan, but I’d prefer more discussion on why Rick Anderson is still a major league pitching coach. Is there a way that Terry Ryan could hire a pitching-coach coach to help develop Anderson into someone capable of developing pitchers capable of pitching at a major league level?

  • ksidders

    Ron Washington is available — seems like he might be an interesting option…

  • Bob

    As a long time reader, first time commenter, Yes!

  • Chris Virnig

    Although Gardenhire isn’t responsible for what’s been a dismal roster for the past four years, he certainly hasn’t squeezed every available win out of his teams. Comparing Gardenhire’s terrible teams to Tom Kelly’s terrible teams of the mid-90s, there is a noticeable distinction.

    Kelly’s teams always played extremely hard and were always solid fundamentally. They lost because they had no talent, but they very rarely beat themselves. I even remember Mike Hargrove, then manager of the powerhouse Cleveland Indians, making a remark along the lines of how the Twins were “the best worst team he’d ever seen.” Conversely, Gardenhire’s bad teams truly are terrible. They are lethargic and uninspired. Defensively they are routinely sloppy. In short, the Twins from 2011-2014 CONSISTENTLY find new and inventive ways of beating themselves. For my two cents, THIS is why Gardenhire should be fired. If you’re given a terrible roster…then you’d better do as Tom Kelly did and have a hard working, fundamentally solid ball club. Gardy simply hasn’t done that. Not by a long shot.

    Personally, I’m in favor of the Doug Mientkiewicz idea. Why? Because there aren’t many better options out there. Ron Washington is one intriguing name among the “veteran free agent managers” pool. I’d also LOVE to see Bud Black as Twins manager if the Padres fire him (which they’d be fools to do). Barring either of those names, Mientkiewicz not only fits the trend of freshly retired players becoming Big League managers, but he’s also got some nice experience already by winning the A League championship this season. His resume is already better than that of Brad Ausmus. Most importantly, though, he knows all of the young Twins players working their way through the system. And they know him. From everything we hear, he walks the line pretty well between being a disciplinarian and a guy the players can respect.

    Regardless, I know one thing: Rick Anderson MUST go. That is non-negotiable. Nobody in the history of the organization has ever done more damage than Anderson.