Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Ron Gardenhire - My Minnesota Twin of the Decade

No one person has done more for the Minnesota Twins this decade than Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire. In his 9 years as Twins manager, Gardenhire has guided the Twins to 5 division titles and only 1 losing season. More than that Ron Gardenhire has created a culture of winning and dignity within the Twins organization that is noticed by players, the media, and fans alike.

You only have to look at the rosters of the 2002, 2003, and 2004 division championship teams and then check out what happen to most those players after they left the Twins to see how much Ron Gardenhire got out of them. Ron Gardenhire sees things in players most people do not. Ron Gardenhire had the vision to see that a long time setup man – Eddie Guardado – could be a top level closer, and a failed closer – LaTroy Hawkins – could be an elite setup man. Ron Gardenhire saw in Joe Nathan the makings of an elite closer, and gave Nathan the chance when others thought he should not. When others called for Brad Radke’s departure, Gardenhire stuck with him and was rewarded. No one believed Jacquie Jones could succeed as a lead off leader, but Ron Gardenhire did.

Most people look at the 2006 division champs and see super-stars Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Johan Santana, and Joe Nathan. What they do not see is Ron Gardenhire had to manage a team whose starting pitching staff was Johan Santana, Boof Bosner, and whoever was healthy. Had Ron Gardenhire not trusted a mid-season call-up name Pat Neshek, the 06 team would not have had a setup man for Joe Nathan.

Gardenhire’s work in 2008 and 2009 is perhaps even more impressive as the Twins weathered the losses of Torii Hunter and Johan Santana and still contended often with patched work pitching and players at key positions who really should not have been there. Credit Ron Gardenhire for establishing culture that accepts nothing less than full effort and winning.

Gardenhire has his faults. His obsession with playing Nick Punto brothers me, so too does some of his pitching moves. However Gardenhire’s strengths far outweigh his weaknesses.

I have meet Ron Gardenhire twice in person; he always takes the time to talk people and make the feel at ease. He insisted his players treat Twins fans with dignity. Many Twins players are great at signing autographs through the mail. Player attendance at Twinsfest is always great, and players make many appearances around town, and do a lot of charity work. At these events the players almost without fail treat people well and don’t displaying any prima donna attitudes. This class attitude starts at the top with their manager.

Joe Mauer is the best player in baseball, and will go down in baseball and Minnesota sports history as an icon. Joe Mauer may well be the most loved Twin of all-time. Justin Morneau has re-introduced Twins fans to what having a power hitter on their team is like. Morneau was an MVP on the field and a good guy off it. Torii Hunter gave the Twins 7 strong seasons and helped lead the revival of Twins this decade. Hunter is also a class human being.

Johan Santana won 2 Cy Young Awards as a Twin, and was baseball’s best pitcher from 2004-2007. Joe Nathan may well have been the best closer in baseball the last 5 years. Former Twins General Manager Terry Ryan rebuilt the Twins into a winner this decade, and one cannot forget Judge Harry Crump whose ruling that the Twins had to honor their Metrodome lease saved the Twins from contradiction in 2002.

However, Ron Gardenhire had more an affect than any of these gentlemen. Great managers are rarely truly appreciated till they have left. Ron Gardenhire led the Minnesota Twins back into relevance, and back into the hearts of Twins fans anywhere. For that Ron Gardenhire is my Minnesota Twin of the decade.