Ron Gardenhire took over as Twins manager from Tom Kelly in 2002. Saturday, Gardenhire joined Kelly in the 1,000-win club.
Minnesota's Ron Gardenhire enjoys his 1,000the victory.
Ken Blaze / USA TODAY Sports
By Tyler Mason
At the end of the 2013 season, Ron Gardenhire didn't know whether he'd ever get a chance to earn his 1,000th career win. He and the Minnesota Twins had just finished up their third season of 96 or more losses, and Gardenhire's future hung in the balance.
Yet despite the losing, Minnesota showed a sign of faith in Gardenhire to lead a turnaround in Minnesota and brought him back for two more seasons. For the longtime Twins skipper, the milestone finally came as Minnesota beat Cleveland 7-3 on Saturday to give Gardenhire the 1,000th win of his 13-year tenure.
"Seems like it took a while here," Gardenhire said after Saturday's win. "I know a lot of guys have been rooting for me. My wife's here, my family and I got some coaches that have been with me here a long time and some guys I don't have with me anymore, but it means a lot for the organization.
"You start back from (GM) Terry Ryan and (former owner) Mr. (Carl) Pohlad giving me an opportunity to manage here. (Former manager) Tom Kelly, huge in my career. He backed me, has supported me the whole time. They gave me this opportunity and we ran with it. We've had some tough years here, but they've still stuck with me and I'm real happy with that."
Seemingly every member of the Twins' franchise celebrated Saturday's milestone win. Minnesota players, for example, donned postgame T-shirts that celebrated both Gardenhire's career win-total and his number of career ejections -- 67 "and counting," as the script on the shirt noted in jest.
"Congrats to Ron Gardenhire on his 1,000th win. Proud to have Gardy managing our club. Can't wait for Gardy Gnome Day," tweeted Twins vice president Dave St. Peter.
Gardenhire's managerial career in Minnesota began in 2002 when he took over for Kelly -- who won 1,140 games in 16 seasons, all with the Twins, at the helm. That 2002 season was the first of six American League Central titles for Gardenhire as Minnesota won 94 games. One year later, the Twins had a 90-win season and repeated as division champs. With a 92-70 record in 2004, Gardenhire and Minnesota made it three consecutive AL Central crowns.
Through the next six seasons under Gardenhire, the Twins never finished lower than third in the division. That included three more titles, including 96 wins in 2006, the most of a Gardenhire-led team. Minnesota returned to the postseason in 2009 and again in 2010.
Gardenhire was named AL Manager of the Year in 2010 after leading the Twins to their sixth division title in nine years.
Before taking over as the manager, Gardenhire was Minnesota's third-base and first-base coach since 1990 and was on Kelly's staff when the Twins won their second World Series in 1991. Gardenhire previously served as a minor-league manager at Class-A Kenosha and Double-A Orlando from 1988-90. He won a combined 245 games in his three seasons in the minors.
As a player, Gardenhire's career never really took off. He was taken in the sixth round by the New York Mets in the 1979 draft and spent parts of five seasons with the Mets as what he calls a "futility infielder."
In 285 career games, Gardenhire batted .232 with four home runs, 49 RBI and 27 doubles. His final year came in 1987 with Triple-A Portland, and he soon moved into the coaching ranks after that.
Life as a manager has served Gardenhire far better than life as a player. His first win as a manager came in his first game in charge when Minnesota beat Kansas City 8-6 on Opening Day in 2002. He reached win No. 100 the following season and eclipsed the 500-win mark with a win over the Chicago White Sox on July 6, 2007.
Saturday's win over the Indians was the 115th time Gardenhire has defeated the division foes. His 130 wins over the Royals are the most of any opponent. The most victories against any team not in the AL Central is Texas (59).
Gardenhire is the second-longest tenured manager in the AL, with Angels skipper Mike Scioscia having two years on Gardenhire.
Now that he has 1,000 wins, Gardenhire becomes the fifth active manager in the century club. He joins San Francisco's Bruce Bochy (1,533 entering Saturday), Scioscia (1,233), Baltimore's Buck Showalter (1,164) and Cleveland's Terry Francona (1,123), who was in the opposing dugout as Gardenhire earned win No. 1,000.
"My goal here is to turn this back into what it was when I got it," Gardenhire said on Saturday. "That's what we're going to try to do here. ... We're going to get better and better and I want to be a part of that. I've been a part of it before.
"This organization, the Twin Cities area, our fan base is as good as it gets," he added. "Why would you want to go anywhere else?"