For Twins, loyalty is the name of the game
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Tom Kelly remembers going through what Ron Gardenhire has gone through.
"I got my brains beat in," the former Minnesota Twins manager said. "You’d think my wife gave me stupid pills."
However, he always felt supported and that management had his back.
Kelly clearly recalls after one tough stretch talking with then-general manager Andy McPhail.
"Andy, he said to me, ‘You know everyone is trying, is working, they’re running balls out, and you know this is one of the worst teams I’ve ever given you.’
"He wasn’t happy but he took some of the responsibility. That was good. He made me feel a little bit at ease. That takes a lot off your shoulders. I appreciated it when he said it. It was really nice of him to say. He took a little heat for it. But he didn’t leave me out to dry."
Seeing the long term instead of the short term. Taking ownership for the failures as well as successes. Sticking with those who helped you win championships.
It’s a philosophy Twins management have had for almost 30 years.
That’s why few people should’ve been surprised when general manager Terry Ryan gave manager Ron Gardenhire a two-year extension while keeping his entire staff.
Stability has been a trademark of this organization.
Kelly managed the team from 1986-2001. Gardenhire followed him. In that time, Minnesota has won two World Series titles and has been in the playoffs eight times.
By comparison, the most successful team in baseball in that time, the New York Yankees, have had eight managers, which doesn’t include return stints by Billy Martin and Lou Piniella.
After the Twins went through seasons of 63-99, 66-96 and 66-96 the last three years, most analysts thought Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson would be replaced. Most, if not all, major-league teams would’ve made a change.
But instead of pointing fingers at their coaches, the Twins management pointed fingers at themselves.
They saw the glaring lack of talent and go-to players. When’s the last time a major-league team didn’t have a 20-home run hitter or 10-game winner? Ironically, one only would have to go back two years and see it was — gasp — the Twins who also didn’t have a 10-game winner while Michael Cuddyer was the only player with 20 homers.
Twins’ management realized these have been some of the worst teams they have given Gardenhire.
"We haven’t performed like we’ve wanted to the last three years," assistant general manager Rob Antony said. "It would’ve been easy to make a change at manager. But then we ask, ‘Did we give them good players?’ and the answer we didn’t supply them with enough good players and the players we had didn’t do enough. So rather than make them scapegoats, we’ve tried to address it by getting them better players."
When the Twins announced Gardenhire and Anderson would return, the players applauded the move.
Glen Perkins became one of the more outspoken players backing his coaches.
"They were the best guys, Gardy in particular, to run the team," he said. "You don’t go from being Manager of the Year to nothing when the team doesn’t do well. You could see the talent in 2010 drop off in 2013.
"He didn’t have as much to work with. New management was not going to make us better. We needed better players. We needed more talent than we have."
Joe Mauer also wasn’t surprised there were few changes.
"What happened wasn’t their fault," he said. "I’m happy they’re back. They were here when we had our good years.
"We had to look in the mirror and said we need to get better. We didn’t play well. Our bullpen pitched too many innings."
Reliever Jared Burton said Ryan and his staff are real people who don’t put on airs and are genuinely interested in their players and coaches.
"It’s more of a family than anything I’ve been part of," he said.
Ironically, Anderson said he and Gardenhire never toiled as hard as they have the last few years.
"l found ourselves working harder the last three years to get things right than the first 10 years," he said. "Gardy was so frustrated. He looked at more video. It was frustrating."
"I appreciated the opportunity to come back and do it and where they trusted me to help guys come around. I believe I can."
For years, the Twins have prided themselves on solid pitching, defense and playing fundamental baseball. However, much of that went out of the window when they often found themselves trailing — and trailing big — early.
"We looked at a lot of things but probably the biggest thing that jumped out most was that we were last in starting pitching and when that happens you don’t need to look at other stats," Antony said. "When you’re down 3-0 and 4-0 early in the game, that’s demoralizing and tough to come back from."
That limited sacrificing runners into scoring position and affected the roles of the bullpen to the point where Anderson said they weren’t looking at a seventh-inning reliever but just a guy who had the freshest arm.
Saying they needed to get better pitching, Ryan signed two of the top hurdlers on the market, former Miami Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco and former Yankees’ starter Phil Hughes. With Mike Pelfrey and Kevin Correia, that’s four guys who could throw 200 innings.
The Twins can win with that.
If the pitching can hold up until young players like Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano come around, this three-year cloud could lift.
Kelly said management always has been reasonable about expectations.
However, he said they do want to see improvement.
"There’s a lot of other factors beside the record," he said. "I don’t worry about (stats). You just worry about people getting better. That’s not happening and you got a problem.
"It comes back to the philosophy of how the general manager and owner feel about their people.
They’ve been very loyal to me. Mr. McPhail and Mr. Ryan always treated me fairly, looked me in the eye. If I had an opinion, they respected it. Now, they had to make the final decision.
"But what I think they do well, is they understand what kind of team you have when you start the season."