Startribune.com digital sports editor Howard Sinker used to cover the Twins and now shares season tickets with friends in Section 219 of Target Field. He blogs about baseball from the perspective of a long-time fan who loves the game, doesn’t always believe the hype and likes hearing what others think. Howard sometimes talks about sports with Cathy Wurzer on MPR's Morning Edition.
I covered the firings of the two managers before Tom Kelly was hired by the Twins. Billy Gardner was cut loose in 1985 and conducted a one-liner filled exit interview with me 'n' Patrick Reusse, who was working in St. Paul at the time, in the Super 8 motel room in Roseville where he lived during the season. Little more than a year later, Ray Miller waxed bitter about his firing in the downtown Minneapolis high rise where he lived during his brief and flawed stint with the Twins.
You could see those coming too, even if both of them were in some denial about what led to their job loss.
Ron Gardenhire went out differently. I really think that every word he spoke on Monday afternoon, after Terry Ryan announced the change, was from the heart. For him to stay on as manager of the Twins would have been the wrong thing on many fronts. This is a team that needs a new voice, especially if that voice is intended to be heard for as long as Gardenhire's and Tom Kelly's were. This is a voice intended to be heard in 2025 as well as 2015, if Ryan and the Twins make the right choice.
I was among the first to write this season that a change of manager was needed. If you think I was happy to write that, you're mistaken. I was as happy to make that case as Ryan was to tell Gardy that he was gone.
Gardenhire's spring training tryout with the Twins came in 1987, the last year I covered the team, and he lost out on a reserve's job (as did Ron Washington) after the Twins traded for Al Newman. Gardy played in 10 games that spring. He made five errors and didn't hit much. Kelly made no secret that he was looking for a glove more than a bat -- and Gardy was cut at the end of camp (on the same day the Twins traded with San Francisco for Dan Gladden).
I saw a lot of those fringe guys come through spring training. None of them came back and made an impact, other than Gardy. When the curmudgeon Kelly resigned, Gardy was the folksy, cheerful replacement. He was a voice the Twins needed and he was the right manager to guide the group that he took over, which is a very different group than the one that led to Gardy being thrown overboard.
This group needs a voice more strident than folksy. If you want a leader for a core of self-starters who are going to demand the most from each other, Gardy is among the best choices to manage. That's not a description of the current Twins, who act way too content with being on the periphery of other teams' success. As constructed by Ryan, this wasn't a team good enough to contend -- and I got the sense that didn't bother players as much as it should have.
So why not sack Ryan, too?
Well, if that happened, whom in the organization would you trust to find his replacement -- much less a new manager? Starting pitching isn't the only area in which the Twins have little depth.
The choice of a new manager and the revisions made to the current roster will, basically, be a referendum on Ryan. He has done some things for the minor-league organization to help it recover from the fraying that took place between his general manager stints. But the real challenge is whether that will soon pay off at Target Field.
In addition to hiring a new manager, I hope Ryan hires a top assistant to work with him. The next year or two will be a test of his abilities to construct a winning major league team, and if the troubles continue, his job should be the next on the line. So I want the coming changes to include someone who could well be the Twins' next general manager.
Worst case is that change needs making in a year or two.
Best case for the Twins is that the right moves are made and Ryan is replaced when he damn well pleases -- and well down the road.
This may have been the ultimate First World issue, whether the Twins should have found a way to give pitcher Phil Hughes the $500,000 bonus he would have earned if a rain delay hadn't robbed him of a chance to get one more out on Wednesday.
(For those who haven't been following the deal, Hughes had that bonus in his contract for pitching 210 innings -- and he'll finish the season with 209 2/3.)
The Twins offered to let Hughes pitch against Detroit to earn the bonus. Hughes declined, and apparently rebuffed efforts to find a way to have the money given to him in some other way. It would have been deserved, but Hughes took the position that he just didn't feel right about any of the ideas that had been put forward.
Both the Twins and Hughes came away looking good.
That's a small but important thing.
However the Twins move forward in reshaping the team for 2015 and beyond, they need to be perceived in a better way than they are right now.. J.J. Hardy, Vance Worley and Carlos Gomez have been among those with unflattering things to say after their exits. The David Ortiz complaints, however ancient (or valid) they may be, are ancient history.
Much had been made about the success of players after they have left the team, whether it's the All-Star status of Gomez, the three ex-Twins among National League batting average leaders or the attention that Francisco Liriano and Worley have gotten for their work in Pittsburgh. Combine those with the tumble from postseason staple to baseball bottom-dweller and the picture is pretty ugly.
Obviously, $500,000 isn't much to Twins management or to a pitcher making an $8 million salary this season. By themselves, the positions of the Twins and Hughes don't mean much.
But as one step toward reshaping the team's image, it's a start.
And, yes, there's still a lot of work to do.
To that end, here are a few interesting reads and listens for the final weekend of the season:
Steve Buhr, who has written for Section 219 as "Jim Crikket," writes about what he'd do if he owned the Twins.
ESPN 1500's Phil Mackey has this in-depth look at the deterioration of the Twins.
Here's the Star Tribune's special report from earlier this week on what needs to be done to fix the Twins.
And I was invited to talk about the Twins (from bobbleheads to bobbled grounders) on the Talk to Contact podcast on Thursday night. I had fun ... and only cussed once.
A “month of hope” for the Twins is about to begin. Players will be called up and others will be cast aside, or to Houston in the case of Samuel Deduno. We can be fairly certain the Twins will again lose more than 90 games – but it would take their worst month of the season for them to lose 100. Small blessings, huh.
Don’t take anything you see this month seriously. If you’re the kind of person prone to get excited by the late season, I’m here to remind you of Chris Parmelee (2011) and Josmil Pinto (2013), to name two. If you’re that kind of person, watch more football or take a Community Ed class or something.
Change from within isn’t going to help the Twins. I’m doing my best to believe in the month of Kennys Vargas and the half-season of Danny Santana, but even those positives bring questions. We have no clue whether Santana is a major league caliber shortstop because the Twins forced themselves, through lousy roster management, to put him in center field – where Byron Buxton is expected to play into the 2020s.
And Vargas, if he is as real as he looks, creates issues about how to handle the first base and DH positions into the future. But any Vargas/Mauer/Pinto/whomever/whatever/however debate about filling those spots detracts from the other real issues facing a team that has slipped into mediocrity on so many levels. For many, the timeline to competence has been pushed back for another year for all sorts of reasons, including the injuries that rendered Buxton and Miguel Sano unavailable, and has apparently hindered some of the top pitching prospects we’ve been talking about.
Saturday’s minor-league news was that prospect Alex Meyer was pulled from his start in Rochester after only a few batters. Sunday’s news was that he was placed on the disabled list. August’s news, in addition to Buxton’s scary-as-heck concussion, was that Trevor May didn’t look ready for the majors despite all of the clamoring for his promotion. Five starts, 19 innings, 44 base runners. Splat!
I’m not talking solutions right now. I don’t have the energy to add voice to a debate that dances around the fringes of fixing mediocrity. Anyone who wants to debate Jordan Schafer can leave me out of it. And I don’t want to dip even one toe into the Gardy-created discussion about whether pressure over the All-Star Game contributed to Joe Mauer’s substandard performance.
If you missed that one, here it is. If your reaction is bleepity-bleeping-bleep, join the club.
My response for now is silence and apathy. I received some thoughtful emails when I asked for suggestions to fix the Twins, and I’ll be sharing some of them on the blog now and then. I’ve taken to following the Twins, more than anything, by looking at the in-game box scores on the MLB web site. Ricky Nolasco getting smoked again and Anthony Swarzak adding gasoline – Sunday’s action in Baltimore – go down more easily that way. I've got a Fantasy Football title to defend, a college class to teach and lots of other things going on.
Refusing to invest in a flawed product is the best message I can send right now.
The Twins sent their season-ticket holders an email earlier this week. The first paragraph read:
As the Minnesota Twins look to develop strategies that will shape future initiatives for our organization and brand, we’re looking for the feedback from our most valued fans. With season ticket holders being at the top of the list, we invite you to participate in an exclusive focus group session!
I offered the Twins my services on this one, but was turned down -- and quite appropriately -- one question into their check-me-out phone call because I work for one of the types of companies they don't want in the room.
The mosaic of Twins fans is made up of more than season-ticket holders, right? You can be a fan and be so miffed about things that you haven't attended a game since the first of the recent 90-loss seasons. Or you can be a fan who attends dozens of games per year by finding cheap tickets on the web. (My personal best is getting into the Legends Club for $17, by the way.)
I don't think you have to be a season-ticket holder to be important. If you know me, you know I'm not big on exclusive sessions, anyway.
So I'm convening the Section 219 Focus Mob right here. Use the comments section below to tell the Twins what you think, and react (respectfully, please) to other people's comments.
Here are a few (very general) rules that I'd like us to abide by:
1. No personal attacks. Criticize the performance ... the idea ... the whatever. Do better than "he's a jerk." I'm gonna have my finger on the bad-taste trigger.
2. Be reasonable. Joe Mauer isn't going to be released and he has a full no-trade clause. Serious to me would be a suggestion that he move to an outfield spot if you think Kennys Vargas should play first base. Serious to me would be that the Pohlads go after the highest-profile of the free agent pitchers this winter because, sometimes, throwing money at a problem can help -- and Twins ownership has money. I have a very inclusive view of what's reasonable.
3. Try not to write a novel. If you want to share a lot, send me an email. Those have a way of showing up on the blog from time to time, and could become a guest post.
4. Best comment (as judged by me 'n' me alone) gets my tickets for a game in September. I'll even give you a couple of choices. (No, second prize isn't two games in September -- but thanks for asking.)
As the Twins said in their Focus Group letter: Your time is deeply appreciated!
Have at it.
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