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Continued: Skipper accustomed to shrugging off snubs

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Last update: September 24, 2010 - 7:41 AM

Ron Gardenhire has won six division titles in his nine years as the Twins' manager. He has yet to win the American League Manager of the Year Award.

Gardenhire doesn't complain. He realizes that the award can be given to a manager who overachieved with a struggling franchise, or can serve as a lifetime achievement award.

Injected with truth serum, he probably would not quibble with the esteemed Mike Scioscia being honored in 2002 or 2009 while winning 99 and 97 games, or with Ozzie Guillen winning on his way to a World Series championship in 2005, or Jim Leyland winning on his way to the World Series in 2006.

Those close to Gardenhire, though, will tell you that twice the voting by the Baseball Writers Association of American has offended him.

In 2003, Gardenhire led the Twins on a remarkable second-half comeback to win his second division title in two years. The BBWAA gave the AL Manager of the Year Award to Royals manager Tony Pena, whose team collapsed in the second half and finished 83-79, in third place in the division and seven games behind the champion Twins.

In 2004, Gardenhire won his third division title in three seasons, and the BBWAA gave the award to Texas' Buck Showalter. Showalter is unpopular with many of his peers, and his team finished that season with a record of 89-73, good for third place in the AL West. The Twins finished 92-70.

Friends say Gardenhire was not pleased about those results. Gardenhire admits that failing to win the award has caused him to care less about it.

"I quit thinking about that thing a ways back," he said. "It's something you don't control, and it's more of a team thing, to me. If your team does well, then your manager does well.

"I think it's an honor to be mentioned in those things. I've been mentioned a lot of times, finished second or whatever, but I quit worrying about it. There were a couple of times ... well, it's not about anything other than your team. It's an honor, don't get me wrong, but I'll take the wins over anything else."

On Tuesday, Gardenhire reached 800 victories near the end of his ninth season. Given that he is on his way to winning almost 100 games while missing Joe Nathan for the entire season and Justin Morneau for half of the season, this is the year he should win the award.

He has won this season while remodeling his bullpen and patching together his lineup. He has stuck with once-troublesome or slumping players, such as Delmon Young and Jesse Crain, and reaped immense rewards. He has overseen the emergence of Danny Valencia as the team's best third baseman since Corey Koskie.

By insisting that they rest regularly, he has watched Jim Thome exceed expectations despite a balky back, and Joe Mauer enjoy the best second half of his career.

Managers don't win or lose many games with strategical moves. The best pinch-hitters reach base about 40 percent of the time; the worst reach base about 30 percent of the time. Not often does a late-inning move in one game change a season.

What matters most in modern managing is maintaining a loose, competitive clubhouse, keeping reserve and fringe players ready to play, and guiding a pitching staff through a long season filled with temptations to overwork a team's best arms.

Gardenhire has excelled this season on all counts.

"It's the manager's job to point things out at the right time, and he's great at that," said Carl Pavano, who has played for numerous managers.

"I would be surprised if he doesn't win that award this year," said Michael Cuddyer, who has played for only two managers (Gardenhire and Tom Kelly) in his big league career. "And I think he deserves it."

Gardenhire pretends not to care. "No matter what happens,'' he said, "I'm going to go bowling with my buddies, and I'm going to drive my RV."

Gardenhire, though, is as emotional as he is driven. Deep down, he craves the award.

It says here that he should, and will, need to find room on the RV this winter for a shiny new plaque. He's earned it.

Jim Souhan can be heard on ESPN1500 Sundays from 10 to noon and weekdays at 2:40 p.m. His Twitter name is Souhanstrib.

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