He understands how the misperception was born, and why it became conventional wisdom. He’s seen all the photos and videos, the ones that reveal the veins popping out on his neck and the eyes wide with rage. Heck, he even likes telling some of the best, wildest stories himself.
But Ron Gardenhire wants to correct the impression most baseball fans have of him.
“The thought process is always [that] I don’t get along with umpires,” the Twins manager said. “That’s blatantly wrong. I get along with them all the time.” Now more than ever.
Gardenhire’s 67 regular-season ejections (plus one in the playoffs) are more than any active manager and place him in the top 10 in baseball history. Those fiery nose-to-noses have become part of Twins lore, so much so that when the team celebrated the manager’s 1,000th career victory last month, Twins players even wore T-shirts printed with photos of Gardenhire arguing with umpires and reading “1,000 wins, 67 ejections … and still counting.”
That count has stalled this season, however. Gardenhire has yet to be tossed from a game in 2014, and if he remains in the dugout throughout Friday’s game in Detroit, he will have survived 36 games so far — the deepest into a season he’s gone without an ejection.
The reason, he figures, isn’t a calmer temperament, or conflict avoidance. At 56, Gardenhire insists he’s just as competitive as ever.
The thing is, there just isn’t much to argue over anymore. “With the replay system, ‘I challenge the call’ is about as mean as you get,” Gardenhire said. “You walk out slowly, and I say, ‘This is what we see [in the replay],’ and they go, ‘Let’s take a look.’ … And there you have it. No yelling.”
Around the game, disputes have been replaced by detente, hostility by cooperation. Managers and umpires are colleagues; no longer does a manager have to live with a blown call, nor an umpire defend one. “It’s been a lovefest with the umpires, a big, happy discussion,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said via Twitter. “Almost no reason to get upset anymore except balls and strikes.”
Orioles manager Buck Showalter, a former college basketball referee, said the atmosphere on the field is less combative and believes the umpires, far from resenting the attempt to correct their mistakes, are embracing the system. “I wanted to leave every game having had nothing to do with the outcome. That was the greatest accolade [as a referee], when I walked off the court and didn’t have to sprint to the locker room,” Showalter said. “These guys now, they walk off every field knowing that, other than balls and strikes, the players decided that game. I think that might make it a more attractive job.”
Yet Gardenhire, who jokes that he yells at his coaches more now instead of umpires, admits that he … well, not that he misses throwing a fit in public every so often, not exactly. For one thing, he’s saved thousands of dollars in fines.
But this era of conviviality is definitely a change, and it takes some getting used to. “You’ve got this burn inside of you,” Gardenhire said. “You get intense in the dugout, you get fired up, and you run out there and you feel like you’re part of the game. You’re really into it. And now that’s kind of gone.”
It was always gone anyway, he said, an hour or two after each one of his rhubarbs, which is why he hates the notion that he doesn’t get along with umps. “I’m not afraid to argue with them, to go out and yell and scream, but the next day, it’s over with. It’s always been over with,” Gardenhire insisted, before adding with a smile: “Except for a couple.”
Of hitting streaks and Twins
Colorado third baseman Nolan Arenado entered the weekend with a chance to reach some rarefied air in the Mile High City: Collect a hit in 30 consecutive games, something that nine different franchises have never experienced. He didn’t get there, going hitless on Friday, but in reaching 28 straight games Arenado erased Colorado’s franchise record of 27, set last season by former Twin Michael Cuddyer.
But three other ex-Twins still own the longest hitting streaks for other franchises, including Paul Molitor’s 39 games in 1987, which is the Brewers’ record, and outside of Pete Rose’s 44-gamer, the longest streak since Joe DiMaggio set the all-time record at 56 games. Other ex-Twins holding franchise records: Luis Castillo’s 35-game streak in 2002 is the best in Marlins history, and Jason Bartlett’s 2009 streak of 19 in a row is the best ever by a Ray. (Another former Twin, Denard Span, had a hit in 29 straight games a year ago, missing by one Ryan Zimmerman’s Nationals team record.)
The best in Minnesota history? That belongs to Ken Landreaux, who hit in 31 consecutive games in 1980.
Central Intelligence: Best great-bargain players
Every AL Central team has a payroll of at least $85 million, and in the Tigers’ case, it’s nearly twice that. But even with all the big salaries, it’s important for teams to find valuable players at bargain prices. Here are the division’s most valuable players, among those earning $1 million or less, through the first five weeks of 2014:
Indians: In his third full season, Zach McAllister has gained confidence in his changeup, making his fastball even more effective.
He’s allowed only one home run in 36 innings, and his 3.18 ERA shows the righthander may be on the verge of delivering All-Star performance for a minimum-salary ($500,000) price. (Runner-up: Lonnie Chisenhall.)
Royals: Center fielder Lorenzo Cain, with his $546,000 salary, was a runaway winner in this department, batting .360 over the first 14 games, until he went on the disabled list with a strained groin.
Jarrod Dyson, earning $530,000, stepped in and batted .317 while Cain was out. (Runner-up: Yordano Ventura.)
Tigers: He’s only made three starts, but already Drew Smyly is showing why the Tigers felt comfortable trading away Doug Fister last winter.
The $520,000 lefthander owns a 2.45 ERA in 22 innings, has struck out 21 and walked only six. (Runner-up: Nick Castellanos.)
White Sox: For a team that got only a .321 on-base percentage from its leadoff hitters in 2013, Adam Eaton, acquired in a trade with Arizona, has been a huge improvement.
His .364 on-base average, at a salary of only $511,000, has helped Chicago lead the AL in runs scored. (Runner-up: Tyler Flowers.)