CLEVELAND – As the T-shirts the Twins wore noted, Ron Gardenhire may own 1,000 wins, but he’s got 67 ejections, too. And the blame for some of them, Rick Anderson admits, belongs with his coaching staff.
When Gardenhire was handed the reins of the Twins for the 2002 season, he was “a little high-strung,” the pitching coach says. So he and coach Steve Liddle would start a little trouble with the umpires. “We could bait him into [ejections]. We’d nudge each other, and Steve would say, ‘Gardy, the umpire’s got a screwed-up zone.’ And he’d start chirping at the umpire. And Steve would say, ‘Man, I can’t believe the pitches he’s missing,’ and Gardy would yell a little more. Before you know it, he’s thrown out.”
He didn’t need much help for most of his 67 ejections, though Joe Mauer said the players appreciated him for it. “He has the players’ back, right or wrong. He’s not afraid to be in the middle of things,” the low-key Mauer said. “He’s kept me in a few games over the years, which has been great.”
Gardenhire thanked his players and coaching staff, including the departed Liddle, Rick Stelmaszek and Jerry White, before anyone else after Saturday’s 7-3 win over Cleveland that gave him 1,000 victories. But the thanks, those closest to him said, should go to the manager.
“I can’t imagine working for someone else. He knows what we do and he trusts us, and that’s a pretty good way to work,” said Anderson, who first met Gardenhire when they roomed together as Mets prospects more than 30 years ago. “He’s got a good personality for the job. He doesn’t try to bring any attention to himself. And I respect how much he wants to succeed here.”
Gardenhire said each win is still meaningful, even in lousy years. “I don’t think we’ve ever not enjoyed a win,” he said. “There’s nothing like winning a game. Sometimes you learn an awful lot by losing games, but this is all about winning. Shaking hands at the end of the game is the best feeling in the world.”
The Twins appreciate how much it means to him, and how important giving your best is to him. That’s a big reason why he has survived, despite three consecutive seasons of 96 or more losses. “He expects players to come here and give a good effort every day. When we lose a game, sometimes the first time he says is, ‘Dang, we battled our tails off’ — all the cliches. But those things are important to him,” Anderson said.
And he’s not the only one who notices.
“Hawk Harrelson came into the locker room the other day just to tell him, ‘I love watching you guys play. You always get your guys to play,’ “ Anderson said, referring to the former player, general manager and now White Sox broadcaster. “Jim Leyland said last year, Gardy’s the best manager in baseball.”