The Twins fired Ray Miller as manager on Sept. 12, 1986, with 23 games remaining in the season, and replaced him with Tom Kelly. Ron Gardenhire became manager in 2002, after Kelly’s resignation, and was fired on Sept. 29, 2014, one day after the end of the season.
Two managers in 28 years … and this after Gardenhire had spent 11 seasons as Kelly’s third-base coach. There was a remarkable bond of trust developed among employees during those decades, and here’s an example:
Gardenhire was hired in November to serve as the bench coach for Torey Lovullo, the newly hired manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Teams require a preseason physical. So, Gardenhire did what he had done for years — “I went to Doc Vijay” — in the Twin Cities.
Dr. Vijay Eyunni was pleased that Gardenhire was following his advice to eat healthier and lose weight. What he wanted to check further was a somewhat elevated reading on Gardy’s PSA test.
Gardenhire went to see Dr. William Utz, a local surgeon who has been relied on by the Twins. Gardy’s prostate was biopsied, and then he and wife Carol started a drive to Arizona, with a detour through Oklahoma to see their grandson, Ronnie.
The call came on Gardenhire’s cellphone from Dr. Eyunni: Prostate cancer … you got it.
“You meet so many people in spring training, here in Minnesota, fans who come up and tell you their story, what they’ve been through, and you offer encouragement,” Gardenhire said. “That’s a big word, ‘cancer,’ and when somebody says you have it, it’s really big.”
Gardenhire couldn’t have surgery for two months because of the effects of the biopsy on his prostate. He called Lovullo, told him of the situation, and said, “If you want to get out of this deal, I would understand. Torey said, ‘Get down here; 100 percent, we want you.’ ”
So, the Gardenhires stopped on the farm outside his hometown of Okmulgee, where daughter Tiffany lives with husband Mike, and Grandpa Ron bounced around Ronnie, and then they drove to Arizona to join the Diamondbacks for spring training.
The managerial change to Lovullo came after Arizona went 69-93 in 2016. Gardenhire didn’t know what to expect when he arrived at the Salt River spring complex.
“I started to see these guys work and said, ‘This can be a pretty good ballclub,’ ” Gardenhire said. “Paul Goldschmidt is one of the best players in the game … maybe the best. Zack Greinke as an ace, he’s unbelievable. I saw a lot of players, and pitchers to go with Zack.
“Robbie Ray, the lefty, the kid who was hit in the head with the line drive last month, he’s really good. We’re hoping to have him back soon.”
Gardenhire was with the D-Backs through spring training and the start of the season, then returned here to have his prostate removed on April 18. He returned to the team on May 14, in the middle of a homestand, and Gardenhire said he received a clean bill of health at a checkup Friday.
The Diamondbacks were at Target Field for the start of a weekend interleague series. They are holding the National League wild-card positions with division rival Colorado at 67-54.
It’s happenstance, but the timing couldn’t be better for the Twins having their 13-season manager back in town.
Michael Cuddyer, one of “Gardy’s Guys,” will be inducted into the Twins Hall of Fame on Saturday night, and Gardenhire will catch the ceremonial first pitch. Andy MacPhail will be inducted on Sunday, and he was general manager in 1991, when Gardenhire was in his first season as a coach and the Twins won a second World Series.
The Twins won six division titles in Gardenhire’s first nine seasons. They moved into Target Field for one raucous, 94-win season in 2010, when Gardenhire was named AL Manager of the Year, and then the pitching and thus the bottom fell out.
“Things got rough here those last four years,” Gardenhire said. “I’ve never been more grateful for Minnesota Nice. Being here in the Twin Cities, taking the snowmobile rides, going on the caravans … people still treated us great.”
Gardenhire will turn 60 on Oct. 24. He is a much slimmer, healthier-looking baseball man than the 56-year-old manager who left here stressed-out, overweight and “borderline for diabetes” three years ago.
The Gardenhires still have a house in the Twin Cities. They still have a place in Fort Myers, the Florida home for the Twins.
“Our daughter Tara is living in the house here with her big dog, and she loves it,” Gardenhire said. “Our son Toby is coaching in Fort Myers and living in our place in Florida.
“And we’re not getting any rent.”
The Gardenhires are paying rent in Phoenix, though.
“To Justin Morneau,” Gardy said. “I knew he had a condo there, so I called Justin when I got this job, and he rented it to me for the season. Morney’s my landlord.”
As another Gardy Guy, Morneau must be giving him a deal.