Human nature often means craving the things we don’t have … then getting those things … and craving the things we used to have … and repeating the cycle forever.
The firing and hiring of professional managers and coaches is a test kitchen for life in this respect. When a team decides to move on from one leader, it rarely hires the same type of leader as a replacement. Management wants opposites because, really, what would be the point of hiring a clone of the person who just failed?
The Vikings have done this for years with their coaching hires, going from the stoic, defensive-minded Bud Grant to the excitable, offensive-minded Jerry Burns, to the new sheriff Dennis Green to the wide open Mike Tice to the buttoned-down Brad Childress to the affable Leslie Frazier and now to the old-school Mike Zimmer, who might be the most like Grant of any of them. (Les Steckel, a glitch in the Matrix, was omitted from this rundown).
The Twins have had less experience in recent years with this, since they’ve employed just three managers in the past 30 years. But Tom Kelly was a low-key strategist. Ron Gardenhire was far more outwardly emotional. Paul Molitor is more cerebral.
Gardenhire was a known commodity within the organization when the Twins hired him to replace Kelly before the 2002 season, but he was also a new voice who had never managed at the MLB level. So there was a switch, too, from experience to inexperience in the big chair.
By the end of 2014, after a run of six division titles in nine years from 2002-2010, the Twins had lost 90 games four straight years. Gardenhire was the old, experienced voice at that point. Molitor was the newbie.
It stood to reason that if Gardenhire was ever going to get another managerial job, it was going to be with a team that craved his experience over all else. That team has presented itself in the form of the Tigers — a team deemed to have underachieved under first-time manager Brad Ausmus between 2014 and 2016 before starting a painful rebuild under Ausmus in 2017.
Ausmus was fired, and all reporting indicates Gardenhire is going to be his replacement in Detroit.
Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press lauded the impending move, writing:
“Wisely, it is a man with a wealth of experience. Ron Gardenhire, who often opposed the Tigers during 13 largely successful seasons as Twins manager, will be introduced on Friday afternoon at Comerica Park as the 38th manager in franchise history, according to multiple persons with knowledge of the situation. The only real requirement in Avila’s nearly month-long managerial search was experience, and for good reason. The Tigers are going to be bad next season. They are very young. And with the possible departure of Ian Kinsler in the off-season, the team will have only a small veteran presence to guide them.
In the opposite choice, the Tigers have made a safe choice. Gardenhire inherited a rebuild that was much further along in Minnesota than the one he finds in Detroit, but he did quite well with a young core.
One of the biggest criticisms of Gardenhire in Minnesota — his 6-21 postseason record (2-19 in the last 21 games) — shouldn’t be a problem for quite some time in Detroit. He’s being hired to lay the groundwork for better days ahead. Whether he did that in his final years with the Twins is debatable, but two of the three Twins seasons since he was fired have been relative successes.
Gardenhire turns 60 next week. He might have preferred that his next managerial job was with a team already built to contend, but this job might actually suit him better.
Whether it suits the Tigers, and that eternal search for the opposite, remains to be seen.