Souhan: Gardenhire needs to alter his familiar approach

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 1, 2013 - 8:23 AM

Five recommendations the longtime Twins manager should follow to remain on the job in 2014.

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Twins manager Ron Gardenhire talked with his team before playing the Baltimore Orioles on Feb. 23.

Photo: Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

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Ron Gardenhire has presided over one of the longest stretches of competence and one of the worst two-season stretches in Twins history. Despite the ease with which managers are credited or blamed for their team’s success, he is neither savior nor culprit.

He’s a knowledgeable, experienced manager with quirky tendencies and obvious flaws. That sentence could also have been applied to Joe Torre when the Yankees were a dynasty and to Tony La Russa at any of his stops.

If the Twins lose 90 or more games again, this could be Gardenhire’s last season with the Twins. While managers can’t control the most important variable in the game — the quality of talent, and especially pitching talent, they employ — Gardenhire can do a few things better to give himself the best possible chance of retaining the job he’s held since 2002, such as …

1. Connecting with young players. There is an impressive wave of talent bearing down on the big-league roster. Gardenhire always has been considered a players’ manager for veterans and grinders, but has found himself at odds with a few young players, such as Danny Valencia and Trevor Plouffe. He needs to find a way to get his messages across to them without making them feel persecuted, which is why Gardenhire should …

2. Lean on his coaching staff. Tom Brunansky, Terry Steinbach and Bobby Cuellar were added to the staff this year for precise reasons: Brunansky because of his stellar reputation with young hitters in the organization and his charisma; Steinbach for catching expertise and calming presence; and Cuellar because of his pitching expertise and ability to communicate with Spanish- speaking players. Gardenhire’s staff had grown insular, had become Gardenhire allies more than effective teachers. Gardenhire needs his coaches to build a bridge to the clubhouse, because the staff needs to …

3. Improve the Twins’ fundamentals. There have been too many base­running and fundamental mistakes the past two years. That was partly due to a minor league system that had grown lax, but that excuse won’t cut it any more, now that the Twins have built a fine stable of minor league managers headed by Gene Glynn at Class AAA Rochester. Gardenhire needs to address mistakes immediately, and it’s essential for his reputation in the clubhouse that he …

4. Avoid using the media as his messenger. A handful of players have chafed the past couple of years when they have heard criticism from Gardenhire via reporters rather than via the manager or his coaches. Gardenhire has definite strengths as a manager. He’s knowledgeable and experienced. He studied under Tom Kelly and deserved plenty of credit for molding a team lacking superstars into a winner in the early 2000s. He’s remarkably intense and driven, and that intensity cuts both ways. It can enliven a clubhouse and dugout during what can be a long and boring season, but it’s essential for his future that he learn how to …

5. Maintain his composure. His blowups with umpires are entertaining but don’t necessarily help his team. And more than one player has mentioned that when he begins pacing and wiping his face when a pitcher struggles, his nervousness can be viewed as a lack of faith in his players.

No. 5 might be the most important for Gardenhire. He believes in creating a loose clubhouse, but he himself can come across as nervous and lacking in confidence at times, whether in team meetings or on the bench.

That’s why Steinbach, who has never coached above the high school level, could become one of the most important people in the organization this season. It’s up to Steinbach to remain calm when games become stressful, to help Gardenhire think rather than react.

The Twins pitching staff might not be good enough to support a contender this season. Managing nuances might not matter. Gardenhire might manage as well as anyone ever has and still lose 90 games, but it’s his job to try to wring a few extra victories out of his roster, and an improved coaching staff should be able to help him.

 

Jim Souhan can been heard weekdays at noon and Sundays from 10-noon on 1500 ESPN. His Twitter name is @SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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