The same sign Ron Gardenhire hung in his office at the Metrodome, the one that reads “Improvise and Overcome,” hangs in his office at Target Field.
On another wall is a copy of a Star Tribune sports section from his first game as Twins manager, an 8-6 victory over Kansas City on April 1, 2002. Another wall is lined with scorecards from memorable wins: Win No. 1; the game that clinched the division in 2002; win Nos. 300, 500 and 600; the last game at the Dome; Game No. 163 against the Tigers in 2009; and win Nos. 700, 800 and 900.
The next memento will be the lineup card from win No. 1,000. Gardenhire sits at 997-937 after the Twins defeated the Chicago White Sox 4-3 on Wednesday.
But will it be the final keepsake he collects as manager of the Twins?
Gardenhire’s contract expires after this season, and there has been no indication from Twins management whether he will be invited back as the club nears the end of a possible third consecutive season of 90-plus losses. There figures to be a range of emotions when he becomes the 60th manager in major league history to reach the 1,000-win milestone.
Gardenhire, 55, has shown no signs of stress over his uncertain future. He has been engaging and pleasant in the clubhouse, as he has been throughout his career, and his sense of humor has remained intact.
“Carol [his wife] and I obviously talk about it,” he said. “The ‘what ifs?’: What if we’re not here next year, where are we going to go? Because my kids are up here. They live up here, work up here. So it would be naive to say we didn’t think about it and talk about it. But it’s not something I’m overwhelmed by.”
Those who have known Gardenhire throughout his professional career, as a player, coach and manager, believe he was a natural to be in a dugout, running a team.
“When we got him over here to manage Kenosha in 1988, there was no doubt he was going to become a major league manager, even back in A-ball,” said Twins General Manager Terry Ryan, whose relationship with Gardenhire goes back to the 1980s when they were in the Mets organization. “He just had that presence and he had the respect of players.”
He has, through his 26 years with the Twins organization (12 as manager), also gained the respect of his peers.
“I think Gardy has a very, very broad baseball mind and is in tune with fundamentals in every area,” said Angels manager Mike Scioscia, the only current baseball manager in the majors with more tenure with one team (14 years) than Gardenhire. “He understands what’s needed on a team to be successful. He’s made the most of whatever talent he’s had on his roster, taking advantage of every aspect.”
Twins players who have experienced Gardenhire during good times — he led the club to six division titles in his first nine seasons — say he has adapted well from working with elite players to teaching inexperienced ones.
“I think the players here see him as part of the solution and not part of the problem,” closer Glen Perkins said, “and that we can win with him.”
Adapting to the talent
Behind his office desk sits the 2010 AL Manager of the Year Award, which he received after five consecutive runner-up finishes.
On his watch, he’s had two MVPs (Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer), a two-time Cy Young winner (Johan Santana), three players win Silver Slugger awards (Morneau, Mauer and Josh Willingham) and four players win Gold Glove awards (Mauer, Santana, Torii Hunter and Doug Mienkiewicz).
But while the victories and the awards have dried up the past few years, Gardenhire still believes he’s improved as a manager in several key areas.
“I think you change,” he said. “Back then I was a little more confrontational. I wasn’t afraid to get in players’ faces, screaming. I think I’ve kind of realized that players are giving you everything they have and I’m not as confrontational. I think I understand how to handle players better than I did before.”