He will still yell, like he did during a game in Boston this season when rookie Aaron Hicks casually flipped a ball after catching it. Gardenhire let Hicks have it after the inning was over. But because he’s had to manage so many inexperienced players over the past couple years, he has become more of a teacher than a screamer.
“He’s made a better effort to get more out of those guys,” Perkins said. “I think you’ve seen that with guys like [second baseman] Brian Dozier, the improvement he’s made as the season has gone on. And the guys in the bullpen, putting them in positions where they can be successful.”
For years, Gardenhire led active managers in ejections, but now runs second to Detroit’s Jim Leyland. He admits he’s less confrontational with umpires than he used to be, partially because he’s developed relationships with many of them and better understands their challenges.
But when strategy calls for it, Gardenhire is still willing to get tossed. Some Twins players have picked up the tab for Gardenhire’s fines, after their manager got thrown out to protect them and keep them in the game.
“Get the umpire mad at me so the player can get out of there,” Gardenhire said. “But I have calmed down quite a bit.”
‘Part of baseball life’
As soon as Ryan announced after last season that Gardenhire’s contract wouldn’t be addressed until this offseason, it appeared a challenge had been delivered: Show improvement, or be shown the door.
When the Twins failed to make a splashy move during the offseason, it looked as if Gardenhire would have a tough time leading the club to tangible improvement in the standings. The Twins headed to camp with no clear No. 1 starter in the rotation and a daily lineup sprinkled with inexperience.
“It is part of the baseball life,” Gardenhire said of his situation. “I’ll just wait and see at the end of the season. We’ll see what happens and we will go from there.”
Gardenhire won’t be judged on his record alone, Ryan said. The progress made by young players such as Dozier and rookie relievers Ryan Pressly and Caleb Thielbar could influence the decision. A wave of young talent, led by elite prospect Miguel Sano, should start to reach the majors next season. The Twins’ 2014 manager will need to prove that he can develop up-and-coming players, as Gardenhire did during his early years with the Twins.
But the past three disastrous seasons have put Gardenhire in a perilous position.
“What have we done [lately], that’s a natural thought in baseball,” Ryan said of a possible managerial change. “We have struggled. I’m the one who has given him the players. … We’ve got to have the talent for any manager or coach to succeed. But we know where we are and we have a pretty good idea of where we are going. I’m not trying to pretend that he’s got the most talented roster we have ever seen.”
Said Perkins: “He didn’t change how he manages, that’s not what has contributed to us losing here. Or changing his style or that he’s out of touch. It’s not that. [The solution is] better players. It’s more talent.”
Gardenhire says he knows he doesn’t want to manage into his late 60s, because he wants to spend time with his grandchildren. But he definitely wants to return and turn the Twins into a winner again before he departs. He said he has no health issues that would cause him to step away on his own.
“I like what I’m doing,” Gardenhire said. “I’m not ready to retire now.”
And his office still has space for more mementos, starting with that lineup card for victory No. 1,000.