I covered Tom Kelly as a beat writer for five years, all of them losing seasons, and worked as the Star Tribune’s baseball writer at-large during Kelly’s last years as Twins manager.
Kelly will have his number retired Saturday at Target Field, and I have a column in today’s paper on him. Anyone who knows Kelly knows that if he is inspired to speak, he has a lot to say. He's one of the most intense thinkers I've encountered in sports.
He had a lot to say to me the other day at his house, so I’m including here his thoughts on a few topics that didn’t make the column, including what I find a hilarious take on his work as an announcer. (That’s near the bottom.)
Kelly was known for being hard on reporters. He was very good to me. We had our disagreements and bad days, but over the years he acted as a de facto baseball tutor to me, sharing insights I couldn’t have gotten anywhere else.
These days, there are many more reporters in the Twins' clubhouse and less access to the clubhouse. When I covered the Twins, Kelly waived the rule that reporters couldn't be in the clubhouse more than 3 1/2 hours before the game. I had many of my best conversations with him at 2 in the afternoon, when he had time to talk about the game in general before that night's game consumed him.
Kelly and Paul Molitor are the two smartest baseball people I’ve ever met.
Terry Ryan has a unique eye for judging talent, but Kelly and Molitor could see a pitcher’s glove twitch and know what the next pitch would be.
That I watched this baseball savant manage so many awful teams is one reason I don’t appease the masses by calling for Ron Gardenhire’s firing. I do believe managers need to be fired occasionally, if they lose their competitive fire, or their control of a clubhouse. I never saw that as a problem with Kelly, and I don’t see that as a problem with Gardenhire.
Managers control only so much. Kelly and Gardenhire are proof that no manager can overcome a bad pitching staff.
Here’s some bonus Tom Kelly on the day before his big day:
-On long acceptance speeches: ``I’m going to try not to thank everybody in the world. I’ve heard enough of those. There’s always a few mandatory people you’ve got to thank, but other than that let’s keep it moving.’’
-Who took losing harder, you in the ‘90s or Ron Gardenhire the last two years? ``It bothers him. I think he takes it harder than I did. I remember once in Baltimore, one night back then, Andy MacPhail said to me, `You know, I’ve given you the worst team I’ve ever given you, and there hasn’t been any in-house fighting or one guy stabbing another in the back. That’s pretty good, he said.
``I think you’ve just got to be realistic. In the spring, when everyone gets together to talk about how many games you’re going to win that year, and the manager says 82, and the GM says 81, and the owner says 79, well, then, OK. But if somebody says 92 and you think 72, now we’re going to have a problem.
``I didn’t have any of that. But I’ve talked to managers who went through that.
``You know who has it figured out? The people in Vegas. They should be running the country. They’re within a game or two. They’ve pretty much got it nailed. That’s why they’re in business for so long.
``Once you know what the number in Vegas is, then you’ve just got to go beat that number. And we did that for a lot of years. I used to hang my hat on that. If they had you down for 64 and we won 66, I was sort of happy.’’
-Did he have any regrets about his career? ``Only one, to be honest. Andy and Terry Ryan, they wanted to change players more than me. I guess I was stubborn, where you come out of spring training with your 25 guys, and these are the ones you picked, and you go with them.
``After the fact, they were right. They were absolutely right. I should have been more willing to change players, just watching how things operate now, especially with the bullpens.
``This (Jeff) Gray, the reliever, he’s been a wonderful addition. Wonderful. Don’t misunderstand. These kinds of guys, him and Fien, they’re borderline pitchers, whatever you want to call them. They’re pitching well and then they ‘re going to hit some bumps and get worn down, and you’ve got to change them out.
``You have to bring someone else in and get some mileage out of the new guy and then, boom, he’s done, and you bring the other guy back. You’ve got to keep maneuvering and keeping people fresh.
``That keeps a lot of interest at the other (minor-league level). To think you’re going to go through the whole season with the same 12-13 pitchers, it’s just not going to happen. I’m told from a couple of the convesations I’ve had this week that some of the Yankees are falling apart. So nobody’s immune to this.
``That’s why you have to have a good farm system to keep bringing these guys up. Like Terry and Rob (Antony, the Twins’ assistant general manager), did this year, and (minor-league field coordinator) Joel Lepel, did, too. They were able to get some six-year free agents and add some depth. Really impressive.’’
-How does he like working as a TV analyst? ``It’s hard. It’s not easy. You have to get your points across fairly quickly. I tend not to do that. I sometimes need a little time to explain it. They’d like you to speak to the dad and the son who’s sitting there watching the game, and he’s 8-10 years old, and you have to try to speak to the 8-10 year old and explain what happened.
``That’s not easy to do, in my mind. Your partner there, he’s calling the game and now you try to get it in there what you think , and sometimes it’s a little different, the way you see it. And you have to try to explain that in 18-20 seconds and here comes the next pitch.
``When the game’s good, it’s easier. When the game’s not so good, it’s hard. A couple of years ago, we’re in Chicago, and Nick Blackburn is having a hard time. He didn’t pitch good.
``Marney (Gellner, the FSN reporter) said, `Well, he’s back in Chicago, let’s remember he pitched that great game over there.’ And he did. And I tried to explain to Marney, `That don’t mean anything.’ I tried to say it nicely. Well, I don’t do that too well. I’d rather just tell you. It’s easier.
``Blackburn was awful, but he won the game, even though he could have been out of the game in the first inning. It was hard to say in that first inning, when Dick (Bremer, the Twins’ play-by-play announcer), kept asking, it was hard to say eight different wants that he stinks.’’
``I’m not kidding anybody. If you’re watching, you can see he’s getting his rear handed to him.’’
I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 today. Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.