Terry Ryan has promised a quick decision on Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, and presumably the rest of the coaching staff, very soon after the season ended. As soon as today, we could find out whether the Gardenhire-Anderson era is ending after a twelve year run.
Gardenhire’s Major League playing career was entirely as a New York Met. He played shorstop there for five seasons, finishing with 710 AB and a .232 batting average. In 1986 he was traded to the Twins where he played one year in AAA before joining the Twins as a manager of their class A team in 1988. He managed two additional years in the minors before joining the Twins as a third base coach in 1991.
He took over as Twins manager in 2002, following the retirement of Tom Kelly. Gardenhire led the Twins to their first playoff appearance since 1991 and a trip to the American League Championship Series. He was recognized for his work with a 3rd place finish for the American League Manger of the Year award.
The rest of the decade held more of the same. Gardenhire’s teams made the playoffs five more times between 2003 and 2010 and missed one other in 2008 because of a "Game 163" loss. During that stretch, Gardenhire was recognized six times with Manager Of The Year votes, finishing second five times and winning the award in 2010.
But he never led the team to another playoff series victory, compiling a 2-15 record in those five other appearances. And after a decade of success, the Twins have floundered since 2011; they lost 90+ games for their 3rd consecutive year in 2013. Last offseason, Gardenhire was not offered a contract extension through the 2014 season, so the Twins had no financial commitment beyond Sunday’s final regular season game.
Rick Anderson broke into the majors with the Mets in 1986, serving both as a starter and a reliever, posting a 2.72 ERA over 15 games, but recoding just 3.8 K/9 IP. He was traded to the Royals as part of a package for David Cone prior to the 1987 season and pitched parts of two years with Kansas City.
By 1989, he had joined Gardenhire in the Twins organization, serving as a pitching coach at the rookie league level. He gradually moved his way up through the Twins minor league system, including seven years in the Twins AAA affiliate. His success stories in the minors include teaching Brad Radke a different changeup grip that helped lead to his success. When Ron Gardenhire was named Twins manager, Anderson was named the pitching coach.
But the relationship between Gardenhire and Anderson went back much further than 2002. They were roommates in the Mets minor leagues. In fact, Gardenhire claims he has an article from 1984 where Gardenhire said “Someday I’m going to be managing in the major leagues and Rick Anderson is going to be my pitching coach.”
The Twins pitching staff experienced a great deal of success in the first few years under Anderson. In 2001, the Twins had a 4.51 ERA, 7th in the AL. It shrunk to 4.12, good for 6th in the AL in his first year. And in 2004 it was down to 4.03, lowest in the American League. That success continued through 2007.
Anderson’s pitching staffs were characterized by their control. The Twins had the lowest walk total in the American League each year from 2004 through 2010, with the exception of 2007 – when they were second. It wasn’t until 2011, when the team lost 99 games, that they dropped out of the top three in that category under Anderson.
But the Twins pitching has floundered in recent years, finishing 29th, 28th and 29th in ERA over the last three years. And while the staff has remained above average in limiting walks, they also been near the bottom of the league in strikeouts, including being the only MLB team with less than 1000 strikeouts this year.
If the Gardenhire-Anderson era ends this week, it will still be one of the most successful eras of the organization. Over 12 years, they collected 998 regular season wins and a .513 winning percentage. They also celebrated winning a division crown six times, a tally that no other Twins team of any era can match.
We also talked about the Gardenhire decision on the latest Gleeman and the Geek podcast, which we recorded while watching Friday's game at Target Field. Other topics included Terry Ryan's managing expectations on free agency and why the 1981 Twins, who finished 27 games under .500, printed World Series tickets.
Meanwhile, Nick Nelson thinks the Twins need to address their mentality this offseason, Brad Swanson hands out awards, and there is a series examining how Twins teams were built. Finally, the Twins Daily forums will certainly be abuzz talking about the Gardenhire decision and other possible candidates.