LAKELAND, FLA. – What makes the presence of Ron Gardenhire managing the Tigers extra intriguing is that he was the second half of the most stable era that ever will be seen with the Twins, no matter how long the AL survives in Minnesota.
Tom Kelly had the interim tag removed as manager for 1987 and served through 2001. He retired, third base coach Gardenhire replaced him, and was fired after the 2014 season.
That’s two managers in 28 seasons. They were our guys, in good times and bad. Kelly has a statue, and Gardenhire could wind up with a retired number at Target Field.
Ray Miller managed 239 games for the Twins in parts of 1985 and 1986, and was able to get another shot to manage Baltimore in 1998 and 1999. That’s the last time a Twins manager left and eventually landed elsewhere.
“The Rabbit” had a fine nickname, but there was no local bond with Miller. Gardenhire will forever be “Gardy,” the manager that Minnesotans watched raising Hades with umpires in the summer, and then might run into him ice fishing or snowmobiling in the winter.
Gardenhire did more than bring three of his former coaches — Steve Liddle, Joe Vavra and Rick Anderson — to Detroit on his staff of eight. He also used his influence to help Doug Mientkiewicz land the job as manager for Class AAA Toledo.
Mientkiewicz was dropped as an always-winning manager in the minor leagues by the Twins’ new regime last fall.
“I know that Doug is a really good hitting teacher,’’ Gardenhire said Friday. “And the players love playing for this guy, even if he brings some tough love to the clubhouse.
“I’m not sure what happened between him and the people there in Minnesota.’’
Then, Gardy smiled and said, “I do know he’s not afraid of voicing an opinion.’’
Asked if Tigers baseball boss Al Avila was fully aware of Mientkiewicz’s style when he hired him, Gardy said: “I hope he did. I might have to make a couple of calls down there this summer, but Doug’s what we want — a very good baseball teacher.’’
Minnesota contrasts during Kelly/Gardenhire years (1987-2014):
Vikings: Six coaches: Jerry Burns, Dennis Green, Mike Tice, Brad Childress, Leslie Frazier and Mike Zimmer.
Timberwolves: Ten coaches: Bill Musselman, Jimmy Rodgers, Sidney Lowe, Bill Blair, Flip Saunders, Kevin McHale (twice as interim), Dwayne Casey, Randy Wittman, Kurt Rambis and Rick Adelman.
Gophers football: Six coaches: John Gutekunst, Jim Wacker, Glen Mason, Tim Brewster, Jeff Horton (interim) and Jerry Kill.