Tom Kelly won his 1,000th game in the regular season as a manager for the Twins on May 10, 2000. This was the end of a homestand, and the Twins felt it was necessary to mark the occasion with a pregame ceremony on the team’s return to the Metrodome.
For his part, Kelly’s preference was for the 1,000 victories to be ignored, since the Twins were on the way to an eighth consecutive losing season.
The Twins pressed ahead with the pregame recognition and asked Kelly to select someone to toss a ceremonial first pitch. He gave the duty to a friend from the St. Croix Meadows greyhound track in Hudson, Wis.
Kelly had to fight for his job after that season, put the Twins back on the right side of .500 (85-77) in 2001, and then quit at age 51. That summer of revival was followed by six division titles (and a Game 163 loss) in the next nine years.
The last of those came at Target Field — the magnificent ballyard where the Twins can honor a rich past, even if the present hasn’t been so hot. There are no events richer for honor than the World Series titles of 1987 and 1991, and Kelly was the manager both years.
The Twins took note of Kelly’s significance in franchise history by retiring his number 10 in 2012. Kelly comes from New Jersey, Yankee country, and nobody does jersey retirements with the reverence of the Yankees. Kelly was stunned by the jersey retirement, saying it was an honor that couldn’t be surpassed.
Late Friday afternoon, the Twins gave it a shot.
It was announced in January that Kelly would join Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew, Kirby Puckett, Tony Oliva and Kent Hrbek as uniformed personnel with a statue outside Target Field.
The obvious time for the unveiling was this weekend — a reunion weekend for the 1987 Twins.
“They’re the team that got the monkey off the back of the state of Minnesota,’’ Kelly said.
He said that with a nod toward a group that included most of the players from the ’87 Twins. A few minutes earlier, Kelly’s statue was unveiled in a shady location under the skyway at the eastern edge of the plaza.
Not far away, Killebrew was taking a mighty swing, sending an imaginary baseball over the skyline of Minneapolis.
Directly west of Harmon was Kirby Puckett thrusting his right arm upward as he rounded the bases with the winning home run in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series in the Metrodome.
We’re required to add this, right? “And we’ll see you tomorrow night.’’
Puckett had been the focal point of another reunion for the Boys of ’87, of course; the unscheduled one for Puck’s funeral in March 2006, after his fatal stroke.
No Puck. That’s the melancholy that will be forever with these champions, whether of ’87 or ’91, as long as they can get together.
You might find groups of World Series winners a bit skeptical about their manager being chosen for a statue. And you haven’t been able to read an interview with future Hall of Famer David Ortiz that has not included shots taken at Kelly.
You’re not going to find such critics at a reunion of Kelly’s first team, the ’87 Twins.
“You know the painting of George Washington going across the Delaware with his men?’’ third baseman Gary Gaetti said. “That’s my vision of T.K. as a manager, being right there in the boat with you.’’
Randy Bush, a two-time champion with the Twins, said: “What was his secret of dealing with players? Honesty. He always gave it to you straight.’’
He laughed slightly and added: “Whether it was good or bad.’’
The statue showed Kelly wearing his tinted glasses and with the ever-present fungo bat at his side. “All that’s missing is the stogie,’’ pitcher Frank Viola said.
Sculptor Bill Mack has offered a thick, barrel-chested young manager, so much so that Kelly thanked Mack and added:
“I guess I did manage in the steroid era. I didn’t know if I took any. Maybe I did.’’
Bush noted the contrast of Kelly as a manager and Kelly as a figure in bronze.
“That’s something … a manager who spent none of his time trying to draw attention to himself winding up with a statue,’’ Bush said. “He made us all look good. He really did.’’