You may have noticed that the Minnesota Twins are not good. They are certainly a long way from 2010, when they won the American League Central for the second year in a row. That meant it was time for certain writers to start talking (again) about how Ron Gardenhire was maybe The Best Manager in Baseball, because, hey, someone had to be making the Twins win against all odds (supposedly). It was “Gardy Time,” as Joe Posnanski liked to declare.
So, given last year’s 99-loss season and this season’s continuing fiasco, the Twin have to seriously consider firing Gardenhire, right?
Obviously the answer is: no. Well, that is not quite right, I really have no opinion on the matter. I know that some Twins fans will want me to point out Gardenhire’s tactical and strategic mistakes, e.g., problematic bullpen management. I would guess that most fanbases have similar complaints about their managers (except for Royals fans, of course — Boom, Yosted!), but generally it is accepted that those things do not make a huge difference over the course of the season.
However, while the Twins are getting to the point of needing to hope that the Royals do not regress to the mean in order to avoid finishing last, it is hard to see how their big problems can be laid at Gardenhire’s feet. Justin Morneau‘s mid-2010 concussion and slow recovery are not Gardenhire’s fault. Joe “Hometown Discount” Mauer‘s injury problems and lack of power in 2011 are hard to connect with Gardy. I’m pretty sure Gardenhire did not set out to get Denard Span hurt last season, or Scott Baker this season. I haven’t read that Gardenhire was the genius behind trading J. J. Hardy and Wilson Ramos for peanuts. It is also difficult to connect Gardy with Francisco Liriano‘s struggles after his tremendous 2010.
These are just some of the Twins’ main problems starting in 2011, and Gardy’s Fan Club (GFC hereafter) and the rest of us should rightly see that these are most of them have little to do with Gardenhire. But the funny thing about the GFC… they did not exactly see the Twins’ prior success under Gardenhire the same way. No, he was doing something that made those Twins teams win. Let me offer a different (perhaps obvious to all but members of the GFC) perspective.
For simplicity, let’s just look at the 2010 Twins. Did Gardenhire make sure and tell Justin Morneau to hit like peak-level Albert Pujols for the half-season before Morneau went down? If so, why didn’t he do it earlier in Morneau’s career? Did Gardenhire have some magic formula for getting Jim Thome to have the highest wRC+ of his career at age 40? If so, why is that not transferable to other players? Did Gardy forget to tell Valencia to keep his BABIP up near .350 in 2011 and this season? Maybe Gardenhier stopped telling Liriano that walks were bad after 2010.
[I will skip over the protracted discussions about managers’ ability to affect the team’s actual record relative to their Pythagorean expectation. The 2012 Twins are currently one game behind their 2012 pythagorean expectation; maybe Gardy is slacking in that area, too!]
All of this is clearly and deliberately ridiculous. However, contrasting the sources driving the Twins’ former success and current failures simply shows how illogical the emphasis on “Gardy Time” was in the first place. No one should think that just because the Twins have been absolutely terrible since 2011 started that Ron Gardenhire is thus a terrible manager, and no one is saying that. But if you are going to give him a big chunk credit for the wins of the prior seasons (“Strawberry, hit a home run!”), it seems logical that he should be getting a similar-sized chunk of the blame for the losses of 2011 and 2012.
It goes almost without saying that I have an immense amount of respect for writers like Joe Posnanski and Rob Neyer who have seemed to be part of the GFC. My point is not that the last season plus this month show Gardenhire to be a bad manager who should be be feeling the heat. However, the “logic” that led some to proclaim Gardenhire a great manager in 2009 and 2010 would seem to lead to that conclusion now. It seems to me that a better way of looking at this issue is that the same rational that leads us to absolve Gardenhire of most of the responsibility for the Twins’ current mess should lead us to see that he probably should not have gotten the credit some liked to assign to him in the past, either.