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Winter Meetings interview with Ron Gardenhire

MLB.com

RON GARDENHIRE: Good morning. Let me get out my roster so I know who we have. You think I'm kidding too (laughter).

Q. Ron, when you started with the Twins as manager, you'd been there a long time, you had a familiarity with the roster and the way things worked. Is it a different kind of challenge to go in with a team like this where you're kind of learning on the go a bit more?

RON GARDENHIRE: Good morning. Let me get out my roster so I know who we have. You think I'm kidding too (laughter).

Q. Ron, when you started with the Twins as manager, you'd been there a long time, you had a familiarity with the roster and the way things worked. Is it a different kind of challenge to go in with a team like this where you're kind of learning on the go a bit more?

RON GARDENHIRE: You know, you sit out for a couple of years, you kind of lose a little contact. You always follow the game, watch them on TV and stuff. Then I went to Arizona, so I was completely away from this part of the country. It was different. So when we started talking about this organization, always had so much respect for Detroit because it was in the division coming in here, great baseball city, and all those things.

But as far as knowing all the players, not really other than a couple of the big boys. This is different to learn on the go, on the fly, and I'm very excited about it. We've had a lot of good conversations with Al about what we're trying to do. I get it. I understand it, and I'm all in with them. Whatever we need to do with the roster and all those things, once we get to spring training, we're going to go to work, and that's kind of where I'm at.

Q. As you've alluded to a few times this week, you have to wait and see who you have on your roster, especially who the veterans are. Once that gets sorted out, how important is it going to be to get those guys on board with what the plan is and with what you're trying to do? Not just trying to win games short term, but also long term with development.

RON GARDENHIRE: And I will reach out. I decided, rather than call some of the guys like Cabrera and those guys as soon as I got the job, I said I was going to wait until after these meetings and have a little bit better mindset on what we have here and what we're trying to do, listening to everybody in our room.

So it's a process that's going to take some time here as far as getting to know everybody. Spring Training is going to be huge, and I will reach out to some of these guys. I don't think I'll have a problem. You're talking about great baseball players. So they're going to come into Spring Training. The way Miguel works and all those things, he's going to be a leader by example. This is one of the best hitters I've ever seen.

So I don't worry about that part of it. It's about reaching out and making sure they understand what we're trying to do here, but no manager, no baseball team is ever going to go in saying we're just going to try to play through the season. We're going to try to win. We're going to get these players ready to win baseball games. That's the only way I know how to do these things. It's about basics -- catch the ball, throw the ball, all those things. And that's what we're going to try to do. I'm sure the veterans, Martinez and those guys, they've done it. They're winners. They're going to help be the leaders here.

Q. You mentioned you had vocal leaders and leaders by example in Minnesota. For something like this to work, you need both types? Is one type more important than the other, especially in the clubhouse?

RON GARDENHIRE: Well, I guess you're going to have the quiet leaders. I've been around a few of those guys. Joe Mauer. He's not one of those rah-rah guys or things like that. I'll get a feel for Millie and what these guys like to do. I'll definitely lean on some of the younger players. They know them. Martinez and Iglesias out there. We've got some good ones. Kinsler right now. You never know what's going to happen.

You'll learn on them. The best thing that's going to happen is Spring Training. I'm not really around them. I don't know what makes them tick. I watched them from the other dugout kill us, but I don't know what makes them tick. I'm excited to get to Spring Training and get this thing rolling.

Q. How valuable is it to have the guy you know, McCabe, managing Toledo, and as you're managing the big league club, how much do you anticipate keeping tabs on guys in the minors who you might not see right away but you can anticipate at some point within your tenure having to manage.

RON GARDENHIRE: Doug Mientkiewicz is a really good baseball guy. I managed him. I watched him manage through the Twins organization, and he's a great baseball guy. So that's going to be a great thing for this organization.

There's a lot of good baseball people. I've looked through the staffs. There's a lot of really good baseball people in this organization. I'll get that opportunity before Spring Training to sit down with all those guys, and we'll talk about what we need to do.

And I'll probably do a lot more listening than I will talking and kind of get a feel for what they're doing. These guys are good teachers. We've got a lot of good teachers in this organization, and I look forward to kind of hanging out from them, and I'll learn from them probably as much as they'll learn from me, and we'll figure out the right path for this organization.

Q. What's it like having Toby as a manager in Cedar Rapids now. What kind of manager prospect is he?

RON GARDENHIRE: You're asking the wrong person. You're talking about my son. He's with the Twins, and he's going to manage in, I think, Cedar Rapids this year. I think that's what they said. Good luck to him. He'll lose his hair like I did. But he's a good baseball guy. He's grown up in baseball his whole life. He'll do fine. He's a good teacher, good with young guys. Toby will be fine.

I don't really tell him too much other than trust the players, treat the players with respect, and when you have to step on them a little bit, make sure you pat them on the back afterwards.

Q. Has he managed along with you or asked questions back to his youth when you came home from a game?

RON GARDENHIRE: No, Toby second guessed me just like you did. It's all good.

Q. You mentioned going out there and trying to win even though your team is, quote-unquote, rebuilding. I've talked to the front office this year of teams that are rebuilding, and they said one advantage is you can be a little more creative and try things with your roster, maybe outfield deployment, et cetera, because you're not competing necessarily -- you're not expected to win. Do you buy into that, or do you have to go out every game traditionally?

RON GARDENHIRE: The front office can experiment with different things, but when you're managing a baseball team, you've got a group in there that I want them to come to the ballpark every day expecting to win. When you start developing players, it's about developing winners. Finding out ways to win baseball games. That's what we're going to try to teach these guys, to play the game with respect but figure out ways to beat people. That's the only way. There's no other way for me to manage a baseball team without stepping in the dugout every day thinking we want to win this game today. I want the players to feel that way too. I want that attitude.

That's just teaching in general. Every team does that. Sure we're going to be young, but I went through this thing with the Twins. About every three years we made moves and lose some guys. It's about winning baseball games, teaching them to be a winner. Sure, development's part of it, but every organization has to develop. We want winning baseball players, and we're going to try to teach them similar ways to get there.

Q. How is this challenge different than the last few years in Minnesota?

RON GARDENHIRE: You know what, I guess I'll find out. I mean, every year was a challenge -- winning, losing, every year you ever manage is a challenge trying to figure out how you're going to get there at the end. Some years it worked out. Some years halfway through we knew we were really having some issues, but you try to just push your way through it. At the end of the season, you want to say we played really well the last month of the season. We figured it out. So we're going to be better next year. And that was the teaching part of it. Teaching them what it's going to take on a day-to-day basis. How much you're going to have to give of yourself to really make yourself a player and help this baseball team. That's kind of the things we're going to be doing here.

Q. What was your association with Chris Bosio prior to taking this job? How much experience did he have working with pitchers in Chicago?

RON GARDENHIRE: He's a great teacher. He's a baseball teacher. Pitchers really love him. He's had great experience with a lot of pitchers. I was excited. I've known him from a distance. He and I have never been on the same ball field together with a team, but just looking at his body of work, the places he's been, and how much respect he's always had for pitchers. He's a great teacher, and he's going to do very well.

He's really into it. He's already contacted, I think, every pitcher on the roster and talked to them. He's very detailed, and we're going to have a lot of fun together.

Q. There's probably a lot to be determined between now and Spring Training, but just looking at the roster now, especially the pitching staff, would it be fair to say there will be more to sort out in terms of starting rotation than in the normal Spring Training?

RON GARDENHIRE: Well, I'm going to have to get to know them all in the first place. I haven't seen many of them. Getting to know personalities and the whole package and kind of see where it all fits. There will be a lot of discussions between myself and Al and his staff about what their thoughts are, and then we'll kind of work our way through it.

Really Spring Training is going to be an opportunity for me to see these guys on the field, see their work habits during our Spring Training workouts and all these things. Kind of get them -- kind of get in the flow with them and get to know them. That's the most important thing for me right now.

And then eventually we'll be setting up for a baseball team at the end of Spring Training and kind of get our pitching staff together and kind of go from there with a lot of conversation with my staff, on the field staff, and then the staff upstairs.

It's a process, and the biggest thing for me is to get to knows these guys personally, and then we'll work from there.

Q. You have a core of young pitchers already with Fulmer, Lawrence, Boyd. You've got another crop of young pitchers on the way, maybe take a couple years. How do you deal with a rotation that is probably going to be pretty young for quite a while. Do you have to handle them differently? How differently compared to you had a veteran rotation for quite a few years in Minnesota?

RON GARDENHIRE: Well, I didn't when I first got there. Bringing over Rick Anderson, my pitching coach that was with me for all those years, going to be in the bullpen, and you have good pitching people that are going to be able to put their hands on these guys and kind of show them the way. We'll get a good feel for this pitching staff and work our way through it.

I know I'll rely on my pitching coaches. I feel like I have two of them with Bos and Andy. They're both really good and really good with pitching. I think they're going to be in good hands in Spring Training. We'll have a lot of conversations about it and work it all out and try to get these guys in the right places, whether it be bullpen or starters, and make sure that we get them in the right places so they can have the most success.

It will be fun seeing all these guys. I'm excited about it. But first I have to meet them, shake their hand, and then watch them go do their thing.

Q. How do you see the logistics of Joe Vavra and you working? Him being kind of a liaison between the analytics department and the dugout, how do you see that working?

RON GARDENHIRE: Quality control.

Q. Quality control?

RON GARDENHIRE: Quality control. Joe is a great baseball guy. He was a field coordinator in the minor leagues. So this guy's -- I hate talking about that he was with the Dodgers because he's always got that Dodger Blue in him that I try to get out of him that I never can.

He's a great baseball guy. His knowledge, being with the Twins the last couple of years as a bench coach, running through the analytics part of it has been fantastic. He's well versed in it.

We're all still learning. All the old school baseballers, we're still learning this part of the game, and it's fun. It's something new, and we always like new stuff. He's versed in it. I got a little bit of a taste of it out in Arizona. We're talking with our people up here, and we're trying to get a good department going here, and they're working really hard. It will be fun. We'll all get it together. Joe, you're going to enjoy him. I call him Humvee because he walks around humming all the time. He has a good time in the game. All these guys do, but they're good teachers. That's kind of what we've put together, good teachers.

Q. You see the evolution of defensive shifts. You've kind of seen it rise and then get tempered a little bit. What are your philosophies on some of it? How much of it depends on personnel or pitchers? Do you have any idea how you might use that?

RON GARDENHIRE: I haven't really gotten into it. I know when Paul Molitor came on my staff my last couple of years, Molly and I talked a lot about it because a lot of teams were doing the shifts and all these things. I said, you know what, let's start looking at what other teams do. So we started watching a lot of video and seeing what other teams did and used their people. We started doing it that way. That was probably our best means at the time was watch videos of other teams and how they're playing guys, and we started talking about it, and we started doing it. It was kind of entertaining.

It's something else to keep you entertained during a game. Hey, let's put this guy over here and see if somebody hits it to him. We started doing it, and now, believe me, there's so much information out there that tells you where they're going to hit these balls. We've got charts. We have all those things, line charts and things, and we'll use those. It's another way that baseball's helping. I mean, honestly, this analytics really helps you.

Now we've got guys that try to hit home runs because they hit a ground ball and we've got 16 guys standing there trying to catch it. That's kind of where we're at. The game's going to keep adjusting. We'll be a part of that.

Q. How much input do you think you'll have with the rule 5 kick, number one?

RON GARDENHIRE: How much input?

Q. Are they asking you for your thoughts on the old Twins guys you would have known?

RON GARDENHIRE: I'm working on this roster. We're in a good position. There's been a lot of talk about it. I'm sure, when they get into that rule 5, they're going to get the right guy in there. There's been a lot of discussions and another thing that's really fun for this organization. We're going to get an opportunity here, and we'll see what they do. I'm not going to go any further talking about that, but it's a good position to be in. We're going to get a pretty good player out of this situation. There's a lot of good ones out there.

Q. From a managerial standpoint, is it easier to carry a pitcher or a position player as a rule 5 guy given the inexperience factor and being able to pick and choose your spots? Which one is easier, and which one is tougher?

RON GARDENHIRE: Well, carrying Johan Santana, that was really easy. That's one guy that I can really say easy. But you can go either way. You can -- it's easier probably to figure out ways to use a pitcher than probably a player, but it just depends on the guy you have and what he brings to the table.

But pitching really goes a long way in this game. Like I said, I'll just say Johan Santana. That was the easiest ever.

Q. When you got Santana, did you know immediately that he was something special, or was it a pleasant surprise that he developed into that?

RON GARDENHIRE: We used him out of the pen, but as he went along, the one thing, he never backed away from anything. We knew he was a really tough kid. He was a great athlete. Really filled his position. Really moved around. Really worked hard, and he was a positive kid. Never had anything negative to say. He knew what was going on. He understood it, and he also was one of these I'll show you. I'll show you. He developed some pitches out of the pen that helped him a little bit, being able to kind of play around with pitches and everything, and he found that change-up. You know what, he took off from there.

But he was really easy. I mean, it was -- you knew he was destined to be a heck of a pitcher. You never know how far a guy's going to go, but once he found that change-up, he was unstoppable. He had the pitches, but the mentality that he had made it work. I mean, he was just a tough-minded kid and really game on.

Q. When you hired Chris Bosio, did you have a relationship with him before, or was it cold turkey?

RON GARDENHIRE: Where's he been? We already talked about this. Holy cow.

Bos called me. Actually, he called me at one point when we were talking. He was talking about Detroit, and he gave me a call and said I really want to work here. I would love to work with you, and I'm really interested in this job. I talked to Al and says, I think Bos wants to be our pitching coach, and that's good enough for me. So that's kind of how it went down. He gave me a call, and we talked about it, and he was all fired up.

I was really excited that a guy of his caliber wanted to come to Detroit with me and do this thing. He's game on for this. He's very excited. Plus his wife's from Detroit.

Q. What reports have you gotten on Miguel Cabrera's health?

RON GARDENHIRE: Doing great. He's working out down in Miami with a bunch of guys. I've had a lot of conversations with some of the staff here and everybody. Our belief is injuries and so forth kind of knocked him back a little bit last year, but this guy is one of the best players in the game. He's going to come back with a vengeance, I believe. I believe he's going to come back and do a lot of damage. I look forward to that because he killed me. He's one of the reasons I had to get this job. He got me fired in the other one.

Q. What have you been told about Victor Martinez's health situation? And when he gets to Spring Training, how much do you have to see how he can hit, maybe more than you would expect a veteran in Spring Training to figure out --

RON GARDENHIRE: I'll reach out to him once I leave here. He's one of the guys I'll call and see how he's doing and get an update from him rather than hearing it from everyone else. I'll talk to him and Miggy too. I'll call a lot of these guys up and check on them.

You're talking about another guy who's a great hitter. I've watched him. I watched him kill us too. It's about getting him healthy and getting his legs underneath him, and getting him on board with what we're going to try to do here.

I know people are saying we're going to really struggle, but when you have guys like this, if they can get them healthy and get them back on the field, we can do some things. You add those with some young kids, some very talented kids that we have, this could be a lot of fun. I'm not saying we're going to shock the world or anything, but we could. That's why you play the games. And it's about these guys being healthy. That's what we're going to try to do.

Q. An easy narrative on the game is the strikeouts and home runs. But there's so much in between that you can actually steal a game here, steal five there. How much fundamentally do you think with this sort of rebuild do you have to impress on these guys that you can win a game on a given night a whole bunch of different ways?

RON GARDENHIRE: Absolutely. This game -- the good teams we talk about that hit all these home runs and everything, they're still fundamentally sound. They pitch the ball, they have good pitching. They catch the ball. They don't make mistakes. They don't walk people. That comes along with a bunch of great hitters that can drive the ball.

You watch the Dodgers, they did so much more than just hit home runs. They really played a good game. Their defense was unbelievable. They ran the bases hard. There's so many attributes to this baseball team -- and I witnessed it because I was out in Arizona. That was a great baseball team.

The same way with Houston. They didn't just beat you with bats and everything. They beat you all kinds of ways. Their defense was unbelievable. Their pitchers threw the ball over the plate.

So that's what we're going to impress upon them. There's a lot of ways to win baseball games, but it starts with the basics, and that's the fundamentals of respecting the game, playing the game, running balls out, being able to steal a base when they give you, take advantage of everything they give you. We've done that. I've been a part of that for a long time under Tom Kelly, and then managing the Twins -- guys playing the game and respecting the game. That's what we're going to try to do here. We're going to get back playing the game, respect the game, and catch the ball and get the outs you're supposed to, and we'll go from there.

Q. The longevity you had in Minnesota has become a pretty rare thing for a manager. Why do you think that is?

RON GARDENHIRE: Well, it's an evolving game. Everything changes. You know what, if the team sucks, you fire the manager. It's never changed. I mean, when we started playing bad in Minnesota, they made a change. We had a lot of good years, but obviously, they needed a new voice. I felt that too. That's just the way it is. So it doesn't happen -- I was really fortunate to be in a city, like the organization the Minnesota Twins because they believe in that, longevity. They believe in a family. I was really lucky. It doesn't happen very often.

You know what, when it came time for them to make a change, I got it. I understood. They gave me 13 good years as a manager. I had a blast. I loved it. I don't know if you'll see that ever again. I don't know. Mike Scioscia's out there longer than that, but it doesn't happen all the time. That's the way the game is. I don't have answers for you. I don't really know other than the manager when things start going south, you're going to go to the top guy, and that happens.

Q. How different is the job now versus you go back to when you first did it?

RON GARDENHIRE: The game's changed a lot. Obviously, the analytics and everything. You watch the World Series, and you watch how those games were played by your best reliever coming in in the fifth inning and going two or three innings. The game's changed. But that's kind of where we're at. That's just the way the game -- you have to kind of get on board or get out.

You know what, I watched it in Arizona. It was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed watching Torey run a ball game and the way we use these people. You know what, the organization, the conversations I had with Hazen and his group, I've never seen the general manager in the office as much as Hazen was, but he's a baseball junkie, and it was really fun baseball talks. He tried to get me in there all the time, and I just said no, no, no, no.

The game's evolved. It's changed a lot, but it's still baseball. You've still got to throw the bats and balls out there, but that's what we're going to do. We're going to get on board with everything else and try to move ahead.

Q. One thing that hasn't changed is the Yankees and their money and the way they build the power teams. How do you keep the ballpark against those guys now with Stanton on the team?

RON GARDENHIRE: Have you seen my record against the Yankees?

Q. I apologize for asking you a Yankees question.

RON GARDENHIRE: You think I haven't figured it out yet? We're going to try to figure it out this year, okay? I appreciate you bringing that up, Scott. That's great. I'm going to get in my Jeep and drive back home now.

Q. Ron, as much as the game has changed, I'm assuming you might remember what your message was back in 2002, the first time you actually had that moment. But as much as the game has changed, can I assume the message 15 years plus later is going to be the same?

RON GARDENHIRE: Absolutely. You know what, my message was I learned from Tom Kelly how to get out and pay attention to details and don't let anything go. He was one of the best baseball guys I've ever been around. I learned so much from him. So when I took over, he kind of mentored me into that, talking my way through it as I was getting ready to take over the job.

But I loved what we did. I loved how we got out and we did our work every day in Spring Training. These guys got their work in, and we didn't -- it wasn't about the amount of time we spent out there. It was the quality time that we spent out on the field, and that was important because players don't like to stand around and get bored. So we kept everything moving, and I just kind of followed that. I just kept it in place. It was a good time. I think the players really enjoyed our Spring Trainings, plus they got a lot of work. And when we started the season, most of the time we were ready. We were really ready to go. And that will happen here too.

We're going to set a good program in Spring Training. We're going to have our good morning America drills where our defense will be ready by 10:00 in the morning. They will have thrown enough baseballs to last all day. We're going to do it, and we're going to teach them it's about getting ready to play the game and respect the game and catch the ball. We're going to do that. I think they're going to enjoy the heck out of it.

Q. Given the number of prospects you have in the system, how do you usually like to handle the number of young guys in Spring Training? Do you like having prospects up to kind of get a taste of being around the big league clubhouse before hand? Could you invite some guys who might not necessarily have a chance to make the team but who might benefit from that type of experience?

RON GARDENHIRE: You know what, they're going to set the Spring Training roster. They've pretty much got the invitees and all these things. I'm not good enough to tell you all these different guys. So they're going to have them. But I love seeing the kids come over. Throughout the course of Spring Training, as you start sending players down and your roster gets smaller and smaller, we bring players over to help us through ball games. That's kind of one of the funnest times for me to see these young kids come over from the lower minor leagues and get them in a game and get them an at bat. Those are always exciting times for me because I get a feel for the kid and I get to watch them get out on a baseball field and see how they handle themselves. And I'll get to know more people that way.

So as Spring Training goes along, we always do that, and that's always a really cool time for them and for us. Plus they get like $25 for coming over.

Q. I'm sure you talked about this in Detroit at your press conference, but as a guy that knew Sparky Anderson, you know baseball in Detroit. What does it mean to take over this franchise?

RON GARDENHIRE: You know what, I had a lot of great conversations with Jim Leyland. If he told me once, he told me a thousand times, behind the cage during their batting practice when I'd go out and talk to him, one day he said, if you ever get an opportunity, you would love to manage in this ballpark and manage these fans and this ball club. He said it's just wonderful here. You know what, I'm going to get to witness this firsthand, and I'm really excited about it. I know the history.

I know this, my brother, my older brother, back when we were growing up in Oklahoma, he was a Tigers fan. He loved Al Kaline, and he loved Mickey Lolich. And he was a left-hander, of course. Mickey Lolich, we played wiffle ball in the backyard and throwing sliders to me. He was always a Tigers guy. So this is for him too. He's not with us anymore, but I know that he'd be really proud.

Q. Last season you said Lovullo would became the manager. What qualities did you see that would enable him to reach that achievement?

RON GARDENHIRE: I taught him all that, didn't I?

Q. Yes, you did.

RON GARDENHIRE: He's a great communicator, a real baseball guy. I enjoyed watching him go out almost on a daily basis through the outfield, reaching out to everybody and getting to know families. That's not even talking about how great he was in the dugout. Running a ball game, talking about the game. His knowledge of the game was unbelievable. You know what, I thought that was a lot of fun to watch. You know what, I thank that whole organization for giving me an opportunity to get back in the dugout.

They took care of me out there. I went through some health problems. From Torey out there, the whole coaching staff, I had a blast. It kind of rejuvenated my zest. I watched those guys do it, and Torey was a big part of it. He was a great baseball guy.

Q. Were you surprised he was able to get to the playoffs?

RON GARDENHIRE: No, we had a really good baseball team. As most managers will tell you, our job is not to screw it up. Torey did a good job of not screwing anything up. But he set an atmosphere that the guys wanted to be there. They loved coming to the ballpark. That's one of the best things a manager could do, create an atmosphere that the guys love coming to the ballpark and playing in it, and he did that very well.

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