Twins skipper remains humble in 13th season at the helm in Minnesota
NEW YORK -- Ron Gardenhire hardly is the guy who has everything. He has a lot, but his career does have an occasional void. Fifty-three games into his 13th season as manager of the Twins, he has not one 15-game winning streak he can call his own. His batting order lacks a bona fide slugger, and a second starter with a winning record would be quite useful. In that regard, Phil Hughes stands alone in the Twins' rotation.
Moreover, Gardenhire has no regrets -- or at least too few too mention. It's a comfortable void. He is as content as Joe Mauer is talented, as delightful as Minneapolis is cold, as self-deprecating as Rodney Dangerfield was, well, self-deprecating.
Enter his office or find him in the dugout or behind the batting cage and expect a smile to form on your face. He has a supply he carries in his back pocket.
Gardenhire is in New York this weekend, mostly because the schedule maker demanded it -- a three-game series against the team that has caused him some regrets over the years. But they have faded. His presence in the Bronx coincides with a wedding to which he and his wife Carol and their daughter were invited. The daughter of the couple who rented to the Gardenhires throughout his time as a Mets "futility" infielder in the '80s was the bride.
Typical of the Twins manager to forge a relationship in 1981 and have it still bear fruit today even though he is an infrequent New York visitor. "It's very cool that they invited us," he said Saturday morning. He was hopeful to avoid extra innings -- the wedding was is New Rochelle. He would regret a late arrival. "But I've got a limo coming to take us there right after I'm dressed," he said.
A limo? The Ron Gardenhire of 1981 (his first season with the Mets) wouldn't have ordered a limo. "I didn't," he said. "It's actually an SUV. But any year Ron Gardenhire would be OK in a pickup."
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He speaks fondly of his time in the Mets organization. "No regrets at all," he says. "I made the big leagues, and I probably did more than I should have. ... I was a proud player. I played hard, but then I hardly played. I learned pretty quick that I'd be a 'futility' infielder." Early in the 1984 season, he was playing well, in his estimation. Mets manager Davey Johnson thought so too. "I actually felt comfortable in the field. I was making plays. I was swinging OK."
But his hamstring betrayed him in Cincinnati on July 19. He had a single against Mario Soto, but overtaxed the hamstring as he extended his foot toward first base. The injury was the first of many to his hammies. "They had brought up Rafael Santana, so he took my place -- for good it turned out. It wasn't Wally Pipp. I didn't get 'Pipped,' I got 'Raffy-ed.' He played really well. When you lose your job to a guy playing better than you, what can you say? Can't have regrets, it's just a fact of life."
Gardenhire played briefly with the Mets in 1985, spent all of the Mets' World Series '86 season in Triple-A and was traded to the Twins after the season. "I was in camp till the end in '87. But at some point I realized things weren't going good. We had Al Newman, Alvaro Espinoza, Ronnie Washington and Chris Pittaro fighting for the job I wanted. Halfway through the spring, Portland started looking pretty good." The Twins' Portland affiliate was the Triple-A equivalent of the '62 Mets -- dreadful as in a 45-96 record. "We had a slogan, " Gardenhire says, "'Baseball fever, snatch it.' But it was the funnest year I ever had. Charlie Manuel was our manager. He'd say 'We're going to have early batting practice tomorrow -- you pitch to me.'
"We're playing a game in Calgary, it's tied with two out in the ninth. I'm up, and I look over to our dugout, and guys are packing up their gear. I mean, jeez. Give me a break. So I messed them up. I hit one out to tie the score. Fixed them. And we lost in the 10th. That's the kind of team we had. We had fun and we could laugh at ourselves. We had to."
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Gardenhire often finds good in bad, even 45-96 bad. A glass-half-full outlook is required for that. Every baseball manager should have that. Not all are equipped. His job can be trying. His teams finished in first place six times in his first 12 seasons. The last three seasons have been unkind, and the current Twins lack the necessary buoyancy. Give him a 15-game winning streak, a bona fide slugger and a second starter with a winning record, and he'll find a smile. Deny him all that and remove Mauer, Gardenhire will pull a genuine smile out of his back pocket and have many in reserve.
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Roy Smalley Jr. works as a color analyst for some Twins telecast. He dresses splendidly as he did as a player. His Yankees teammates didn't appreciate his attire in 1983. Many of them dressed in faded jeans, western boots and work shirts. Goose Gossage regularly wore a string tie or a tie that had the colors of a Jimi Hendrix headband with a blue work shirt and a brown corduroy jacket. Others weren't quite so nattily attired.
Yet they rode Smalley whether he'd wear suit or -- when more casual -- dressed in Italian slacks and dressy shirts. They were on him particularly hard one day in Chicago when he semi-snapped.
"You get on me for the way I dress," Smalley said, emphasizing the vertical pronoun. "You all dress like [Cowboys running back] Walt Garrison and think Giorgio Armani plays for the Cosmos."