'We had a lot of fun': Gardy inducted into Twins HOF

August 21st, 2022

MINNEAPOLIS -- It's only fitting that one of the first stops Ron Gardenhire made when he arrived at Target Field this weekend was the manager's office, where he poked his head in to praise the work of current Twins skipper Rocco Baldelli -- for getting thrown out of the game last homestand against the Blue Jays, of course.

"I'm telling you what, if I would have had his number, I would have called him," Gardenhire said. "That was good stuff right there. ... My wife almost kicked me out of the house. That's how mad I was. But Rocco was awesome. I just walked in there and told him. That was good stuff."

Gardenhire was hopping mad during that game, too, because he still watches the Twins all the time, he says. His most recent managerial stop was with the division rival Tigers, of course, but his association with the game of baseball will forever be tied to the Twins, the team he helmed for 2,107 games and took to six American League Central titles as manager as part of nearly three decades in the Twins’ organization -- including 13 years as manager.

That's why, at long last, he was inducted into the club's Hall of Fame on Saturday, when he became the 35th member of the distinguished group that will live on in team history. He'll be joined on Sunday by Dan Gladden and the late Cesar Tovar.

"Players called me once they found out I was going in," Gardenhire said. "That's been kind of nonstop, saying, ‘We're going to be there, we can't wait to be there.’ That's kind of cool. You feel like you made an impression on some people, and they appreciated what we stood for as a group, as an organization, as a team. We had a lot of fun. I thought that's the way you're supposed to play the game. Have a lot of fun, enjoy the game. And they did. They entertained me."

In that time, "Gardy" saw the Twins through countless milestones. His first season as a coach was the club's most recent World Series championship in 1991. He took the team through threats of contraction, a pair of Game 163s, the move back to outdoor baseball at Target Field and an era of fan favorites and club heroes still remembered fondly by fans around Twins Territory. His 1,068 wins as manager rank second in club history.

"I don't really think about it until I hear somebody say it," Gardenhire said. "They say how long I've been here and how many years. ... I have so many friends that work in these offices that I got so close with the people. I felt like I was part of it, and not just baseball, just with all of these guys."

Of the hundreds of players who benefited from Gardenhire's tutelage, more than 20 showed up to join their former skipper for his big day, from Joe Mauer and Denard Span to rarely-heard-from onetime Twins like Luis Rodriguez, Brendan Harris and Bobby Keppel.

"This group of guys, some of them got me fired, and I still love them to death," Gardenhire said with a laugh, gesturing at them.

Such was Gardenhire's impact on the game through 13 seasons as the manager of the Twins and three with the Tigers that even his longtime rivals in the American League Central, former Detroit skipper Jim Leyland and White Sox skipper Ozzie Guillen, recorded video messages to detail their appreciation for his career and his contributions to those division rivalries of the 2000s.

It was a different brand of baseball in Minnesota back then, to be sure. It was Guillen who dubbed many of those Twins teams the "Piranhas," known for their meticulous detail for the fundamentals, small ball, baserunning and defense. It was a loose clubhouse that policed itself and also knew how to have fun -- and that's why, as Gardenhire enjoyed a day for himself, his attention and gratitude kept drifting back to those players.

"I didn't really have to say too much when the games were going on," Gardenhire said. "Every once in a while, I'd get real fired up, but that's how proud I was of those guys. They took care of themselves. If someone didn't run a ball out, Torii Hunter was the first person to stand up and say, 'What are you doing? Run the ball.' They would look at me and say, 'I got it.' When you're a manager and you got that from your players, that they control each other, then you know you've got it made."

He took matters into his own hands often, too, and that's when fans got their favorite version of Gardy -- the one who was never afraid to show his feelings and tell umpires when he thought they were wrong. When the video board showed highlights of Gardenhire's 84 career ejections (71 with the Twins), the crowd gave a loud cheer.

And though Gardenhire was eventually let go in 2014, his influence continued to live on in the persistent presence of many of those players who blossomed under him -- Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, LaTroy Hawkins and Glen Perkins among them -- who have remained presences around this organization and have continued to impact players of the future.

The Twins like to keep their old fan favorites close at hand -- and now, after Saturday's ceremony, Gardenhire's legacy will be ensured to live on forever.

"I think it's the greatest thing in the world. There is, amongst the players and everybody, a love for here," Gardenhire said. "They come here, and I know the old saying, 'It's Minnesota Nice,' and all that stuff. But it's way, way more than that. It's a really comfortable place to play baseball. It's a tradition of respect and playing the game the right way out on the baseball field, and I think those guys really bought into it, and they really loved it. And I loved it too."