Sometimes, there's just nothing you can do. That was the case with Ron Gardenhire, who was fired by the Minnesota Twins on Monday after four straight seasons of more than 90 losses.
Combining the managerial genius of Tony La Russa, Casey Stengel, Bobby Cox and anyone else you can think of probably wouldn't have been enough to fix a Twins team that, given its current roster, could easily have been even worse than its 70-92 record.
It's one of those situations in which nobody really wins. The Twins front office probably didn't want to part with Gardenhire, but the execs had their hands tied after the team lost 383 games over the last four seasons.
But wait! That's what you're supposed to think! Baseball is, of course, a business. Somebody always has to take the fall, and in this case, that somebody was Gardenhire. The sad reality is that casualties like Gardy will continue to happen for as long as teams fail to take accountability seriously. Was it the manager's fault that the Twins lost so many games during the last four years? With the success of his previous teams, the overall lack of talent on recent Twins rosters and the high praise Gardenhire receives from everyone around the game, it's hard to answer "yes" to that question. It's a shame for Gardenhire that the Twins had to conform to baseball "tradition" and fire the man who is supposed to take all the blame for the team's failure but really had nothing to do with it at all.
The Twins are in damage-control mode, having suffered through the reign of general manager Bill Smith from 2007 to 2011. His series of disastrous trades are still hurting the Twins today, and there's proof. According to a fantastically researched article by Baseball Prospectus' Elliot Mann, Smith traded away 10.75 wins per season while he was GM.
Terry Ryan, the current general manager who is in the midst of his second tenure with the Twins (having predecessed Smith before succeeding him), has put together one of the strongest minor league systems in baseball. Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano and Nick Gordon are just a few names among a farm system that is loaded with talent, and whoever comes after Gardenhire will soon reap the benefits of the treasure trove of prospects in the Twins farm system.
Why not let Gardenhire stick around to be that guy? He's great at developing young talent, as Jonah Keri noted on Olbermann on Monday, an attribute that would be perfect for the Twins' upcoming seasons. If it's so obvious that the manager wasn't the problem, and if the roster is finally going to be stocked again, does it really make sense to get rid of the man who consistently guided the club to successful finishes for the better part of a decade?
Until Monday, Gardenhire had been the Twins manager since 2002, a 13-year span over which he won just over half of his 2,107 regular season games. He led the team to six division titles and finished in the top three voting for AL Manager of the Year seven times in nine years from 2002 to 2010, finally winning the award in 2010 when the Twins won 94 games.
Gardenhire's history with the team stretches far beyond his managerial experience. He joined the organization in 1987 and managed in the minors before being named the Twins' third base coach in 1991, the team's championship-winning season. He held that same position for 11 seasons up until his hiring as manager. Over the past 13 seasons, he became one of the most respected managers in the game.
"As good as it gets in my opinion. Comes to the park ready to win each and every day. Kind of a players' manager," second baseman Brian Dozier said last week (via ESPN/AP). "Always in good spirits. He knows the game better than anybody I've been around. I 100 percent want him back."
Consider this: The Twins averaged 89.2 wins during Gardenhire's first nine seasons with the team, then averaged 95.8 losses over his final four.
Maybe Gardenhire simply forgot how to run a baseball team and lost his touch.
It's possible that he isn't the manager he once was, but Gardenhire is still the same person. Whether or not the Twins front office "had" to fire him, it's simply wrong to say he is at the root of Minnesota's problems.
Few teams relied on young talent as much as the Twins did this past season, with Danny Santana and Oswaldo Arcia, both 23 years old, ranking among the team's best hitters. (Truth be told, they didn't rely on much talent at all during the last few years.) The rotation was similarly inexperienced, and the lack of consistency outside of right-hander Phil Hughes would have made any manager pull his hair out. In total, the Twins have only six players on their 40-man roster over the age of 30. (By comparison, the Yankees have 15 such players.)
At the end of the day, it's an understandable move, but if the Twins think firing their manager will solve their problems, they are hugely mistaken.