It's difficult to imagine nowadays the challenge that Ron Gardenhire faced a decade ago in replacing the legendary Tom Kelly, who managed 16 seasons in Minnesota. Now, Gardenhire is looking forward to his 10th season in charge, and he'll be under contract for two more seasons beyond that.
The Twins announced Gardenhire's extension through 2013, as well as two-year contracts through 2012 for the coaching and training staffs, on Thursday.
"We are thrilled to have Ron Gardenhire and one of the best coaching and training staffs in baseball returning for the next two years," Twins general manager Bill Smith said in a statement. "Gardy and his staff have done tremendous work over the past nine seasons and they have played a critical role in our success on the field."
Given the Twins' track record with Gardenhire, an extension had been expected. He received two-year extensions with a year left on his contract three times in the previous six years. The pattern was there, and the Twins' continued success under Gardenhire gave them every reason to want to continue their relationship.It was not a complicated negotiation.
"I just sat down and talked with Billy," Gardenhire said on a Thursday afternoon conference call. "He tells me what he wants to do. We talk a little and that was it. Mine's easy. It's just making sure my coaches are taken care of more than anything else."
Pitching coach Rick Anderson, bench coach Steve Liddle, bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek, third-base coach Scott Ullger, hitting coach Joe Vavra, first-base coach Jerry White, head athletic trainer Rick McWane, assistant athletic trainer Dave Pruemer and strength and conditioning coordinator Perry Castellano are now all under contract.Many of them have been in Twins uniforms for a while, too. Stelmaszek is the longest-serving coach in the Majors, having been in his post since 1981. Anderson, Liddle, Ullger, White and McWane have all been in the Twins organization, either in Minnesota or at the Minor League level, for more than 20 years.
Between Kelly and Gardenhire, meanwhile, the Twins have had just two managers in the last 25 years. Gardenhire, who once faced the task of replacing the longest-tenured manager in the Majors, now is himself the American League's longest-tenured current manager with one team. Only Tony La Russa of the Cardinals has a longer tenure somewhere in the Majors.
Gardenhire doesn't take it for granted.
"Most managers will tell you the same thing: It's not a bad situation to be in an organization that likes to keep people, but you also have to be successful," he said. "You also have ownership that believes in that. They believe that people deserve a chance to go out there and show you what you can do. That's a good thing. That's not a norm in this business. We all know that."
That fact isn't lost on others around the league, or around the division.
"I don't think anybody's ever given the Twins [enough credit]," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said recently. "First of all, I think Gardenhire's the best. But I also think that nobody's given the Twins' players credit for how good they are. They just seem to be lost up there, other than [Joe] Mauer and [Justin] Morneau, and when [Johan] Santana was up there. I don't think anybody's ever realized how good the Twins really are."
Last season, Gardenhire led the club to a 94-68 record and its sixth AL Central title in the nine years since he took over as manager in 2002. This one, though, was a little more challenging, both with the team's move out of the Metrodome and into the outdoor confines of new Target Field and a spat of injuries. Joe Nathan's elbow injury during Spring Training and ensuing Tommy John surgery left Minnesota without its All-Star closer for the season. Then came the slow offensive start to the season by Mauer, the reigning AL MVP who was plagued by minor injuries throughout the first half.Arguably the biggest challenge, though, came with the midseason concussion to Morneau, the team's slugging first baseman and MVP candidate. What was originally thought to be a short-term injury turned out much more serious, creating symptoms that sidelined Morneau the rest of the year. "Losing your closer in early Spring Training doesn't help," Gardenhire said. "That's not a great way to start a season, and then losing Morneau halfway through -- we battled through it pretty good. It's about the same every year. You're going to have ups and downs, and you're going to have some challenging moments. "But as far as managing goes, it was about the same. We battled through some things, and you just have to find a way to get it done." Gardenhire was named AL Manager of the Year by the Sporting News earlier this fall, an award that was voted on by his peers. "Ron did a great job," said Texas skipper Ron Washington, who finished second in the voting to Gardenhire. "They lost two big pieces and he kept his team going. They played solid baseball, they really did." Gardenhire's players have commended him as well. Jim Thome, who has played for numerous skippers throughout his 20-year big league career, said at the end of last season that he appreciated Gardenhire's managing style. "I think he's done a great job of handling his players, and I think to be a good manager, that's key," Thome said. "You have to know each personality, and he does that. I think he knows everybody from top to bottom, and he does a great job with the on-field stuff, too. ... I've had good ones, and he's right up there, definitely, at the top of the list. It's definitely been a pleasure to play for him, that's for sure." Given the track record of success, it only made sense to keep the pairing together. Gardenhire owns a winning percentage of .550 in his nine seasons and celebrated career victory No. 800 on Sept. 21.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.