Ever since Ron Gardenhire was named the 38th manager in Tigers history in late October, I’ve repeatedly been asked my opinion on the hire. I suppose the best way to answer the question is to relay two vivid memories I have of the new skipper.
One recent and one from the past.
Ron Gardenhire is a regular guy. It was never more evident than on a cold January day outside of Comerica Park during TigerFest. Gardenhire pulled up a chair and played cards with a group of fans waiting to enter the ballpark. It was a scene that gave folks a glimpse of what “Gardy” is all about. Stopping to sign autographs and take selfies. He viewed it all as just part of the job. Few big league managers would have taken the time to connect like Gardenhire.
Connecting is what Gardenhire is all about.
My second memory dates back to his days with the Minnesota Twins. When you travel with a major league team, you become familiar with the rituals and general vibe of the visiting towns and ballparks. The Twins played at the Metrodome at the time, and I can still see Gardenhire throwing batting practice on many a Sunday morning. He wasn’t throwing to his team. Instead, every Sunday, Gardy threw batting practice to his players kids. Every Sunday morning, like clockwork.
The grind of a major league season takes its toll. Sundays are usually days where players come in an hour or so later and routines are adjusted. For Gardenhire, it was another chance to connect.
Then there is the Black Woods Blizzard Tour, a three-day snowmobile ride in Minnesota that the skipper participates in every year to help raise funds to fight ALS. Gardenhire became involved with the group in 2002 and still lends his support to this day.
This spring, the Tigers skipper has brought a certain spirit to camp. Whether he’s hitting fungos, chatting up players in the outfield during batting practice, or fielding ground balls during pitchers fielding practice, Gardenhire rarely gives away a chance to get to know the people on his team better. He has a keen awareness of the value of human relationships that go beyond baseball.
The Tigers interviewed plenty of candidates for the manager’s job in the offseason. The new wave of young skippers has arrived. Alex Cora, Gabe Kapler, and Aaron Boone to name a few. Most were interviewed by Al Avila, but none had the experience of guiding a young team through a rebuild. Gardenhire did.
Gardenhire joined the Twins in 2002. In the five years prior, Minnesota average just 71 wins a season.
Under Gardenhire’s leadership, the Twins took off. Minnesota made it to the postseason in six of Gardenhire’s first nine years, despite a payroll that never exceeded $72 million from 2002 to 2009.
The Tigers are entering a phase where young players will dot the roster more so than the veterans that dominated the lineup the last decade.
Adding a proven manager with the experience to guide the organization through this new phase seemed like a no-brainer.