By The Common Man
It’s kind of sad watching a delusional leader, whose life’s work is crumbling around him, deny responsibility for the fiasco, contradict the readily apparent reality, and fight with his own people. It’s the kind of out of touch, reactionary, and petty response one would expect only out of the most narcissistic and desperate leaders clinging to their jobs.
The Common Man is referring, of course, to Ron Gardenhire, who in a very leading Q&A with the St. Paul Pioneer Press and ripped his young players over “what he considers a general misunderstanding of baseball fundamentals on the part of his young players…. ‘We’re doing all this stuff so we don’t have to tell them. We shouldn’t have to. They should learn this in the minor leagues.’” In particular over the past several days, the Twins manager has called out Ben Revere, Trevor Plouffe, Danny Valencia, and Alex Burnett.
It’s certainly easy to pinpoint the mistakes of these youngsters. None of the hitters have an OBP over .300 and Burnett’s ERA is just under 6.00. Their performances have not been good, to say the least. However, Gardenhire goes further, questioning the wisdom of Burnett’s pitch selection to Francisco Cervelli (never mind that the pitch was called by Joe Mauer), Plouffe’s baserunning (which was poor) and his defense (which…come on, he’s been asked to play 6 different positions this year, and was never considered a defensive whiz to begin with), and Valencia’s focus and defense.
What’s interesting is who Gardenhire has chosen not to focus on. He’s not gotten on Mauer for his pitch-calling. Or Butera for his inability to hit like he actually takes a bat to the plate with him. Or Cuddyer for his baserunning mistakes. Or Delmon for everything that he ever did on a baseball field. Or Pavano for just plain sucking this year.
Pavano’s a particularly interesting case. Gardenhire wants Twins batters to, “Listen to (Carl) Pavano. He comes in right away and tells you, 'This guy's diving. This guy was cheating over the plate and he got it.' So Pav knows what he's going to do the next time. I want some of these guys to do that, too.” But Pavano has been terrible in 2011, striking out just 10% of the batters he faces and walking more than he did last year. His ERA (4.52, an 87 ERA+) is very in line with his career norm. So while Pavano may be crafty, he’s also not getting any batters out in 2011. Yet Gardy spares him from public embarrassment. (Update: Especially regarding his embarrassing inability to hold runners on. While ultimately this doesn't add a lot of runs to Pavano's total, it does add some, and some cursury attention to the runners would have helped tonight after Andino's 3rd inning single.) Maybe all the rules about fundamentals and playing the game right would be more powerful if the Twins weren’t so selective about when and to whom they should apply them.
Instead, they ignore the sins of some players while Gardenhire pours all his frustration onto youngsters, saying that they are taught well in the minors but, “they're just not paying attention. This is the stuff. They should learn to run the bases when they're growing up through the minor leagues, but they don't pay attention. Maybe we have to be more forceful in the minor leagues about this stuff.” Gardenhire has been happy to take the credit when the Twins have “played the game the right way,” but now that the team’s fundamentals are flagging, it’s the fault of the players and not the instruction they receive. Indeed, if players aren’t paying attention in the minor leaguers, isn’t that a failure of their instructors as well? Shouldn’t teachers be able to get through to most of their students, especially those with the tools to be successful?
Back in the late days of the Tom Kelly Era, TK would similarly pick his young players apart, destroying their confidence and making players like David Ortiz, Marty Cordova, and Todd Walker play away from their strengths. TK started in 1986 as the youngest manager in the Big Leagues, a teacher who grew with his team into a World Champion. But by 2000, he had lost the ability to relate to the youngest players, and the tolerance for them. After a last hurrah in 2001, Kelly resigned and let a man with more energy take over.
Now Gardenhire seems to be taking the same approach, and just like in TK’s day, it doesn’t seem to be working. Players aren’t responding to the criticism. The communication is not getting through to the players. That’s the fault of the communicator as much as it is the people being communicated to. So if this message isn’t getting through, it’s incumbent on Gardy to find one that will. After all, his job is to build a winning team, and based on the response of his players to his efforts, he doesn’t seem able to do that through the media. Put another way, while these players perhaps should have learned all there was to learn in the minors, the fact is that they're in the Majors, they still apparently need some teaching on the job, and what are Gardy and the Twins going to do about it?
It’s time for the Twins to go back to school. It’s time for them to have a teacher to lead them. Perhaps Gardenhire can still be that teacher that they need. But if he can't, he needs to take another lesson from his predecessor. He needs to step down and let someone else with more energy and tolerance take over.