The Minnesota Twins are a bad team right now, and they’ll only get worse if they do not make some systemic changes. As the losses pile up, the number of fans in the seats will wind down. It is crucial for the team to take some action to staunch that flow. That is why the Twins need to replace manager Ron Gardenhire and their Major League coaching staff as soon as this season ends.
After a dismal 5-1 performance against the Oakland Athletics, the Twins’ record is 51-72, which puts them on pace to lose 95 games by the end of the season. All the losing is starting to have a big effect on ticket sales, with the Twins dropping to 11th in MLB in attendance this year after placing fourth last year. With another losing season in the books, we could see a further drop next year, which could severely affect the team’s bank accounts. Acquiring a superstar might restore fans’ sense of optimism, but superstars are in short supply, and the Twins do not have enough resources to sign or trade for one.
How do you generate excitement and fill seats for a team in such a situation? Make a change that signifies a new beginning. Gardenhire has managed the team through some of the best years of its existence, but those years are gone and it’s time to go in a new direction. A new manager would signal to the fans that the Twins are ready to make a clean break with their recent losing ways.
The ideal candidate to replace Gardenhire would be Minnesota native Hall of Famer Paul Molitor. Molitor is a well-known and well-liked player who could elevate the positive buzz around the team to deafening proportions. He is also familiar with the organization and its players, which means the transition period would be fairly smooth. Of course, there is no guarantee that Molitor would accept the job if offered, but the Twins would be remiss not to try and recruit him.
To be clear, I am not suggesting that Gardenhire is responsible for the Twins’ misfortunes. A combination of injuries and slumping players is partly to blame, but the lion’s share of blame for the team’s futility rests with former General Manager Bill Smith, who was demoted last year. An objective observer would probably conclude that Gardenhire has been a good manager, as evidenced by his 2010 AL Manager of the Year trophy. Reasonable fans may disagree as to whether he makes smart decisions about player usage, and you’ll find plenty of them online willing to criticize his abilities, but my problem is not with Gardenhire himself. Over the years, I’ve even grown fond of his laconic personality and the gruff voice that narrates so many low budget radio commercials.
The purpose of this move is far more symbolic than practical. If the Twins, who have not fired a manager since 1986, take this drastic step, it will show the fans that they are committed to rebuilding and restoring the team’s winning ways. The firing of Smith stirred a similar feeling among die-hard fans last fall, though the effect was dampened somewhat when the team re-hired Smith in an advisory capacity. To a casual fan, the manager is far a far more visible symbol of the team than the general manager. Replacing Gardenhire would generate more goodwill among potential ticket buyers than replacing Smith did.
Furthermore, the rejuvenation might not be limited to the fanbase. It could help the players too. I’m sure the players like Gardenhire, but a new manager would bring a new and refreshing atmosphere to the clubhouse. If you’ve ever worked for a company that changed management, you’ve probably experienced the same thing. When the new boss comes in, everyone works a little harder to try and impress him or her.
We do not need to feel sorry for Gardenhire if he loses his job. As a MLB manager with 10 years of experience, six playoff appearances, and a .526 winning percentage, he is virtually guaranteed to land a job with another MLB team. If anything, hiring him would create as much excitement for another team as firing him would for the Twins.
After they announce the team’s new manager, the Twins should announce replacements for their major League coaches. No outside observer can truly judge whether hitting coach Joe Vavra has had a negative effect on the team’s hitters or whether pitching coach Rick Anderson deserves blame for the debacle that is the 2012 Twins pitching staff, but these positions have their own symbolic significance as well. Ideally, the Twins should replace Vavra with AAA hitting coach Tom Brunansky. Not only is Brunansky a popular former Twin associated with the franchise’s glory days, but he is drawing rave reviews for his work with the Rochester Red Wings. Anderson does not have such an inspiring successor within the organization, but after the year Twins’ pitchers are having now, any change would probably be a psychological improvement. Another coaching position, perhaps first base coach, should go to current radio announcer Dan Gladden. Like Brunansky, Gladden is a hero from the good old days whom fans remember fondly. At first base, he could probably teach the young players something about stealing bases, which he did 222 times in his career. Finally, it might be a good idea to give a job to Fort Myers manager Jake Mauer. As Joe Mauer’s brother, he would add a compelling storyline to the team in addition to his track record of success.
These changes would not do much directly to improve the team on the field, but they would keep fans paying attention a little longer and stop attendance from dropping further until the Twins can finish their rebuilding process. They should replace the on-field management as soon as the season ends.