In some ways, the 1986 Minnesota Twins looked at least a little bit like the 2012 Twins. Not much was expected of them going into the season. There were some very good players (Puckett, Hrbek, Viola, Blyleven, Gaetti, Brunansky), a bunch of spare parts (the rest of the pitching staff, Ron Washington), plenty of unknowns, and the team ultimately under-performed based on its abilities (71-91, .438).
But one thing happened then that would never happen now: As a result, the manager got the axe.
Was it Ray Miller's fault that the 1986 Twins underperformed? Hard to say. Is it Gardenhire's fault that this year's team has underperformed? Opinions will differ. (Personally, I'm inclined to answer, "No, but...")
There's no question that the managerial swap, which happened 26 years ago today, ushered in the most sweeping systemic change the organization has ever experienced. Tom Kelly may have been a rather unlikely candidate to become the baseball heart of the Twins franchise for the next couple of decades, but that's pretty much what happened.
And it is fair to say that, when the Twins have faltered lately, it's because they -- organizationally-speaking -- have taken their eyes off the principles TK preached. Fundamentals haven't always been solid, the team hasn't always been ready for that first inning or found a way to "make the plays they're supposed to make." Over the past few years, the organization has regularly found themselves dancing around and not quite squaring up on the "Twins Way" that Kelly established.
The reason we can recognize that now is because TK preached it to his teams and, by extension, to all of us. He has taught multiple generations of players and fans how to respect the game, and recognize when the fundamentals are either solid, or not. And he bristled every time he heard that disrespectful word -- "Twinkies" -- applied to a storied, self-respecting baseball franchise.
If you've ever worked for a great leader, you know that they share some important characteristics. They are confident, positive, with high expectations, effective feedback, and meted rewards. They don't flatter (or accept it), and are neither quick with praise nor harsh with criticism unless genuinely justified. They are honest, often brutally so. They know the people around them, draw out the best in each, and instill a sense of common purpose. They don't play politics, and they hold themselves to the highest standards of anyone in the organization. And the best leaders don't often take credit, but regularly accept blame.
The Wisdom of TK
From his acceptance speech:
"Play the whole game."
"Give me good, or give me bad, but just give it to me."
"Be on time."
"Prepare for the game."
"Run the balls out."
"Play all nine innings."
"Be ready for that first inning. We don't want to lose the game in the first."
"Make the plays you're supposed to make."
"Occasionally make a real good play that might get you on ESPN."
"Be able to bunt the ball when the manager needs you to bunt the ball."
"Be ready for the ball in the dirt."
"When you hit that bloop to left field, run like hell."
"If you don't have an edge, you can't compete."
"What is the best time of the day? When the game starts."
(Most of these sound better when he says them.)
In fact, the best leaders lead by figuring out what their charges need and then providing it. By all accounts, Tom Kelly was just such a servant-leader in the dugout. On a baseball field, one of the most important things a manager can provide the players is eyes and ears which catch everything, then strategies which take advantage of what he's seen. As Ron Coomer said in his tribute, Kelly might be "the most aware human being on the planet, especially in baseball." How many times did Kelly's Twins do something you didn't understand until he explained it at the post-game press conference? And when explained, how many times did it come down to him seeing something that you didn't?
If you doubt that, listen to his chatter in the broadcast booth. He's got x-ray eyes when it comes to what's happening on the field. He's seeing things that the rest of us have no chance to notice -- until he points it out, when it becomes obvious. (Among active managers, only Bobby Valentine comes to mind as having a similar level of awareness. But he's nowhere near Kelly's leadership skills, and that disparity may partially account for Boston's record.)
I'll never forget when Kelly described why he decided to retire from managing. It was, he said, because he realized that he had missed something crucial in a game. Not some things in some games -- plural -- but something in a particular game. This was the standard he held himself to and it was reflected in the teams he managed, even when they didn't win very many games.
Former Twins GM Andy MacPhail, in his speech at the retirement ceremony, said that Kelly was always able to get the most out of the players he was handed. And while the teams of the late 90s certainly put that theory to the test, I still believe it to be true. The foundation for the success the franchise has seen in more recent years was laid during those dreadful seasons because Tom Kelly was unwilling to lower his standards to match the payroll. Having won two World Series, his credibility was high, and he spent it wisely.
But even if he'd never won a World Series, just sticking with the Twins through those years would have been enough to earn him the honor he received this weekend. His leadership had legs, and we are only now beginning to wonder whether the changes he brought about still rule the organization. If they do, then the current downturn is a blip. If they don't, then it could be a long time before they have to make room up there to retire the numbers of additional World Series heroes.
I would take issue with one thing I've heard TK say many times. People may not come to ballgames to look at the manager, but they definitely come to watch what he does -- be that strategically or through the players he has prepared. In the case of the Twins, for much of the past 25 years we've been coming out to see TK's vision realized, even after he left the dugout.
That makes him one of the all-time greats in the organization, easily worthy of having the honor of a retired number.
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Maria Versalles and Rick Oliva performed the Star-Spangled Banner (beautifully, as always) before the ceremony.
Events like this can't help but sound funereal at times. You don't want to think such things, but the day will come (long in the future, we hope) when we're telling all these stories again for a different reason. That makes it especially great to have had this opportunity to say thanks with the guest of honor there to hear it -- even if it did make him uncomfortable!
TK, if you're reading this, I just want to say thanks. You did a helluva job, brought a lot of great baseball to Twins Territory, and it's most fitting and proper that you are honored up there with the other Twins greats.
This page was last modified on September 12, 2012.
"You talk about the magic, the aura, but what really makes a stadium is the fans. Concrete doesn't talk back to you. Chairs don't talk back to you. It's the people who are there, day in, day out, that makes the place magic."
– Bernie Williams
Explore the Site
Here are 50 images chosen randomly from the 3042 found on this site. Click the image to be taken to the original post. A new list is created every 10 minutes.
These openings will facilitate access to the catwalks which run throughout the canopy.
The entrances are all the way around on the other side.
The Legends Club retail store is just visible at the right of this picture.
At the end of the balcony you can see down the promenade.
This is what will count as a knothole (actually, it's a gated entrance)
Working on the connecting LRT tracks (this view looks up Fifth Street toward downtown.)
Storage tracks in the foreground.
You can finally see how the plaza will meet the street on the north side of this emergency exit tower (which will be converted to a regular entrance/exit)
Thanks for all the hard work out there, Cold Safety-Line Dudes. (I'm glad that my job does not require safety lines...)
Looking northeast from the ballpark site (Source: LP)
Here is one of the concept drawings referenced (but not shown) in the MPR story (conceptual ballpark at left, LRT tracks switched to the north half of the Fifth Street bridge, which is actually in all of the long-range plans).
Flagpole historian Ben McEvers at far right (click for the full photo set, graciously loaned to this site by Pat Backen)
Limestone will cover this pretty soon, but for now you can see where the escalator is.
Workers against green
The sign reads, "Mortenson Radio Channels".
Waiting for a train. Reading on the promenade. How urbane.
TC caps everywhere! (Is that you?)
Just so you have a reference, this is an LD ("low def") scoreboard (inset is what the controller probably looks like).
It was in and then quickly out of his glove. You gotta make that play.