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 3037 found on this site. Click the image to be taken to the original post. A new list is created every 10 minutes.
Solution for a hot night, just inside Gate 34 (that's a cool mist, by the way, not hot steam, which would be kind of cruel)
From the TV camera platform -- the view you'll see on TV
Good seats, but no scoreboard or sky.
A close-up of the rooftop party deck.
Banners on the parking ramp are a great touch. They help manage scale and turn a lemon into lemonade. On my way there today I passed the WCCO building and remembered how the Twins schedule used to be painted in giant form on the side of that building (which is no longer visible). Wouldn't that be a great thing to resurrect on the side of that ramp? A giant Twins schedule. I always thought that was cool.
They can put a camera just about anywhere. (Photo by Jeff Ewer)
This is the LRT path looking from the ballpark site (behind me) toward downtown. The line currently ends about two blocks up this street. This bridge over I-394 is also being partially rebuilt as part of the ballpark project.
Someone please get those poor people a drink of water. (Gate 34, after the game had started)
For those who have never seen it up close, that's what it looks like when steam comes out of the HERC plant.
Stairs down to the sidewalk from the skywalk over Seventh
The reverse angle shows that the signage will only partially obscure views from the top of the ramp. The wall is pretty high up there, so you'll need something to stand on, but it appears that this is one of the so-called "knotholes".
The right field foul pole seen against a backdrop of Butler Square (itself a site of great significance in the history of professional baseball in Minneapolis)
The lot within the lot.
Now looking north, the tracks emerge from beneath Seventh Street as freight tracks only. The Northstar line ends at the northwest corner of the ballpark. One day, however, you can bet that other passenger trains will approach from the southwest metro on these tracks -- if our legislators are smart and persistent, that is.
This is what it looked like during the first open house in March.
Life in the shadows
Plaza extension reaches toward First Avenue
Trampled, repaired, and re-trampled grass
Nathan greeting the other pitchers on the all-Metrodome team (October 4, 2009)
The renderings and concept model differ here. MOJO thinks this is the perfect place for a party deck. Dave St. Peter seemed to agree!
Bag checking at Ball Park Lanes was incredibly simple, as was the pick up later. The line was short and fast-moving.
Greatest spot in the city for cooking up some hot dogs. And would you kill for that grill?
Perhaps these very bold, Hitchcockian birds picking at left-over popcorn and peanuts were portents of what was to come.
Click to see the full-size image.
Scoreboard as viewed from Fifth Street.
We took refuge for a time in the Twins Pub where you can drink a beer (or just hang out) and listen to some ballpark tunes. The organ is decorated with a TC (of course) and what looked like drawings which Sue has received from kids.
The entry from the platform to the ballpark.
Spring of 1982 (click to enlarge greatly -- can you pick out Kent Hrbek?)