If at first you don’t succeed, manage again

Ron Gardenhire is a rarity.

For those of you who may not know, Gardenhire is the manager of the Minnesota Twins. Yesterday, Gardenhire removed pitcher Kevin Slowey after seven no-hit innings against the Athletics.

The fans were not happy.

They booed when Jon Rauch entered from the bullpen to start the 8th inning and they booed louder when a one-out double broke up the no-hitter. They were not pleased when Oakland scored a pair of runs. Most, but not all, was forgiven when Minnesota won the game, 4-2.

But Ron Gardenhire didn’t care. Might I remind you that Ron Gardenhire is a rarity.

“I’d be booing, too,” Gardenhire told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “I want to see a no-hitter myself, but I also know that I’m responsible for this young man’s arm, and we were going to protect him no matter what.”

Slowey had missed his last start because of elbow tendonitis and yesterday he needed 106 pitches to get through seven innings.

“I’m not going to let him throw 125-130 pitches; it’s just not going to happen,” Gardenhire said. “If he went back out for one more inning, he’d probably be around 115-120 and be done anyway. There’s no way he was going to finish. He’s got too big of a career ahead of him.”

“I was a little disappointed,” Slowey said. “I don’t think it would be possible not to be a little bit disappointed, but I think more than anything I was encouraged. I was encouraged by the fact that Gardy and Andy care a lot more about me as a person and as a pitcher in the long run than they do about winning one game or having one accomplishment. I think that says a lot about them and a lot about our organization.”

While that statement is true and, in part, is what makes Gardenhire special, it is still not what makes Gardy a rarity.

Gardenhire is in his ninth season managing the Twins. Nine years managing any ballclub is remarkable. The 21 years that Bobby Cox has managed the Braves is even more remarkable. Coincidentally, Joe Christensen, the great beat reporter in the Star-Tribune points out that the last major league pitcher to leave a start after seven no-hit innings was Atlanta’s Damian Moss on May 3, 2002. Moss walked seven batters and had 116 pitches when manager Bobby Cox turned to his bullpen.

“I wanted to see him throw a no-hitter worse than you guys,” Cox told reporters that night. “I think he’d rather have a good arm next year rather than a no-hitter.”

Cox is a Hall-of-Fame manager, but he is not the rarity that Gardenhire is.

Ron Gardenhire is a rarity because he is a successful first-time big league manager. There are not many of them.

Cox managed the Braves and the Jays before. Before Joe Torre was a “genius” with the Yankees, he cut his teeth with the Cardinals, Braves and Mets. Joe Girardi was the Marlins manager before he led the Yanks to the title. Terry Francona barely got out of Philadelphia alive. Before Philly, Charlie Manuel was in Cleveland. Before Cleveland, Manny Acta was in Washington. Before Washington Jim Riggleman was in Seattle, San Diego, and in Chicago at Wrigley. Before Chicago, Lou Pinella managed the Rays, Yanks, Mariners and Reds. Before Cincinnati, Dusty Baker managed the Cubs and Giants. Before San Francisco, Bruce Bochy managed in San Diego, where currently Buddy Black is also a rarity.

So why does the managerial merry-go-round go round and round? It seems as if most managers need some seasoning in the majors before they can succeed elsewhere.

Take a look at the managers fired this season:

Seattle Mariners – Don Wakamatsu

Arizona Diamondbacks – A.J. Hinch

Florida Marlins – Fredi Gonzalez

Baltimore Orioles – Dave Trembley

Kansas City Royals – Trey Hillman

Every one of them was a first-time manager.

Take a look at the managers fired last season:

Cleveland Indians – Eric Wedge

Houston Astros – Cecil Cooper

Washington Nationals  – Manny Acta

Arizona Diamondbacks – Bob Melvin

Colorado Rockies – Clint Hurdle

Only Bob Melvin had managed previously.

Take a look at the managers fired in 2008:

Milwaukee Brewers – Ned Yost

Toronto Blue Jays – John Gibbons

Seattle Mariners – John McLaren

New York Mets – Willie Randolph

Every one of them was a first-time manager.

As Nick Cafardo pointed out in yesterday’s Boston Globe, the Mariners, Marlins, Braves, Cubs, Blue Jays, and possibly Mets, Dodgers, Brewers, and Pirates will all be looking for new managers this offseason. Which means they are looking for someone ready for another spin on the merry-go-round, or someone like Ron Gardenhire: a rarity.