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Ron Gardenhire was one of six managers hired for the 2018 season—he took over the Tigers—and the veteran big league skipper is the outlier in the group.
At the age of 60, having managed 2,107 regular season major league games and guiding the Twins to six AL Central titles in 13 years, Gardenhire is the only one of the six to have ever managed a big league game.
Gardenhire is also the graybeard of the six. The Nationals’ Dave Martinez, 53, is the only other one of the six who will be older than 45 on Opening Day. Aaron Boone of the Yankees turned 45 on March 9. Mickey Callaway of the Mets turns 43 on May 13. Alex Cora of the Red Sox and Gabe Kapler of the Phillies are 42.
The last time Gardenhire was hired to manage, he was promoted after 11 years as the Twins’ third-base coach to replace Tom Kelly for the 2002 season, and the buzz in baseball was the hiring of an unproven manager.
This offseason, not only did five of the six teams hiring a manager opt for one with no big league experience, but Kapler—who managed Greenville of the low Class A South Atlantic League for the Red Sox in a 2007 break in his playing career—is the only one of the other five who even managed in the minor leagues.
Yes, things have changed—sort of.
Analytics is the buzzword in baseball, and teams say they are looking for managers who can grasp the computer printouts.
Gardenhire, the bench coach with the D-backs last year, smiled at the scenario. Last spring, he went through the biggest challenge of his life. Gardenhire was diagnosed with prostate cancer, which forced him to miss the first five weeks of the regular season and led to former big league manager Jerry Narron assuming bench coach duties to open the season.
“I wasn’t worried about anything (last spring) other than getting well,” Gardenhire said. “When you hear the word ‘cancer,’ that’s all you think about.”
All went well, and in May, Gardenhire was back on the D-backs’ bench, a chief lieutenant to first-year manager Torey Lovullo, who guided Arizona to an NL wild card and a berth in the NL Division Series against the Dodgers.
Now, Gardenhire is heading back to being the man in charge in the dugout with the Tigers, and he embraces what has become known as the era of analytics.
“Jerry (Narron) and I were talking last year about the fact this isn’t really new information—there is just more of it,” Gardenhire said. “I’m comfortable with the information. I used to have information on the lineup card that would help in decision-making. Now you get sheets of information. You look through it for what applies to that day’s game. It is good information, and it is fun to see it work.”
Most of all, Gardenhire said it is just fun to have a clean bill of health, be back in uniform and be given a second chance to manage. He admits that at the end of his 13-year run as manager of the Twins, following the 2014 season, he was ready for a break.
“We had (losing seasons) the last four years, and I was at the point where I wondered if my word was reaching players,” Gardenhire said. “I didn’t know what opportunity might come next. I was not actively trying to find a job.”
Two years later, though, at the recommendation of former Twins general manager Terry Ryan, Gardenhire hired an agent. He was ready to get back in uniform. Gardenhire interviewed for managerial jobs with the Padres and Nationals two years ago, and this offseason, he also interviewed with the Red Sox.
Now Gardenhire is ready for the next chapter of his career, back in the role of a manager, with Detroit.