Joe Posnanski
Tuesday September 2nd, 2008

Everyone already knows about the man-crush* I have on Twins manager Ron Gardenhire.

*I just popped on this Labor Day morning and noticed that brilliant reader Fran does not like the phrase man-crush, thinks that it's a divisive term that is really an attempt to distance ourselves, or a way to be cool and at the same time prevent people from thinking we're gay. I never thought of this before, and I'm not 100 percent sure that I agree with it. But just to be safe, let me clarify by saying that I have a real crush on Gardy. I love him, I looooove him, I luff him (two F's).

I base my feelings about Gardenhire entirely on what I call the Gardy Axiom.

The Twins, based on my outsiders view of the relative talents of their players and perennially low payroll, should stink. The Twins do not stink. Gardy is a freaking genius.

Obviously this is a simplistic view, and people who follow the Twins in a much more involved and analytical way than I do can (and have) put together a long list of Gardy's flaws as a manager. They have collected his bizarre philosophies in book and blog form. They have presented an airtight case that Gardenhire, in fact, does many inexplicable things like only use Joe Nathan for one inning and stick with Nick Punto through thick and thin and name an utterly obscure near beauty queen turned Alaska mayor-turned-Alaska governor his running mate. I suspect that if I watched Gardy manage baseball games every day, I would see those flaws myself and scoff at any outsiders who said glowing things about the man.*

*Of course, there might also be a little something to be gained from distance ... I think of Carlos Beltran. Watching him play every single day, it's hard not to think how much BETTER he could be. That's because you see him do amazing things on a fairly regular basis. And you wonder why he doesn't do those all the time. You see him run down an impossible-to-reach fly ball and you can start to think that he should catch every fly ball. You see him hit homers righty and lefty and you might think he should be able to hit them on command. You see him steal bases with such ease and success and you think he should steal 100 every year. And because of all that, he goes out and wins a Gold Glove in centerfield, scores 111 runs, drives in 109 runs, cracks 38 doubles, hits 25 homers, steals 23 bases, walks 90 times -- that's what he is on pace to do this year -- and the least impressed person in the house is the one who saw him play the most times.

Maybe Gardy is best appreciated from a distance too. Brilliant reader Justyo asks how many more games the Kansas City Royals would win with Gardy as the skipper all year instead of Trey Hillman. Well, my first answer is: I have no idea. It might not be an impressive difference if you tried to match them up like that -- I mean maybe the Royals only win three more games or five or more games or seven or one, I don't really know. It doesn't really matter, either. When you're dreadful like the Royals, every extra victory really helps bring you closer to where you want to go and makes everyone (fans, players, employees, media members) feel just a little bit better about the direction of the team. The difference between 72 wins and 75 wins may not seem like very much but it's the difference between losing 90 games and and not losing 90, which is a real thing when you've been so bad for so long. I guess I'm saying that I have little doubt there would be a better feeling about the Kansas City Royals and a lot more hope around it if Gardy was manager.

Then, let me put it another way. You ask, "How many more games would the Royals win with Gardy as manager?" I feel very confident in saying: More.

I do believe, though, that there are certain hard-to-pinpoint and difficult-to-calculate things a good manager can do to help a team win. One of the best managers I ever wrote about on a regular basis was Davey Johnson in Cincinnati in 1994 and, especially, 1995. I couldn't tell you precisely what Davey did so well ... I saw it in bits and pieces. You could just see how relaxed the players were, how confident they were even after a couple of losses. He seemed to rest guys just when they needed it, he moved around his lineup without irritating the players, he kept everyone in the bullpen busy and somewhat contented. He allowed players to hit their way through slumps and pitch their way through rough patches, but he also did not hesitate to make changes when they had to be made. He gave stars enough respect that they played hard for him, but he also gave the backups the feeling that he believed in them and expected them to come through. The Reds played aggressively (led the National League in stolen bases and doubles) and yet they played patiently too (third in the league in walks). They had pretty good starting pitching and pretty good relief pitching without any real stars.

The Reds struggled the year Davey took the job, and they were lousy the years after he left, but those two full years (even with the astonishing management team of Crazy Jim Bowden and the unsinkable Marge Schott), they played at about a 95-win pace, and they finished first in their division twice (1994 was the strike, of course, so there were no playoffs). In the end, sure, the Reds won in '95 because Barry Larkin had a great year, Reggie Sanders had probably the best year of his not-unimpressive career, Benito Santiago was really good in part-time duty, Ron Gant had what might have been his best year over 119 games, Mark Lewis/Jerome Walton/Eddie Taubensee, these guys ALL had excellent years in that 150-200 at-bat level, pitcher Pete Schourek had easily the best season of his career, the bullpen with Jeff Brantley and Mike Jackson leading, mostly got the job done.

How much credit do you give Davey Johnson for all that? Well, I can't give you a win total. I can only tell you that I saw how it was the next year with the very nice but very baffled Ray Knight. Everything might have been different in Cincinnati if the Reds had someone else as manager.

So, I think, it goes with Gardy. Just to make the point: Look at the Minnesota Twins lineup against the New York Yankees. You can start with this (all this through Sunday's games):

-- The Yankees have a higher on-base percentage. -- The Yankees have a higher slugging percentage. -- The Yankees have 49 more home runs. -- The Yankees have more stolen bases and have been caught fewer times. -- The Yankees have the best hitter on either team, Alex Rodgriguez. -- The Yankees have six players with more than 250 at-bats with an OPS+ over 100. The Twins have three (four if you count Denard Span, who has 235 at-bats ... go ahead and count him). -- By Base Runs, the Yankees should have scored about 20 more runs than the Twins. -- By Runs Created, the Yankees should have scored about 15 more runs than the Twins. -- By salary differential, the Yankees ($137 million tied in hitters at start of year) should outscore the Twins ($38 million) about 3.6 to 1.

OK, going into Sunday, the Minnesota Twins had scored 39 more runs than the New York Yankees.

Now, you tell me: How is that possible? The Twins' outfield this year is mostly Delmon Young (96 OPS+), Carlos Gomez (71 OPS+ -- yikes!) and Michael Cuddyer (89 OPS+). They finally let go of third baseman Mike Lamb but not before he punched up a .233/.276/.322 in 236 at-bats. We all know about Mauer and Morneau, and they're really good, but other than those two and the aforementioned Span, nobody else on the team with even 100 at-bats has a .345 on-base percentage. The Yankees have EIGHT guys with at least a .345 OBP.

So how can the Twins possibly be outscoring the Yankees? Well, I can give you an answer in two words: Robinson Cano. No, thats not right, just kidding, it seems like every person on the Internet is blaming all of the Yankees problems on Cano, so I figured that I should just pile on. But obviously that's wrong, so no, you cannot blame the colossal failure of the New York Yankees on one Robinson Cano. It's a much bigger problem. The real reason the New York Yankees stink is because of ... Melky Cabrera.*

*WOW how bad a year is Melky Cabrera having? Historically bad. Put it this way: He has more than 400 at-bats and a sub-70 OPS+ (68 at last check). The last Yankees player to pull off that beautiful exacta: Alvaro Espinoza in 1990. Before that, it was Rafael Santana in 1988, Bobby Meacham in 1985 and Bucky Dent in 1979. That's impressive enough. But then you wonder: Who was the last player to pull off the double who was not some weak-hitting middle infielder? That would be third baseman Jerry Kenney in 1970. And the last Yankees outfielder to do it? That would be the ancient Wee Willie Keeler in aught-7 when after years of hitting them where they ain't, he started hitting them were they is (.234/.265/.255 ? seven extra base hits in 423 at-bats).

No, it's not all Cabrera either. It seems to me, looking over the numbers, it comes down to these:

-- The Yankees have hit into 12 more double plays than Minnesota. -- Both are good about not striking out, but Twins strike out a little less. -- The Twins lead the league in triples; the Yankees are 11th.*

*That's the difference of 20 triples, which is not insignificant. But I had one scout who watches the Twins all the time say that while he would never go so far as to say that triples are BETTER than home runs (Royals manager Tony Muser and others have said this about doubles) that he does think that nothing energizes an offense and brings a lineup together like triples. I have NO idea if there's any truth to this, but it's a fun theory anyway.

-- BIG REASON: Twins hitting a ridiculous .313 with runners in scoring position. Yankees hitting a more human .260.

Inevitably, I suspect, it is this last one that really makes the difference ? the Twins have maintained that absurd average with runners in scoring position all year long. Now, I'm not going to tell you that I'm crediting Gardy for the Twins having such a great average with runners in scoring position -- even I'm not willing to go that far. That sort of average with RISP is a bit flukish and lucky and bordering on bizarre.

But I'm telling you, the guy has something to do with the mindset over there in Minnesota. As a friend of mine here in town says, all a baseball manager can really do is make sure that everyone is rowing in the same direction. That's one of the all-time "sounds simple, is hard" tasks in the world. I always thought Joe Torre deserved loads of credit in New York because in that circus environment, with icebergs everywhere, he kept the ship going full steam ahead. I've never hidden my impressions of Tony La Russa as a game manager or guy, but he too just keeps the ship going. I cannot say I appreciate the way Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scoscia champions small-ball, but that team plays with purpose.

And in Minnesota, from the lowest minors all the way up they play one way: The pitchers throw strikes, the outfielders are athletes, everyone plays defense and the rest figures to work itself out. That's an organizational philosophy, and it works. I would never say the Twins are winning BECAUSE of Gardy ? they are winning because Joe Mauer is a catcher with a .415 on-base percentage (with the MVP race in the AL being wide open -- shouldn't he be in the mix?), because Justin Morneau is having a better year than his MVP season (even if the core numbers done show it), because Joe Nathan is the best closer in baseball*, because the rotation does throw strikes, because Adam Everett and Alexei Casilla probably make up the best defensive keystone combo in baseball.

*OK, so I know some people who seem to be considering -- very seriously, I might add -- voting for K-Rod as the American League MVP. The guy has thrown 58 innings this year -- FIFTY EIGHT INNINGS -- and they're really thinking about it because of all the saves and whatever.

So, let me just get this out on the table right now ? and I say this with all due respect to the year K-Rod is having, hey 53 saves already, good on ya, mate. But ...

Um, picking K-Rod over JOE NATHAN just to close out the ninth would be a horrendous choice. Picking him as league MVP would be one of the all-timers. Don't do it. PLEASE ... just don't do it.

So, of course it's not Gardy. And let's be clear: I'm not saying that Gardy could take the South Euclid Softball team and win the American League Central with it (Now, the National League West is another story). And I'm not saying that's he's the most brilliant baseball mind or the greatest motivator or the soundest game manager. I don't know these things. All I am saying that Gardy is just a bang-beat, bell-ringing, big-hole, great-go, neck-or-nothing, rip-roarin', every-time-a-bullseye manager. That's Professor Gardenhire.

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