Last Friday night, the Twins played the Red Sox on Fox Sports Net, and many of us got our first chance to see the 2013 Twins in action. Mike Pelfrey was on the mound for the Twins. In the bottom of the first, the first time I'd seen the team play defense, there were runners on first and second, and Jonny Gomes hit a comebacker straight to Pelfrey. The runners were moving with the pitch, so when Pelfrey caught the ball, somebody needed to tell him where to throw: first base.
Nobody said a word. Pelfrey whirled around and threw to second base to try to start a double play, but his throw was too late to catch Ryan Sweeney sliding into second, and everyone was safe. Gardenhire said he took his fielders aside in the dugout to remind them what to say.
Saturday, Joe Benson and Darin Mastroianni converged on a routine fly ball, but failed to call it, and the two ran together and the ball fell safely. Gardenhire pronounced himself unhappy, and told reporters that the team had been practicing these fundamentals.
Said Gardenhire: "A thousand times we've talked about it."
I never worry that Gardenhire doesn't have an idea of how he wants his team to play. I also don't necessarily fault Gardenhire for the team's 90-plus loss seasons the past two years, because in some cases, there was almost nothing he could do. It wasn't his fault that the 2011 Twins all got hurt. It wasn't his fault that the 2012 starting rotation fell apart, first in stages and then all at once, until he was left with nothing but a bunch of replacement-level starting pitchers who were regularly getting bombed out of the game in the fourth inning. All of that is relatively uncontrollable, for a manager, near as I can tell.
What has me much more worried about Gardenhire's future is how defensive blunders, like the two that happened in Friday and Saturday's games, have become routine for the Twins. Gardenhire's teams have not been good on defense for several years now. I'm not talking about physical limitations here - nobody expects Chris Parmelee to cover the same ground in right field as Ben Revere, for example. I'm not even talking about physical mistakes, because throws are going to sail and pitches are going to bounce and sometimes an unexpected hop is going to bounce out of a glove, and that's baseball and there's nothing to be done about that.
What I am talking about is the number of times a cutoff man gets missed. Or a player throws to the wrong base. Or a base doesn't get covered. Or a rundown gets screwed up. Or a bunt doesn't get laid down. And after the game, Gardenhire always seems to tell the media, "We've talked about this a thousand times, they just have to make the play."
It worries me because, somehow, that message isn't getting through.
I can't say how it's not getting through. I don't know whether players don't know what's expected of them. I don't know whether players have tuned him out. I don't know whether coaches are missing out on fundamentals at some point in the organizational structure. I don't know whether Gardenhire is having trouble motivating the players, or relating to them, or whatever. I don't know the details of the situation, and where the broken link is, and how to fix it.
I acknowledge that managing people at my job and on a baseball field are in no way the same, and the following comparison may be spurious or just plain wrong. But I've managed people, and when people who work for me screw up, then somehow I'm not setting that person up to succeed. Somehow, my message of how I want the job done isn't getting communicated correctly, and it's causing failure, not success.
I'm confident that Ron Gardenhire knows how to win baseball games, because he has won a lot of baseball games as a manager. But somehow, he can't seem to communicate that to his guys, and the result is pitchers throwing to the wrong base and outfielders forgetting to call fly balls.
And Gardenhire says, "We've talked about this a thousand times."
And the rest of us wonder: Gardy, then why doesn't anyone seem to hear you?