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Rounding third and heading home: Minnesota Twins third base coaches through the years

A lot of interesting figures have wind-milled and stop-signed baserunners for this franchise

MLB: APR 09 Mariners at Twins

For three summers in my younger days, I coached a youth baseball team with my Dad. He stationed himself at 1B while I was given the 3B coaching assignment. I quickly discovered that while he was making more decisions, mine came with far more scrutiny.

This year, Twins third base coach Tommy Watkins has been a talking point, what with a proclivity for aggressively sending runners home in close scenarios. Even notorious lead-foots—such as Miguel Sano & Gary Sanchez—have not escaped Watkins’ windmilling. This got me thinking about & researching Minnesota 3B coaches from years past. While by no means a comprehensive list, I found a lot of interesting figures inhabiting the hot corner coaching box…

In the inaugural 1961 season of Twins baseball, Floyd Baker was the first coach to trot out to that particular spot. As a former player, he was perhaps best known for his record-setting fewest home runs (1) in 2,000+ big league at-bats. From 1965-1969, the irascible Billy Martin made the big baserunning decisions before his promotion to the dugout’s top step in the summer of ’69.

Oakland, CA May 6, 1968 - Billy Martin, third base coach for the Minnesota Twins. (Roy H. Williams/Oakland Tribune) Published May 7, 1968
A rare smile from Billy Martin
Photo by MediaNews Group/Oakland Tribune via Getty Images

Tom Kelly was promoted —after some minor league coaching—to major league 3B coach in 1983, a position he held until ’86 when he became interim manager that September. Things turned out pretty well for TK from there. In 1991, he tabbed a svelte Ron Gardenhire for third base duties, which included waving Dan Gladden home on the final play of that season. Gardy would make the third base coaching box his quasi-home (’91-’01) before replacing Kelly and becoming one of the most successful and well-liked skippers in franchise history.

With two out in the first inning, the Twins David Ortiz slides into third base as Anaheim third baseman Troy Glaus tries to tag him out. Twins third base coach Ron Gardenhire , center, and umpire Eric Cooper, left, keep a close eye on the play. Ortiz’s
Gardy right on top of a close baserunning play

Gardy’s first choice for 3B traffic director? Former Twins utility player extraordinaire Al Newman (’02-’05). My overriding memory of Newmie: a penchant for aggressive sends, as parodied in this classic ad…

After a Gardy/Newman falling out, Scott “Send ‘Em In” Ullger (’06-’10) stepped into the role. As my nickname for him suggests, I recall him being more aggressive than cautious with baserunners. After a role switcheroo where Ullger went to bench coach, Steve “Stop Sign” Liddle moved from the bench to 3B (’11-’12). Again, as my moniker indicates, I distinctly remember Liddle being disinclined to send runners around.

Los Angeles Dodgers v Minnesota Twins
Liddle & Ullger have a little fun
Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images

I have very few recollections from the 3B coaching tenures of Joe Vavra (’13-’14), Gene Glynn (’15-’18), and Tony Diaz (’19-’20). This is likely due to the manager/coaching turnover in general during this period in Twins history. Not much traction anywhere.

All that catches us up to the present, with Tommy Watkins—after two years coaching 1B—often trying to squeeze as much action out of a play as possible. That isn’t a criticism—in fact, it might be a complement. Though I cannot recall the source, I remember reading that teams might be better served with a perpetually green traffic light at third. Fans criticize mistakes and ignore successes, by and large, which subconsciously leads to coaches playing it safe. But aggressive decisions put pressure on the defense and—despite leading to some snafus—are usually the correct call.

Do you have thoughts on Watkins this year, Twins 3B coaches in general, or personal experiences in the matter? This would be the place to share!