Kelly¬†is the Twins’ all-time winningest manager and one of only 58 to eclipse the 1,000 victory plateau (1,140). What’s more, just 23 skippers have led their teams to two or more Fall Classic victories, and TK is counted among them.
The 1991 American League Manager of the Year spoke with us last week to discuss Ron Gardenhire’s job stability, finding a suitable replacement for Greg Gagne at short, why comparing Aaron Hicks to Torii Hunter is a bad idea, whether the ’91 World Series was the¬†greatest ever and who is the best manager in the game today.
To you, the loyal and learned B&C reader, we offer an oar and proudly present Tom Kelly:
You managed the Twins from September ’86 through the 2001 season, and Ron Gardenhire, who was your third base coach has been in charge since. How does that consistency in approach help the organization, and even if the team takes a couple more years before they contend again, do you feel Gardy should ever fear for his job?
I think that Mr. Ryan, Mr. Smith and Mr. MacPhail, the Pohlad family, I think they look for some consistency in their business and what they do. I was fortunate, personally, to have won a couple times, so that sort of made my life a little bit¬†easier in that regard because we had some very tender years there, as well all know, in the ’90s. What Mr. Ryan has in mind and what his expectations are for this season, I’m not quite sure. If he thinks we’re going to win 65 games or 75 or 85 or 95, I’m not sure what he’s got in mind, so that’s pretty much his business. I know we’re projected out by people in Las Vegas, who know, for some reason, how they know I don’t know how they do this, but they’ve got us down for 68 (wins), so I would think we’d have to be somewhere in that area, I don’t know if we’re going to win more or less, it remains who’s going to stay healthy. You’re at the mercy of a lot of different things and scenarios that pop up, but again, what goes on between Mr. Gardenhire and Mr. Ryan is their business, not mine.
Many felt that this season was going to be a difficult one for the Twins, and though there’s a long way to go, I like the fight of this team. Give us your thoughts on this edition of the Minnesota Twins.
I think overall, there’s a good bunch of people down there. They work hard and try hard, that’s all part of it. I think most major league players do that, again, pitching is the name of the game. If you pitch well and catch the ball when you’re supposed to and then make a real good play every once in a while, I think you’re going to have a real good chance to win a ball game. That’s been philosophy for a long time, starting pitching is the life source and you’re pretty much at their mercy. The better starting pitching we have, the better we’re going to be in the long run. We’re trying to bridge the gap somewhat, between the younger fellows we have in the minor leagues, and hopefully they’re going to progress and be solid major legue pitchers in a few years, so been that’s in a¬†few years, so we’re going to have to bridge the gap between now and then and hopefully what we have in the rotation can get us to that point. Again, I’m not sure if that’s going to work out or not, but we have to probably do a little bit better on the starting end of the game if we’re going to be successful at all this year. I know we’re not pitching deep enough into the game, I think that’s well known, we all know that, but we did have a real good start by (P.J.) Walters last night (June 11 v. Philadelphia), he got into the eighth, which is obviously acceptable, and he gave the team a great chance to win. So, that’s what we’re looking for and that’s what we’re going to have to have if we’re going to be successful this year.
Since Greg Gagne’s departure following the 1992 season, the Twins have really struggled to find a suitable replacement. With the exception of Cristian Guzman, it’s been pretty bleak, what are your early impressions of Pedro Florimon?
I’m always a guy that wants to see a player do it for a couple of years in a row before I get too excited about anybody. Florimon, I think, has been okay. I think he’s played real good at times, and maybe not so good a couple games here and there. Do try to remember he is still a fairly young fellow (26), so there are going to be some mistakes as we go along, but I think he’s got a very strong throwing arm, I think he’s got excellent range, I think he puts up pretty competitive at-bats, I’m sure he’d probably like to improve that some, but he’s a viable player, there’s no question about that. I like him, I’d like to see him improve, keep on improving and working at his game, and he seems like he’s going to do that. I would anticipate him maybe securing that position here in the long run, again time will tell, and like I said earlier, I like to see guys do it for a couple of years before I get too excited about them, but he certainly has¬†a chance.
Every time Aaron Hicks makes an impressive play in center or hammers a homer, pundits bring up comparisons to Torii Hunter. What goes through your mind when you hear such a lofty comparison? Does that put undue pressure on Hicks? Shouldn’t they just let him play?
Yeah, that’s probably not good. He’s his own individual and he’s a young fellow, he obviously skipped AAA baseball and he’s going to feel the effects of that, as he has this season. He just needs to keep playing and improving, and unfortunately he’s gotten hurt here in the last few days and is going to miss some time, which is never a good thing, so we’re all a little disappointed about that and let’s hope he’s not gone too long and can get back playing on a regular basis, because the more he plays, I think the better he’ll be in the long run. Drawing comparisions, that’s something for the media people to do, players don’t really do those things really. I tried never to do that, with the understanding that he’s his own man and he’s going to have to learn the game and Torii spent, I can’t remember how many years in the minor leagues (7), where Aaron spent probably half as many (5), so drawing comparisons right now is a little rough, but again, there are some comparisions. They do some things similar in the outfield, they’re both obviously very talented outfielders, throw well with an awful lot of speed and can make some special plays out there, so in that regard they’re in similar situations, but again, Torii’s way ahead with the other ends of the game, that’s for sure.
Former Twins GM Andy MacPhail once said about having Kirby Puckett on his roster “It’s just blind luck and you’re blessed.‚ÄĚ How much easier was your job having a player like Puck batting third and playing center field?
It made it easy because you wrote his name down every day and didn’t have to worry about it too much and you knew he was going to put forth a real good effort and be a leader out there for you. The best part about it was he was the hardest worker, so it made life a lot easier for me, that’s for sure, when you’ve got your best player who gets there first and works the hardest, first one down there to work, it sure makes it easy to get your point across to the others, because your best player is doing it every day. Andy was right, it was a blessing to have Kirby Puckett, and we were all better for it, he made people around him better and certainly made for a wonderful attitude in the clubhouse, it was a great place to be in Minnesota for all those years. We were very fortunate to have that man with us.
Was the ‚Äė91 World Series the greatest ever played?
I pretty much leave those things to the historians of the game. I have to believe that it was right up there, whether it was one of the best, I’m not quite sure. I remember watching the Reds and the Red Sox in ’75, I thought that was a wonderful World Series, and ours with the Braves was certainly a wonderful World Series that went down to the last at-bat in a number of games. Again, the historians will decide. but I know it was awful, awful exciting with a lot of emotions built up for 10 days, it was quite a thing to go through and something you’ll always remember if you’re in the upper Midwest with great memories. Fortunately, we came out on top, not sure if the Braves didn’t deserve to win, as well, but again the scoreboard said we had one and they didn’t get any, so we’ll take it and be very proud of it.
A very underrated player from that championship team was right fielder Shane Mack. He was a career .309 batter for the Twins and had a .333 average when the strike hit in ‚Äô94 and headed for Japan. How good was Shane Mack?
Shane Mack was a work in progress when we got him, I think he benefitted from Kirby Puckett, I think Terry Crowley, our hitting coach, did a wonderful job with Shane. He gave him a couple different approaches to hitting and a couple different ideas, and make no mistake, Shane did the work. It was fun to watch him play and develop as a player, he was a pretty good outfielder with a pretty good throwing arm and he did a lot of things really well and I think he really flourished over here in Minnesota and I think the influence of Kirby Puckett and Terry Crowley really put Shane Mack on the map.
Many outside of Minnesota may not realize how you utilized all 25 players on your roster throughout the season so that when called upon in a clutch situation, they’d be prepared. Puckett, Kent Hbrek, Frank Viola and Jack Morris get a lot of credit for the Twins’ two championships, but can you explain how important role players like Gene Larkin, Al Newman and Randy Bush were to those titles?
I think most teams that end up winning have strong benches, people you can count on in certain situations to come through for you and do the job. You know, the 22nd, 23rd, 24th, 25th guy on your roster are very valuable people, utility players get to play quite often and you count on them to be ready to play when their name’s called. We tried to make sure they got their at-bats and when they did get their name called they were ready to go. Again, very professional-type people, Newman and Bush and Larkin, a lot of professional people and could handle the job of coming off the bench. They understood their role and always worked hard and were prepared for when their name was called, they were ready to put forth a good effort.
Who do you feel is the best manager in the game today?
Well, that varies. Who’s got the best pitching staff? That’s the manager who’s probably got the upper hand on things. I think managers, there are some good ones out there, there are some people that have different ideas than others, and again to each his own, I don’t know what’s¬†right or wrong, I just know certain ways¬†about what¬†I think are important, but may not be important to the next guy. Again, it’s a subjective game and people have their own ideas about it and who’s to say who’s right¬†and wrong? It comes down to players, especially starting pitching and usually the smartest manager’s got the best starting pitching and has a guy or two that can hit him a three-run homer.
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