Gardy, TK Are Tough To Compare


Now that Minnesota Twins fans have had nearly a week to get over yet another disappointing postseason finish, the cries for the firing of manager Ron Gardenhire – who is still my pick for AL Manager of the Year – appear to have quieted to more of a mumble.

Tom Kelly
Tom Kelly won a pair of titles as Twins manager. He also had the good fortune of not having to deal with the current Yankees.

Occasionally, I’ve heard people – many of whom are friends – in the last few days try to compare these Twins to those 1987 and 1991 squads that brought so much joy to fans in the upper Midwest. Was this year’s team lacking a Kirby Puckett or a Frank Viola or a Jack Morris? Yes. Do these playoff struggles prove that Tom Kelly was a superior manager to Gardy? Maybe. But to think that it does is to ignore the fact that the late 1980s and early 1990s were a completely different era than today’s brand of baseball and its economics.

There’s no questioning TK’s success at the helm of the Twins, especially when he was given veteran players. Yes, young players during his later years wilted under his intense attention to detail. But veteran players seemed to thrive. And he took over a second-division team and turned them into champs in just one year in 1987. And he always had that same look on his face. The guy never smiled. And the image of him with that cigar in his mouth after getting his last contract as manager has always stuck with me. I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for the guy. Basically, he managed the Twins for the first 15  years that I was a fan of the team. I grew up knowing nothing but TK’s brand of baseball.

One of my favorite resources for baseball on the Web is the USA Today salary database, which is linked at the right. It stores all MLB salary information dating back to 1988, which was one year after the Twins’ first championship. Let’s take a look at 1988, for example.

The Yankees that year had the biggest payroll in MLB with about $18 million. Just like this year, the Twins were in the top half of baseball, ranking 11th with $12 million. It’s hard to believe 20 years ago that team payrolls were roughly 10 percent of what they are today, but they were.

Here’s some more numbers I put together, via The following are the New York Yankees’ winning percentages for the last 50 years, broken down into five-year increments (I know that’s a pretty arbitrary way to break it down, but whatever):

  • 1961-1965: 485 wins-324 losses, .599 winning percentage
  • 1966-1970: 398-408, .494
  • 1971-1975: 413-388, .515
  • 1976-1980: 489-317, .607
  • 1981-1985: 413-341, .548
  • 1986-1990: 405-403, .501
  • 1991-1995: 384-359, .517
  • 1996-2000: 487-322, .602
  • 2001-2005: 495-312, .613
  • 2006-2010: 498-332, .590

You can draw two conclusions here. 1. The Yankees have been a wildly successful franchise in the last 50 years and throughout their existence, really. 2. The last 15 years is the most dominant stretch they’ve had since the late 1940s through the early 1960s, when the Yankees went to the World Series 15 times in 18 years.

I don’t mean to use these numbers as an excuse, though by saying that probably suggests that, well, I guess I am making an excuse. Nor am I trying to diminish the team’s accomplishments from 1987 and 1991. They proved those two years to be the best team in baseball. I’m merely arguing now that doing so is much tougher.

Take 1987 again, for example. Here’s the Game 1 lineup the Detroit Tigers sent out against the Twins: 2B Whitaker, DH Madlock, LF Gibson, SS Trammell, RF Herndon, CF Lemon, 1B Evans, 3B Brookens, C Heath.

No offense to Alan Trammell – who was a Hall of Fame-caliber player – but if he were on the Yankees this year, it’s safe to say he hits in the bottom third of the order, not hitting clean-up.

I completely understand how frustrating the playoff struggles can be for Twins fans. But to compare the Twins of the 2000s to that of 1987 and 1991 simply doesn’t do Gardenhire or the team any justice. The Twins had great teams during that time, but they also had the good fortune of not having to deal with the Yankee Machine that exists today.

The Future Was Then

Does anyone else remember the “Turn Ahead the Clock” jerseys about 10 years ago? I found a picture of the Twins one while looking for a Tom Kelly photo.

As Adam Sandler used to say, “Who are the ad wizards who came up with this one?”