Published Aug. 10, 2019
He was never expected to be the skipper when the Tigers would again see the light of day. He wasn’t hired to guide the team through the darkness and still be in the dugout when the dawn of a new era of pennant contention descended on Detroit.
Ron Gardenhire was always going to be the Tigers’ transitional guy.
He was hired to be today’s Tigers’ version of Ralph Houk, who so ably navigated the team through a painful makeover from 1974-78. Remove Mark Fidrych’s magical 1976 season, and those five years would have mostly been unwatchable.
But Houk, who took over after a 1973 season that was filled with drama and the firing of manager Billy Martin, earned his Tiger stripes. He was the Major, after all.
Houk calmed down a volatile clubhouse and was the perfect leader for a mix of aging veterans and young whippersnappers.
A dugout lifer
Gardenhire, wise in baseball, knew what he was signing up for when he agreed to manage the Tigers in October 2017. He was no bench coach, as he had been for the Arizona Diamondbacks in ’17. That wasn’t for him, but it got him back into a big league dugout. Gardy was a manager, and that’s what he wanted to do–no matter the situation.
For some men, once they get a taste of big league managing, it never leaves their mouth. They thirst for it. Gardy knew the Tigers were nowhere near being a respectable baseball team when he signed on. But that was OK. He was a manager. And with the Tigers, he would manage again. That’s all that mattered.
Now it’s time to move on.
The Tigers only gave Gardy a three-year deal, which for a manager of his experience is a bit on the chintzy side. But it was reflective on the state of the team. If the Tigers wanted to buy him out, it would be much more palatable to do so if only one year remained on the contract. Like there is after the 2019 season mercifully comes to a close.
The Tigers, the way I see it, will be entering the next phase of their rebuild in 2020. We should expect to see, at least by September of 2020, several more of the kids of the future wearing the Old English D. A few may even be on the Opening Day roster. Regardless, it’s the next phase. In any rebuild, sooner or later you have to you-know-what or get off the pot, and 2020 should be that year in Detroit.
Time for change
A new man should be in the dugout, skippering the Tigers in 2020.
I’m usually not a “fire the coach” kind of a guy, but this would be different. Yes, it would technically be a firing. The Tigers would buy out the remaining year of Gardy’s deal and thank him. At his age and with too many 90-plus loss seasons on his resume, it likely will be his last MLB managing gig.
But this wouldn’t be a firing with malice. There would be no tipping point; no straw that broke the camel’s back.
But it would be time.
The indictment, if you want one, would be the abhorrent lack of fundamentals, despite Gardy’s promise to the contrary when he was hired.
But it’s not about finger pointing now. It’s about the next phase of the rebuild needing a new hand at the wheel.
Gardenhire did, for the most part, what he was hired to do. He settled down the clubhouse, as Ralph Houk did in 1974, following a rather ugly exit by predecessor Brad Ausmus, that was reportedly filled with insubordination and undermining by some players.
There hasn’t been a hint of turbulence with these Tigers. You only need to look back to earlier this week, when overpaid Orioles first baseman Chris Davis nearly got into a physical altercation with rookie manager Brandon Hyde in the dugout in Baltimore, to see how sideways these things can go when the won/lost record is crooked.
So Gardy gets high marks for running a tight ship, but not so much for the way the Tigers have played the game. And it can’t all be blamed on the youth.
The next man should be “the one”
Again, no time to look backward. The Tigers, in this next phase with a bunch of pieces that are deemed to be in Detroit when there is again light at the end of the tunnel, would be better served with a skipper who management believes can be the guy who will see the rebuild through.
Why bring Gardenhire back as a lame duck in 2020, to manage players who will surely outlast him as a Tiger?
I believe the next phase calls for a younger, more analytics-driven manager. He need not have managed in the big leagues before. Hell, he need not have managed in tee ball before.
This isn’t a call to go cheap. But the reality is that the Tigers’ current situation isn’t likely to attract anyone with an impressive big league resume anyway.
The next phase needs to begin with not only new players, but a new manager. Gardenhire was the transitional guy. The next man ought to be seen as the manager of the future—the one who the Tigers’ brass feels could be in the dugout when the team plays its next playoff game. Don’t snicker.
I don’t have names now. But I wouldn’t go the Doug Mientkiewicz route, necessarily. Mientkiewicz, the manager of the Tigers’ Triple-A affiliate in Toledo, is just fine in northern Ohio, leading the Tigers of tomorrow. He should stay put.
It’s not my job, anyway, to find the next Tigers manager. But I must admit that we bloggers do really well at suggesting there should be change, don’t we?
Ron Gardenhire was never going to be the manager of the Tigers when they were good again. So why bring him back for a third year, when the players who are expected to be winners, are beginning to slip on their big league unis?
Best to spend the offseason finding the man who will see this thing through.