Tuesday, December 8, 2009

All-Time Twins Team: Manager

Every great team needs someone behind the scenes, and my All-Time Twins team is no exception. Tom Kelly is the all-time manager.

I have to admit that selecting Kelly has everything to do with 1987 and 1991. TK managed the Twins for 16 seasons and had a career winning percentage of .478. He averaged almost a fourth-place finish throughout his career, with seven of those seasons coming when the Twins competed in a five-team division (the other nine in a seven-team AL West Division). However, he skippered the Twins to two pennants and two World Series titles, and that warrants a spot overseeing this team.

Kelly was the Twins' third base coach when he was tapped to take over the club for the final 23 games of the 1986 season after the dismissal of Ray Miller. Selected by young GM Andy MacPhail to remain permanently in 1987, Kelly's Twins surprised the baseball world and won 85 games to capture the AL West Division, smoked the Detroit Tigers in the ALCS, and beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. The Twins were better record-wise in 1988 (91-71), but finished second to Oakland in the AL West, and dropped all the way to last place by 1990. In 1991, Kelly's team staged a repeat performance of 1987, winning 95 games and the division title, beating Toronto in the ALCS, and defeating Atlanta in an epic World Series. After five seasons at the help, Kelly had captured two world championships and cemented his legacy in Minnesota sports lore.

The Twins won 90 games in 1992, but then launched into a streak of eight-consecutive losing seasons - all under Kelly. Ownership decided to play budget baseball throughout this period of ineptitude, preferring to sign cheap veteran free agents to compliment a largely lousy core. When the team decided to go young in 1999, Kelly patiently suffered through two disastrous seasons in 1999 and 2000, but the seeds were planted to contend. The Twins did just that in 2001, winning 85 games and challenging Cleveland for the division title into the season's final month. Satisfied that the Twins were on the right path, Kelly retired as manager after the 2001 season at just 50 years of age. Ron Gardenhire took over and the Twins won the next three AL Central Division titles, and have won others in 2006 and 2009 with Kelly as a special advisor. Despite persistent rumors of his return, Kelly has stayed retired.

One cannot look past the 1,244 losses Kelly accumulated throughout his tenure. However, many of those losses were a reflection of the players he had. A manager's job is to get the most out of the players assembled for him. However, during much of the 1990s, Kelly was forced to develop players at the Major League level; essentially being an 'A' or 'AA' manager in a MLB uniform. Any manager, it doesn't matter who, will take his lumps in this situation, and Kelly certainly did during the eight-straight losing seasons.

It's hard to keep Gardenhire off the bench for this all-time team (five division titles in eight seasons, with one tie in addition). However, Kelly's two world championships carry the day.

Also Considered: Ron Gardenhire; Sam Mele; Billy Martin   

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