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Bobby Valentine and Ron Gardenhire of the Twins both presided over 90-plus losses this season, yet the former is gone and the latter is an institution.
As part of SB Nation United, you're going to be seeing some new voices at Over the Monster, SBN "Designated Columnists" writing about issues both local and national. Think of them as guests in the community. We're beginning this week with Michael Bates, better known as one of the minds behind The Platoon Advantage.
Bobby Valentine and Ron Gardenhire of the Twins both presided over 90-plus losses this season, yet the former is gone and the latter is an institution. Before we ask if that is right or just another example of the general unfairness of things, let's take a step back and talk about what managers actually do and what they're worth: Chris Jaffe, of The Hardball Times, who literally wrote the book on managers, estimated in a chat on AZ Snake Pit that a good manager was probably worth a couple wins a season in a typical year. The tactical, in-game decisions aren't as difficult as Ron Washington would like you to believe they are.
But what about managing up to 40 vastly different personalities in a relatively small clubhouse almost every day over the course of seven or eight months? Think about how difficult that must be. How good would you be at telling players they had been traded or sent to the minor leagues? How would you deal with microphones in your face after a loss? How would you negotiate the occasionally competing demands of your bosses in the front office and the
pressures of the media, who have the platform to call you an idiot to millions of fans and tarnish your reputation? Jaffe speculates "that a manager can be worth more based on how he interacts with the team. In and of himself he isn't worth more than what I said above, but he can make a substantially larger impact than that. Get the right man in the right situation, and you can see a Billy Martin-esque improvement. Alternately, the wrong man in the wrong slot can kill a team."
In short, it's not knowing when to call for a bunt that's the hard part; being able to manage the people around you, both on the team and off, that requires rare skill. Maintaining order and peace in the clubhouse may not always translate to additional wins on the field, but it reduces pressure on the entire club stemming from fan and media angst and player unhappiness, pressure that can lead to bad decision-making on and off the field if it's allowed to build.
There's little doubt at this point, a day after the Red Sox fired Bobby Valentine, that he was Jaffe's wrong man in the wrong slot. Valentine proved to be abysmally incapable of handling the media and the personalities that were unique to Boston, and his increasingly aloof attitude as the Sox refused to pull out of their funk fed the circus he had helped create and allowed it to flourish without restraint. However, it's not clear that he actually killed the Red Sox this year. After all, Valentine didn't hurt Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury, or any of the other Red Sox who suffered injury after injury. He's not the guy who made formerly key pitchers underperform. In one sense, he's just the guy that was holding the reins of the stagecoach when all the horses died. That said, it's equally clear that Valentine did nothing to improve the situation, and in many cases actively made it worse by criticizing players and fostering a backbiting atmosphere in Boston, and his presence simply proved too humiliating and too
divisive for the club to keep him around.
Like his Red Sox counterpart, Ron Gardenhire didn't get Justin Morneau and Denard Span hurt. He's not in charge of the Twins' medical staff. He didn't refuse to upgrade the rotation or bullpen in the offseason either. But he did lose 99 and 96 games respectively over the last two seasons, so you'd think he might be on the hot seat. And yet in spite of the coaching shakeups in Minnesota, Gardenhire is in no danger of losing his job because he continues to
foster a positive atmosphere in the clubhouse. Players generally love playing for him and are far less likely to act out. And the Twins continue to excel at positive messaging in the face of terrible on-field performance. Part of that is because the media culture in the Twin Cities is different from places like Boston, New York, and Chicago, but it's also because the manager consistently refuses to provide negative stories for the local press to write about, aside from what's happening on the field.
This season may have proved disappointing and embarrassing to the Twins, but at least Gardenhire prevents it from becoming the travashamockery that Valentine didn't necessarily create, but absolutely fostered and played into. Managers like Valentine, Ozzie Guillen, and Tony LaRussa remind me of how good I have it as a Twins fan. Because while my club may have sucked this summer, at least I wasn't asked to care about a sniping, bitter, unlikable roster of malcontents, who bubbled to the surface under Valentine's failed stewardship. Or if I was, it was kept neatly under wraps. At least as the Twins didn't win, I didn't feel like I was the loser for following them.