Ron Gardenhire knew what the gig was when he was hired to manager the Detroit Tigers before the 2018 season. The team was embarking on a teardown rebuild, they were going to stink for many, many years and they needed someone — anyone — who would (a) be able to instill some major league professionalism in players who, for the most part, had no business being in the major leagues; and (b) I dunno, be able to talk to Miguel Cabrera about what it used to be like when the Tigers were good.
For all of the losing the Tigers’ substandard roster has done these past two years, Gardnehire has certainly kept up his end of the bargain. The team is terrible, but there haven’t been any embarrassing episodes surrounding the team during his tenure. They don’t really play like big league ballplayers, but they usually carry themselves like big league ballplayers. He’s given the club everything they asked of him and probably more these past two seasons. He’s been the consummate pro.
“I go day to day, that’s all we ever do. I have a contract for next year. If they want me to come back next year, that’s fine. If they don’t want me to come back next year, so be it. I like it here. I signed a three-year contract, but that’s to be determined where they want to go and what they want to do. I enjoy this. I love this city. It’s been frustrating, so I understand either way.”
Some people may sense a lack of passion in those comments given there’s no cliche appeal to “wanting to see this thing through” or whatever managers of rebuilding ball clubs usually say. But I think it’s totally the right tone given his situation.
Gardenhire has been around a long time and he knows that if the Tigers are going to be a great team at the end of this rebuild, they’ll have likely moved on to another manager by then. Maybe I’m reading way too much into it, but the straightforward nature of his comments — I’d like to be back and would be happy to be back but if they don’t have me back that’s OK too — reflects part of what he’s been tasked with doing in keeping everyone and everything on an even keel.
If I run the Tigers I’d most definitely bring back Gardenhire. Even if they had a reincarnated John McGraw they’d still be losing well over 100 games this year. There is no person with whom they could replace Gardenhire who is going to turn this bad club into a good or even halfway decent club in the short term. In light of that, I’d want to keep Gardenhire around for at least another year or two. I’d want his calm, realistic, professionalism to serve as an example for a bunch of kids who might otherwise be freaking out or be overwhelmed.