Ron Gardenhire is retiring as Tigers’ manager, effective immediately, GM Al Avila announced today (via Chris McCosky of the Detroit News). Bench coach Lloyd McClendon will take over the manager’s chair for the remainder of the season, per Bob Nightengale of USA Today. Gardenhire intended to step away from the sport at the end of the 2020 season, he informed reporters (via Evan Woodbery of MLive), but a recent bout with food poisoning contributed to his decision to make the move a week and a half early.
“This is a bittersweet day for myself and my family,” Gardenhire said in a press release. “I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the countless players and coaches that I’ve had the honor of working alongside for the last 16 seasons as manager. I’d also like to thank the Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins for giving me the privilege of leading their clubhouses. While I’m stepping away from managing, I’ll be watching this group of Tigers closely in the next few years. There’s a lot of talent on this team, and a lot coming through the farm system. Tigers fans are going to enjoy the exciting times on the horizon.”
The 62-year-old leaves the sport as one of its most successful managers in recent memory. As he alluded to in his statement, he first broke into managing in Minnesota back in 2002. Those Twins teams immediately rattled off a trio of 90-plus win seasons, winning the AL Central each of those years. Gardenhire’s clubs posted above-average records in eight of his first nine seasons at the helm.
Along the way, Minnesota broke in a handful of the game’s brightest stars. Franchise icon Joe Mauer made his MLB debut in 2004 and was named AL MVP five years later. Johan Santana, meanwhile, blossomed into a perennial Cy Young contender during the mid-2000’s, claiming the award twice.
Bright as things were in the early portion of Gardenhire’s Minnesota tenure, they went off the rails rather quickly. The Twins never won more than 70 games in any season from 2011-14. The club fired Gardenhire after the 2014 season, ending his tenure as the second-winningest manager in franchise history.
Somewhat surprisingly, Gardenhire remerged after a three-year hiatus, getting the Tigers’ managerial job in advance of the 2018 season. Detroit has floundered through a trio of miserable seasons since, although that was always expected with the Tigers amidst a massive rebuild. Much more pressing than wins and losses, Gardenhire was tasked with shepherding Detroit’s young players to the big league level. This season, in particular, has seen the Tigers break a few top young players, including Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal, into the big leagues.
It’s always difficult to tell from the outside precisely how impactful a coach or manager was behind the scenes. Nevertheless, the well-respected Gardenhire drew plaudits in that regard from Avila. “I’d like to congratulate Gardy for having one of the best managerial careers in baseball history,” the GM said. “His leadership and hard work over three seasons with our ballclub has helped move us towards our goal of bringing winning baseball back to Detroit. His positive impact on our young players will be felt for years to come.”
All told, Gardenhire’s clubs compiled a 1200-1280 record. That .484 winning percentage, of course, somewhat reflects the difficult hand he was dealt over the past few seasons in Detroit. His 1200 managerial wins rank 46th in MLB history. MLBTR congratulates Gardenhire on a fantastic career and wishes him well in retirement.