I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion.
-Alexander the Great
Ron Gardenhire was not the sexy, trendy choice when the Detroit Tigers were on the search for a new manager this offseason. But, he was the absolute right choice. Sure there were younger,
unproven, more analytically-bent guys fans were clamoring for, but no one could take a dismantled roster and get the most out of them. When this rebuild was made official with the trade of Justin Verlander, you knew that the next guy they needed at the helm had to be a direction setter for a direction-less club.
This has shown itself time and again in Gardenhire’s discussions with the media, something a former manager that shall not be named was not good at. Gardenhire relates; he relates to the media, he relates to his players, and also, he relates to the fans. I mean, who doesn’t love a manager that willingly admits how shocked he was by the selection of alcohol in his local Meijer? If that isn’t akin to ol’ Jimmy Leyland sucking down a cig during a media interview, I don’t know what is.
Sure, fans suggested other names for the Tigers job: Gabe Kapler, Alex Cora, etc. And, some have even pointed to their “success” through the first month of the season as to why the Tigers made a mistake. However, given the teams guys like Cora, Boone, and Kapler took over, it’s not a fair comparison. Boone took over an offensive juggernaut, Cora possibly the best team in baseball, and the Phillies’ rebuild is old enough to drink legally — meaning they needed their guy. The Tigers were just getting started.
Enter Ron Gardenhire.
Sure, the Tigers currently sit 13-17 with a -6 run differential, and most of those wins are against equally sub-par teams, but through 30 games did you expect them to be this close to .500? Gardenhire has them playing baseball the right way, hustling around the bases, and competing. But truly, all you need to know about Ron Gardenhire and the perfect fit he is for Detroit is in this interview below:
— Bally Sports Detroit (@BallySportsDET) May 2, 2018
Let’s set the stage. In the rubber match with the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday, the Tigers were down in the latter third of the game 2-1. To lead off the bottom of the seventh, JaCoby Jones stayed hot ripping a line drive single to left field. With the eventual bunting hero of the game up next, Jones led off from first. Hicks put a charge into a ball that was medium depth left-center field and Jones went to make a play. He tagged from first but was thrown out by centerfielder Mallex Smith. Now, it’s understandable to chalk this up to “bad baserunning,” but the Tigers actually are second in the Major Leagues in BsR, at 4.7, which means they’re pretty good at running the bases, something we haven’t been able to say in recent years. So let’s think about this situation: Jones can make plays with his legs, there were no outs (except when the ball was caught by Smith), and James McCann was on deck — whose been swinging the stick well recently. So Jones tried to make a play. He was thrown out and McCann eventually hit a solo home run to tie the game; Jones would have been the winning run had he not tagged up. Now, how does Gardenhire respond?
“I hit him in the chest and I said keep playing, that’s all I care about, keep playing the game like that-that was effort and that’s all we’re after here, guys playing the game the right way”
It would have been very easy to berate Jones for taking a scoring opportunity away from the team, and possibly a win if John Hicks doesn’t bunt in the twelfth inning. But Gardy didn’t. Rather, he complimented the young outfielder on his hustle, his aggressiveness, his willingness to take chances. Gardenhire’s approach to this young team, only seven of the 31 players who have made an appearance for the Tigers are 30 years or older, is to teach them to play the game the right way — with all out abandon. To rebuild a culture that, let’s be honest, has grown stale over the last six years, this approach is a great start. Gardenhire is forward thinking enough to know how the process works, while integrating new school analytics, yet, old school enough to create a swagger and grittiness in a team that believes themselves to be dangerous — even in the first year of a rebuild.
The team seems to have taken on the attitude of their skipper as well. They are playing hard, leaving everything on the field, but also having fun. And, thirty games into the season, a season no one except for player’s mothers were looking forward to watching, the Tigers have actually been fun viewing. Most of the credit goes to the players who compete, but don’t forget the grey-haired man sitting at the top step of the dugout, who’s allowing them the freedom to have fun and at the same time playing that game the right way. The Gardenhire way.