Ron Gardenhire was starting to take on the Susan Lucci role among American League managers: Always a runner-up, never an award winner. That run is now over.
After five second-place finishes for the AL Manager of the Year Award in an eight-year span, Gardenhire finally won the honor Wednesday. He earned 16 out of 28 first-place votes to beat out Rangers manager Ron Washington. Rays skipper Joe Maddon finished third, followed by Boston's Terry Francona, Toronto's Cito Gaston and Joe Girardi of the Yankees.
In the NL, Padres manager Bud Black beat Dusty Baker of the Reds by a single point.
Baseball writers have long considered Gardenhire a good guy. Now, finally, they honored him as a great manager.
"Not finishing second anymore, I think that's good," Gardenhire joked on a conference call. "We get that one off. Now, if we could only just whack the Yankees and beat the Yankees next year, we could get that one off. We're heading in the right direction."
He will have opportunities. Gardenhire will receive a two-year contract extension through 2013, and members of the team's coaching and training staffs have all agreed to two-year extensions through 2012, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, citing Twins officials, reported on Thursday. The Twins haven't commented publicly on the report.
Gardenhire led the Twins to a 94-68 record and their sixth American League Central title in the past nine seasons since he took over as manager in 2002. With expectations raised as the Twins moved into their new outdoor ballpark, Target Field, and a payroll that reached near the $100 million mark for the first time in franchise history in '10, the skipper seemed to be presented with more challenges than he had seen in any previous season with the club.
First came the loss of four-time All-Star closer Joe Nathan in Spring Training. Then came the slow offensive start to the season by catcher and reigning AL MVP Joe Mauer, who was plagued by some minor injuries throughout the first half. And then there was the concussion that All-Star first baseman Justin Morneau suffered on July 7 in a game in Toronto that kept him out for the rest of the season and the postseason.
Yet no matter what problem seemed to arise, Gardenhire managed to keep his club focused on its goal -- winning another championship.
"Losing your closer in early Spring Training doesn't help," Gardenhire said. "That's not a great way to start a season and then losing Morneau halfway through. We battled through it pretty good. It's about the same every year. You're going to have up and downs, and you're going to have some challenging moments.
AL MANAGER OF THE YEAR VOTING
Results of the American League Manager of the Year voting, revealed on Wednesday. Points are tabulated on a 5-3-1 basis.
Ron Gardenhire, Twins
Ron Washington, Rangers
Joe Maddon, Rays
Terry Francona, Red Sox
Cito Gaston, Blue Jays
Joe Girardi, Yankees
"But as far as managing goes, it was about the same. We battled through some things, and you just have to find a way to get it done."
Gardenhire remodeled his bullpen and patched together his lineup through various injuries throughout the year. He stuck by players who at times had struggled, such as Delmon Young and Jesse Crain, and watched them emerge as key contributors in 2010. He also helped with the emergence of rookie third baseman Danny Valencia, and Jim Thome credited the skipper with helping him to have a resurgent season by managing his playing time well.
So perhaps it was only fitting that Gardenhire picked up career win No. 800 when the Twins clinched their division title on the night of Sept. 21.
"He is an upbeat, popular manager with his players," said Twins general manager Bill Smith. "He's been everything we would ever hope for. ... When you lose a closer and you lose your MVP first baseman, it's not an easy thing and there is never a complaint. That's the thing that amazes me is there is never a complaint from him. He always says no one is going to feel sorry for us, we've got to go play the game. He gets his guys ready to play. This organization has been the beneficiary."
Gardenhire was named the AL Manager of the Year by the Sporting News earlier this fall, an award that was voted on by his peers.
"Ron did a great job," Washington told reporters on Wednesday. "They lost two big pieces, and he kept his team going. They played solid baseball, they really did."
But his players have commended him as well. Thome, who has played under a number of managers throughout his 20-year big league career, said at the end of last season that he appreciated Gardenhire's managing style.
"I think he's done a great job of handling his players, and I think to be a good manager, that's key," Thome said. "You have to know each personality, and he does that. I think he knows everybody from top to bottom, and he does a great job with the on-field stuff, too. ... I've had good ones, and he's right up there, definitely, at the top of the list. It's definitely been a pleasure to play for him, that's for sure."
Gardenhire's previous five second-place finishes are the most by an AL manager, although four-time Manager of the Year Award winner Tony La Russa holds the record for most second-place finishes. Last year, La Russa was runner-up in the voting for NL Manager of the Year, marking his sixth time.
But after so many times of finishing just short of the honored award, Gardenhire is now among the elite group of Manager of the Year winners. And after years of being a so-called bridesmaid in the voting for the honor, Gardenhire has now deservedly earned the spotlight all to himself.
"It's exciting to have," Gardenhire said, "and I really need to thank the writers for this award and thinking about me. They've been very kind and very fair to me over the years. When you're named in this award, whether you finish second [or first], it's an honor. A lot of things go into it, like the team and the whole package, but for me, it's pretty neat. To have your name mentioned up there with the great managers, actually, that is pretty neat."
Kelly Thesier and Jason Beck are reporters for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.