Personalities of Gardenhire, Garner, Guillen, Tracy left impact
By Mike Bauman
It is time for Spring Training, the most conversational portion of the baseball calendar. There is time, there is access, it is a good season for speaking with other human beings.
With that in mind, here are the four former managers (in alphabetical order) I will most miss talking to and listening to in Spring Training 2016. Last year, there were five former managers on the list, but since then, the Nationals have hired Dusty Baker, so I already feel 25 percent better.
Gardenhire is a genuinely humorous fellow, and he won six American League Central titles in his first nine seasons as manager of the Twins. That's the daily double of managing right there.
Gardy was perfectly cast as the manager of the Twins, who were the small-market role models in the first decade of this century. He was without pretensions, and he relished the role of underdog achiever.
One Spring Training, very early in his managerial tenure, Gardenhire was chided by some writers for not playing enough "stars" in a road Grapefruit League game. "What am I managing, the Yankees?" Gardenhire vehemently responded. "We're the Minnesota Twins. We don't have stars."
Later on, they had stars. Gardenhire helped develop them.
In 2004, Braves star Chipper Jones named his son "Shea" in part because he hit so well at the Mets' home, Shea Stadium.
Gardenhire, formerly an infielder with the Mets over portions of five seasons, pondered that. "If I named my kid after a place I hit, I would have to call the kid 'Tidewater,'" Gardenhire said, referring to what was then the Mets' Triple-A franchise.
"Scrap Iron" hit .500 in the World Series for the Pirates when they won the 1979 Fall Classic, and he managed the Houston Astros to their only World Series appearance in 2005. Garner was a fierce competitor, a relentless seeker after a competitive edge, but that's not, in terms of this discussion, his most notable trait.
As a manager, Garner loved to engage the writers on all manner of topics. Baseball was primary, of course, but discussions with him also ran to the political, the social, even the spiritual. Garner was intelligent and well-informed. The phrase "staunch conservative" probably understates the case with him, but he respected all manner of opinions, as long as they could be supported in a lively debate.
There was also method to Garner's conversational tendencies. "As long as you guys are in the manager's office talking to me," he once told writers with a smile, "you're not out in the clubhouse creating trouble with the players."
Ozzie would say anything, sometimes to his own detriment. But nobody who knew Guillen underestimated how sharp he was. He managed the White Sox to a World Series championship, their first in 88 years, in 2005.
The vast majority of Guillen's comments to the media came in off-the-record form after his regular media session ended. He was funny, he was direct, he was incisive, he was occasionally, and probably purposefully, outrageous.
You never had difficulty determining Ozzie's position. "He's a garbage. He's always been a garbage. And he will die a garbage," was Ozzie's take on a Chicago writer for whom he had no use.
In 2012, Guillen was suspended as the Marlins' manager for five games for comments he made in a magazine article regarding Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. Guillen said in the article that he respected Castro because he had been able to stay in power so long.
Praising Castro in a city heavily populated by people who had fled Castro's Cuba was not the shrewdest statement of Ozzie's career. On the other hand, these comments didn't exactly threaten the march of Western civilization. And suspending Guillen for something he said effectively undercut his whole persona. It was no surprise when the 2012 season went badly for the Marlins and Guillen was dismissed.
"Trace" managed the Dodgers, the Pirates and the Rockies, and he won the National League Manager of the Year Award in 2009. Tracy took over Colorado in late May when it was 18-28. He managed the Rockies to a 74-42 record and a spot in the postseason.
The thing about Tracy from a writer's perspective was that his abiding love for baseball and his depth of knowledge of the game came through in the way he responded to questions. Some writers privately satirized the man because of the length of his answers. Thanking him would have been more appropriate.
Tracy, in good times and bad, responded to an intelligent question with not just an intelligent answer, but a heartfelt explanation. Thus, the answer almost invariably became better than the question. I always came away from these answers with a renewed feeling that baseball was really worth caring as deeply about it as I did. That's the way Tracy felt about it, and that was proof enough.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.