Considering the circumstances, it was likely the best managing effort yet for Gardenhire. Regardless, he finished runner-up -- once again -- to another skipper in the American League Manager of the Year voting Wednesday.
Rays manager Joe Maddon won the award after leading Tampa Bay to the AL pennant one year after finishing with the worst record in the Majors. He garnered 27 of the 28 first-place votes on the ballots from the Baseball Writers' Association of America and received a total of 138 points.
Gardenhire finished second in the voting, receiving the only other first-place vote. He was second on 15 ballots and third on eight to finish with 58 points. Angels manager Mike Scioscia finished third in the balloting, earning a total of 45 points.
This season marks the fourth time that Gardenhire has been runner-up for the Manager of the Year Award since taking over as Twins skipper in 2002. He finished second in 2003, '04 and '06 and third in the voting in '02, his first season as manager. Only one other manager has finished second more times than Gardenhire. Four-time Manager of the Year Tony La Russa also has five runner-up finishes on his resume.
Although Gardenhire has not received an award to recognize his success as a manager, his peers have certainly taken notice of what he's done.
"He's winning every year, and nobody gives him any attention," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said back in September. "They say, 'Oh, Santana's not here, another guy's not here, they're going to be in last place.' And now look at where they are this year."
The Twins headed to Spring Training last February with many of the pundits picking them to finish in fourth or fifth in the division. Others may have seen a rebuilding season awaiting Minnesota, but Gardenhire never quite viewed it that way.
From the start of Spring Training, Gardenhire got his players to focus on what they had in their ballclub rather than the things that media and outsiders dwelled upon -- what they had lost.
"We talked about it a lot in spring and said, 'This is our baseball team right here and we're going to make a team out of this group,'" Gardenhire said earlier this season. "We stressed that we are going to have to figure out how to become a group and become winners -- together."
Minnesota struggled early, finishing with a 12-14 record in April. But it was the only losing month the ballclub would endure. Despite much adversity, including losing outfielder Michael Cuddyer and pitcher Pat Neshek for the majority of the year due to injuries and woes for their normally stoic bullpen, Gardenhire managed to keep his team near the top of the division race until the very end.
Gardenhire led his team to an 88-75 record, with its final loss coming in game No. 163, a one-game tiebreaker with the White Sox for the AL Central title at U.S. Cellular Field on Sept. 30. In his seven-year career as a manager, Gardenhire holds a 622-512 record for a .549 winning percentage.
Though 2008 might not have garnered Gardenhire an award, it has earned him a contract extension.
Although it has yet to be announced by the team, the Twins and Gardenhire have agreed on a two-year extension that will run through the 2011 season. The club is currently working on finishing up two-year deals with the rest of Gardenhire's coaching staff, and the skipper's extension will be announced when those are completed.