Detroit – At 2 p.m. Saturday, Ron Gardenhire was on his daily Zoom meeting with the media, answering questions like it was just another day.
A couple of hours later, he informed general manager Al Avila that he was retiring – effective immediately.
“It started out as a pretty routine thing, just talking to Al,” said Gardenhire, 62, who was finishing up the third and final season of his three-year contract. “We talked about a few things and I just told him that I was going to retire.
“I’d thought about (doing it) at the end of the season, but with the way I’ve been feeling since the bout of food poisoning I had in Minnesota and stomach problems and the tension and the stress that goes along with this job – I told Al I will step out right now.”
Bench coach Lloyd McClendon will manage the team for the final 10 games of the season.
“I don’t want to put any pressure on Al or anyone else,” Gardenhire said. “It’s been wonderful here, but I also know I need to take care of myself. When you come to the ballpark and you are stressed out all the day and your hands are shaking, it’s not fun.
“I’ve got grandbabies, I’ve got kids to take care of and my wife – I just told Al I’m going to step back and take care of myself right now.”
Gardenhire went through the clubhouse, hugging and thanking his coaches and all the players. At about 4 p.m., Avila was on the field briefing McClendon.
“It’s a very sad day for us in the Tigers organization,” Avila said. “But for me, I’d like to congratulate Gardy on one of the best managerial careers in Major League Baseball history. His leadership and hard work over the last three seasons have put us in a position to get close to our goal of bringing winning baseball back to Detroit.”
Gardenhire’s last win with the Tigers – a 6-0 win over the Royals on Tuesday — was the 1,200th of his career. He was 1,068-1,039 in 13 seasons with the Twins and 132-241 with the Tigers, as he shepherded the early and brutal years of the Tigers’ rebuild.
“One of the best baseball men around, we are fortunate to have had Gardy lead our team for the past three years and during our rebuilding period,” said Tigers chairman and CEO Christopher Ilitch. “He has done a great job in shaping the future success I know our organization will see.”
Gardenhire didn’t come to the ballpark Saturday with the intention to retire. But at some point in his conversation with Avila, it became clear that his health issues were going to lead to his retirement at the end of the season regardless.
“I don’t want to feel like I’m running out on anybody,” he said. “But I know I have to take care of myself.”
The trembling hands, the constant stomach discomfort, it wasn’t abating.
“Being able to wear this uniform is special,” Gardenhire said. “The history of this uniform, of this franchise here is second to none. Getting a chance to manage the Detroit Tigers is nothing but special. Going in we knew it was going to be a rebuild. We knew there were going to be tough times.
“But through it all, all three years, the teams we’ve had here, they didn’t have all the talent other teams had, but we played. We really got after it and that’s a credit to my coaching staff.”
Gardenhire said he was proud that he and his staff maintained a positive and fun atmosphere in the clubhouse, despite all the losses.
“They played hard and they gave us everything they had,” he said. “The outcome wasn’t always great but through it all we had a great clubhouse every year I was here and that’s important.”
Interestingly, one of the happiest memories of his three years with the Tigers involved Victor Martinez, who retired after Gardenhire’s first season with the Tigers.
“For me, it was Victor Martinez getting an infield hit on his last at-bat,” he said. “Watching him run down the line, I still get chills. Seeing him smile like that meant everything in the world. It’s a moment I will never forget.
“I love that guy and I enjoyed managing him. And seeing him get an infield single to end his career I thought was about as good as it gets.”
Gardenhire said he plans to spend a lot of time with his family, especially his grandchildren, but mostly he’s going to look after his health.
“I appreciate baseball for everything it’s given me and my family,” he said, choking up. “It’s been a good career.”