Detroit Tigers Newsletter: This time, Ron Gardenhire did the ejecting

Detroit Free Press

Hello, and welcome to another edition of the Detroit Tigers Newsletter.

In the end, we really shouldn’t be surprised Ron Gardenhire left a little early.

After all, he racked up 13 ejections while managing the Tigers — fifth in franchise history, as least as far as they’ve tracked these things down — in just 373 games, or about 3.5% of the time. (For comparison’s sake, Jim Leyland — who was known to tangle with an ump or two — was tossed 30 times in 1,297 times as a Tiger, or about 2.3% of his games.)

And before that, he’d been tossed 71 times (3.4%) in his 13 seasons and 2,107 games as Twins manager. In short, Gardy knew how to beat the traffic to the clubhouse buffet.

Of course, on Saturday, he didn’t wait for the umpire’s heave-ho; in case you missed it in all the Big Ten bluster and Lions lamenting, Gardenhire retired from managing about an hour before the Tigers took the field at Comerica Park. (The Freep’s Evan Petzold has the inside story on his final hours at Comerica Park here.)  He finished his Tigers tenure with a 132-241 record in three-ish seasons, which is better than you’d think for a guy who lost 114 games in one of those years.

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Unfortunately, that .354 winning percentage is the worst in franchise history, one percentage point behind Luis Pujols, who finished out the 2002 season with a 55-100 record. But we’re not going to hold that against him in the Newsletter-Cave. (Nor will the Freep’s Shawn Windsor, as you can read here.)

Gardenhire took over a team with the league’s worst record in 2017, and while they’re not quite out of the woods avoiding that particular ignominy — 7½ games up on the woeful Pirates with eight to play — the situation certainly seems less gloomy in the final week of the 2020 season. The rebuild still needs a few coats of paint and a kitchen that doesn’t catch fire every third day — please stop letting Joe Jimenez use the stove — but the roof mostly stopped leaking in mid-August and the toilet hasn’t backed up since the White Sox were in town. It’s a start. Thanks, Gardy.

So … now what?

So glad you asked, my trusty rhetorical device. First up, there’s the managerial search, which likely won’t kick into high gear until after the season. But we here in the Newsletter-Cave, in the interest of public service (and the occasional subscriber-only page view, which keeps a non-leaky roof over our heads), pulled together a list of some fellas general manager Al Avila might want to look into. Check it out here. (Subscriber-only, so, subscribe already!)

The good news, according to Leyland, is that the Tigers’ job might drum up a bit of demand in the baseball world, as he told Our Man Petzold. Click here to find out why Leyland says there are “guys waiting in line” for the job. (Subscribers only)

Who’s in charge now?

That would be Manager No. 40 in the Tigers’ 120-season history: Lloyd McClendon! The longtime Tigers coach (under Leyland, Brad Ausmus and Gardenhire) is off to a 1-1 start with the interim manager tag. McClendon has two previous stints as a big-league manager, with the Pirates and Mariners — so we know he knows what NOT to do. And sure enough, he’d like to be considered for the full-time gig: “Do I want to manage again? Obviously, yes,” McClendon said Saturday. “I would definitely have interest in this job.” Our Man Petzold breaks down the pros and cons of McClendon’s candidacy here.

There’s still a week left in the season, right?

Correct! Which means there’s a week left for the youngsters to make their case for playing time in 2021. Case in point: Shortstop Willi Castro, who is hitting .338 this month in extended playing time, thanks to injuries to infielders Niko Goodrum and Jonathan Schoop. In 74 September at-bats, Castro has 25 hits — and 24 strikeouts, which, uh, is very 2020. But Gardenhire is a big Castro believer, as he told Our Man Petzold here.

Candy break!

One guy that has already earned his roster spot for 2021: Jeimer Candelario, who has hit .339 with 21 extra-base hits since the start of August. Our Man Petzold got Tigers hitting coach Joe Vavra to break down what Candelario is doing right this season here.

Paging the ‘raging bull’

We’re also going to miss Gardenhire’s way with words, like how he described swingman Daniel Norris as “a raging bull” out of the bullpen. In 10 relief appearances, covering 23 innings, Norris has 25 strikeouts and only four walks. Will he be a starter or a reliever next season? Gardenhire has some thoughts, which he relayed to Our Man Petzold here.

Happy Anniversary, Mr. Tiger!

Friday is the 65th anniversary of the day that Al Kaline, who died in April at age 85, became the youngest player to win a batting title, at 20 years and 280 days. Kaline, who would later be nicknamed “Mr. Tiger” and spend more than six decades with the organization, finished the 1955 season with a .340 average, 21 points higher than the next closest hitter. What should have been a triumph though, in just his second season in the majors, ended up chasing him his entire career: “The worst thing that happened to me in the big leagues was the start I had. This put the pressure on me,” Kaline told Sports Illustrated nearly a decade after his achievement. Click here to find out why.

Tigers birthdays: Cecil Fielder (57 on Monday), Aurelio Lopez (Would have been 73, died in 1992), Joba Chamberlain (35 on Wednesday), Nate Cornejo (41 on Thursday).

Mark your calendar

It’s a short week for the Tigers, who finish up with two games in Minnesota (both 7:40 starts) and four games in Kansas City (two 8:10 starts, a 7:10 go-time on Saturday and then the season finale at 3:10 Sunday). The Tigers’ road to the playoffs is pretty narrow; they enter Monday 4½ games out of the second wild-card spot, meaning they probably need to win out — and get some help in the form of losses from the Blue Jays, Astros, Mariners, Orioles and Angels. And if all that happens, they may still have a doubleheader on Sept. 28 against the St. Louis Cardinals, who are just one game ahead of the Reds and Brewers in the NL Central and wild-card races. Did we mention the Cards and Brewers finish things off with a FIVE-game set in St. Louis (with the Brewers acting as the home team in Game 1 of Friday’s doubleheader)? So, uh, it’s complicated.

TL;DR

The official reason for Gardenhire’s retirement was health concerns, but maybe he was just tired of trying to figure out the scenarios in which the Tigers and Cards get that doubleheader in. We feel you, Gardy.

Contact Ryan Ford at rford@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @theford.

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