Tigers new manager Ron Gardenhire addresses the media Wednesday in Orlando, Florida at Major League Baseball's winter meetings. Chris McCosky, The Detroit News
Orlando, Fla. — Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire sat down in front of the assembled media Wednesday morning, reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a crinkled sheet of paper.
“Let me get out my roster so I know who we have,” he said, amidst an explosion of laughter. “You think I’m kidding, too.”
He’s not. Gardenhire was hired on Oct. 19 and has since been in what for him must be an excruciating kind of limbo. Since the Tigers are in the initial stages of a full rebuilding project and the roster is in extreme flux, he’s not sure exactly who he’s going to be managing once the team gets to spring training.
So, other than reading scouting reports, looking at video and talking to the team’s front office, medical staff and analytics people, he hasn’t been able to put his hands on his team just yet. He hasn’t yet reached out and tried to contact any of his players.
“I will reach out,” he said. “I decided, rather than call some of the guys like Miguel Cabrera and those guys as soon as I got the job, I said I was going to wait until after these meetings and have a little bit better mindset on what we have here and what we’re trying to do.”
He doesn’t want his first conversation with his players to be empty or misleading. He wants to be able to answer all their questions and to convey exactly what he’s about and what his plans are.
“It’s a process that’s going to take some time here as far as getting to know everybody,” he said. “Spring training is going to be huge, and I will reach out to some of these guys. I don’t think I’ll have a problem. You’re talking about great baseball players.”
It won’t take long for the players to grasp what he’s about. He wears his compassion and competitiveness on his sleeve. A question came up on Tuesday about Shane Greene, whether it was necessary to keep him as the closer on a team that was rebuilding and expected to lose a lot of games.
“I’m not coming here just to lose,” he said. “And I don’t want the players to think that way, either. We’re going to prepare to win. Listen, when you are a competitor, like myself and my coaching staff, and I know the players are competitive — you aren’t going in thinking just do the best you can. That’s not going to happen.
“We are going to work our (butts) off to get ready for the season. We are going to prepare to win baseball games.”
It’s the only way he knows how to do it.
Here’s are a portion of Gardenhire’s 30-minute press conference.
■ Question: It’s been said that one of the advantages of managing a team that is rebuilding is you can be a little more creative and try different kinds of things with the roster because you are not necessarily competing for a championship. Do you buy into that?
■ Gardenhire: “The front office can experiment with different things, but when you’re managing a baseball team, I want them to come to the ballpark every day expecting to win. When you start developing players, it’s about developing winners. Finding out ways to win baseball games. That’s what we’re going to try to teach these guys — to play the game with respect but figure out ways to beat people.
“That’s the only way. There’s no other way for me to manage a baseball team without stepping in the dugout every day thinking we want to win this game today. I want the players to feel that way, too. I want that attitude.
■ Q. What reports have you gotten on Miguel Cabrera’s health?
■ Gardenhire: “He’s doing great. He’s working out down in Miami with a bunch of guys. I’ve had a lot of conversations with some of the staff here. Our belief is injuries and so forth kind of knocked him back a little bit last year, but this guy is one of the best players in the game. He’s going to come back with a vengeance, I believe.
“I believe he’s going to come back and do a lot of damage. I look forward to that because he killed me. He’s one of the reasons I had to get this job. He got me fired in the other one.”
■ Q. What have you been told about Victor Martinez’s health situation?
■ Gardenhire: “I’ll reach out to him once I leave here. He’s one of the guys I’ll call and see how he’s doing and get an update from him rather than hearing it from everyone else. I’ll talk to him and Miggy, too. I’ll call a lot of these guys up and check on them. You’re talking about another guy who’s a great hitter. I’ve watched him. I watched him kill us, too. It’s about getting him healthy and getting his legs underneath him, and getting him on board with what we’re going to try to do here.
“I know people are saying we’re going to really struggle, but when you have guys like this, if we can get them healthy and get them back on the field, we can do some things. You add those with some young kids, some very talented kids that we have, this could be a lot of fun. I’m not saying we’re going to shock the world or anything, but we could. That’s why you play the games.”
■ Q. How different is the job now versus how it was when you first did it?
■ Gardenhire: “The game’s changed a lot. Obviously, the analytics and everything. You watch the World Series, and you watch how those games were played — your best reliever coming in in the fifth inning and going two or three innings. The game’s changed. But that’s kind of where we’re at. You have to kind of get on board or get out.”
■ Q. How have you adapted or embraced some of the new-school methods?
■ Gardenhire: “You know what, I watched it in Arizona (he was the bench coach for National League Manager of the Year Torey Lovullo last season). It was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed watching Torey run a ball game and the way we use these people. … The game’s evolved. It’s changed a lot, but it’s still baseball. You’ve still got to throw the bats and balls out there, but that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to get on board with everything else and try to move ahead.”
■ Q. You will have Joe Vavra on your bench as a kind of liaison between you and the analytics department.
■ Gardenhire: “Quality control (smiles).”
■ Q. How do you see the logistics of that playing out?
■ Gardenhire: “Joe is a great baseball guy. His knowledge, being with the Twins the last couple of years as a bench coach, running through the analytics part of it has been fantastic. He’s well versed in it. We’re all still learning. All the old-school baseballers, we’re still learning this part of the game, and it’s fun. It’s something new, and we always like new stuff.
“He’s versed in it. I got a little bit of a taste of it out in Arizona. We’re talking with our people up here, and we’re trying to get a good department going here, and they’re working really hard. It will be fun. We’ll all get it together. Joe, you’re going to enjoy him. I call him Humvee because he walks around humming all the time. He has a good time in the game. All these guys do, but they’re good teachers.
That’s kind of what we’ve put together, good teachers.”
■ Q. You see the evolution of defensive shifts. You’ve kind of seen it rise and then get tempered a little bit. What are your philosophies on some of it? How much of it depends on personnel or pitchers? Do you have any idea how you might use that?
■ Gardenhire: “I know when Paul Molitor came on my staff my last couple of years, Molly and I talked a lot about it because a lot of teams were doing the shifts and all these things. I said, ‘You know what, let’s start looking at what other teams do.’ So we started watching a lot of video and seeing what other teams did and how they used their people. We started doing it that way. That was probably our best means at the time was watch videos of other teams and how they’re playing guys, and we started talking about it, and we started doing it. It was kind of entertaining.
“It’s something else to keep you entertained during a game. Hey, let’s put this guy over here and see if somebody hits it to him. We started doing it, and now, believe me, there’s so much information out there that tells you where they’re going to hit these balls ... Now we’ve got guys that try to hit home runs because they hit a ground ball and we’ve got 16 guys standing there trying to catch it. That’s kind of where we’re at. The game’s going to keep adjusting. We’ll be a part of that.”
■ Q. Chris Bosio was hired as your pitching coach. You longtime pitching coach Rick Anderson is now your bullpen coach. Did you have a previous relationship with Bosio?
■ Gardenire: “Bos called me. Actually, he called me at one point when we were talking. He was talking about Detroit, and he gave me a call and said I really want to work here. I would love to work with you, and I’m really interested in this job. I talked to Al (Avila) and I said, ‘I think Bos wants to be our pitching coach, and that’s good enough for me.’ So that’s kind of how it went down. He gave me a call, and we talked about it, and he was all fired up.
“I was really excited that a guy of his caliber wanted to come to Detroit with me and do this thing. He’s game-on for this. He’s very excited. Plus, his wife’s from Detroit.”
■ Q. An easy narrative on the game is the strikeouts and home runs. But there’s so much in between where you can actually steal a game here, steal five there. How much with this rebuild do you have to impress on these guys that you can win a game on a given night a whole bunch of different ways?
■ Gardenhire: “Absolutely. The good teams we talk about that hit all these home runs and everything, they’re still fundamentally sound. They have good pitching. They catch the ball. They don’t make mistakes. They don’t walk people. That comes along with a bunch of great hitters that can drive the ball.
“You watch the Dodgers, they did so much more than just hit home runs. They really played a good game. Their defense was unbelievable. They ran the bases hard. There’s so many attributes to this baseball team — and I witnessed it because I was out in Arizona. That was a great baseball team. The same way with Houston. They didn’t just beat you with bats and everything. They beat you all kinds of ways. Their defense was unbelievable. Their pitchers threw the ball over the plate.”
■ Q. Will that be part of your message to the Tigers?
■ Gardenhire: “That’s what we’re going to impress upon them. There’s a lot of ways to win baseball games, but it starts with the basics, and that’s the fundamentals of respecting the game, playing the game, running balls out, being able to steal a base when they give you, take advantage of everything they give you. We’ve done that. I’ve been a part of that for a long time under Tom Kelly, and then managing the Twins — guys playing the game and respecting the game. That’s what we’re going to try to do here.
“We’re going to get back playing the game, respect the game, and catch the ball and get the outs you’re supposed to, and we’ll go from there.”
■ Q. Having competed against them for so many years, what does it mean to you to manage a team with such a rich history?
■ Gardenhire: “You know what, I had a lot of great conversations with Jim Leyland. If he told me once, he told me a thousand times, behind the cage during their batting practice when I’d go out and talk to him — ‘One day,’ he said, ‘if you ever get an opportunity, you would love to manage in this ballpark and manage these fans and this ball club.’ He said it’s just wonderful here. You know what, I’m going to get to witness this firsthand, and I’m really excited about it. I know the history.
“I know this, my brother, my older brother, back when we were growing up in Oklahoma, he was a Tigers fan. He loved Al Kaline and he loved Mickey Lolich. And he was a left-hander, of course. Mickey Lolich, we played Wiffle ball in the backyard and he’d be throwing sliders to me. He was always a Tigers guy. So, this is for him too. He’s not with us anymore, but I know that he’d be really proud.”