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Kelly Iffy on Managing in 2018 Baseball

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July 19, 2018

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Tom Kelly is in the Twins Hall of Fame and his uniform number is retired. He’s the only manager in club history to win the World Series—doing it in both 1987 and 1991. When he retired after the 2001 season he was the longest tenured manager or coach in major professional sports.

Kelly was also only 51 years old when he gave up his job. He hasn’t managed for the Twins or anyone else since he quit in Minnesota. The club’s current manager, Paul Molitor, is only six years younger than the 67-year-old Kelly who is revered for a big league managing career with Minnesota that began in 1986.

Yet Kelly would probably be the longest of long shots to manage again. Baseball is so different now with its avalanche of data driven information impacting decisions. How the game has to be managed now appears almost perplexing to Kelly.

Kelly talked about his feelings on “Behind the Game,” a Twin Cities cable TV show. “There are things…I would probably have a hard time with,” Kelly told hosts Patrick Klinger and Bill Robertson. “I am probably not capable of managing now.”

Kelly said things are “pretty technical” in baseball with information dictating all kinds of things like shifts and positioning of players in the field. There seems no end to even the most miniscule of details about how to strategize against hitters and pitchers in an attempt to gain an edge on opponents.

Hitters give the impression they are more interested in “launch angles” to increase their home run totals, than in making consistent contact with the baseball. Stealing bases seems like a lost art and bunting appears to have passed away, too. Hit-and-run in today’s game? Not much. “I guess they have numbers that prove these things (what to do), so they go with the numbers,” Kelly said on the show.

Kelly saw his job as manager to be creative when his club was not scoring runs. That’s where he would call for a hit-and-run, sacrifice bunt or stealing a base.

Also to Kelly’s chagrin, teams no longer take pregame infield practice. He believes the practice helped prepare his teams to potentially start games efficiently and even get off to an early lead.

“The game still comes down to the basics of pitching and fielding,” Kelly told TV viewers. “You pitch the ball decent and catch the ball when you’re supposed to, (and) you find a way to score three or four runs, and you have a chance to win.”

Tom Kelly (photo courtesy of Minnesota Twins)

Kelly referred to himself on the show as a “dinosaur” and acknowledged more than once how difficult it would be for him to manage today. “I probably would have a hard time because I would get told, ‘We don’t want to do this. We don’t want to do that.’

“I would probably say, well, I am going to do this, and I am going to do that. And (then) I am going to be shown the door. They’re going to replace me with somebody that will do what they feel…through their numbers and analytics that this is how you should do it.”

Kelly told a story about his friend Tony LaRussa, the Hall of Fame manager who is a contemporary. LaRussa went to a meeting where 12 baseball people from his organization were looking at their computers . He didn’t even know many of the people but they were telling him things like why the data said so-and-so should hit second in the batting order. “That’s when he knew he had enough (managing),” Kelly said.

These days Kelly is a special assistant for the Twins. Molitor might call and ask advice, but mostly his role is that of an ambassador for the organization. He watches games now and enjoys them more as a fan than a manager.

“Things you miss are the camaraderie the game affords,” Kelly said. “The competitiveness that the game presents each and every night. You miss those things.”

Worth Noting

Adrian Peterson, the 33-year-old former Vikings running back, is a free agent and needs one more rushing touchdown to total 100 for his career. Playing for the Saints and Cardinals last season, he scored just two touchdowns rushing.

Vikings’ nemesis Aaron Rodgers told Peter King of NBCsports.com, “I’d love to play to 40.” The Packers’ 33-year-old quarterback referenced Brett Favre’s success at 40 when he was quarterbacking the Vikings to a 12-4 record.

The Vikings, who will hold their first training camp in more than 50 years not in Mankato, are part of a trend by NFL teams to hold summer practices in the home towns of franchises. The percent of home training camp teams has increased from 32 percent in 2000 to 66 percent this year and last.

Gopher senior Rodney Smith has 3,850 career all-purpose yards (2,805 rushing, 419 receiving and 626 on kick returns). He ranks eighth in program history. He needs 1,260 all-purpose yards this season to break Darrel Thompson’s Gopher record of 5,109.

Smith will be one of three Gophers and 42 total players attending the July 23 and 24 Big Ten Media Days and Kickoff Luncheon in Chicago. The other Gophers are junior linebackers Thomas Barber and Carter Coughlin.

Tickets were still available this week for the WNBA All-Star Game at Target Center on July 28. Stubhub.com listed availability yesterday starting at $59.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

(1) Reader Comment

  1. avatar
    Patrick Klinger
    July 19, 2018 at 9:32 am

    Tom Kelly was a great manager and a terrific guest on "Behind the Game." He's a living example of how professional baseball has changed since a manager made decisions based on hunches and gut feelings as opposed to the analytics that dominate the game today. Baseball has a long and storied history of great characters. Tom is one of them. Let's hope the changes won't eliminate guys like him.

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