This editorial appeared in the Oct. 19 Rochester Post-Bulletin.
Tom Kelly ended his 15-year tenure as manager of the Minnesota Twins the same way he started it -- without fanfare.
Kelly, who piloted the Twins to two World Series championships in an era when many baseball experts said small-market teams without huge payrolls could not compete, made his retirement announcement on Oct. 12.
In keeping with his belief that players -- not coaches -- deserve the headlines, he asked the Twins not to make a big deal out of his exit. So, he held a solitary, 15-minute news conference during which he talked soberly about his managerial career and the Hall of Fame players he said he had the privilege to coach.
And then he was gone.
But not before earning the almost universal respect of Minnesota sports fans, who had waited 33 years since the last time a pro sports team from our state had won a national championship. (The Minneapolis Lakers won the last of its five NBA championships in 1954.)
TK, as he became affectionately known, had his faults as a big league manager. In an age when most head coaches pitch car dealerships, sporting goods franchises and tires, Kelly chose to pitch only batting practice. He stayed away from television cameras, microphones and public relations flacks as much as he could. Although he faithfully upheld the terms of his contract by doing a half-hour Sunday morning radio call-in show during the regular season, it was obvious he didn't like it.
He frequently was patronizing to callers and chided them for making what he considered ignorant judgments about his on-field decisions. He often treated sportswriters, and even some of his own players, the same way.
In fact, Kelly weathered a near insurrection in 1999 when several players, led by second baseman Todd Walker, publicly criticized the manager for the way he treated them.
But despite his questionable communications skills, most baseball experts considered him one of the game's top field marshals.
The thing we most respected about Kelly was his devotion to the fundamentals of the game. The team's solid defense was one of the key reasons the Twins won their first World Series in 1987 with what many baseball pundits considered only above-average talent. And even when the team was losing more than 60 percent of its games, it was always among the league leaders in defense.
That's because good defense -- unlike crushing home run power and blinding speed -- is something that can be taught. And Kelly, who had only a brief playing stint in the major leagues himself, was one of the best teachers in the game.
TK's departure comes at an interesting time. After suffering through nine consecutive losing seasons in which he was given rosters that more closely resembled those of minor league teams than competitive big league ballclubs, Kelly said during his news conference that the Twins are finally "headed in the right direction."
That's an understatement. The team this year won more than half of its games for the first time in nearly a decade. And the roster includes at least a half-dozen talented 20-something players any team in baseball would welcome on their rosters -- shortstop Cristian Guzman, first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz, outfielder Torii Hunter, second baseman Jose Rivas, and pitchers Joe Mays and Eric Milton.
So, it's curious that Kelly has decided to call it quits at a time when the team might be poised to contend for another championship.
Nonetheless, it's fitting that the longest-tenured manager in Twins history leaves the game on a winning note and at a time when there is so much optimism about the team's future. Indeed, for the first time in years Twins fans are talking more about runs, hits and errors than dollars and cents and bricks and mortar.
And Tom Kelly is as responsible for that renewed optimism as anyone. Thanks TK, for 15 good years.
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