On the day this ends for Ron Gardenhire, on the day the Twins' veritable institution and bastion of good humor and good work finally decides that the frustration of the losing is finally outweighing the joy of the winning, the official statement from general manager Terry Ryan might sound something like this:
"It's a sad day for this organization, because we no longer have his guidance and leadership. He's going out on his own terms, and it gives him a chance to do some things with his personal life that he never had an opportunity to do."
That statement might sound vaguely familiar to the most devoted of Twins fans, because those were the exact words Ryan uttered when Tom Kelly opted to step down and ceded the Minnesota managerial seat to Gardenhire at the end of 2001. And the fact that both Ryan and Gardenhire are still around to prompt this potential parallel tells you all you need to know about the rare level of loyalty this organization demonstrates in an otherwise fickle sports world.
We actually have a statistic, of sorts, to demonstrate the devotion at play here. Since World War II, only one manager in the Majors has endured four consecutive 90-loss seasons and been brought back for a fifth.
His name, you might have guessed, was Tom Kelly.
So here's the 56-year-old Gardenhire, coming to the close of what figures to be another rendezvous with the wrong 90. The Twins would have to go 11-5 down the stretch to avoid it, but that, in and of itself, is not a stated goal.
"You just play," Gardenhire said. "You just play. I'm not trying to say… I mean, I hope we don't lose 90 games. You'd like to win them all. But there are so many things involved right now. We owe it to the rest of the league to get after it, put our best foot forward as best we can. Also, I have kids that I need to see right now. That's really important to let these guys get experience and see what they've got and what they can handle. So the record is secondary. We're not going to be in the playoffs. So I worry about letting these guys get better, and hopefully we're building on something for next year."
Perhaps you heard some things about Gardenhire being around next year. Ryan publicly indicated as much in one instance last month, only to clarify that the matter will be discussed at season's end. There is a fair bit of uncertainty hanging over the Twins, given Ryan's ongoing recovery from surgery to remove a cancerous growth from his neck, but the prevailing sense is that, as long as Ryan is in charge, Gardenhire will have the option of fulfilling his 2015 contract, should he be so inclined.
But if he's not so inclined, and if he'd rather cede the reins of the rebuild to somebody else and spend more time with his wife and family and cast his line into the water, well, who could blame him, really?
This season, Gardenhire became one of only 60 managers to reach the 1,000 career win plateau but also one of only 50 to reach 1,000 losses. To his credit, he hasn't let either total define him. When the Twins were the poster boys for outperforming payroll, he was neither imperious nor insufferable. And now that they're all-too-accustomed to the American League Central cellar, he's neither moody nor morose.
"One thing I love and we love is he comes to the park in great spirits, ready to win, every day," second baseman Brian Dozier said. "That's what you want from your manager."
Ultimately, the manager is only accountable for so much, and the Twins' recognition of this reality is why Gardy has survived as long as he has.
"I take full responsibility for whatever ills we've got, and we've got our share," Ryan said. "We're still not where we need to be. But he's the type of guy that doesn't care where you're at in the standings. It's going to be the same consistency, he's going to expect things in the way we do things, and, if not, he's going to address it."
This is all well and good, and count me among the many who believe the Twins won those six Central championships in part because of Gardenhire and not in spite of him, as so many Minnesotans, in keeping with the tradition of those closest to a ballclub being the most likely to despise its manager, will undoubtedly insist.
But now that Gardy, the second-longest tenured skipper in the sport behind Mike Scioscia, is wrapping up his 13th season with a Twins team spinning its wheels in an attempt at transition, it takes a lot of faith to blindly assume this situation still suits him. Gardenhire is a player's manager, through and through, but the developmental victories posted by Gardy and his coaching staff in recent seasons is certainly shallow, and things haven't gotten any better in the two seasons since Ryan removed three longtime members of Gardy's coaching staff.
Again, very little of the overall result falls at the manager's feet. Gardenhire has faithfully fulfilled his role as the spokesman for an organization that has benefited from his patient, smiling face. But there's a reason his situation and this possibility of his 2015 return is almost unprecedented. Thirteen years is an eternity in this sport, and 2011-14 have probably felt twice their actual length for all involved.
"It's been a tough go," Ryan said. "There's hope, and we've got a good system with some good people coming. But we used to be in Septembers that meant a lot to us, and we aren't now."
The hope exists in the gargantuan middle-of-the-order presence Kennys Vargas can become, in the buy-low breakthrough the rotation has received from Phil Hughes, in the arms of Kyle Gibson and Trevor May, in the fleet feet of Danny Santana. And though 2014 was basically a wash for injured top prospects Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, they remain potential fixtures for the future.
Thing is, the Twins have some pretty obvious managerial prospects, too. Hall-of-Famer Paul Molitor joined the big-league staff this season as an infield coach, potentially greasing the wheels for an eventual promotion. And the work Doug Mientkiewicz did in leading Class A Fort Myers to a Florida State League title drew raves in the industry.
Maybe all of that points to a graceful exit for Gardenhire, maybe none of it does.
But if -- or when -- that 90th loss of 2014 comes, Gardenhire might have already decided that he, like Kelly before him, has seen enough. It would be an understandable exit.