Last-place Twins shakeup Gardenhire's staff

Associated Press Modified: October 4, 2012 at 6:32 pm •  Published: October 4, 2012
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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — For decades the Minnesota Twins have been known as one of baseball's most patient and loyal franchises, sticking with managers, coaches and members of the front office in the belief that stability is a key to long-term success.

Two straight last-place finishes in a gorgeous new ballpark appear to have gone a long way toward changing that approach.

The Twins fired longtime bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek, third base coach Steve Liddle, first base coach Jerry White and head athletic trainer Rick McWane on Thursday while reassigning bench coach Scott Ullger and hitting coach Joe Vavra in a significant shake-up of manager Ron Gardenhire's staff.

Owner Jim Pohlad, President Dave St. Peter and GM Terry Ryan planned to address the changes at a news conference on Friday, but the message was delivered a day early. Gardenhire campaigned to keep his staff in place earlier in the week, but 195 losses in two seasons gave him little bargaining power.

"I have all the faith that they can do the job," Gardenhire said on Sunday. "But some of these things aren't going to be left up to me. It's going to be left to ownership and Terry."

Pitching coach Rick Anderson was the only coach on Gardenhire's tight-knit staff to retain the job he had. Ullger will oversee outfield instruction while Vavra, who joined the staff in 2006, will work with the infielders.

Changes to a manager's staff are commonplace in the big leagues, seemingly in every city outside of Minneapolis. Aside from Vavra, the entire coaching staff has been together since 2002, an incredible run of stability that presided over six AL Central championships, one run to the ALCS and the misery of the last two seasons.

Stelmaszek has been with the organization since 1978 and joined the Twins coaching staff in 1981, becoming a beloved figure in the clubhouse and notable prankster.

But the stability may have also played a role in the decision to shake things up, with the front office looking for some fresh voices in the clubhouse. Hall of Famer Paul Molitor, who has worked with the Twins minor league system for years, has expressed an interest in joining the staff, while Triple-A Rochester coaches Tom Brunansky, Bobby Cuellar and Gene Glynn have all been mentioned as possible replacements.

McWane's firing came as little surprise. He has been with the organization for 24 seasons and served as the head trainer for the previous eight years, but several former players have grumbled about what they perceived as substandard treatment and diagnosis of injuries in recent seasons.

It's the second straight offseason where the once-patient Pohlad family has made significant changes. Jim Pohlad fired GM Bill Smith after 99 losses in 2011 and replaced him with Ryan, the man credited with building the organization into an AL Central power.

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