Greatness Must Be More Than a Tradition

Perhaps my favorite quote is one that has been attributed to Charles Lindbergh and it goes something like this: “A great tradition may be inherited, but true greatness must be achieved.”

I’ve been thinking about that lately, in the context of the Minnesota Twins. It’s not that I believe the current roster is great or really even has much of a chance of achieving greatness. They certainly haven’t given us reason to expect greatness in their first handful of games this season.

I wonder, though, how many members of this team understand what it takes to acheive greatness… or even a level approaching the near-greatness that the Twins class of 2002 that was honored Monday arguably captured. Not to understate the talent of the group, as a whole, but it seems like they had a spirit that drove them to at least strive for greatness.

They never really reached their goal… which, of course, was to win a World Series in Minnesota. They did, however, restore respectability to the organization and win a lot of baseball games, including a number of Division titles, in the process. They may not have achieved greatness, but they certainly achieved very-goodness… and the current crop of Twins have inherited that legacy.

Do they know what to do with that legacy, though? Do they recognize the need to achieve greatness for themselves or do they think that they should just be very good because the Twins teams that preceded them for most of the past decade have been very good?

It’s difficult to maintain greatness in pretty much any organization. Most consistently successful companies have formal or informal “succession planning” programs that assure continuity of purpose and philosophy. It’s not something that’s easy to do, even in the most conducive of corporate environments. Trying to develop such a philosophy in a Major League clubhouse where today’s team mate is tomorrow’s opponent and the hot-hitting rookie is a threat to take away a veteran’s livelihood is probably all but impossible.

Some mentoring goes on, of course. Not every veteran ballplayer has the, “it’s all about me and screw the guy coming up behind me,” mentality (let’s call that the Bret Favre mentality, shall we?). Kirby Puckett supposedly mentored Torii Hunter and Hunter supposedly did likewise with Denard Span. It happens, but it happens so seldom that it tends to gets elevated to mythical proportions when it does happen.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this, but it occurs to me that this group of Twins… from the front office management to the on-field management to the veteran players to the rookies… have not achieved anything close to greatness. I suppose an argument can be made that Carl Pavano has acheived greatness, at least briefly, in his younger days with the Marlins. Ron Gardenhire and Terry Ryan deserve some credit for guiding that class of 2002 through their period of very-goodness.

What the Twins have in their clubhouse is an combination of a couple of very good baseball players who inherited the near-great tradition of the teams led by guys like Torii Hunter, Johan Santana and Corey Koskie, along with a few decent new players who, frankly, came from organizations that haven’t even had the kind of tradition the Twins have had, and a bunch of young players that really haven’t experienced anything approaching greatness in their professional careers.

When the Yankees or Red Sox or even the Braves start out a season by getting swept in their first series, there’s no cause for ledge jumping. Those teams have players who know what it takes to be great and are confident in their abilities to achieve greatness once again, despite a temporary set back. Who in the Twins’ clubhouse has that experience to fall back on, much less the ability to share it with team mates in a manner that instills confidence?

It’s difficult for a young player to step in to such a role. Most of them are too busy pinching themselves over the realization they’re Major League ballplayers playing a game in front of 40,000 people to think beyond the moment. But once they settle in to the routine, do any of them have the drive necessary to lead a team to achieve greatness? I hope so.

And what of management? Where will the next great leader of this organization come from? I doubt Ron Gardenhire’s job is in immediate jeopardy, but it’s almost impossible for me to imagine him leading the team through the next generation of ballplayers. Who will Terry Ryan and the Pohlads charge with the responsibility of leading the team of Joe Benson, Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario and Kyle Gibson to a level of greatness not achieved in over two decades?

How will the current Twins and those coming up behind them learn to achieve greatness? In the absence of credible mentors to learn from, it will take someone (or better yet, multiple someones) with incredible leadership skills to build a winning mentality back nearly from scratch.

Ron Gardenhire and Tom Brunansky (photo: Jim Crikket)

I’m nowhere near knowledgeable enough about the Twins organization to predict who will step up to provide that kind of leadership or when it might arrive. Outside of watching the Beloit Snappers a few times a year and spending a week or so at the Twins’ spring training site every March, I have little to base an opinion on. Maybe players like Benson, Brian Dozier, Aaron Hicks and Liam Hendriks will eventually fill leadership roles on the field and in a future Twins clubhouse, but the guy I expect to see eventually establish a presence with the Big Club is former Twin Tom Brunansky.

If you spend any time hanging out around the minor league fields during spring training, you can tell which coaches tend to attract an audience when they speak. Two men have stood out to me as guys that always seem to have the attention of any player within earshot of them: Paul Molitor and Brunansky. Molitor serves in an instructional capacity every spring and it seems he’s pretty satisfied with that limited role, but Bruno has been moving up the organizational ranks as a hitting coach and is with the AAA team in Rochester this year.

I know there are people who feel Brunansky could or even should be promoted to the Twins’ hitting coach position to replace Joe Vavra. Personally, I think he’s fine right where he is… teaching the next generation of Twins how to play baseball. He’s the kind of coach… and, potentially, the kind of manager… that could bring credibility to a field management job if and when he gets his opportunity in Minnesota.

For now, this is admitedly all just idle conjecture. Then again, until the current Twins start winning some ball games and give us something else to focus on, idle conjecture is likely to lead to more interesting discussions than anything going on between the white lines.

– JC

 

3 thoughts on “Greatness Must Be More Than a Tradition

  1. You said, “I’m not sure where I’m going with this, but it occurs to me that this group of Twins… from the front office management to the on-field management to the veteran players to the rookies… have not achieved anything close to greatness…,” except maybe Carl Pavano when he was with the Marlins.

    But the club does have two former MVP’s in the lineup, too. One of them still has a good chance of being in the Hall of Fame, even. Does that count for anything?

  2. Greatness is a bit of an amorphous term to me, a combination of talent, desire and luck. I look more for a hunger to win, and I’m not sure I see it in this team yet.

    The will of the 2002 team to win is worth noting and celebrating. I have the team photo in my garage and still love to look it over. Check out the infield: Pierzynski, Mientkiewicz, a young slim Rivas, Guzman, Koskie. Hunter (29 homers) at his defensive best in CF. David Ortiz (20 homers, hurt half the time) at DH.

    That team was young, aggressive, loaded with talent, and wanted to win.

  3. “But the club does have two former MVP’s in the lineup, too. One of them still has a good chance of being in the Hall of Fame, even. Does that count for anything?”

    I think that’s a fair question, frightwig. I did say the Twins have a couple of very good players, but perhaps I’m not giving M&M the credit due. I think some of us, myself included, tend to under-appreciate some excellent years they’ve both had simply because it seems like so long ago that we saw them performing at those levels.

    But, as Craig indicated, the term “greatness” is not easy to define. To me, when it comes to a game like baseball, I’m looking for one of two things: either individuals who, through their participation at extremely high levels over a period of time, cause others around them to raise the level of their own performance…. in other words, they make their team mates better… or I’m looking for a team that performs at a level that exceeds what appears to be the sum of their individual parts. I can’t say I feel either Mauer or Morneau quite fit in to either category yet. They aren’t finished yet, however, so there’s still hope.