Tom Kelly does not always "look alive," as baseball managers like to say. In fact, sitting in a dugout, Kelly, the Minnesota Twins' manager, often looks as if his vital signs are being stolen.
Tom Kelly, a.k.a. T.K., was once a manic third base coach for the Twins. He would fling himself prostrate to get a base runner to slide and would jeopardize his rotator cuff to windmill a runner to the plate. "He was really active at third," says Minnesota first baseman Kent Hrbek. "There's this one picture: A runner is sliding into home, and T.K. is three quarters of the way down the third base line, sliding on the grass along with him. He just got so wrapped up in what was going on."
At 36, T.K. became the Twins' manager. He managed Minnesota to a World Series title in 1987, his first full season as manager. He managed the Twins to their second world championship last fall, when he was named American League Manager of the Year. He has managed the Twins into first place in the American League West this summer and also managed the American League to victory in the All-Star Game. T.K. may well manage Minnesota to a second consecutive World Series win this season, something no manager has done since Sparky Anderson repeated with the Cincinnati Reds in '75 and '76.
Which raises the question: How has T.K. managed all this, while lowering his blood pressure to the equivalent of the water pressure in your first apartment? He doesn't chew on fingernails or Rolaids or tobacco or his players' rear ends. How?
T.K.? It rhymes with cliché. He will tell you that he doesn't really do anything. "My players make me look smart or stupid," he says. "I just try not to screw things up," he says. "You've got to have the horses to go to the post," he says.
In fact, T.K. used to shovel horse crap as a harness racing groom in New Jersey, where he grew up, and 13 years after giving up that job he is still working the spade. T.K., one presumes, knows damn well that he has been responsible for many of his club's superlatives, the ones you hear about whenever Minnesota is mentioned around the majors: most wins (60 through Sunday), fewest egos (0). Best team, worst ballpark hot dog jingle (Great for lunch/ Great for dinner/You will be a wiener winner). Dirtiest uniforms, cleanest clubhouse. T.K. could take credit for almost all of these, though he doesn't.
"He's a smart man," Kirby Puckett was saying after another Twin win the other night. "He gets paid to figure all of that stuff out." The Twins' superstar centerfielder was referring to his own hop-scotching among third base, shortstop and second base during the final two innings of Minnesota's game against the Boston Red Sox earlier that night. Having removed infielders Scott Leius and Greg Gagne for pinch hitters in a tie game, T.K. called Puckett in from the outfield and shuffled him wherever a Boston batter was least likely to hit the ball. It was the third time in his career under Kelly that Puckett had played the infield. "And nobody has hit the ball to me yet," said Puckett. "Smart manager."
"T.K.," said Red Sox pitcher Frank Viola, a former Twin, marveling in the visitors' clubhouse afterward, "he was playing gin out there."
"You lake a chance," T.K. said of his round of Puckett roulette. "Columbus took a chance in 1492. Was it 1492?" The clubhouse kid polishing spikes in Kelly's office remains noncommittal.
Gin, chance...say what you want, the man also has a serious set of stones. In Game 3 of last fall's American League Championship Series, T.K. removed starting righthander Scott Erickson in midcount against the Toronto Blue Jays' Joe Carter. He brought in lefthander David West to face the righthanded hitter, and West promptly retired Carter.