FORT MYERS, Fla. – Former Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has been diagnosed with prostate cancer and will undergo surgery in Minnesota sometime in the next few weeks, he announced Tuesday.
Gardenhire, hired last November to serve as bench coach for new Arizona Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo, will take a leave of absence, probably in mid-April, from his new team in April in order to begin treatment. Gardenhire, who intends to keep coaching until having surgery, broke the news in a clubhouse meeting with the Diamondbacks on Tuesday morning.
The 59-year-old isn’t the only longtime Twin battling cancer, either. Rick Stelmaszek, the Twins’ bullpen coach for a record 32 seasons, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in early December. Like his former boss’ case, the cancer was detected during an annual exam by Twins physician Dr. Vijay Eyunni.
“I’m going to fight and deal with it,” Gardenhire said. “It’s not how I envisioned starting spring training with a brand-new team, but it’s part of life. … I’m lucky to have all the support I do. With the backing of this ballclub, we’ll get through it.”
Gardenhire’s cancer, confirmed by a follow-up MRI, was caught early, the longtime manager said, and his prognosis is good. Surgery will be performed after several weeks of preparation, and tests to confirm it hasn’t spread, by Dr. William Utz in Minneapolis, and chemotherapy will likely not be necessary. It’s possible he could return to his new team six weeks after the procedure; he should be in the dugout when the Diamondbacks visit Target Field on Aug. 18-20.
“Baseball is the perfect injector here. It gets your mind off a lot of things,” he said. “Having the support has been wonderful.”
He has the support of his former players, among many others.
“It’s bad news,” said Twins reliever Glen Perkins. “I’ve known him for a long time. You pray for him and hope that they catch it early and they are able to get him fixed up.
“He’s got a good sense of humor. He’s got a great attitude about everything. So, hopefully he’ll continue to have that. It’s not fun watching people go through cancer.”
Stelmaszek, a Twins coach from 1981-2012, the longest tenure in franchise history, remains in good spirits as he undergoes treatments near his Chicago home. He recently received a surprise visit from former Twins Tom Kelly, Kent Hrbek, Tim Laudner and Terry Steinbach, and vowed, as Gardenhire did, to “attack” the disease.
“That’s all you can do,” Stelmaszek said. “You have to keep the faith and plug away.”
Gardenhire managed the Twins for 13 seasons and owns the second-most victories in franchise history. Gardenhire went 1,068-1,039 in his 13 seasons leading the Twins, behind only his mentor, Tom Kelly, who went 1,140-1,244 in 16 seasons. Gardenhire guided the Twins to a Central Division title in his first three seasons as manager, and won six division titles in nine years.
Gardenhire finished second in Manager of the Year voting five times, and won the award in 2010, after the last of his Central championships. But the Twins were 3-19 in the postseason under the Okmulgee, Okla., native, and have lost 12 straight postseason games.
After four consecutive seasons of 90 or more losses, Gardenhire was fired following the 2014 season. He was hired last season as a special assistant and scout for Twins General Manager Terry Ryan, a position that ended with Ryan’s firing last summer. Gardenhire interviewed for managerial positions in Washington and San Diego before accepting Lovullo’s offer in Arizona for the 2017 season.
Staff writer La Velle E. Neal III contributed to this story.