Twins' Kelly approaching 1,000th victory

MINNEAPOLIS - When Paul Molitor slid face-first into third base at Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium on Sept. 16, 1996, culminating his 3,000th hit, the Royals celebrated the milestone with a highlight film. On the scoreboard, younger versions of Molitor took swan-dives into bases and slammed World Series home runs.

The celebration of Twins manager Tom Kelly's impending 1,000th career victory will be more difficult to choreograph. Videos of Kelly mulling a decision or strolling to the mound would not be quite so captivating.

Research reveals that Kelly's milestone, in at least one way, is even rarer than Molitor's, although it will never be as heralded. Kelly, whose record was 998-1,091 entering Friday's home game against Detroit, will become only the sixth manager in major league history who has won 1,000 games and has managed only one team.

Although Molitor's 3,000th hit guaranteed he will land in the Hall of Fame, Kelly's milestone represents myriad career developments: A meteoric rise, his franchise's precipitous fall from grace and his either loyal or stubborn insistence on staying with the franchise that raised him as a minor league player and nurtured him as a coach and manager.

He will become the 46th manager to win 1,000 games.

At the beginning of his managing career, he won two World Series in a five years with two different piecemeal pitching staffs.

He also this season is likely to become only the second manager to lead a franchise through eight consecutive losing seasons. The other? Connie Mack, who owned the Philadelphia Athletics for part of his tenure as manager.

Baseball's changing economics and the Twins' dearth of talent have robbed Kelly of any realistic chance of competing for championships, even as he has become the longest-tenured manager or coach in pro sports.

The question many in baseball ask is this: Why does Kelly continue to manage the low-budget, ever-struggling Twins, instead of retiring or taking a job where he can win?

Kelly offered two explanations.

The first - that he enjoys the competition - wouldn't surprise anyone who knows him as a lover of dog tracks and inner baseball. The second - that he sees signs the Twins could become competitive - probably would shock anyone who has heard him issue scathing reviews of certain Twins players, such as Chad Allen and Javy Valentin, two he demoted this spring.

''I still enjoy the competition of the game,'' Kelly said. ''I think there was a time a few years ago when the big concern baseball people and friends of mine had was that there really wasn't much of a chance to manage.

''When you're down 5-0 in the third, 7-1 in the fifth, all you can do is change the pitcher and try to keep anyone from getting hurt. My friends were a little concerned about that.

''Now - and I don't like the 'P' word, potential - but I can say that I can look out there now and see that there's some talent that might make these players somewhat competitive now. I'm not ordering any World Series tickets or anything, but there are certain things that certain individuals can do that can help the team win.''

Former Twins general manager Andy MacPhail, now the Cubs CEO, said baseball historians should remember Kelly's circumstances more than his winning percentage.

''I think history will judge him favorably whatever happens from here on out because of what he's accomplished, and I think there are more chapters to be written,'' MacPhail said. ''I don't believe he's a year or two away from retirement, and who knows what's down the road?''

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