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April 23, 2011
Who is Baseball's Ron Swanson?
There is very little room for debate: Ron Swanson is one of the best characters on television right now and may well be one of the best characters of the past 10 or 15 years. If you aren't lucky enough to know who Ron Swanson is already, let me briefly explain. Swanson is a character on the series Parks and Recreation, a show created by Michael Schur, more popularly known as "Ken Tremendous" on the defunct blog "Fire Joe Morgan". Swanson is the mustachioed, meat-eating, meetings-hating, library-loathing, libertarian Director of the Pawnee, Indiana, Parks department. He's opinionated and gruff, but easily likable. His only cares in life are real, hearty American food (a turkey leg wrapped in bacon is called a "Swanson"), strong, successful women ("your Steffi Grafs and Sheryl Swoopses"), and dealing with as few fellow civil servants and members of the public as possible.
A two sentence description of Ron Swanson does not do him justice, though. For that, you need to either watch the show or, at the very least, read through some of his best quotes. Sufficed to say, Ron Swanson is the type of man every manager should strive to be.
There are currently three managers in baseball with the first name Ron: Texas' Ron Washington, Minnesota's Ron Gardenhire, and Milwaukee's Ron Roenicke. Considering the common names and Swanson's status as the ultimate manager, I got to wondering: which of the three Rons in baseball today is most Swanson-like? Does Ron Washington manage the Rangers the same way Ron Swanson manages the Parks Department? Does Ron Roenicke have the same hatred for the public that Ron Swanson does? Does Ron Gardenhire's love of food match Ron Swanson's?
Using some of Ron Swanson's best quotes from the series, I attempt to answer that question below. The scales may seem a bit unfairly tipped in one manager's favor, but the results may be closer than you expect.
So what are we waiting for? Let's get to the Swanson Showdown!
Quote: "When I'm done eating a Mulligan's meal, for weeks afterwards, there are flecks of meat in my mustache. And I refuse to clean it because every now and then a piece of meat will fall into my mouth."
We'll do our best to avoid strict physical comparisons in the Swanson Showdown (otherwise, it'd be Gardenhire in a cinch). That said, Washington does get extra points here for having the thickest mustache of the three, even if it is a vastly different style than the luxurious Swanson. This round seems like it should go to Gardenhire because of his, ahem, portly stature compared Washington and Roenicke, but the quote speaks to baser needs. Washington, with his mustache and his history, fits the mold better.
Quote: "The less I know about other people's affairs, the happier I am. I'm not interested in caring about people. I once worked with a guy for three years and never learned his name. Best friend I ever had. We still never talk sometimes."
He's not exactly Larry Bowa or Tony La Russa, I know, a manager who no one seems to get along with, but, relatively speaking, Gardenhire takes this round. Roenicke and Washington both manage ultra-light, easy-going clubhouses. The quote lands on Gardenhire by default.
Quote: "They'll only talk to you or me. And I can't go, because I don't want to."
Washington and Gardenhire have never shied away from speaking to the media. Roenicke seems friendly enough in his first season as a manager, but, like Gardenhire above, he wins this one by default.
Quote: "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Don't teach a man to fish, and you feed yourself. He's a grown man. Fishing's not that hard."
Gardenhire has been the king of fundamentals for ten years now, aggravating the more stats-friendly Twins fans with a litany of "small ball" moves. Roenicke made it clear from day one that he wanted the Brewers to steal more bases, take extra bases, and lay down more sacrifices. Washington, on the other hand, just wants his players to swing for the fences. He doesn't need to teach anyone anything silly like bunting or base-stealing.
Quote: "You had me at meat tornado."
Because, really, who can resist a meat tornado.
Quote: "Everything I do is the attitude of an award winner because I've won an award."
The 2010 American League Manager of the Year is the only one who could accurately make this statement.
Quote: "I got my first job when I was 9. Worked at a sheet metal factory. In two weeks, I was running the floor. Child labor laws are ruining this country."
Gardenhire, Washington, and Roenicke all had big league careers in the 1980s. It was their first job before managing. Washington, however, had the longest, most successful career of the three (though none were exactly Hall of Fame material).
Quote: "You may have thought you heard me say I wanted a lot of bacon and eggs, but what I said was: Give me all the bacon and eggs you have."
There is no quote in all of Parks and Rec that better captures Ron Swanson than this one. It's commanding and direct while highlighting Ron's insatiable appetite. Gardenhire certainly gets extra points for looking like a man who might be able to eat "all the bacon and eggs you have", but, as with Washington above, it's more than that. Of the three Rons, no one is more authoritative than Gardenhire. When he's upset or on a role, Gardenhire commands the room. This quote from this spring is a perfect example:
You can tweet that. Just tweet it. You don’t even have to write it. Just fire it through the Internet.
After the eight best quotes* from Ron Swanson, we are tied, with Washington and Gardenhire sitting at three apiece. This surprises me. Before going through the quotes, I was sure Gardenhire's physical similarities to Swanson would overrule everything. Instead, Gardenhire is tied with Washington, a man who couldn't be more different physically from Ron Swanson. How, then, do we break the tie?
*There are obviously many more than eight brilliant Ron Swanson quotes on "Parks and Rec", but I've stopped it here for two reasons. First, too many quotes were too series-specific, directly referencing characters or situations from the show that would be hard to work with here. Second, and more importantly, I did not want to overrun the Swanson Showdown with quotes about food. It seemed to unfairly tip the scale in Gardenhire's favor. But, please, believe me: Ron Swanson is a gold mine in every episode.
Ron Swanson manages an intriguing cast of characters: the bubbly, efficient Leslie Knope; the cynical, dark April Ludgate; the bumbling Jerry Gergich, and more. The most unique of his underlings, however, is Tom Haverford. Tom is an Indian-American born in South Carolina who has moved to Pawnee to make his mark on the world. A frequenter of nightclubs, the well-dressed Tom is certain his business ventures (nightclubs, colognes, etc.) are only months away from making him the next Jay-Z.
The tie-breaker in the Swanson Showdown will be determined by which Ron manages the most Tom Haverford-like character. Swanson's underlings are an important part of who he is. Any similar characters managed by our three Rons should, therefore, have a hand in the Swanson Showdown. Let's get to it.
Which Ron?: Gardenhire
Which Ron?: Roenicke
Which Ron?: Washington
The final, tie-breaking round goes to Roenicke. If there is a more Tom Haverford-like personality in all of baseball than Ryan Braun, I'm not sure I've seen him. Between the two atop the leaderboard, the winner is... Gardenhire. Straight-edge C.J. Wilson and his racing career just can't hold a candle to Joe Mauer and his rap career.
Maybe it was meant to be. Ron Gardenhire as Ron Swanson just feels right. The contest was closer than I expected, but the right manager came out in the end. I wonder if this will help Twins fans respect Gardenhire more. Somehow I doubt it. I don't think he'll mind, though.
"Be proud of yourself. You deserve an award. Not this one, obviously. This one belongs to me. But some other one. Some other lesser award."