Ryan Twins Architect for Belated Success

John Gilbert

All of us in the media, all of us in the Target Field grandstands, all of us watching the Twins play on television, and those of us wearing a Twins uniform – especially those wearing Twins uniforms – should pause for a few seconds and deeply apologize to Terry Ryan.

Ryan is the straight-edged fellow who was general manager of the Twins up until last Monday, when he was informed he and the Twins baseball club were going separate directions. In other words, he was fired. I don’t know Ryan very well. I talked to him a few times back in the days when I was writing for the Minneapolis Tribune, and I’ve talked to him a few times since.

Most recently, I talked to him when the Twins winter caravan made its stop in Duluth, and a few players as well as Ryan and manager Paul Molitor visited with fans and held a press conference at Grandma’s down in Canal Park.

At that point in our lives, we were all pretty sure that the Twins were going to make a spirited run at the American League Central pennant. It has been examined from every angle, but the preseason evaluation was that the veterans who had an off-year would all get it back on, several young players would infuse new speed and energy, a couple of complete new faces would put a charge into the club, and the pitching staff would snap back into focus and be dominant.

It is that pitching staff that we were prepared to mostly thank Ryan for, because he obtained, nurtured and/or traded for the whole staff, and we were all willing to write off last year as a fluke in exchange for the promise that they would all snap back and have great seasons.

My personal pet peeve of the Twins was that they seemed to have forgotten one of baseball’s prime rules, which is to swing at what you want until you get two strikes, then shorten up the swing and strive to make contact, to put the ball in play rather than striking out. Instead, the Twins simply struck out in copious quantities. Six of them struck out over 100 times last season. They took called third strikes often, and never seemed focused on battling tenaciously to avoid striking out. Sometimes, my reasoning -- and many years of amateur coaching – goes, is that when you want to succeed you have to learn to avoid failure.

I found a quiet moment at the Twins Caravan thing ot discuss that with Terry Ryan. I approached it delicately, tactfully, and there was no need. He jumped in with both feet, saying he agreed wholeheartedly in stressing that he didn’t like the frequent strikeouts and wanted to see what could be done to cut down on them. I was impressed at his earnestness and honesty, in place of the usual pro sports flak and smokescreens of alibis.

Of course, none of the positives happened this season, and the Twins sputtered to an awful start, establishing themselves as the worst team in the American League if not all of baseball, and with little chance of hoisting themselves up to respectability.

We have heard and read all the Twin Cities media types attempt to wax eloquent about what’s wrong with the Twins. I’ve tried to add my two cents worth, but if you check, I mainly asked the totally perplexing question about how could all phases of the Twins game fall apart simultaneously, and how could the hitting, defense and pitching leave a good-looking team floundering at the bottom.

I observed Twin Cities types proclaim that any and all players should be traded, without regard for what might be offered or not offered because of bad performance or high contract obligations. It got to the point where some started suggesting that Molitor might be over his head and making the transition from Golden Boy to scapegoat. And some said you’ve got to take the blame to the top, and get rid of Ryan.

My take was that we could be patient until the promising young guys started to fulfill their promise, and that we certainly didn’t want to get rid of Molitor, who could prove to be a great manager with a little more experience, which is to say success. I felt the same way about Ryan, who took on the daunting duty of general manager for the 1995 season, departed after the 2007 season, then agreed to come back and retake the reins for 2012.

But the decision was made, apparently by the Pohlad family, after consultation with Ryan, a month ago. After the All-Star break, he apparently came up to them and said, “OK, let’s get it done.”

Typical Terry Ryan. If we’ve got to make a change, let’s make the change. So Ryan was fired, and Rob Antony, his assistant, will take over on an interim basis for the rest of the season. Jim Pohlad said that whomever is selected as the next full-time GM will only have one rule – Paul Molitor must be retained as manager.

That caused an immediate outcry from some of the Twin Cities media types, about how that rule will limit candidates, and how any new GM will have to be allowed to name a manager of choice. That seemed bizarre to me, that after urging just such a change they now are going to complain about the conditions of the change. Or maybe that was all they could find to complain about right now.

My feeling goes back to my caution for making the move. Let’s look at what I’ve been writing the last few weeks: The names of the starting rotation include Santana, Nolasco, Gibson, Milone and Duffey currently, and those five rank fifth and on down behind unknowns such as Kintzler, Rogers, Abad, Tonkin and Pressly – the relief staff that became parts of the puzzle after the season started.

We were already to praise Ryan for team success if Santana, Nolasco, Gibson, Milone and Duffey pitched well. Let’s say, up to 90 percent of their potential. Because they all underachieved, are we now going to say it is Ryan’s fault?

If the GM acquires an impressive batch of starters, all of whom should be able to regularly cover the first six or seven innings, but suddenly none of them can get through four or five innings,  is it the manager’s fault? The general manager’s?

Not in my opinion. But Ryan took the fall and now leaves the game he loves, and which has been such a huge part of his life. I remain convinced that some team will pluck him quickly and employ him as a part of an evaluation committee or scouting staff that will help the decision making of another team, which might find its way to a pennant.

As for the Twins, I hope all goes well and the promise that was hinted at at All-Star break becomes realized. But if pitchers and players who have underachieved throughout the first half of the season all come through in the second half, and on into next season, who will get the credit? Belatedly or not, my credit will go to Terry Ryan.