SEPTEMBER 14, 2007
A LOSS FOR THE TWINS...
One of our former players, Carrmen Cali, is in the bullpen of my former team, the Minnesota Twins. But neither of those facts accounts for me rooting for the Twins. In the age of big money in pro sports, the Twins have been the example of how, year after year, David can go out and compete with Goliath.
Yesterday the architect of that success resigned as General Manager; 13 years to the day he was given the position.
Terry Ryan has been regarded in baseball circles as one of the best GM's in the game. He built an organization based on the dual foundation of scouting and player development. Think of the Minnesota Twins, and you think of home grown talent, not hired guns that arrive via free agency to win championships. Part of this is the financial dynamic at work in the smaller market of the Twin Cities; part of it is the character of Terry Ryan.
When the Commissioner's office was considering including the Twins in the contraction plans of Major League Baseball, Terry could have left for a number of secure jobs with other organizations. He was a hot commodity in a world where salaries and budgets were exploding everywhere except in small market cities.
But Terry Ryan stayed put.
By doing so he told every Twins' employee from the best pitcher to the bat boy that the character of the Twins means you work harder to make your situation better, not just leave for a better situation. The result- The Minnesota Twins organization became the business model of Major League Baseball.
In March of 1973, my manager Johnny Goryl told me I would be the fifth starter for the Wisconsin Rapids Twins of the Midwest League. The catch was that, for at least the first month, we'd be using a four man rotation! But just before we broke camp from Melbourne, Florida, a young left handed pitcher with flaming red hair sprained his ankle playing basketball.
That was Terry Ryan's story, and he was sticking to it. He was to be one of our four starting pitchers, but now the fifth guy was going to get a shot. I took his spot in the rotation. When Terry returned, he pitched so well in relief, that Goryl made him a closer and kept me in the rotation. He was the first guy in whose hands, I felt comfortable leaving my game.
That year, the Yankees were having their first good season in some time, and Sparky Lyle was their cocky, nasty, lefty closer. Terry's hair was long in the back, like Lyle's and he was just as successful. We started calling him Sparky, which he hated, but he was a good friend and a great teammate.
In the Midwest league Playoffs, Terry came in with the bases loaded, two out in the ninth against the Danville Brewers. Casually,he picked up the rosin bag, threw it down, and rubbed his hand across his chest. My heart stopped...Terry had just put on our pick play to first with the first basemen playing behind. We hadn't worked on it since Spring Training, and had never used it in a game. I looked at firstbaseman Randy Bass, who was adjusting his cap, the reply to Terry's sign. The 19 year lefty lifted his leg, Bass broke for the bag, and the Brewer runner was dead meat. Game over.
Nineteen years later I was throwing BP at the University of Miami, as my Montclair State team prepared to play John Winkin's Maine Black Bears, when I heard someone with an unmistakable Wisconsin accent yelling, "Old Man". Without looking, I knew it had to be Terry, calling me the name he gave me in revenge for "Sparky".
He was scouting now for the Twins, and asked about our club. I told him we were pitching a freshman lefty that night that reminded me of him- red hair, guts, and a nasty curveball. Brian Devins struck out 17 that night prompting Terry to comment that he was never that good.
We stayed in touch over the years, each following the other's career. His work ethic in scouting is legendary. The stories of him driving everywhere rather than flying speak not to his finances, but to the dogged determination to see a prospect every day. Cancelled flights or rainouts never stopped him.
A good man finally walked away from a job which had become a 365 day grind. The advent of free agency, agents, and the relentless media demands took their toll. He chose to leave before the job changed him. He wanted to always treat people properly, with respect and honesty, and the demands of the job make that harder to do.
Terry said that the losses had gotten tougher to handle, and the hurt lasted longer than the elation brought by the wins. I know many coaches who feel the same way. When you're a 19 year old kid in the Midwest League a loss passes quickly because life moves fast, and tomorrow will bring you a win. The longer you're in the game, the more it changes. It doesn't mean you love it any less, it just affects you differently.
His press conference yesterday was an example of class and character. You should go to their web site and view it.
You'll get an idea of the Twins' loss.