Patrick Reusse: 'Administrator' GM hears, and listens

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 2, 2009 - 4:08 PM

Bill Smith says the Twins front office under him makes decisions as a group more than it did under Terry Ryan.

Bill Smith in September 2007, when it was announced he would take over for Terry Ryan as Twins general manager.

Photo: Bruce Bisping, Jm - Star Tribune

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Bill Smith has lost 40 pounds during this baseball season. This has been due to diet and not a stomach twisted by the pressures of running the Twins baseball operation.

Smith also was featuring a stylish haircut and well-tailored sports jacket as he went through interviews Friday. The topic was the Twins' acquisition of shortstop Orlando Cabrera, as well as the moves made by the AL Central's other contenders.

Detroit was the immediate winner in obtaining Jarrod Washburn, a free agent-to-be who should make 13 starts for the Tigers before the end of the schedule.

The White Sox were the long-term winners -- getting Jake Peavy perhaps for September, and then through 2013 if they choose to keep him that long.

Smith made a deal to put a veteran in the soft middle of the Twins infield, and the general manager still found himself being ripped by selected media and those vociferous, non-ticket-buying respondents to websites for not keeping up with the Tigers and the Mighty Whiteys.

Smith covered these trade-deadline issues during on-field interviews before retreating to his corner on the top level of the Twins offices.

A media visitor started a different line of questioning: "Twenty-two months later, how do you like this job?"

Smith said, "Oh, brother," paused and said: "We did this in October '07. From April '86 through September '07, I loved working for the Twins. I loved my job, the people I worked for, the people I worked with.

"Nothing has changed except my duties. I love working for the Twins, love my job, the people I work for, the people I work with."

How about taking the heat -- being the target of wild-eyed criticism?

"It's different," he said. "I hear it. I see it. I respect people's opinions, but we're not going to make decisions based on it. We're going to do what's in the best interest of our ballclub.

"We have excellent evaluators. And sometimes, we don't like a player as much as the popular sentiment on im."

Smith makes no pretense that the baseball operation still functions as it did with Terry Ryan in charge.

"I'm an administrator; Terry's an evaluator," Smith said. "When it was time to make a decision, Terry listened to his assistants but relied on his evaluation. Those decisions are now reached more by consensus."

When the change was made in October '07, Mike Radcliff was promoted from scouting director to vice president for player personnel. In Friday's conversation, Smith mentioned specifically Radcliff's influence on player decisions.

Ryan, now a "special adviser," and Vern Followell, the pro scouting coordinator, were also strongly involved in the trade-deadline meetings.

Back in 1991, Ryan was promoted from scouting director to become the assistant to General Manager Andy MacPhail. Smith was asked if that mirrored the transition made by Radcliff.

"There are many more pieces now," Smith said. "There are more places than ever to look for players. We've added Vern to the pro side. We have three full-time major league scouts rather than two. We have four [amateur] scouting supervisors rather than three.

"And our assistant GM, Rob Antony, does a lot in contract negotiations, and he's also an evaluator.

"Somebody wants to question Rob because he started in public relations? I see that job as an asset for Rob. He spent five years [1991-95] traveling with the team and picking the brains of baseball people like Tom Kelly and Ron Gardenhire every day.

"I have no doubt about the quality of our evaluation in this organization -- no doubt at all."

Among Smith's critics last week were All-Stars Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan. They questioned the Twins' commitment to winning, based on Smith's apparent caution in adding outside talent for the stretch run.

A while back, Milwaukee's Ryan Braun ripped the Brewers front office in a similar manner. GM Doug Melvin called in Braun and said, loudly, "You worry about your job and I'll worry about mine."

Smith was asked if he considered that option in responding to the clubhouse cacophony. He shook his head and said:

"Not with players such as Mauer, Morneau and Nathan, or if it were a Michael Cuddyer or a Mike Redmond ... not veterans whose only motivation is they want to win.

"Terry said it a couple years ago: 'There's freedom of speech in this organization.' And that hasn't changed."

If anything, there's more speech than ever, as Smith makes personnel decisions based more on input from trusted evaluators than what he might observe for himself.

Patrick Reusse can be heard 5:30-9 a.m. weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP. preusse@startribune.com

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