Thursday, Terry Ryan’s team returned home with the worst record in American League, now a contraction-worthy 10-30. Forty minutes before first pitch, the Twins general manager presented himself for interrogation by nine writers.
This level of availability and honesty in modern sports is rare, if not unique. If you want to speak with GMs of the other pro sports teams in town, you submit a request, and hope. Ryan is as accessible as a waiter.
Ryan knew he was bound to face questions about his role in putting together an astonishingly bad team.
I’ve known Ryan since 1993. I have seen him treat employees, players, media members and even critics with deference.
There is no one in the sports world I respect more. He is the kind of human who deserves the benefit of the doubt.
The problem with the 2016 Twins is that there is no doubt. Ryan has built a terrible baseball team. A GM’s job is to acquire players via trades, free agency and the draft. His trades have not worked, his free-agent signings have not helped and his best prospects have not performed as hoped.
Perhaps the only thing more shocking than his team’s play is Ryan’s willingness to take heat for it.
“I’ve got to do a better job,” he said. “The club’s got to do a better job. It starts with my chair. I’m aware of that. I take that as serious as anything. I’m the one who makes the decisions.”
Ryan’s record since he returned as the Twins’ primary decision-maker are 295-393. Their 83 victories last year look more today like a result of Torii Hunter’s leadership than an indication of future success.
Those close to Ryan would argue that he has turned this franchise around before, and that is true. Those close to Ron Gardenhire would point out that Ryan fired Gardenhire not because he believed that he was responsible for four consecutive 90-loss seasons, but because in sports sometimes you are compelled to make changes and you can’t change all of the players at once.
Ryan’s tenure now is now about where Gardenhire’s was when Ryan fired him. Even if the losing isn’t all his fault, who else is there to blame?
Asked about manager Paul Molitor, Ryan said: “We’re joined at the hip. Nobody’s pointing fingers around here.”
Ryan has stepped down once before. At the end of the 2007 season, he felt burned out. He was sick of dealing with agents, sick of seeing quality players he drafted and developed leaving for reasons beyond his control.
That time he left while being considered one of baseball’s best executives, and with a hand-picked successor, Bill Smith, in mind.
These are different circumstances. Ryan still has one of baseball’s best farm systems. He can’t be assured that if he steps down after this season that the Pohlads won’t clean out the front office and start fresh, which would mean Ryan retiring would damage the careers of his many friends in the organization.
Thursday, Ryan didn’t speak like a man looking for an exit. I asked him if his team’s record has altered his optimistic view of the franchise’s near-future.
“No, it doesn’t,” he said. “I’m guarded saying that, because obviously things have happened this year that have been unforeseen in a lot of our eyes. I don’t want to get blinded by what we’re seeing, but we’ve got some good players that aren’t up to their norm right now and we’ve got more coming. A few I’ve had to send back.
“We’ve got to stay the course and not get too far away from what we believe in.”
Angry fans want Ryan fired, which could be a possibility, or for him to “step down,” which seems unlikely.
The Pohlads should reassess Ryan at the end of the season, and if the team remains inept he should take the fall. But the idea that during a season Ryan would abandon a manager he hired, players he developed and a staff to which he feels loyal is a bit silly.