Just as shifting fielders, using “openers” instead of starters and evaluating spin rates are reflective of baseball today, the process of hiring the modern manager requires innovation.
“Gone are the days where it’s just two guys holed up in a room for three hours and hashing things out,” Twins General Manager Thad Levine said.
Finding a leader requires more layers today. A manager is a face of the franchise, and he impacts many areas of an organization.
As the Twins settled on Rocco Baldelli as the 14th manager in their history, they made sure several departments had an opportunity to meet him and offer feedback — and he passed all the tests. Baldelli, 37, is the first manager hired by the Twins from another organization since Ray Miller in 1985.
In selecting Baldelli, the Twins saw all the attributes they were told about during their due diligence into his background: He’s young, affable, honest, sharp, a strong communicator and embraces analytics — traits the Twins are attracted to after enduring a 78-84 season that led to the dismissal of Paul Molitor.
And they watched how he clicked time and time again when he met with various members of the organization during two rounds of interviews.
“We all know that a manager touches not just the players,” Twins Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey said. “It’s not just writing out the lineup card and managing from the dugout every night. It’s across all facets of the operation.
“He talked with ownership. He had a chance to meet with our senior leadership team, as well as everyone in our baseball operations. Anyone who works here was part of the process.”
While the Twins and other teams are hiring managers more for their communication skills and less because of managerial experience, it doesn’t hurt that Baldelli played for Lou Piniella and Joe Maddon with Tampa Bay and Terry Francona with Boston.
Forced to retire as a player at age 29 because of a muscle disorder, Baldelli joined the Rays front office in 2011, where he saw the benefits of translating analytics from the laptop to the playing field.
In 2015, he joined the field staff as a first base coach. Last season, he was the major league field coordinator under Kevin Cash on a surprising team that won 90 games in the same division as the Yankees and Red Sox.
Falvey wanted as many perspectives as possible during the evaluation. Baldelli had phone conversations with Torii Hunter and LaTroy Hawkins, Twins special assistants. He spoke with Mike Radcliff, vice president in charge of player personnel, as well as major league scout Ken Compton.
He even met with people outside the organization who evaluated his leadership and team-building skills for the Twins.
Baldelli knocked it out of the park at every stage of the process, Falvey said.
“It’s Derek’s first time in his role, my first time in my role,” said Levine, “and we were very open to having somebody who could be first time in their role who had the same kind of intellectual curiosity that we had, and ideally had humility, where they were willing to contribute at times, and listen at other times.
“In Rocco we found someone that was exactly where he resonated with us.”
Baldelli spoke on Thursday, during his introductory news conference at Target Field, as if he thrived in those situations.
“It was the feel that I got just from the conversations that I had when I came up here,” Baldelli said. “It’s the people involved. I got the opportunity to meet the Pohlad family, Jim and Joe; I got to spend a lot of time with the guys on the stage with me right now.
“But I also heard just as much as I sat there and responded to questions, I also heard a lot about what the organization and the community stand for up here, and it gave me just a tremendous feeling when I left. I’d say that’s the main reason why I was so excited about it.”
Baldelli, Twins bench coach Derek Shelton and Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde were the finalists for the job, each getting second interviews. By the end, Baldelli had been through two dinners and had met around 40 members of the organization.
That’s a lot of names to remember.
“I did my very best,” Baldelli said. “That’s not easy.”
The first dinner with Baldelli took place roughly a week after the Twins announced Molitor’s dismissal Oct. 3, when Levine, club President Dave St. Peter and director of baseball operations Daniel Adler took him to Bar La Grassa in Minneapolis. The second dinner, on Monday, took place at Alma in Minneapolis. Owner Jim Pohlad, who got involved once the finalists were determined, joined St. Peter, Falvey, Levine, and Levine’s wife, Claudette. Baldelli brought his girlfriend, Allie Genoa — and both were wearing Red Wing boots.
The Minnesota connection got St. Peter’s attention.
“When I saw them wearing Red Wing boots,” St. Peter said, “I said, ‘We might get this guy.’ ”
Baldelli and the Twins still are working on the final details of a multiyear contract, but Baldelli will charge forward to assemble his coaching staff — not everyone is expected back — and contact players.
“This is one of the most important, if not the most important, initial topics for all of us to spend time on,” he said of the coaching staff.
Baldelli took time Thursday to call Joe Mauer, who is contemplating retirement, to let him know that he’s wanted back.
And he also, with a nod to Twins history, called former manager Tom Kelly to introduce himself. He plans to speak with Molitor and current Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire when the time is right.
“He wanted to talk to Tom,” St. Peter said. “I asked him how it went. He said, ‘We talked a lot about the bullpen.’ ”