When Terry Ryan stepped down as Twins general manager Thursday, he answered questions about his successor as if he were delivering one more scouting report.
Ryan described Bill Smith as a perfect GM candidate whose talents have gone somewhat unnoticed nationally.
"Bill was ready [to become a GM] 10 years ago," Ryan said. "There isn't a thing he hasn't done. ... If some of these owners had come in and talked to Bill, he'd have blown them away."
Baltimore Orioles President Andy MacPhail, who was Twins GM when they hired Smith in 1986, called Smith "an extraordinary talent" and "one of those under-the-radar executives" who help make successful teams thrive.
"He's one of the people I admire the most in this sport," MacPhail said.
Smith, 49, grew up in North Hampton, N.H., and played two years of NCAA Division III baseball at Hamilton College in New York, where he majored in French. In 1979, he began chasing a dream and turned into a baseball lifer.
Now, after 22 years with the Twins, including the past 13 as assistant GM, Smith has moved out of Ryan's shadow and into a job he never lobbied to have.
"I think every person who gets into baseball aspires to be a general manager," Smith said. "But over the years, I loved my job. I loved working for Terry. ... It wasn't that I didn't aspire to it, it was just never to the point that I had any interest in leaving this organization."
Smith has a different background than Ryan's, with more administrative skills than scouting skills. But those who know them both suspect the Twins will go through this transition and come out largely the same as they've been since the MacPhail era.
"The biggest difference is I've got a full head of hair and about 80 more pounds [than Ryan]," Smith said. "But there are huge shoes to fill. The best news is, he's not far away when I need help."
MacPhail loves the story about how Smith landed his job with the Twins.
After taking over as GM, MacPhail had Jim Rantz as minor league director and Ryan as a scouting director, and he wanted someone who could work closely with both departments.
Smith was the GM of the Appleton (Wis.) Foxes, a Class A affiliate for the Chicago White Sox.
Smith placed a call one morning to Rantz, who explained that the hire had to be made within a week. The problem was, most of the Twins' days were booked.
"How about this afternoon?" Smith said.
When Rantz told him it was a nearly 300-mile drive from Appleton to Minneapolis, Smith said, "I think I can be there in six hours."
He hopped in the car with his wife, Becky, and interviewed that afternoon.