Souhan: Twins are Ryan's team

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 8, 2011 - 11:58 AM

Ignore that interim label.

Shortly after 2:30 p.m. Monday, Terry Ryan strode into a meeting of Twins employees. Bill Smith was not present.

Everyone in the room immediately understood what had happened. Some marked the time, as if they had just witnessed an historic event.

Twins management announced Ryan would be replacing Smith, Ryan's close friend, as the team's general manager. Ryan spoke, and what those present remember most was him saying, "We're going to get this thing on track."

"He had," one employee said, "the look."

That look is well-known throughout the Twins organization. It is equal parts fatherly, stern and fierce. "He's got his eyes wide open, and he wants to take this on," said assistant GM Rob Antony. "That's good for all of us."

Ryan could have worked anywhere. Had he tested the open market, he could have named his price, could have attempted to cover himself in glory by resurrecting a storied franchise. He could have moved to warmer climes or managed a larger payroll.

Instead, he replaced his own successor as general manager of the Minnesota Twins because Ryan is an honorable man.

Had he allowed the Pohlads to hire Smith's successor from outside the organization, Ryan's friends and colleagues who helped build the Twins into an admired franchise might have lost their jobs. Ryan's life work, which led to playoff berths and staved-off contraction and the construction of Target Field, could have been ruined.

Once the Pohlads made it clear that Smith was going to be fired, and after speaking at length with Smith, Ryan decided that fixing the Twins was his responsibility. "My batteries are recharged," Ryan said. "I'm ready to go."

Ryan stepped aside as GM four years ago because he felt burned out, because the nagging aspects of the job began to outweigh the joys of winning. After spending his adulthood behind desks and backstops, Ryan felt he owed his family time.

He walked the dog. He raked leaves. He scouted games and worked from home. He watched his daughter, Kathleen, navigate high school, and his son, Tim, play baseball for the Gophers.

Today, he's an empty-nester, and the team he built is in disrepair.

"Four years ago, his daughter was still in high school and his son was just starting college," Antony said. "This is a different situation. He and [wife] Karilyn have caught up on a lot of missed time. We'd call, and they'd be taking walks, so I think he did a lot of the things that he felt he hadn't done for all those years.

"This past season was hard on a lot of us, and he was right there dying with us, whether he was at the ballpark or on the road."

The Twins are calling Ryan their "interim" general manager. Ryan said he could remain on the job for "one or 10 years."

Those closest to Ryan recommend betting the over.

"I don't like that term, 'interim,' " Antony said. "To me, an interim guy is someone who is a placeholder, until they find the guy they want. We're hoping he does the job for 10 years and we have the success we had the first time around."

Many members of the organization admired Smith's work ethic but also found his temperament and communication skills to be ill-suited for the public, highly scrutinized job of a major league general manager. When word of Ryan's return swept through the offices at Target Field, most reacted with a mixture of elation and relief.

"Terry has some ideas," Twins President Dave St. Peter said. "He has energy. I think he's been reinvigorated. I think the time away's been healthy for him.

"We're fortunate. We knew when Terry stepped down it was imperative to find a way to retain him for our organization. I don't know that there's a more loyal person, ever, that our franchise has had. He's had opportunities to move on and become a general manager in three, four, maybe five other markets.

"If he's happy, and we're doing what we need to do, it's my hope that he's our general manager for a long, long time."

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500ESPN. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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