Reusse: Pohlads saw bigger issues in play than Smith did

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 7, 2011 - 11:33 PM

The Twins didn't think Smith's plan went far enough.

Bill Smith

Photo: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

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The Twins summoned the media to the basement of the Metrodome on Nov. 24, 1986, and announced a shakeup of the baseball operation.

Andy MacPhail was promoted to general manager. Tom Kelly went from interim to permanent manager (a permanency that lasted for 15 years). Bob Gebhard was hired as a special assistant to MacPhail. Ralph Houk was hired as an adviser to MacPhail and Kelly.

There have been a few people fired in the 25 years since owner Carl Pohlad made those announcements. Rick Renick was let go as third base coach after the 1990 season, enabling Ron Gardenhire to join Kelly's staff. Al Newman, another third base coach, was dropped from Gardenhire's staff after the 2005 season.

That's about it as far as the unwilling departure of baseball people -- unless you want to blame the departure of Wally the Beer Man on a lack of support from the Twins.

Monday at mid-afternoon, the commitment to the status quo in the baseball operation came to a dramatic end when the Twins issued a statement that Terry Ryan was returning as the interim general manager to replace Bill Smith.

There were accolades from owner Jim Pohlad, team President Dave St. Peter and Ryan for Smith's well-known work ethic, but there was none of the usual nonsense that you find about the departed "resigning to pursue other opportunities."

Smith was fired as the GM, and the Twins didn't try to deny that.

On Sunday, I wrote a column urging that the Twins should forget attempting to re-sign free agents such as outfielder Michael Cuddyer and closer Joe Nathan. The main point was carried in this sentence:

"The Twins' decision-makers are having a tough time making the adjustment from contenders to rebuilders."

Monday, a statement from Jim Pohlad carried this vague explanation as to the reason for firing Smith:

"The Twins' goal is to get better in 2012 and beyond," Pohlad said. "Bill was equally motivated to achieve that goal, but we differed in the scope and approach that was required."

The interpretation from here is that Smith was the key decision-maker feeling as if the Twins could fix their problems with minor changes in the operation. And that the Pohlads, while not officially signing on to rebuilding, were convinced that significant problems had to be addressed in player evaluation, in player development and in how to get injured players back on the field.

Ryan was asked Monday if there were any creative ideas floating around to keep key players in the lineup. Immediately, he used the word "accountability," meaning the front office, the big-league staff, the trainers, the rehab specialists and the players -- Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and the rest of them -- had to be accountable for getting the regulars in the lineup on an everyday basis.

The jaw line was a little more jutted than normal when Ryan mentioned "how long it took at times to get a guy back on the field" in 2011.

He also said that he was in Florida last summer, watching Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Mauer and others on rehab. And it didn't sound as if the interim GM was impressed by the commitment he saw there.

Smith said several days ago in a radio interview that no changes were coming with the medical, training and rehab staffs. That might still be the case, but it sounded Monday as if Ryan is going to take a much harder look at those situations.

The departure of Smith came quickly. A meeting between the GM and the Pohlads went poorly Friday, and the decision came soon thereafter.

There was a rumor floating Monday that Smith was not excited about Wayne Krivsky's pending return to the organization -- proof that false rumors exist.

Krivsky, contacted at his home near Cincinnati, said: "Are you kidding me? Bill Smith is one of my best friends. There was an opening after [special assistant] Joe McIlvaine went to Seattle, and it was Bill's idea to bring me back. I had been negotiating with Bill for 10-12 days, before this came up.

"I'm as close to Bill Smith and Terry Ryan as any two people in baseball. This is a sad day for me, because Billy put as much work into that job as any GM in the game."

Krivsky will be returning to the Twins as a special assistant, but now for his buddy Terry Ryan, rather than his buddy Bill Smith.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500ESPN. • preusse@startribune.com

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