Souhan: Old-school Ryan stays relevant in 'Moneyball' world

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 9, 2011 - 9:41 AM

Terry Ryan, back in charge as the Twins general manager, wants his team to return to the days of when the little details mattered.

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Twins interim general manager Terry Ryan

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He can't take his eyes off the board. Never could. Whether during the Twins' dark seasons of the 1990s, or when he was winning awards in the 2000s, Terry Ryan couldn't keep his gaze from drifting toward the tote board on his office wall that holds the names of every major league player.

The board dominated his smaller office in the Metrodome, during his first stint as Twins general manager. Tuesday, on his first full day in the more spacious GM's office at Target Field, Ryan's eyes kept flicking to his right, to the row of names that define his team and his competition.

He does not seem pleased.

"We need to get back to some of that stuff that made us famous, and made us good, and made us the kind of team that people used to really talk about," Ryan said. "People used to say, 'They play all nine innings and they don't beat themselves. They don't screw up.'

"We can do all of that. That's a change we can certainly make."

Ryan wore a red, patterned shirt, no tie, and khakis. He was never one for fancy clothes or phrases, and he hasn't changed much. The job has.

When Ryan resigned in 2007, Twitter was a rumor, and deep statistical analysis was more a subject of debate than reverence. Ryan grew up in baseball as the kind of behind-the-backstop scout ridiculed in the book and movie "Moneyball."

As he begins the work of restoring the Twins' good name at the age of 58, Ryan could be called "old school" by those who want to praise, or bury, him.

"It certainly wouldn't be an insult," he said. "I'm not even sure what the definition of that would be anymore, because people constantly have to adjust in this industry.

"I believe in certain things. I believe in talking. I believe in communicating with people. If that's old school, then I'm old school. But I don't think that's old school."

Baseball's new school teaches statistical analysis that can make your head spin. "We've been into statistics for a long time," Ryan said. "We certainly don't talk about it much, but back in the mid-to-late '80s, we began digging in pretty good. Statistics are a part of every decision we make."

Just not all statistics.

"Defense is a difficult thing to quantify," he said. "And sometimes, what the statistic says about range, your eyes don't agree with. We believe in statistics, just not all statistics."

Even before Bill Smith was fired, the Twins were trying to add talent evaluators to their front office. Smith had just hired Wayne Krivsky, the former Reds general manager.

With Ryan running the team and Krivsky in the fold, the Twins front office no longer lacks accomplished decision-makers. Ryan said he's looking to pour more expertise into the team's intellectual reservoir.

"Every scout we have is responsible for statistical analysis," Ryan said. "And we're in the process of expanding our operations in that area. We're much deeper into it than we were two years ago, and very much deeper into it than we used to be 10 years ago. So is everybody in the industry."

Ryan promises to keep pace with the evolution of baseball, but he's back in the big chair, facing the tote board, because he's the same guy whose common sense and hard work resurrected the Twins more than a decade ago.

Tuesday, with Ryan in charge, the Twins front office felt more familiar than altered.

"I think one of the things I was proudest of, when I did this job, was that people around baseball used to say, 'Man, we'd like to do things the way the Twins do them,'" Ryan said. "People knew we didn't take short cuts. We were competitive for a long time, and then I suffered right along with Billy with what we went through last year.

"That's probably as good as you can hope, that you're in the race every year, and we were for about 10 years. That's what we need to get back to."

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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