Jim Souhan: Twins GM Ryan rewards loyalty with allegiance

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 1, 2012 - 7:16 AM

Terry Ryan

Photo: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

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Terry Ryan's story is one of perseverance and loyalty, and it is not a story that began when he agreed to become the Twins' general manager for a second time last winter. It's a story borne of struggles, a story that easily could have ended before it started.

Before Ryan became a perennial executive of the year candidate, he nearly lost his job. Under his watch, the Twins posted losing records from 1995 to 2000. The Pohlad family believed in his body of work and his character and kept him on the job when few organizations would have exhibited such patience.

Ryan rewarded the Pohlads by building a winner, and he rewarded their loyalty with his own.

When the Twins faced contraction in the winter of 2000-01, the Toronto Blue Jays offered Ryan their general manager position. Not knowing whether he would have a job or a franchise the following year, Ryan refused to even interview.

As the Twins became known as a model franchise, Ryan received more feelers from other teams, teams that could offer greater resources and more money. He never interviewed for another job. And after leaving his post with the Twins to spend more time with his family, Ryan received more feelers and again refused to bite.

Ryan is the rare high-profile figure in professional sports who can say with a straight face that he is about more than the money. He is the rare person in professional sports for whom loyalty is not defined by contract language but by a standard dictionary.

"There were some jobs that I think people considered me for," Ryan said. "But I don't know if the jobs were mine if I wanted them. It might have gotten to that point, but when the subject came up I didn't let it get very far.

"It's not that I was afraid of the opportunity. It was that I had my roots in this organization, and I had my roots in the state of Minnesota, with my wife and kids. I never had the desire to leave the Twins.

"I've always been treated well here, not only by the organization but by the fan base. Our organization went through some tough times. I always felt a loyalty to the people who were good to me even when we were struggling. I always had the feeling that I pretty much belong here with the Twins."

After Tom Kelly retired as manager, he, too, could have cashed in on his reputation by taking over a big-money team. Kelly and Ryan, who possess immense admiration for each other, even could have marketed themselves as a duo.

Both played in the Twins organization, and neither ever expressed a desire to work elsewhere.

"I know Tom put it very succinctly not too long ago: 'If you're loyal to these people, they're loyal to you,'" Ryan said. "We've got it pretty good here. Talk about the grass being greener on the other side, well, I'm not sure it is. I don't know if it can get any better.

"We've got a brand-new stadium, plenty of payroll, strong revenues, a system in our farm system that I believe in.

"You know, Tom accomplished a lot. I have not. Tom won two World Series. I have not gotten this franchise to one. I know he's had many opportunities to work elsewhere, and he has turned them down. That's kind of the way things work around here."

Ryan's humility rivals his loyalty. How many sports executives would point out flaws in their own résumé?

"When this job opened up again, I took it, feeling like I'm much more prepared to do it this time," Ryan said. "The experiences I went through in the '90s taught me a lot.

"I'd like to take this team to the World Series. I don't know how long I'm going to do this job, but right now I feel really good about this organization. We went through a horrible year last year, but this thing certainly isn't broken. I want to prove that."

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

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