Startribune.com digital sports editor Howard Sinker used to cover the Twins and now shares season tickets with friends in Section 219 of Target Field. He blogs about baseball from the perspective of a long-time fan who loves the game, doesn’t always believe the hype and likes hearing what others think. Howard sometimes talks about sports with Cathy Wurzer on MPR's Morning Edition.
First, my personal Paul Molitor story.
I got to work one day in my rookie year at the Minneapolis Tribune and was called into the editor's office. I was actually a temporary employee at the time, working nights and doing whatever needed to be done in the sports department, and that night what needed to be done was to go to Paul Molitor's house in St. Paul.
He'd just finished his rookie season in Milwaukee and his mother, Kathy, had just found out that Paul had been named the Sporting News Rookie of the Year among American League position players. She'd called, asking if we wanted to do a story. Paul would be hone in an hour or so, Kathy said.
There was only one condition: We couldn't tell Paul that mom had told us the news.
I don't remember much about the story, but I remember sitting in the living room talking about this and that and some baseball and some other stuff. We were about the same age and had longer hair than we do now. He was engaging and smart. I've only talked to him a few of times since, including once at the Metrodome to offer condolences after his mom died. (Note to young journalists: Parents are great sources. Get to know 'em. Note to readers: Yeah, I'm probably older than you.)
Now, on to what's happening with the Twins. The interesting thing about much of the angst over Molitor's selection being a safe choice is that it's really no such thing.
Is it safe to hire a manager who hasn't held that job at any level? A Hall of Famer when the track record of really good players-turned-manages isn't good? A guy who was a union activist in his playing days? There are all kinds of things that would make Molitor look like an outside-the-box pick if it wasn't for his connections to the Twins and to the Pohlad family. (In addition to the baseball ties, one of Carl Pohlad's grandchildren and one of Molitor's children co-own a juice bar in Uptown.)
So the choice is between being cynical about the hire or wondering -- by accident or design -- if the Twins have latched themselves to a different kind of manager who can return the team to competence. For what it's worth, he was seen as an outsider in Ron Gardenhire's tightly knit coaching staff, which Molitor joined last season. He's interesting to listen to when he's talking baseball. I suspect there will be fewer quips and more depth coming from the manager's office.
As much as anything, I'm intrigued by how some of Molitor's experiences, beyond being an excellent hitter and base runner, will have an impact on the way he'll manage. He was a moved from position to position to position early in his career to make room for others, once expressing frustration by wondering publicly whether he'd become Milwaukee's closer if the future Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers left the team. His drug issues during the 1980s have been well chronicled, and may give him a better understanding than other managers of choices facing younger players. He was around the game long enough to know the impact and influence veteran players can have on less experienced ones. Maybe having several seasons cut short by injuries taught him about keys to staying healthy that can be applied to others.
I got the impression from listening to Molitor on his first day of talking about the job that he feels a different tone needs to be set with the Twins. Tone doesn't win baseball games, but being a step ahead of what's happening on the field won't hurt. I was especially intrigued to read what Brian Dozier and Glen Perkins said about learning from Molitor in this story by Chip Scoggins. You can study baseball's advanced metrics, which are a good thing, all you want -- but examples cited by the players are a lesson in how the numbers can come alive on the field.
In Terry Ryan's role, you can get blasted for whatever choice you make, especially in hindsight.
If the highlight of Molitor's tenure is the words that were spoken at Target Field on Tuesday, shame on the Twins for choosing someone who'd never managed. If the Twins had chosen Doug Mientkiewicz and that flopped, shame on the Twins for thinking that success in the low minors would mean anything in the majors. Choose a coach with a good reputation from elsewhere and you'd wonder why that guy didn't get the other jobs he was seeking. Choose a guy who'd managed elsewhere and it's the old boys' club at work.
Oh, and there's this one: Pass over Joe Maddon? Using hindsight, Maddon-to-the-Cubs was pretty well ordained about 15 seconds from the time he opted out of his Tampa Bay contract.
Honestly, I don't know whether this is a good or bad hire -- and you don't, either. The Twins have done so many things to antagonize their fans over the last couple of years that I understand if Molitor's hiring doesn't bring you any closer to Target Field for now. What I do know is that my interest is piqued about what will follow this winter -- and what will come of it next season. Molitor and the Twins won that battle on Tuesday.
There's a story about when the Twins were moving into Target Field and they were deciding on the ballpark's official hot dog. Seems like a simple thing, right? But the Twins way to do it was for a couple of dozen team officials to gather and taste test all the possibilities. Someone asked if they could have mustard and was told no -- that this was all about the meat.
That's not to say that such widespread involvement is holding up the hiring of the new Twins managers.
It's just that deliberation is the Twins way of doing things, even when the decisions may appear as simple (to some) as hiring a Twin Cities legend over the fiery minor-league upstart and a stat-head from Boston to be the team's next manager. Or someone else, if Terry Ryan is being forthcoming in the update in today's news.
And, if you're Ryan, deliberation is all the more vital for another reason: I believe his tenure as general manager is dependent on making the right choice. So while Paul Molitor may well get the job, I'm dismissive of those who are certain the entire slow-moving process is a charade leading up to his selection.
Should Molitor get it? I don't know. As much insight as I may have about baseball, my insights into Molitor's potential managing skill are worth less than a second of your time compared to the hours than Ryan is spending grilling the candidates and matching his expectations to the right fit as he sees it.
Yeah, I like the fire that I presume Doug Mientkiewicz would bring to the job. I like it a lot. I like that he's worked with all the young players who are seen as key parts of the Twins' future. I liked Mientkiewicz as a colorful player during the Twins' seasons of resurrection and I'd hope that he'd quickly make the Twins greater than the sum of their parts.
Yeah, I like Torey Lovullo almost as much because of his reputation as a guy who understands baseball's metrics more than we assume is the norm in the Twins' organization. He's been with Boston during the best of times and during the times when things have gone wrong, so I assume he's internalized the things that can make a good team go in one direction or the other. His choice would also be different thinking by a team that needs a new direction.
Yeah, I've also spent maybe a total of 15 or 20 minutes thinking through all of this. Anything more would be a waste of time and energy. I think I (and a lot of other people) can look at a baseball player over a period of time and have a pretty good feel for how good he is -- or isn't. If you think I (or anyone) can look at someone who has never managed in the majors and know how good he'd be -- and how better he might be in Year 3 or 4 compared with Year 1 or 2 -- you're asking way too much.
That's what the hours of deliberation are about.
I hate to be reasonable about this, but here's what I know: Ryan is making his choice against a backdrop of skepticism that the Twins have earned by bungling more things than they have gotten right in the last half-decade. Get it wrong and he isn't likely to be the one making the next choice.
Get it right and probably he won't be the one making the next choice, either. But that'll be a good thing because Ryan, 61, would be leaving on his own terms by hiring the Twins' manager for many years to come -- and leaving the club in better shape that he found it.
If you had that responsibility, you'd be taking your time, too.
I covered the firings of the two managers before Tom Kelly was hired by the Twins. Billy Gardner was cut loose in 1985 and conducted a one-liner filled exit interview with me 'n' Patrick Reusse, who was working in St. Paul at the time, in the Super 8 motel room in Roseville where he lived during the season. Little more than a year later, Ray Miller waxed bitter about his firing in the downtown Minneapolis high rise where he lived during his brief and flawed stint with the Twins.
You could see those coming too, even if both of them were in some denial about what led to their job loss.
Ron Gardenhire went out differently. I really think that every word he spoke on Monday afternoon, after Terry Ryan announced the change, was from the heart. For him to stay on as manager of the Twins would have been the wrong thing on many fronts. This is a team that needs a new voice, especially if that voice is intended to be heard for as long as Gardenhire's and Tom Kelly's were. This is a voice intended to be heard in 2025 as well as 2015, if Ryan and the Twins make the right choice.
I was among the first to write this season that a change of manager was needed. If you think I was happy to write that, you're mistaken. I was as happy to make that case as Ryan was to tell Gardy that he was gone.
Gardenhire's spring training tryout with the Twins came in 1987, the last year I covered the team, and he lost out on a reserve's job (as did Ron Washington) after the Twins traded for Al Newman. Gardy played in 10 games that spring. He made five errors and didn't hit much. Kelly made no secret that he was looking for a glove more than a bat -- and Gardy was cut at the end of camp (on the same day the Twins traded with San Francisco for Dan Gladden).
I saw a lot of those fringe guys come through spring training. None of them came back and made an impact, other than Gardy. When the curmudgeon Kelly resigned, Gardy was the folksy, cheerful replacement. He was a voice the Twins needed and he was the right manager to guide the group that he took over, which is a very different group than the one that led to Gardy being thrown overboard.
This group needs a voice more strident than folksy. If you want a leader for a core of self-starters who are going to demand the most from each other, Gardy is among the best choices to manage. That's not a description of the current Twins, who act way too content with being on the periphery of other teams' success. As constructed by Ryan, this wasn't a team good enough to contend -- and I got the sense that didn't bother players as much as it should have.
So why not sack Ryan, too?
Well, if that happened, whom in the organization would you trust to find his replacement -- much less a new manager? Starting pitching isn't the only area in which the Twins have little depth.
The choice of a new manager and the revisions made to the current roster will, basically, be a referendum on Ryan. He has done some things for the minor-league organization to help it recover from the fraying that took place between his general manager stints. But the real challenge is whether that will soon pay off at Target Field.
In addition to hiring a new manager, I hope Ryan hires a top assistant to work with him. The next year or two will be a test of his abilities to construct a winning major league team, and if the troubles continue, his job should be the next on the line. So I want the coming changes to include someone who could well be the Twins' next general manager.
Worst case is that change needs making in a year or two.
Best case for the Twins is that the right moves are made and Ryan is replaced when he damn well pleases -- and well down the road.
This may have been the ultimate First World issue, whether the Twins should have found a way to give pitcher Phil Hughes the $500,000 bonus he would have earned if a rain delay hadn't robbed him of a chance to get one more out on Wednesday.
(For those who haven't been following the deal, Hughes had that bonus in his contract for pitching 210 innings -- and he'll finish the season with 209 2/3.)
The Twins offered to let Hughes pitch against Detroit to earn the bonus. Hughes declined, and apparently rebuffed efforts to find a way to have the money given to him in some other way. It would have been deserved, but Hughes took the position that he just didn't feel right about any of the ideas that had been put forward.
Both the Twins and Hughes came away looking good.
That's a small but important thing.
However the Twins move forward in reshaping the team for 2015 and beyond, they need to be perceived in a better way than they are right now.. J.J. Hardy, Vance Worley and Carlos Gomez have been among those with unflattering things to say after their exits. The David Ortiz complaints, however ancient (or valid) they may be, are ancient history.
Much had been made about the success of players after they have left the team, whether it's the All-Star status of Gomez, the three ex-Twins among National League batting average leaders or the attention that Francisco Liriano and Worley have gotten for their work in Pittsburgh. Combine those with the tumble from postseason staple to baseball bottom-dweller and the picture is pretty ugly.
Obviously, $500,000 isn't much to Twins management or to a pitcher making an $8 million salary this season. By themselves, the positions of the Twins and Hughes don't mean much.
But as one step toward reshaping the team's image, it's a start.
And, yes, there's still a lot of work to do.
To that end, here are a few interesting reads and listens for the final weekend of the season:
Steve Buhr, who has written for Section 219 as "Jim Crikket," writes about what he'd do if he owned the Twins.
ESPN 1500's Phil Mackey has this in-depth look at the deterioration of the Twins.
Here's the Star Tribune's special report from earlier this week on what needs to be done to fix the Twins.
And I was invited to talk about the Twins (from bobbleheads to bobbled grounders) on the Talk to Contact podcast on Thursday night. I had fun ... and only cussed once.
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