When Carl Pohlad promoted Andy MacPhail from vice president of player personnel to general manager of the Twins in 1986, MacPhail, then 33 years old, was the youngest GM in baseball. He inherited a team that in its previous six seasons, from 1980 to 1985, had gone 406-512, which included a strike-shortened 110-game season in 1981.
And now the Twins have hired Derek Falvey to be their president of baseball operations at 33 years old. He will be the second-youngest person to lead a baseball department in the majors. And in the past six years, from 2011-2016, the Twins have gone 407-565.
The Twins can only hope that the success MacPhail found with a young and promising squad — including World Series wins in 1987 and 1991 — can be duplicated with Falvey.
MacPhail was asked about the circumstances surrounding his hiring in 1986 and how the game has changed today with the hiring of Falvey.
“I was very fortunate. I think when they hired me I was 32 and promoted to general manager at 33, and back in those days in 1986 the average age for a general manager was somewhere in the mid-50s,” MacPhail said. “I was dealing with a different generation, but I was fortunate in a lot of ways. We had a poor record in ’86, but I think if you go back and look at that team in ’86, I think we lost 10 games where we scored more than 10 runs or 10 runs. Our goal was to try to improve the back end of the bullpen and try to improve the team defense, particularly when you consider we were playing on that very fast surface at the Metrodome.
“We got Juan Berenguer, Jeff Reardon, and then getting Danny Gladden to patrol left field, which was like a center field in some ballparks, really shored up our defense. I was very fortunate in that I inherited a lot of good players: Kent Hrbek, Greg Gagne, Kirby Puckett, Tom Brunansky, Frank Viola, there was a good core in place. I don’t know that much about the Twins [now], but I do think there’s a good, young core of position players there, and if you watch good rebuilding teams, progress isn’t always linear. You don’t go from 60 wins to 70 to 80 to 90. Look at the Cubs. They struggled for three years and then all of a sudden it pops. That could happen to the Twins if they can get their pitching on line.”
Meanwhile, MacPhail said that one of the great things about Falvey is that he is coming from a winning organization in Cleveland, and he has heard nothing but good things about him.
“I have not met Derek Falvey, I have had the opportunity to talk to him on the phone,” MacPhail said. “He has an outstanding reputation in the game. He has been a fast riser from an organization that is extraordinarily well thought of in baseball in the Cleveland Indians.
‘‘They are a very process-oriented organization, maybe the most process-oriented organization in baseball.
“As you would expect he had some questions about going to Minnesota, getting the opportunity to work with the Pohlad family and David St. Peter, and then just some things about the city, even though my information is probably a little dated. I think he will do an outstanding job for the organization.”
Falvey on progress
At Falvey’s introductory news conference Monday he said he doesn’t believe in time limits when it comes to turning a team around, even a team like the Twins, who lost a franchise-record 103 games last season.
“I don’t view time restrictions on a team to be all that relevant,” he said. “We’ve seen teams and I’ve experienced teams that have exceeded expectations going into a season. [New general manager] Thad [Levine] has experienced that as well. I think the goal is to find a way to build a culture that cares about winning and being competitive every night and using every resource possible to do that. I think if you do that and you align the right set of players and build the right chemistry in a clubhouse, the sky is the limit for a team no matter what year it is.”
Falvey had the respect of a number of people in baseball and the Indians organization, including manager Terry Francona, who heaped nothing but praise on him when word leaked about the Twins hiring him. So did Falvey have any reservations about coming to a team that has lost 90 or more games in five of six seasons?
“Not at all, once I got a chance to meet Jim Pohlad, the Pohlad family and Dave St. Peter, it was so well-aligned with my vision for where I want to be in the long run in baseball that I realize it’s a challenge — any team you take over is a big challenge — but I couldn’t be more excited to be here,” Falvey said.
One thing that the Twins front office has to be happy about is that Falvey believes the bulk of the organization will remain in place, including Rob Antony as assistant general manager.
“My expectation is the vast majority of our staff will remain here going forward,” he said. “The last thing I want to do is tear away at the fabric of the Twins culture. The loyalty is something that attracted me to this organization, and Rob is someone who I anticipate will be a very important member of our leadership team moving forward.”
Focus on the minors
When asked how you turn around a team like the Twins, Falvey didn’t focus on the major league club.
“I think we have to spend a great deal of time evaluating how we’re developing players in the minor leagues,” he said. “I think understanding more about what we’re doing from a scouting standpoint and the pipeline of talent that’s coming in is going to be essential to the job. It’s not something that is seen every day at the major league level, but making sure we have the right alignment and vision for how we’re developing players in the minor leagues is essential.”
When asked if he can work with manager Paul Molitor — who many thought might lose his job — Falvey had nothing but strong words of praise for the Hall of Famer.
“I have been incredibly impressed by Paul. I mean he’s an incredible baseball man who has had great experiences and knows so much about the game,” Falvey said. “He’s open-minded, collaborative. I expect moving forward we will have a great relationship. We have the same vision, which is a winning Twins team.”
So the potential is here?
“I think the potential is there for any team to turn it around as quickly as the group of guys make a commitment to development,” he said. “I feel really good about that.”
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org