For 15 years, the Twins were Tom Kelly’s franchise. Andy MacPhail made the biggest decisions but Kelly’s personality and attention to detail were the most pervasive and identifiable aspects of Twindom.
When Kelly retired after the 2001 season, Terry Ryan became the Twins’ dominant personality, and that worked pretty well until it didn’t.
With Ryan’s departure from the front office came this realization: The most powerful, influential and recognizable people in the Twins’ organization are now Jim Pohlad and Dave St. Peter, two men with proven business acumen who would not describe themselves as personnel experts. Pohlad will have to prove that’s something other than scary.
Kelly and Ryan had their losing streaks but were immensely respected within the organization and within the game. Both were hyper-organized and knowledgeable and knew everything about the game and nearly everyone in it.
When discussing the possibility of the first radical organizational changes the Twins might make since they hired MacPhail to be their eventual general manager in 1984, Pohlad said he researched the structure of other baseball front offices by reading media guides, and admitted he might hire a search firm to help identify outside candidates.
The Pohlads have been accused of a form of loyalty rooted in stubbornness, or cheapness. The true root of their loyalty might be indecisiveness. They might keep their top employees around because they don’t know who else to hire.
All the good managers I’ve ever been around — general managers, field managers, coaches — have kept a working list in their heads or desks of people they’d like to hire, and would hire if the right opening came along. Pohlad sounded like he avoided building such a list out of respect for Ryan, but Ryan is a 62-year-old cancer survivor whose franchise is on its way to a fifth 90-loss season in six years.
It is not disloyal to prepare to replace a key figure. It is due diligence.
This is the hire that will define Jim Pohlad’s tenure as the Twins’ primary boss. This is also a chance for him to explode criticisms that he probably views as myths.
The Twins need to get better at drafting and developing pitchers. They have lagged in that area for 25 years. That was Ryan’s responsibility and the cause of his dismissal. Pohlad needs to hire someone who can fix that, which means hiring someone who will be willing and capable of making changes in the organization.
If he hires interim general manager Rob Antony, he needs to demand that Antony make changes. If Pohlad hires someone outside the organization, he needs to prove he can find the right candidate on the open market.
That’s a perilous place to operate if you lack experience and inside information.
When the University of Minnesota went outside to hire an athletic director, it hired Norwood Teague. He was a disaster and an embarrassment. When the Vikings went outside to hire a coach, they wound up with Brad Childress. Former Vikings players still blame him for the sideline confusion that led to Brett Favre’s last, fateful interception in the 2009 NFC Championship Game.
When the Timberwolves finally went outside their organization to hire a GM and coach in 2009, they wound up with David Kahn and Kurt Rambis, perhaps the worst GM/coach combination in Twin Cities history.
There are general managers who would be ideal hires for the Twins job. None of them are available. Brian Sabean, Dayton Moore, Dave Dombrowski, Jon Daniels and Theo Epstein are not walking through that door.
Hiring the next big thing is an exercise in research and perceptiveness, and it is difficult. When MacPhail left the Twins after the 1994 season to run the Cubs as one of baseball’s most respected bosses, he wanted to hire a general manager to work below him. On the flight to Chicago, he showed me a list of potential candidates that included Sabean, who has won three of the past five World Series with the Giants. Then he hired Ed Lynch.
On Monday, Pohlad did not sound like someone who is ready to hire the next big thing. He sounded like someone who would need a lot of help to avoid hiring the next Ed Lynch.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MalePatternPodcasts.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org