Terry Ryan’s teams lost too much and he got fired. That’s inarguable. It’s also insufficient.
You can find that story anywhere you look today, but that’s not what makes Ryan’s story unique.
I don’t feel sorry for Ryan. He knew the parameters of his job as general manager and he had a good, long, run, and he has fired people himself.
I feel sorry for the people who no longer will see him every day. There is a reason Twins employees wept on Monday.
Growing up, I had always wanted to cover baseball. I got my chance in 1993. I was introduced to Ryan at spring training and was told he wasn’t much for interviews, that he could be a little crabby. For the next five years I covered the Twins on a daily basis, and Ryan and Tom Kelly taught me more about baseball than I have learned before or since. They transformed the game from black-and-white to HD.
That spring, I asked to go on a scouting trip with Ryan, then the Twins vice president of player personnel. He took me to Port Charlotte to see Nolan Ryan face the Pirates. After a couple of bloop hits, Terry Ryan noticed Nolan’s face turning red and said, “This bird [the batter] better be loose up there.” The next pitch hit that bird in the ribs.
Terry Ryan could spot a Class A non-prospect 300 feet away wearing a generic warmup pullover and tell you who he was and why he couldn’t hit a slider on the inside corner. He also could name any tune that came on any loudspeaker in any ballpark in America in five notes or fewer.
There are vintage stories about Ryan wafting around hundreds of ballparks in America, including the time he tried to turn in a rental car after a scouting trip, was told he was going to be charged for a full week instead of a few days. He got mad, drove it from Chicago to most of the Southern states and returned it with thousands of miles logged. Having changed the oil himself. Because he wanted to make a point, but he didn’t want to ruin the car.
This spring, I spoke with Rob Antony about Ryan. Antony is succeeding Ryan on an interim basis and probably knew all along he would be next in line whenever Ryan moved on.
“I just hope Terry stays on the job for a long time,” Antony said. “That’s all any of us around here want. We think we’ve got a good thing going.”
His teams’ failures got Ryan fired, and that’s fair, that’s the way the sports world works, but Ryan’s departure is the end of one particular kind of era.
I know Rick Spielman and Chuck Fletcher. I’ve enjoyed speaking with Tom Thibodeau. I think Mark Coyle has a puncher’s chance with the Gophers. In each case, I have friends and associates in common with these people and have heard good things about each of them as workers and humans.
But my only evidence of their behavior is anecdotal. Most of the times you see them, they are behind a podium or have a media relations person waiting to cut off questions.
Ryan was different. He was as accessible, honest, friendly and concerned, and the people who revere him most are those to whom he applied tough love.
He traded Doug Mientkiewicz, who would play or work for six other organizations. When his wife took ill while he was working for the Dodgers, the Twins sent flowers, and on his birthday, Ryan would text him, every year.
“That just does not happen,” Mientkiewicz told me in 2013. “Outside of my dad, he’s probably No. 2 on my list of men I respect.”
Eddie Guardado, LaTroy Hawkins, Paul Molitor, Torii Hunter, Tom Kelly — I heard similar sentiments about Ryan from all of them.
He lost too many games and got fired. That’s part of Ryan’s résumé, and usually the way careers end for people who hold high office in sports.
What’s different about Ryan is that he his departure will be mourned by his peers and employees. That’s as rare as a triple play.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MalePatternPodcasts.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org