In Minnesota, as in Oakland, Some Credit Is Due
By MURRAY CHASS
FORT MYERS, Fla.
Tom Kelly met Terry Ryan more than 30 years ago in the lowest levels of the Minnesota Twins’ organization.
“Back in Melbourne, Fla., years ago, we were roommates for about a week or two in the minor leagues,” Kelly said. “He was a pitcher and he was lame. Any time I saw him, he had ice all over him. He was done. That’s a long time ago.”
Kelly, who played in 49 games for the 1975 Twins, was only slightly more successful as a player than Ryan, but he went on to manage the Twins to two World Series titles. Ryan, the Twins’ general manager, has not gotten the team back to the World Series, but operating in a different time and under different conditions, he has established it as a perennial contender and a threat to get to the World Series.
Yet Ryan does not get the credit he deserves for the consistently outstanding job he does with a relatively small payroll. Now if “the consistently outstanding job he does with a relatively small payroll” sounds familiar, it is because it is usually applied to another general manager — Billy Beane of the Oakland Athletics.
Beane indeed does a great job, but there is no reason he should overshadow Ryan. Well, there is a reason. No one has written a book about Ryan and the Twins, which is just fine with Ryan. The more invisible he remains, the happier he is.
In fact, he questioned the attention he received last year when he was named executive of the year by The Sporting News for the second time in five years. “I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “As far as not getting attention, I’ve had way too many things thrown my way.”
The Twins won the American League Central title last year for the fourth time in five years. The Athletics have won the A.L. West four times and reached the playoffs five times in the past seven years.
The Twins had the smallest payroll of the eight playoff teams last year, $65 million, which ranked 21st among all 30 clubs. Oakland was 19th with $71 million. In 8 of the past 15 years, the Twins have had a smaller payroll than the Athletics.
Obviously, both the Twins and the Athletics are consistently good, and Ryan and Beane are talented executives who deserve more credit than most of their colleagues. But they should be viewed on the same level, not Beane above and Ryan below.
“We’re fine,” Ryan said, responding to any perceived difference in credit given to him and Beane. “I’m very comfortable. We’re not in it for anything other than the organization’s success.
“We all have different situations, but all of us are in it for the same reason. We’re trying to win baseball games.”
Each general manager goes about it differently, Ryan said, adding that, “What kind of payroll you have and what kind of market you work in, every one of us has certain obstacles to overcome.”
In fact, Ryan said, the Twins and the Athletics are similar. “We’ve got the same type of market, the same type of payroll,” he said. “Billy’s done a wonderful job out there and we’ve had some success here.”
Ryan said the Athletics had “probably lost more players through the years than anybody — he’s lost more players than we have — yet they keep winning.”
“That’s one of the reasons Billy gets a lot of accolades,” he said. “No matter what happens out there, he finds a way to get that team in the postseason.”
Beane’s method of operation, in which he largely uses statistics to judge players and find lower-priced nuggets of talent, was glorified in Michael Lewis’s book “Moneyball,” but contrary to its implications, teams continue to find other ways to win.
“I think that’s been overblown,” Ryan said. “We do statistical analysis, but we use scouting, we use word of mouth, we use video. Every club does. Billy just happened to have a book written about him, which got a lot of attention. I think scouting is one of the reasons we’ve had a little luck here.”
The Twins, Ryan said, have a good scouting director and a good pro scouting director. “We don’t get in the free-agent market much,” he added, “but we spend money on scouting and development and international. We’re up there pretty high, I’m guessing.”
The individual honors the Twins gained last year were testimony to their scouting. Joe Mauer (A.L. batting champion) and Justin Morneau (most valuable player) came out of Minnesota’s minor league system, and the Twins spotted Johan Santana (Cy Young award winner) in the Houston system and acquired him.
It was only the second time the same team has had three players attain those achievements in the same season.
“The club had a good year, the organization had a good year,” Ryan said. And then in his typically modest way he added: “But when I was named executive of the year, I was very surprised. I said no way.”