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Why Terry Ryan had to go

It’s long past the time for the Twins to examine and overhaul the baseball end of things. They need fresh, critical eyes, and Ryan wasn’t the guy to do it.

It’s long past the time for the Twins to examine and overhaul the baseball end of things, and it’s clear owner Jim Pohlad felt Terry Ryan — still popular in and out of the Twins organization — wasn’t the guy to do it.

The Twins might hire someone to succeed fired general manager Terry Ryan from outside, owner Jim Pohlad said Monday, or stay in-house. Whoever Pohlad chooses isn’t necessarily mandated to blow up the organization, though they could. But whoever it is can make any changes they want except with the manager, since Pohlad told Paul Molitor he’s coming back next year.

Understand now why the Twins banned television cameras from Monday’s “informal” roundtable with Pohlad and team president Dave St. Peter? 

Pohlad, like Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, operates with no script and virtually no filter. He answers questions with brutal honesty and flippant humor; hence, his assessment to the Star Tribune of this season as “total system failure” — a terrific line that perfectly captured the mess we’ve been watching. But the last thing the Twins needed this week was another off-handed remark playing on an endless video loop on ESPN.

Like this one, about Ryan’s potential successor:

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“When we had the all-staff meeting, you can see how loved Terry is by our organization,” Pohlad said. “If I had to pick one requirement for somebody going forward, it’s someone that’s lovable. The only way you can be loved is if you’re lovable. We want someone that can ultimately be loved. Technically they have to have the skills and strength and so forth, and have to have the willingness to look an organization and make hard decisions, or come up with ways for improvement.”

Seriously?

The Twins certainly don’t need another Dan Duquette, who alienated his employees, his players, other general managers and the media while bringing the Red Sox back from the dregs of the American League in the 1990s and early 2000s. But the next Twins GM or president of baseball operations — however they phrase it — better make Ryan seem cuddly, or he’s not doing the Twins or their fans any service. 

It’s long past the time for the Twins to examine and overhaul the baseball end of things. They need fresh, critical eyes, and it’s clear Pohlad felt Ryan — still popular in and out of the Twins organization for his integrity and character — wasn’t the guy to do it.

Sadly, he’s right.

This makes two general managers Pohlad has fired since his father Carl died in 2009, and Ryan might not be the only executive on his way out. Joining Pohlad and St. Peter for Monday’s meeting with reporters at Target Field was nephew Joe Pohlad, Bob’s son, who heads Go Media, the family broadcast arm. Insiders expect Joe to replace St. Peter whenever Jim decides he’s ready, and his presence Monday suggests a larger role may be imminent. 

Pohlad said he decided about a month ago, with the Twins challenging Atlanta for the worst record in baseball, to replace Ryan at the end of the season. He told Ryan shortly before the All-Star Break and asked him to stay on at least through the Aug. 1 trade deadline (it’s a day later than usual this year).

Ryan thought about it over the break and, according to Pohlad, told him Friday to just get it over with.

The team kept things quiet through the weekend, when the club inducted Torii Hunter and broadcaster John Gordon into the club’s Hall of Fame. Pohlad and St. Peter informed assistant general manager Rob Antony he was taking over during Sunday’s game, and then told Molitor after it, just before the team left for Detroit. 

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“Maybe the light should have gone on earlier, but the light went on that we need to look at our organization, the way we do things,” Pohlad said. “I came to the conclusion that the best way to do that was a change in leadership.”

One thing Pohlad emphasized: Nothing is off the table. And nothing should be. The Twins organization lost its way a long time ago. The Twins Way — hiring interns and entry-level associates, then promoting them up the ladder — no longer works because baseball has changed, and the Twins failed to change with it.

Pick a trend, and the Twins swung late on it: Drafting tall, hard-throwing pitchers; betting big on players in Latin America; signing middle infielders out of the Dominican Republic, which develops tons of them (I talked to a longtime scout two weeks ago who boasted, “I can find ten shortstops in the D.R. for every one here in the U.S.”); stockpiling and developing far more pitchers than you need; accepting that bullpen arms cost more than they used to and adapting accordingly.

The Twins clubhouse lacks veterans with respected track records to mentor the prospects that so badly need guidance, because the Twins generally let useful players go at around age 32. Torii Hunter filled a huge void last year. The Twins’ failure last winter to acquire a veteran Latino to mentor the Sanos, the Rosarios, and the Santanas was a critical mistake the next G.M. needs to rectify.  

It’s not enough for coaches to work with young players; successful clubs need veterans to take them aside, at the ballpark or elsewhere, and teach them how to handle failure and comport themselves as major leaguers. When Aaron Hicks joined the Yankees this spring, Carlos Beltran and Alex Rodriguez showed him the veteran’s way to prepare for a game – watching video, understanding how that day’s pitcher will try to get you out, coming up with a plan to combat it. Hunter tried to impart that lesson to Hicks here but it didn’t stick. 

It’s hard to remember the last time the Twins did something original or innovative. Other clubs hired mathematical experts with advanced degrees from the Ivy League; the Twins hired kids from the University of Minnesota. 

The Twins are known as a hitting organization that develops some pitching. A lot of clubs are like this, and it’s generally not that big a deal: You trade your hitting surplus to fill in around the holes in your pitching staff. Yet it was astounding to see the Twins, with the worst pitching in baseball, failing to choose a pitcher among their first four picks in last month’s amateur draft — the same draft where the Mets, with one of baseball’s strongest rotations, grabbed pitchers in the first and compensation rounds. That’s how contending teams operate.

And there’s one more thing, raised by a major-league executive recently, that hints at why Ryan can’t pull off the great trades he made in his first turn as G.M. So many of today’s general managers come from analytics backgrounds, not scouting and development backgrounds. According to the executive, a generation gap exists between the young guns and older G.M.s like Ryan and Sandy Alderson of the Mets that makes baseball conversation difficult. They speak different languages. One way around it: Hire an assistant G.M. versed enough in that world. It’s not clear the Twins have one. 

It pains me to write all this because Ryan is one of the best people I’ve ever dealt with in sports — available, accountable, never pointing fingers, always the first to accept blame for failures. Baseball is a notoriously catty industry. But in almost 30 years of covering major-league baseball in Boston, New York and here, I’ve never heard a single nasty, demeaning remark about Ryan. Not one.

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From meeting with the media before every home game (a first on any team I’ve covered in any sport), to greeting every employee in the building by name, to treating everyone he encountered with basic human dignity, Ryan earned respect by giving it.

Cancer offered an excuse to retire and leave the long, painstaking, thankless job of reviving this organization to someone else. But Ryan badly wanted to lead this organization back to contention. Now that job falls to another, with an impossible standard to follow.