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Updated: November 7th, 2011 7:42pm
Zulgad: Terry Ryan shows loyalty to Twins by returning as GM

Zulgad: Terry Ryan shows loyalty to Twins by returning as GM

by Judd Zulgad

MINNEAPOLIS - The success Terry Ryan had experienced as the Minnesota Twins general manager was no longer enough to keep him in that role four years ago.

"I know I look like I'm 75, but I'm 53," Ryan said in September 2007 as he made the surprise announcement that he was stepping away from the GM's job and that Bill Smith would take over. "I'm better served being out on the field and on the diamond than behind a desk. Bill is more of an administrator than I am.

"This is a good thing for me. My health is intact. My marriage is intact. That's not the easiest thing to do in baseball. And I'm not going to leave the organization, which is another good thing."

Ryan, who had rebuilt the Twins from an American League laughing stock to a model organization, remained with the franchise as a senior adviser and scout. Everything seemed to be well as the club won the AL Central two of the next three years.

But the stability that surrounded the organization - and grew stronger with the move to Target Field in 2010 -- was shaken in a major way in 2011.

The Twins finished 63-99 and fans began calling for Smith, not manager Ron Gardenhire, to be fired. It did not appear that would happen and given the Twins' loyalty to their employees no one should have been surprised.

Then in recent weeks something happened that caused Smith's security to disappear. On Monday in a hastily called news conference at Target Field, Smith was removed as general manager.

Owner Jim Pohlad and team president Dave St. Peter stated that "philosophical differences" resulted in the decision but both would not answer repeated questions about exactly what had transpired.

Smith was not at the press conference and while the team has offered him the opportunity to remain as an employee there's no certainty that will happen.

A logical assumption was that if the Twins had been intent on removing Smith - and that certainly was their right after an extremely disappointing season - the move would have been made shortly after the season and a search would have begun for his successor.

But given how quick this move seemed to come down, it was pretty clear the Twins ended up having to find a replacement in quick fashion.

Enter the no-nonsense Ryan.

It was the Twins' lucky day that he said yes when asked to become the interim general manager.

"I don't know if it will be for one year or 10 years," Ryan said of how long he will serve in his second stint of a job he held for 13 years the first time around.

Given their choice, it's likely Pohlad and St. Peter would like to have Ryan tell them he will agree to remove the interim tag as soon as possible. But it's not a given that will happen.

The 58-year-old Ryan is a baseball-lifer but that doesn't mean he will embrace a job that if anything is more under the microscope now than it was when he walked away.

Ryan resigned the first time because he did not enjoy elements of his job that weren't associated with evaluating talent. Dealing with agents and the media grew old for him.

Well guess what? Agents aren't going anywhere and since 2007 the amount of media and Internet coverage of baseball has only grown and will continue to do so.

Ryan made it clear that part of his agreement to return includes a deal with Pohlad that he can hand pick his successor.

With the Twins planning to bring back former Cincinnati Reds GM Wayne Krivsky as a professional scout and assistant to the general manager, it would stand to reason that he might be the guy who follows Ryan.

In some ways all of this seems to have a few parallels to what happened nearly 30 years ago with the Vikings when Les Steckel was hired to succeed Bud Grant and then fired after a 3-13 season.

Grant, being the good employee, returned to coach the Vikings in 1985 but then handed the job off to his good friend and longtime offensive coordinator Jerry Burns.

Ryan certainly came off as a guy being a loyal company guy on Monday, taking on an assignment that almost certainly wasn't his first choice but for which he is the best choice.

At least on short notice.

"There's a need right now," he said. "I certainly believe in continuity and stability and what we stand for here in the organization. It's an interim tag.

"That could be a short amount of time or it could be a long time. Nothing has really changed (since 2007). I would say that maybe I recharged my battery some. I'm going to take this job head on. I'm not going to do it part time. It's a challenge. Being a general manager is a 365 (day) out of the year job. That's the way I'm going to go at it.

"I might take a few different approaches and maybe have a little bit more patience and maybe do some other things differently. But it's not going to change much for me. We've got some work to do here. We lost 99 games this year. Some of it was bad luck, some of it wasn't. We need to start going in the right direction again."

It wouldn't be surprising if once Ryan feels the Twins are headed in that direction, he again vacates the GM's chair.

This time for good. 

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
In this story: Ron Gardenhire