MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota Twins owner Jim Pohlad’s reverence for Terry Ryan has been evident for almost two decades, steadfastly supporting his general manager with a commitment uncommon in today’s game.
As the struggles on the field piled up over the last five years, even that enduring respect wasn’t enough to keep Ryan with the Twins.
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Ryan was fired on Monday with the team holding the worst record in the American League and on pace to lose 100 games. The Twins entered the day 33-58, 21 games out of first place in the AL Central. Only Atlanta had a worse record in the majors.
"Sometimes you may have to do things that are hard," Pohlad said. "I never try to shy away from hard decisions. I own this decision. We like to bring people from within up the organization. If we have to go outside we go outside. There’s new ways of thinking. They’re not tied into old organizational ways of thinking."
Ryan said he is leaving with "immense pride in being part of the Twins organization for the better part of three decades."
Rob Antony, in his 29th season with the organization and ninth as the team’s assistant general manager, will take over on an interim basis. Pohlad said he would be considered for the permanent job.
Antony became a bit emotional when talking about Ryan before Minnesota’s game Monday night at Detroit.
"It’ll be fine as long as nobody asks me what he means to me," Antony said. "It’s been tough. Worked with the man for 20 years and have nothing but respect for him, and he’s been a mentor, he’s been like a second dad for me. So it’s been a tough day for a lot of people."
Twins star Joe Mauer echoed that sentiment in the clubhouse.
"You always knew where you stood with him. Very honest, direct. He had a lot of qualities that I tried to pattern myself after," Mauer said. "There’s a lot of emotions going through me right now. It’s a tough day."
Pohlad said he informed Ryan about a month ago that he would not be coming back in 2017. After some contemplation, Ryan told Pohlad on Friday after the All-Star break that they should make the move now.
Whoever leads the baseball operations will have the team’s full support to make whatever changes are deemed necessary — except one. Pohlad said manager Paul Molitor will return in 2017.
"I want to keep doing this," Molitor said. "I want to help try to be part of the solution of our team getting better and finding a way to do some things that we haven’t been able to do here for quite a while."
Pohlad said the Twins might bring in a search firm to help identify GM candidates outside the organization as well, with the goal of hiring someone before the season ends. For now, Antony has full power to make trades and moves up through the trade deadline in two weeks.
One of the most respected figures in baseball, Ryan spent two stints as general manager of the Twins, taking over in September 1994 and helping the franchise eventually become one of the models for small-market success in the early 2000s. He helped build one of baseball’s strongest farm systems and made several shrewd trades that turned the Twins into a team that won four AL Central tiles in five seasons.
"I’m grateful for the leadership opportunities provided by the Pohlad family," he said. "The collaboration and talents of my colleagues in the front office; the hard work and dedication of our manager, coaches and clubhouse personnel; the commitment and professionalism of our players; the passion and attention to detail of our minor league staff and scouts; and most importantly, the incredible support of our fans."
Ryan stepped down after the 2007 season but returned in November 2011 after hand-picked successor Bill Smith could not continue the team’s success.
The Twins are in the middle of their fifth losing season in the last six years, and a 2015 season that saw them return to contention proved not to be enough when the team sank to the bottom of the AL this summer.
"I think we maybe relied and depended too much on some young players, that they were going to be able to take that next step, and they weren’t able to, and some of our veteran players got off to a tough start the first month or two," Antony said. "When you put those two things together, that’s tough."
Ryan handed out big money to pitchers Ervin Santana, Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes in an effort to address the team’s biggest weakness in the starting rotation, but all have been disappointments this year.
The decisions to sign South Korean slugger Byung-Ho Park, keep veteran third baseman Trevor Plouffe this offseason and move promising youngster Miguel Sano from third base to right field all proved ill-fated. Sano was injured while playing the outfield and is back at third base, Plouffe is on the disabled list and his trade value has been diminished, and Park has been sent to Triple-A to try to ease his transition to the United States.
The midseason firing is a highly uncharacteristic move by the Pohlad family, long known in baseball circles for loyalty and continuity. Jim Pohlad has made no secret of his admiration for Ryan, saying as late as last year that the GM could hold his post for as long as he wanted.
"Maybe the light should have gone on earlier," Pohlad said. "But the light went on and we need to look at our organization and the way we do things."