Jump to content

Providing independent coverage of the Minnesota Twins.
Subscribe to Twins Daily Email

The Forums

The 5 Rule Draft

Twins Minor League Talk Today, 05:58 PM
This year's Rule 5 draft we lost Akil Baddo and Tyler Wells. So I thought I'd check to see how they were doing. 1st I checked on Baddo, h...
Full topic ›

Morneau

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 12:13 PM
I thought he was was really good last year. Maybe I'm on an opening day high (Not high) but he is so good.Who would have thought he would...
Full topic ›

Ex Twins in 2021: Where Are They Now?

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 09:48 AM
One of my favorite annual threads on the site. Let’s stay updated on ex-Twins in the news... This is a start of a list, and feel free to...
Full topic ›

Why isn't Buxton on MLB OPS leaders list?

Minnesota Twins Talk Yesterday, 04:36 PM
Buxton is listed only on the MLB HR leaders list. Not on OPS or AVG or SLG or OBP. He should be the leader in several of these. He has as...
Full topic ›

2021 MLB (non-Twins) Season news

Other Baseball Yesterday, 09:54 AM
A thread for news from around Major League Baseball. Tonight in L.A., the Angels will forego their DH in order to let Shohei Ohtani both...
Full topic ›

The Best 25 GMs In History: #25 Andy MacPhail

This post is part of a series in which Mark Armour and I count down the 25 best GMs in history, crossposting from our blog. For an explanation, please see this post.

Andy MacPhail had big shoes to fill. Both his father Lee and his grandfather Larry are in the Hall of Fame as baseball executives. When the Minnesota Twins promoted the 33-year-old MacPhail to run the club, they surely took his pedigree into account.
He lived up to his surname, and his surprisingly quick success cemented a wave of extremely young GMs, a couple with similar front office bloodlines.

Coming out of college in 1976 MacPhail knew he wanted a career in a baseball front office and thought he had lined up a position with the Montreal Expos. Unfortunately, when the American League awarded an expansion franchise to Toronto that spring, creating a second major league team in Canada, the Expos were so dismayed with American League president Lee MacPhail that they rescinded the employment offer to Lee’s son. Andy quickly rebounded, taking a positon with the Cubs in park operations and player development. In early 1982, just 28, he joined Houston as assistant to general manager Al Rosen.

New Minnesota Twins owner Carl Pohlad brought in MacPhail as vice president of player personnel in 1985 and one year later made him general manager, at 33 the youngest GM in baseball. The Twins had been mired in mediocrity or worse for the previous decade and a half; nevertheless the squad MacPhail took over had a number of talented young homegrown players, including Kirby Puckett, Kent Hrbek, Gary Gaetti, and Frank Viola.

MacPhail made several moves to bolster his nucleus with veteran talent, trading for left fielder Dan Gladden and closer Jeff Reardon and signing reliever Juan Berenguer. The 1987 Twins crept up to 85 wins, but it was enough to win a weak AL West and beat the Tigers in the ALCS. When the Twins defeated the Cardinals in the 1987 World Series, everyone associated with the team became a regional hero, perhaps because other than the Minneapolis Lakers in the late 1940s and early 1950s (before the NBA was popularly established as a national league), no Minnesota professional team had won a championship in any of the four major sports. MacPhail was hailed as “Boy Wonder.”

Despite his quick success, MacPhail recognized that lower revenue teams could only compete cyclically and that a team needed a solid crop of low-salaried youngsters and under-appreciated veterans who could ripen concurrently, leaving some payroll available to plug holes with free agents. Sensing the team was not ready to compete for a title, in 1989 MacPhail traded Viola, the previous year’s Cy Young Award winner, for several players, most notably pitchers Rick Aguilera and Kevin Tapani. The Twins fell to last place in 1990, but MacPhail felt his restructured team had enough talent and payroll flexibility to contend.

Before the 1991 season he signed free agents Mike Pagliarulo, Jack Morris, and Chili Davis, while farm products Chuck Knoblauch and Scott Erickson came through with star-quality seasons. The team won 95 games, going from last to first in their division, and again prevailed in a seven-game World Series. More than two decades later, these two Twins World Series victories remain Minnesota’s only substantive men’s professional sports championships. During his stint in Minnesota MacPhail was brilliant at managing his payroll, recognizing when he had a team close to contention, and using his payroll capacity to acquire the right veterans.

MacPhail’s success helped usher in a new era of very young GMs. Oakland had hired Sandy Alderson in 1983, and Texas had brought in Tom Grieve a year later—both just 35—but after MacPhail the minimum age fell even further. Dave Dombrowski and Jim Bowden were only 31 and Randy Smith just 29 when hired. Smith and Bill Bavasi, just 36 when he became a GM, were, like MacPhail, scions of successful front office executives. Somewhat surprisingly, other than by Alderson, the analytic revolution that was slowly seeping into baseball before Moneyball was not really embraced by this generation of young GMs.

The Twins remained competitive in 1992, but fell off quickly thereafter as several players left as free agents, the pitching deteriorated, and several younger players performed below expectations. With rapidly increasing salaries throughout baseball after an arbitrator ruled the owners had been colluding to keep salaries down, MacPhail was becoming increasingly pessimistic on the future of small market clubs. “I can’t make it work anymore,” MacPhail said regarding even his successful cyclic approach to building a competitive team.

After a player's strike shut down the final phase of the 1994 baseball season, the Tribune Company hired MacPhail to be president and CEO of the Cubs, one of baseball’s most venerable but long-suffering teams. As his title implied, MacPhail was responsible for the entire franchise and named Ed Lynch his general manager. MacPhail intended to build a “development-based” organization while at the same time bringing in veterans to keep Chicago competitive in a weak division.

In mid-2000, after just one playoff appearance in five years, MacPhail jettisoned Lynch and assumed the GM duties himself. He got the club up to 88 wins in 2001, but the next July MacPhail named Jim Hendry the GM. In 2003 the Cubs won 88 games and qualified for the playoffs, where the team advanced to the NLCS, before losing a heartbreaking seven game series to the Marlins. The Cubs would not make the post season again under MacPhail’s reign, and he resigned after a disappointing 66-96 record in 2006. Certainly the Cubs suffered some bad luck—phenom pitchers Kerry Wood and Mark Prior pitched 200 or more innings only three times between them due to injuries–but the farm system did not deliver as expected and several prospects were traded away with little substantive return. In contrast, MacPhail was highly successful in the off-field part of his job, as attendance and revenues surged during his 12 years at the helm.

MacPhail was not unemployed for long: In mid-2007 Orioles owner Peter Angelos brought him aboard as president of baseball operations, acting as a general manager with considerable authority. Baltimore had fallen on hard times since consecutive ALCS trips in the late 1990s, winning fewer than 80 games every year from 1998 to 2007, but MacPhail again hoped to create a “top echelon scouting and development franchise.” When the farm system appeared to be more efficient at developing pitching, MacPhail’s strategy evolved to “buy the bats and grow the arms.”

Unfortunately, many of the young hurlers never progressed as hoped, and the Orioles lost over 90 games every season through 2011, after which MacPhail resigned. The next year Baltimore was baseball’s surprise team; they won 93 games and made the playoffs, mostly with a team built by MacPhail. Although he wasn’t around to enjoy it, MacPhail’s farm system and savvy trades for the likes of Adam Jones, Mark Reynolds, J.J. Hardy, and Chris Davis left the Orioles with a solid talent base.

To read more about the history of baseball operations and the GM, please buy our new book In Pursuit of Pennants–Baseball Operations from Deadball to Moneyball via the publisheror at your favorite on-line store.


  • Share:
  • submit to reddit
Subscribe to Twins Daily Email

Subscribe to Twins Daily Email

12 Comments

...and ever since that day, the Twins' have prided themselves on hiring smart, young talent from outside the organization.

    • Hosken Bombo Disco likes this
Photo
John Bonnes
Jan 12 2015 02:14 PM

...and ever since that day, the Twins' have prided themselves on hiring smart, young talent from outside the organization.

 

:-)

 

That's an interesting point. My sense is that, in general, the Twins trend towards the "smart and young" part of that equation, but eschew the "outside the organization" part. Gardy was certainly young. 

 

It might be that Macphail was an outlier outsider because, for the most part, when the Twins were under Griffith he was calling the shots and didn't have (or delegate to) younger up-an-comers. There was really nobody else to take that job. 

 

As for MacPhail, I guess I didn't recognize that he had done pretty well overall with the Cubs. And I guess I had never thought about how "farm-based" his philosophy was throughout the organizations. It certainly stayed in place with the Twins after he left.

    • Hosken Bombo Disco likes this
"Despite his quick success, MacPhail recognized that lower revenue teams could only compete cyclically

 

That was not an issue in that era :)the Twins were on the top 5 of payroll early and often in the MacPhail era.As a matter of fact MacPhaile singed the highest annual value pitcher (Morris) and position player (Puckett.)

 

That "small market" talk happened after the strike...

 

Note re: Scott Erickson, who was the Twins' best pitcher in 1991.He was drafted in 1989.Chuck Knoblauch, who was the catalyst in the 1991 team was also drafted in 1989.2 years from draft to the majors.This is a lesson that current GMs should learn...

    • Paul Pleiss, KGB and Platoon like this
Photo
Hosken Bombo Disco
Jan 12 2015 08:43 PM
I always like to think that MacPhail took over GM duties from... Calvin Griffith.
Photo
birdwatcher
Jan 12 2015 09:19 PM

It's indisputable that the Twins were a lower-revenue team throughout MacPhail's era. I think any review of interviews with Andy during his tenure would support the author's description of MacPhail's and the team's constant struggles to compete despite the financial challenges. I can recall any number of times Young Andrew described the cyclical nature of their environment.

 

Jim Pohlad and Young Andrew were the same age, and their families were known to socialize occasionally, and it's quite conceivable that Jim played a role even back then on those occasions when Carl was convinced to pry the pocketbook open a little wider. The old man was a tough sell. 

MacPhail was less risk-averse than his successors - much to his credit. 

 

I cite a couple of examples. One was the contract he gave Morris to sign in 1991. $3 million the first year and then player-controlled options the next two. (Who does that?) A good season and Morris likely walks away. A bad season - like the 18-loss season he just had in 1990 - and you're stuck for two more. You better hope hope a.) you get that one good year and b.) if you do, you don't squander it.

 

The second was the next year, 1992. To replace Morris, MacPhail makes a deal for Pirates 20-game winner John Smiley who was only on a 1-year contract with Pittsburgh. It cost the Twins prospects Midre Cummings and Denny Neagle. Smiley goes 16-9 in that one year, the Twins win 90 but lose the division by 6 games. Smiley exits for Cincinnati and Neagle goes on to have a solid career for the Pirates and Braves and to make two all-star teams. In hindsight, probably not a deal you'd make again - but at the time the very deal you wanted him to make,

 

A couple other MacPhail moves I also want to highlight that weren't mentioned are finding Brian Harper  - who was a significant offensive upgrade at catcher over Laudner, Butera, Salas, Nieto et al, and the selection of the underrated Shane Mack in the Rule 5 draft.

Photo
twinstalker
Jan 12 2015 09:59 PM

Well, if Terry Ryan is in here anywhere, I'll ignore the rest.  :-)

Photo
Hosken Bombo Disco
Jan 12 2015 10:59 PM
It's certainly a high bar, when your 25th best has two WS titles to his name. Plus bringing a franchise like the Cubs back to relevance.

MacPhail pretty much inherited the 1987 club.  Gladden, Berenguer, and Reardon were the only notably above replacement level guys MacPhail brought in.

 

1991 was a different story, of course -- he assembled most of that roster.

 

By the time he left in 1994 we were in a pretty bad position.

MacPhail pretty much inherited the 1987 club.  Gladden, Berenguer, and Reardon were the only notably above replacement level guys MacPhail brought in.

 

 

Don't forget the in-season changes to really build a good post-season team:

 

Carlton, Niekro, Baylor, Schatzeder, and the father of Drew (well he was a late off-season signing)

Photo
The Wise One
Jan 14 2015 07:52 AM

Carlton, Baylor , Schatzeder, Niekro and Salvatore all had negative bwarwith the Twins in 1987. As such, they can be forgetable as Tom Nieto.

Carlton, Baylor , Schatzeder, Niekro and Salvatore all had negative bwarwith the Twins in 1987. As such, they can be forgetable as Tom Nieto.

Baylor had a nice postseason though.Memorable, even.In a 7 game World Series, tiny differences could have swung it a different way. 


Similar Articles


by Cody Christie , 05 Jan 2021
Photo


by Seth Stohs , 08 Jun 2018
Photo


by Matt Johnson , 20 Jan 2018
Photo


by Seth Stohs , 27 Jan 2017
Photo


by John Bonnes , 05 Dec 2016
Photo