A Road Well Traveled: Rebuilding The Twins
The situations are eerily similar. The year before, the 1984 Twins had a very successful year, raising hopes. In fact, they competed for a postseason spot right until they were swept in their last series of the year.
(P.S. In fact, they lost their last six games, a streak which started when they were just a ½ game from the division lead. That included perhaps the two most heartbreaking losses between the years 1970 and 1992, and they were back-to-back. One was yet another blown lead by Ron Davis and then the Twins blew a 10-0 lead with Frank Viola on the mound. After that game, Gary Gaetti offered his appraisal of his own throwing error that led to a seven-run inning: “It’s hard to throw with both hands around your neck.”)
(P.P.S. “Twins Worst Losses.” How did Twins Daily not produce that series in this year of all years? Apparently, it’s also hard to blog with both hands around your neck.)
The success in 1984 raised hopes, because the team was filled with promising youngsters. Kirby Puckett had debuted that year. Kent Hrbek had been snubbed for the All-Star team. Seven of the nine starters in the lineup were 26 years old or younger.
But 1985 started poorly. After winning their first two games, the team fell into a nine-game losing streak. (Again – sound familiar?) They rebounded with a 10-game winning streak, but on June 20th, they were only 27-35 and in sixth place in the division. Like this year’s team, a change was made, but in their case it was the manager who was fired. Billy Gardner was replaced by Ray Miller, and the team limped to a fourth place finish in the division, fourteen games back.
By then, the new owner, Carl Pohlad, had determined that the organization needed to modernize from the decades-old management structure that Calvin Griffith had in place. But rather than fire team “interim” president Howard Fox, he looked for young blood to help evaluate things first.
That included interviewing the relatively inexperienced MacPhail. MacPhail was probably best known for his father, Lee MacPhail, who built the Orioles powerhouses of the 60s and 70s. Andy didn’t exactly have high hopes about the interview. In Doug Grow’s book “We’re Gonna Win Twins”, MacPhail admitted, “I’d never managed anything. I was flattered they wanted to talk to me. I came in, I met with Carl and Jim, answered a series of questions, and went back to Houston.”
Sure enough, the Twins didn’t get back to MacPhail for months. But in June, they interviewed him again once they got a better feel for how the baseball-side was (or wasn’t) working. In August, MacPhail was hired, but not as General Manager.
MacPhail was the Vice-President of Player Personnel. That position still reported to Fox, but ultimately his position was closer to the one Falvey will inaugurate: examining, organizing and overhauling the ball club with a long-term view, instead of paying attention to the more immediate roster needs.
MacPhail started with the scouting department, and that’s when the Pohlad’s fears were confirmed. Again, in “We’re Gonna Win Twins”, MacPhail recalled his reaction to seeing the Griffith-era scouting reports:
“They had their scouting reports on little 3 x 5 cards,” MacPhail said. “And I don’t mean a 3 x 5 card for each player. Each card was for a whole team. It was just incredible. I don’t mean to put them down. That organization came up with great players over the years. But things were changing in baseball. I think the median age for their scouts was about seventy-three. They had two scouts living in North Dakota, which is not exactly rich in baseball talent. But they didn’t have anybody in Texas.”
To clean up that mess, MacPhail plucked someone from another organization. He tapped the New York Mets midwest scouting supervisor: Terry Ryan. Ryan was also only 32 years old, but that wouldn’t be the most controversial of his younger hires.
Adding New Blood
At the end of the 1986 season, the Twins decided to make another change at manager. Ray Miller had never really worked out and so Fox designated third base coach Tom Kelly to hold down the position for the rest of the year. MacPhail was charged with finding the next manager for the 1987 season.
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