Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Terry Ryan in Mondale Hall

Terry Ryan is pretty much my baseball hero. What he does on a very limited budget is nothing short of amazing. I was very surprised when I (VP Metropolis) was told by our president that TR was coming in. “How the heck did you get a hold of him?” I asked. “Yo check it, I called him up in Florida, dude. Got his cell phone number,” Prez replied. Prez wouldn’t divulge much more into his contacts. He locked up some fairly important and busy people from the legal and sports communities this semester, and he has yet to tell me how he did it. Either way, I was grateful.

TR arrived early. We were in the lobby waiting for him, when Prez noticed him sitting on a bench reading the Minnesota Daily. He was at least 15 minutes early, which doesn’t surprise me. He seems like that type of guy—if you’re not early, then you’re late.

We walked him down to the room where he would present, so we got to talk a little on the way. He asked where we were from and if we played sports. When I told him I played baseball at UW-River Falls, he asked who my coach was. He seemed to know them both. I am sure he is familiar with WIAC baseball, first because he’s from Wisconsin (Janesville) and second because hitting coach Joe Vavra coached at UW-Stout.

We got to talking about the baseball draft, and he mentioned how hard (and expensive) it is to take someone in the draft and develop him into a major league player. I said that he must be happy even when a first-rounder only becomes a contributor to the Big Club. He responded, “No way. I would consider that a failure. If you don’t develop a first rounder into an impact player, you’ve failed. I took David McCarty with the third pick. Would you consider that a failure?” I agreed. It’s good to see that he has higher expectations than I do when dealing with high school players. Is there still hope for Cuddyer? I didn’t want to ask.

I introduced him to our group of about 65 law students, sharing some of his many career accolades. The first thing he did after the applause was say—like he often says in the media—that his success is only the result of all the great people that work for him. He really understands how an organization should work and how important your minor league managers and scouts are.

After briefly introducing himself, he talked about the offseason additions, including the need to improve both the offense and defense. “Tell me Rondell White’s a stiff,” he said, and the group laughed. Like everyone, he hopes he will hit, but to this point, his at bats have been “terrible,” according to TR. Will he move down in the order? Ryan said he doesn’t make any lineup decisions; those are all up to the manager. Gardy, he said, knows his guys, and is “the right guy at the right time” (something I’ve questioned on this blog and in other places before).

He discussed the beginning of the season, along with the strength of the AL Central. He thought they were prepared when they broke Spring Training. They weren’t. He knows the AL Central is much improved, with the exception of the Royals, who are “spending good money after bad” (Mientkiewicz, Mays, etc.). Unlike past years, the division is “not a pushover.” I think that is understating it a little, which might be the only time in his hour-long presentation that he understated anything. The guy is nothing if he’s not brutally honest. I heard it from more than one student afterwards.

Mr. Ryan got into his past a little bit. He was clearly disappointed with his baseball playing career. He admitted he wasted too much time “drinking, chasing, and carousing” and did not spend enough time focusing on the game. When he was forced out of the game, he was “devastated.” He went to Madison to get a college degree, where he again admitted to wasting time. After seven years, he received his undergraduate in physical education. By then, he had matured, and unlike his baseball career, he tried very hard and put lots of effort into being a teacher. However, it just “didn’t work out.”

Unbeknownst to me, TR got back into baseball as a scout for the Mets. It was there where he learned how young players should NOT develop. He saw what can happen to young, talented players without guidance. He mentioned names like Strawberry, Gooden, Dykstra, and Kevin Mitchell, three of whom have been to jail or are in jail, and one who is a known steroid abuser. It clearly disturbed him.

“Liriano cannot be another Gooden,” TR said, obviously concerned. He saw what can happen with young kids, and he made it clear that he was not taking Francisco Liriano’s DUI arrest lightly. Liriano told TR that he doesn’t have a drinking problem; TR said he didn’t believe him and is taking precautions. Another incident and Liriano will be suspended without pay. “I will lower the boom,” said TR. He won’t let it go; he knows from personal experience what can happen. He also said that the drunk driving incident has had an effect on Liriano’s entrance into the rotation. He refuses to let Liriano turn into Gooden.

TR also told me privately that Liriano isn’t ready to start. “There is a big difference between one inning and nine innings,” he said, saying that guys won’t bite on pitches out of the zone after the first time through the order.

Mr. Ryan then moved on to talk about arbitration and negotiation. He’s sick of getting beat by Kyle Lohse in arbitration. “It pisses me off,” he said. He thinks players should be held accountable for poor seasons through their salary (see Lohse) and that the arbitration process doesn’t always facilitate that.

In negotiating contracts, they use a grading scale, numbered two through eight. Threes are utility players, fives are everyday players, and eights are superstars. An “eight” is a 10 million dollar player, as a starting point. Johan Santana is an eight. Rondell White is a five—and that is what they paid for him. White wasn’t a big name, but according to TR, “Big names sell tickets, but they don’t necessarily win games.” So far, even he would admit that Rondell White has done neither.

He didn’t say where he ranks Torii Hunter on his grading scale, but later on, he insinuated that Torii may not be back next year, citing a statistic that no team has won a World Series where one player made more than 16% of the total payroll. Torii’s $12 million would be almost 20 percent of the payroll. Lucky for us, this year, Torii is only making 15.8% of the payroll. Phew.

He touched on several other baseball/legal issues. Rincon’s suspension was very disappointing. Dealing with 185 minor leaguers between the ages of 18 and 25 brings its own legal problems. Also, the minor league umps are on strike, and he finds something very flawed with our system when minor league umps make $1,200 a month and Jeff Bagwell makes $80,000 a day to pinch hit.

Mr. Ryan then opened it up for questions:

Why Sierra?: “We need a pinch hitter, someone who’s gonna put a fear into the opposing manager. Who’s gonna put a fear in the opposing manager? Nick Punto!?” TR exclaimed. The group laughed. I laughed extra hard, as my hatred for Nick Effing Punto is pretty well known.
On drafting: the organization hopes to sign 25-30 guys. They look at character issues and teammate issues. Scouts visit kids in their homes. They also consider signability and the players agent (i.e. not Scott Boras).

Mauer vs. Prior vs. Texiera: “Who’s still saying we should’ve taken Prior now?” he said. He admitted he labored over the decision. He also admits that as of today, the best pick would have been Texiera in terms of pure production, but he has to think about things economically. Tex is making $7 million this year, while the King of Chops is making only $400,000. Some players (or their agents) tell them flat out that they won’t play for the Twins because of money issues.

Old Twins vs. New Twins: Mauer, Morneau, and Kubel are more prepared then Hunter, Jones, Mientkiewicz, etc. were when they came up. That is why he is less concerned with our new young players developing in the limelight and pressure of pennant races.

Moneyball: Billy Beane is a great GM. “He’s smarter than some people give him credit for,” indicating that there is more to Billy Beane than just statistics. “Everyone uses statistics,” TR said, but the key is using your scouts plus your stats.

Terry Ryan was engaging, honest, and funny. I was very glad and very appreciative to meet him. I’ve always trusted his judgment, even when I rip some of the moves he makes. I’ll be the first to admit that he has forgotten twice as much about baseball as I know. He knows what he’s doing, and I think eventually he’ll take the Twins to the top. Now Mr. Ryan, about that Assistant GM job that just opened up…


At 2:06 AM, Blogger Matt said...

Great piece. It's interesting to hear TR seemingly being so candid in front of the public. I know it's a college class, but it sounds kind of strange to hear him call out Nick Punto, call Francisco Liriano a drunk, and insinuate that Torii won't be back next year. He would never say that to the media, so why say it to anyone else?

At 8:21 AM, Blogger Barry Metropolis said...

Thanks Matt, but he really didn't call out Punto or call Liriano a drunk. He said that Nick Punto isn't a fearsome hitter and that he is genuinely concerned about Liriano's future, refusing to take Liriano's word for it.

At 9:08 AM, Anonymous jlichty said...

Great post. Thanks.

At 11:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like TR because he's a straight shooter, and nothing in your piece dissuades me from still thinking that way.

It would have been nice to get his reaction to Big Papi's emergence once he left the Twins, and the Twins futility at hitting home runs since Mount Crushmore.

At 12:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

TR called letting David Ortiz leave his biggest mistake as a GM. However, he also noted that everybody else passed on signing Big Papi for months before he finally got a deal from the red Sox that was below the MLB average salary.

I agree he didn't really call out Punto or trash Liriano, but he did slap around Lohse and his agent quite a bit, particularly when trashing the entire arbitration process. (in which he also bashed the legal profession pretty good) Best line from that diatribe: "There are arbitrators who don't know the difference between a homer and an error."

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