As another steamy summer slips slowly southward, I’ll remember this one for two reasons: monstrous Midwestern mosquitoes and batches of bad baseball.
Yes, our lawn has never looked greener in late September, but I’m looking forward to the fall. I would imagine the Minnesota Twins are, too. It seems we’ll both be eager to get the bugs out.
While the plentiful rains and high humidity left me scratching my arms and legs too often this summer, the Twins had me scratching my head from April to September.
It’s not just the losing, either. Oh, we’ve seen several 90-loss seasons, since the team moved into terrific Target Field back in 2010. Yet this year, the club seemed to really hit rock bottom, after a surprisingly promising bounce back season in 2015.
An 0-9 start is never good. But historically bad pitching and defense, boneheaded base running and a front office that appears to still be locked in a 1990s time warp, has me worried this funk will be with us indefinitely.
With two weeks left in the season, the Twins are on a crash course to lose 100 games. That’s only happened one other time since the franchise moved from Washington to Minnesota in 1961. The 1982 Twins finished with a record of 60-102, a mark still very reachable for this year’s edition.
Now for the BAD news. Since Terry Ryan was relieved of his duties as general manager in mid-July, the team has been looking for what they call a “leader of baseball operations.” They’ve even hired a search firm and are eager to complete the hire by the end of the season. Just one problem. They’re getting little interest from the most sought after potential candidates.
Ryan was highly respected for many years as a savvy baseball man known for using a low payroll and building from the ground up, to contend successfully with big money opponents. But times have changed, and it’s becoming obvious that people around baseball aren’t convinced the Twins have kept up with those times.
Dodgers executive Alex Anthopoulos and Red Sox General Manager Ben Cherington were the hot prospects a month ago. Anthopoulos now says he was never a serious candidate. On Wednesday, Cherington took a lesser role with the Toronto Blue Jays after declining an interview with the Twins.
Don’t get me wrong. Landing a front office job with a major league team will always be enticing. The latest names to surface include Tampa Bay Rays executive Chaim Bloom, Mets executive John Ricco and Jason McLeod, who is the Cubs senior vice president of scouting and player development. Both Bloom and Ricco are considered strong “analytics” guys — new wave baseball people who understand and use statistical analysis effectively. A couple of other names are Cleveland assistant GM Derek Falvey and Kansas City Royals exec J. J. Picollo.
But here’s what has me worried. Jeff Passon of Yahoo! Sports recently tweeted that multiple candidates had turned Minnesota down before the interview stage of the process. Shouldn’t that be a warning sign? Yet the Twins seem anxious to get this done quickly.
Two reasons for the hesitation to hook up with the Twins seem obvious:
The decision by owner Jim Pohlad to keep Paul Molitor on as manager in 2016, regardless of who their new hire is, sends a bad message to prospective clients. This team is in dire need of fresh leadership, yet the person coming on board has already been stripped of the power to make the most important hire of his or her regime.
And Pohlad’s press conference following the Ryan dismissal didn’t do him any favors. Saying he seeks a GM that’s “lovable” for an organization that, in truth, needs a good old-fashioned butt kicking, was a bad choice of adjectives. His admission of thumbing through “media guides” as a first resort for such an important position, made it sound as if he wasn’t very serious.
Pohlad doesn’t need a media guide, and he certainly shouldn’t look for “lovable.” Just walk across town and you’ll see Minnesota’s other professional teams cleaning house and hiring respected outsiders not afraid to make tough decisions. Mike Zimmer. Bruce Boudreau. Tom Thibodeau. None of those guys are seen as soft and fuzzy.
One thing that does seem to get Pohlad’s attention these days is lost revenue. In recent visits to Target Field, the crowds continue to dwindle. Even more alarming are the number of food and drink stands closing around the stadium. And competition from those Vikings, Wild, Wolves and Lynx isn’t promising, either, particularly when all of those organizations appear to have made far more positive strides than the beleaguered Twins.
Last week, I got a “Dear Tom” letter. It was a personal, heartfelt message from Mr. Pohlad himself. As a partial season ticket holder, I probably attend more games than most Minnesotans can stomach these days. So my good pal, Jim, spent several paragraphs lauding me and others of us for our undying loyalty.
The letter also offered assurance that the search for new leadership would “create positive change while reinvigorating the fun, passion, hustle and heart that is the fabric of the Twins Tradition.” In fact, it wasn’t until the final line of the full page letter, that the BS turned to PS. Just a quick reminder about renewal for next season, with the generous promise that “pricing will remain unchanged and your first payment date will be extended until the end of October.”
Since we both love the Twins, I have a suggestion for Mr. Pohlad: You take your time with that new hire and I’ll take my time renewing those tickets. I’d rather be itching to see a winning ballclub than scratching my head again.