Godspeed, Terry Ryan.
Ryan, the longtime general manager of the Minnesota Twins, recently announced he has cancer after doctors discovered a cancerous lump in a lymph node in his neck.
This is not an obituary. Ryan’s cancer reportedly is very treatable, but if he should step away from the game, just as he did in 2007 before returning to the Twins in 2011, his legacy is intact.
Some reaction to Ryan’s diagnosis:
Terry Ryan is one of the classiest people you’ll ever meet, let alone among sports executives. He won’t back down from this.
— Jon Krawczynski (@APkrawczynski) February 10, 2014
Note: Denny Hocking is a former Twin.
Ryan is a good general manager, someone who labored through most of the 1990s following the World Series-winning Andy MacPhail, but who finally put it all together the next decade as the Twins, with Ron Gardenhire as manager, began to consistently win more games. In fact, the Twins reeled off six division titles, winning the AL Central crown in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2009 and 2010, the team’s first season in Target Field.
If only the Twins hadn’t faced the New York Yankees in most of those playoff appearances. But that’s a blog post for another day.
Ryan’s tenure as GM likely will be defined by an ability to find talent through the team’s farm system, or by making the right trade without having to spend big money on free-agent signings. If he should leave the game again, here are the standout deals for which he will be remembered:
-Trading Bobby Kielty to the Toronto Blue Jays for Shannon Stewart in 2003. The Twins were playing mostly .500 ball through July of that year, until Ryan pulled off the trade to get Stewart. Stewart, who hit lead off for the team, almost single-handedly powered the Twins to the division title that year, hitting .322 the rest of the way. The Twins finished the season winning 19 of the team’s final 25 games.
-Trading A.J. Pierzynski and cash to the San Francisco Giants in November 2003 for Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonser.
Bonser would never amount to much as a starting pitcher, and the verdict is still out on Liriano, but Nathan would become the Twins all-time saves leader and he continues to be one of the game’s top relief pitchers. He also is a six-time All Star. Liriano would make a huge splash in Minnesota during the early days of his tenure, going 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA in his first full season with the team. He also had 144 strikeouts in 121 innings pitched. Following Tommy John surgery, Liriano struggled, but last season he appeared to find his form again with the Pittsburgh Pirates, finishing the year 16-8.
-Under the Rule 5 draft, the Twins dealt a minor league player and cash to the Florida Marlins in December 1999 for Johan Santana. This has to be the defining deal of Ryan’s career. Santana would go on to win two Cy Young awards for the Twins, and eventually his star would grow so bright that Santana was able to strike a huge free-agent deal and leave the Twins for the New York Mets.
Here are Santana’s stats for his two Cy Young award-winning seasons:
-2004: 20-6, 2.61 ERA, 265 strikeouts in 228 innings pitched.
-2006: 19-6, 2.77 ERA, 245 strikeouts in slightly more than 233 innings pitched.
You’ll notice from the photos that both are no longer Twins, which probably says less about Ryan and more about ownership’s unwillingness, rightly or wrongly, to spend huge amounts of money on players. That wasn’t the case, however, with homegrown catcher Joe Mauer, the Twins agreeing to a contract that pays him $23 million per season.
Ryan was The Sporting News Executive of the Year in 2002.
Photo credits: Joe Nathan, Johan Santana, via Wikipedia