Retirement Big Change for Terry Ryan
Terry Ryan is about a year into retirement. When a sportswriter called to ask how the adjustment from a lifetime in baseball was going, the first question that came up was TV soap operas.
Ryan, the former Twins general manager, stepped down from that position after the 2007 season. Although he remained with the club as an advisor, he wanted a break from the high stress environment demanded of a GM leading a team positioned to win championships. It wasn’t long after finding himself at home, that Ryan joined wife Karilyn in watching soap operas.
These days? Ryan said he isn’t tuning into the soaps, although Karilyn remains a fan. “I have plenty to do without watching too much of that kind of stuff,” he told Sports Headliners.
The Ryans are settled in Eagan, not far from their son Tim, and daughter Kathleen, who are also Twin Cities residents. There are occasions when Terry and Karilyn take care of their two grandchildren. The pull of family had a lot to do with making Minnesota their retirement residence.
Ryan, of course, has friends here and occasionally he will see them on the golf course. He plays a couple of times per month when weather allows. “I am still trying to play golf the right way,” he said.
A proven scoring strategy for senior golfers is an efficient short game including on the green where Ryan admits he struggles. “If you can get that putting stroke down, you’re probably going to take five strokes off your round every time you play. …”
Ryan, 69, is a Janesville, Wisconsin native. The Twins drafted him in 1973 as a left-handed pitcher out of Parker High School. He pitched in the minor leagues for four seasons but never made the big show.
Ryan’s route to the majors came via scouting and administration. In the early 1980s he joined the Mets as a scout and worked several years for them. Then the Twins hired him as scouting director in 1986 and that saw him oversee drafts of players like Chuck Knoblauch, LaTroy Hawkins and Brad Radke. He was Minnesota’s VP of player personnel from 1992-1994 before his first stint as GM from 1994-2007. He returned as GM from 2012-2016 before the franchise parted ways with their longtime leader.
Then it didn’t take long for the Phillies to sign Ryan up as a special assignment scout. Phillies GM Matt Klentak gushed about his team’s good fortune. “I have known Terry for more than a decade and have enormous respect for all that he accomplished during his tenure with the Twins,” Klentak said via MLB.com. “Terry’s work ethic, loyalty and track record as a talent evaluator are simply unparalleled in our game.”
Ryan said that now he probably wouldn’t accept even a part-time offer to get back into baseball, although he admits to missing the game and the people. Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski made it clear over a year ago how he felt about Ryan. “He wanted me to stay, and I just told him it’s time, when you’ve been at it this long.”
Ryan’s connection to baseball now is as a board member of the Baseball Assistance Team (B.A.T.). The nonprofit organization helps financially distressed former minor league players, scouts, and front office people. Ryan’s been involved for about five years.
“It’s a very worthwhile board to be on,” Ryan said. “I am proud to be a part of that.”
Ryan’s comfortable and flexible schedule now is in sharp contrast to the life he led for about 40 years. The pressure from responsibilities and travel are a lot different than being able to do about whatever he wants now.
Part of Ryan’s gratitude for his life includes being cancer free. About nine years ago he was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma in a lymph node in his neck. Ryan was told the cancer was curable, but treatment would change his life. He had to go through physical therapy to learn how to swallow (keeping water down was a huge challenge) and to this day he has a compromised sense of taste. “It took me about a year to get back to somewhat normalcy,” he said.
Over the years Ryan has experienced highs and lows in his personal life and on the baseball field. MLB voted to contract the franchise, along with the Montreal Expos, in the 2001 offseason. But the franchise survived and from 2002-2010 the club won six Central Division titles.
Some of those teams were among the most talented in franchise history. Perhaps no club teased the notion of winning a world championship more than the 2006 team that was 96-66 during the regular season. That was the breakout season of electrifying left-hander Francisco Liriano who for a stretch was probably the most dominant pitcher in baseball. And that is saying a lot because teammate Johan Santana won 19 games.
Ryan acquired Liriano in a 2003 trade with the Giants that sent catcher A.J. Pierzynski to San Francisco and also brought reliever Joe Nathan to Minneapolis. Liriano’s success was cut short here by arm problems, but Nathan became a Twins Hall of Famer and vital contributor for many seasons.
Twins talent was everywhere five years or so into the new millennium. The roster had a third pitching ace in Brad Radke, .347 hitting catcher Joe Mauer, slugging first baseman Justin Morneau, multi-tool center fielder Torii Hunter, versatile outfielder-infielder Michael Cuddyer and others. “We had tremendous personnel,” Ryan said.
The acquisition of players was aided by trades, but you can hear the satisfaction in Ryan’s voice when he talks about the roster Minnesota built in the 2000’s with player development and scouting. “…You gotta have luck, you gotta have skill. You have to do due diligence on character make up.
“Injuries weren’t a huge part of that crowd. They all played, most of them for a long time. Cripes, LaTroy Hawkins and Hunter and Pierzynski, and all those guys, are playing 20 years. I am not sure you could have even imagined that at the time (the 2000’s), but we had a lot of good things going. They’re athletic and they were accountable, and I am proud of most of those guys. …They were good human beings off the field.”
The frustration of not advancing far in the postseason will hang over those great Twins teams forever. The club had pitching, fielding, speed and power but only once advanced beyond the first round of the playoffs after winning division championships. “There’s no excuses,” Ryan said. “We just didn’t get that far, and unfortunately there were players there we thought we might be able to do it with.”
As the years pass, the names of players fade in the public view but not so for Mauer. He will be eligible for the National Baseball Hall of Fame next year. The Twins great who Ryan saw play at Cretin-Derham Hall a dozen times or more and who scouting director Mike Radcliff insisted the Twins take with the No. 1 MLB overall pick in 2001 is not a lock for first-year induction.
“I am hoping like heck he does, but you know how that voting goes,” Ryan said. “You never know what some of those guys (voters) treasure. Obviously if Joe had stayed behind the plate he’d go in without any question. But he ended up over at first and now you’re going to decide how many years was the majority of his career behind the plate versus over at first.
“Obviously I am a Mauer fan. He did anything and everything you could ever hope for when you take a guy first in the country. Between the MVP and all-stars (All-Star games), and running a pitching staff, and then making the transition because of his health–concussions–he went over and played darn good at first. Batting titles, he’s got a strong case. I don’t know if he’s going to get in on the first ballot but eventually I suspect he’s going to get in.”