Five and Fly: Ryan's relief

Tim Brown
September 14, 2007

Terry Ryan, a scout's scout and an admirable GM, stepped down Thursday afternoon, citing the usual maladies of the middle-aged working stiff – excessive stress, modest reward, bad mirror.

While it's possible Ryan took a long look at his expiring contracts – Torii Hunter after this season, Johan Santana, Joe Nathan and Michael Cuddyer after next, Justin Morneau the season after – and concluded there might be a better way to make a living, it appears he simply decided that Dave Littlefield and Tim Purpura might be the lucky ones.

Ryan steps down with his reputation and health intact, neither small feats. The Minnesota Twins have had better seasons, but Ryan also leaves with a new ballpark rising, Francisco Liriano healing and an organizational philosophy working.

In the best of organizations, these are not easy jobs. Granted, not as difficult as some make them look, but still not easy.

Ryan leaves a legacy of winning when the era would hardly allow it. He spent the day being lauded for the Joe Mauer selection, acquiring Nathan, Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonser for A.J. Pierzynski, grabbing Santana in one of the great Rule 5 picks of all time, and the winning.

But, the Ryan that came to mind yesterday was in his spring headquarters in Fort Myers, Fla. 2½ years ago. He was describing the challenge of making a small market competitive in a large-market world. He was explaining the importance of scouting, player development, a rigid belief in the way the game should be played.

Then he shook his head and bit lightly on his lip.

Two years earlier, he'd released David Ortiz.

He said a team such as the Twins couldn't afford to endure such terrible lapses in evaluation. He said a GM such as himself didn't have that latitude. It tore at him still, even if, by then, he wouldn't have been able to pay Ortiz anyway.

So, when he smiled grimly Thursday and said, "This is the best thing for my sanity," you got it.

This summer alone, Mike Hargrove said, "The highs weren't high enough and the lows were too low."

And Buddy Bell said, "I have to make a choice between managing and my family, and to me that's a no-brainer."

All in their 50s, all baseball lifers, all wondering about that mirror.

FIVE …

• The mistake of the Los Angeles Dodgers' offseason was not Juan Pierre over Alfonso Soriano or Gary Matthews Jr. or your favorite prospect, it was Jason Schmidt over Greg Maddux, a decision made when GM Ned Colletti allowed himself to be outbid by the San Diego Padres.

Even with Thursday night's debacle at Dodger Stadium, Maddux has been a steady influence and winner for the Padres, while Schmidt's recent duties include predicting he'll be healthy by spring training.

Meantime, Pierre batted .333 with a .361 on-base percentage in August, is batting .333 with a .375 OBP in September, and could set a career-high for stolen bases.

• The Dodgers have gone long stretches when they've labored to score runs, but those times appear to be over. Above a door that leads from their clubhouse to the field, a key dangles on a string. A note is attached to the string. It reads: "Found key to batters box. Let's go."

• The Padres allowed four more stolen bases Thursday night and catcher Josh Bard barely had a chance on any of them, as teams continue to expose Padres pitchers' reluctance to hold runners. Bard has thrown out nine of 110 base stealers and backup Michael Barrett's numbers aren't much better.

They play nine of their next 13 games against the Colorado Rockies and San Francisco Giants, both of whom run well.

Dodgers shortstop Rafael Furcal had three steals and scored three times Thursday, and Pierre stole a base.

"When a base stealer gets on leading off an inning," Padres manager Bud Black said, "we have shown we haven't been able to stop that. But, how many teams do? Pudge Rodriguez stops it. Certain pitchers stop it. We have to be more keenly aware of certain base stealers at certain times."

That said, Black added, "It hasn't hurt us that much."

• Happy 22nd birthday to Delmon Young, whose relatively quiet season still is going to put him close to a .300 batting average, close to 90 RBI and, well, close to 125 strikeouts.

• It is, of course, way too late for heroics, but Barry Zito had a 2.50 ERA in seven appearances (six starts) in August and has a 2.77 ERA in two September starts. He goes tonight in San Diego against Chris Young, who is pitching like he's hurt.

… AND FLY

In the past 10 days, Arizona Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin has written lineups with four different leadoff hitters, five different No. 2 hitters, three different cleanup hitters, and four different No. 5 hitters.