Until 1985, the Twins didn’t have a true, modern GM. Under the ownership of the Griffith family, the owners made those decisions, and in the first two years of Pohlad family ownership, Team President Howard Fox made the calls. The hiring of Andy MacPhail as GM in 1985 then, will start our timeline.
Best GM is certainly a difficult call to make—winningiest is easy to determine, but what more does playoff success count for? What sort of handicaps should we give for difficult times, and what bonus points do we offer for navigating those rougher waters.
Still, there are only four men who have formally held the title of GM, so the list is fairly short. Furthermore, one of them, Bill Smith, is disqualified from this conversation for obvious reasons—his tenure was bad on the field, and very few of his signings or trades worked out—in fact he’s probably most known for the Kevin Jepsen trade or the Tsuyoshi Nishioka signing. Neither of those moves should probably go on his resume. Still, Smith does deserve some small bit of credit for his work in improving the Twins minor-league and spring training facilities in Fort Myers. He just seems to be a wonderful example of the Peter Principle in action.
This leaves us with three contenders for “Best” Twins GM. Andy MacPhail, Terry Ryan, and Thad Levine/Derek Falvey. While Levine is technically the one to hold the GM title, we should consider the two men as one, Falvine, for this exercise, as the two share the responsibilites held by MacPhail, Ryan, and Smith, in a more modern baseball power structure.
We won’t hold the 1985 against or for MacPhail, as he was hired that August. From 1986 to 1994, his teams produced 710 wins and 699 losses, out of a total of 1409 games (the 1994 season was shortened by the infamous players strike.) Overall, that’s a .504 winning percentage. Of course, there were two World Championships, the only two ever for the Twins during that era. He built a total of three 90-win squads over nine years, but there were a few very bad, and several mediocre teams.
MacPhail moved on to the Chicago Cubs after 1994, and Terry Ryan was promoted from within. He had to see the Twins through a rebuild in the late-90s, and steer the squad through the near-thing contraction debacle (eternally, fuck Bud Selig.) Starting in 2001, the Ryan-lead Twins saw a half-decade of fantastic performances in the regular season, but little postseason success. Ryan retired, for the first time, after the 2007 season, but stayed with the organization as an advisor to Bill Smith. Smith was fired after the 2011 season, and Ryan retook the GM role, first as an interim, and then a permanent position until his own firing in 2016. Ryan’s squads won 1023 games in his first go-around, while losing 1063. That means a total winning percentage of only .490, and as discussed, while there were a total of four playoff appearances, only one of those bids was able to proceed past the first round. The second term saw 344 wins and 466 losses, although Ryan was fired before the final season concluded. Still, we’ll give those to him, as he built that team, and call that a .425 win percentage. Overall, his record was 1367 wins and 1529 losses, out of a total of 2896 games. As a percentage, that works out to .472. Four of Ryan’s mid-aughts teams recorded 90 wins or better.
MacPhail and Ryan each hired one of the most iconic managers in team history, with MacPhail putting his trust into Tom Kelly, and Ryan promoting Ron Gardenhire when TK retired.
Following Ryan’s ouster in 2016, Derek Falvey was hired as the team’s President of Baseball Operations, a newly-created role, and hired Thad Levine as his GM. This was the first wholesale regime change since MacPhail was hired over three decades previous. Falvey was most-recently a product of the Cleveland front office, while Levine came from the Texas Rangers. The Falvine era is still ongoing, so any judgement is incomplete, but the four seasons to date have produced some impressive results. Their record has been 300 wins and 246 losses, a total percentage of .550. The 2019 season produced the first 100+ win season in Franchise (not just Twins) history. 2020 was a year fraught with chaos, but the Twins seemed to handle the situation well. 2017, 2019, and 2020 have all been playoff seasons, although the Twins have failed to win a single playoff game in that time. Rocco Baldelli, as field manager since 2019, has been similarly successful overall, and is the responsibility of the Falvine regime.
So, who would you say is the “Best” GM? There are points in favor of each of Andy MacPhail, Terry Ryan, and Thad Levine/Derek Falvey. All three have had to deal with the constraints of a “small market” team, although Jim Pohlad seems much more willing to open the purse than his father ever did. All three have had some good seasons, but I have to give the edge to MacPhail, personally, due to the only real postseason success in team history coming under his watch.
Who is the Best GM in Twins history?
This poll is closed
Bill Smith (AYEATF)
Thad Levine (and Derek Falvey)