The last time the Twins fired a manager, back in 1986, they waffled and wavered and oscillated between candidates. Jobs were offered and promised and then withdrawn. The whole process was, quite simply, bizarre.
The Search Begins
The day after Ray Miller was fired, the rumor mill started working. Former Houston Astro Manager Bob Lillis, who had become a coach with the Giants, was mentioned as a possible replacement for Miller. A few days later, a much bigger name, and one much closer to the hearts of Twins fans, decided to interject himself into the mix.
Billy Martin indicated he would not actually apply for the Twins job, but that he would listen if the terms were right. He clarified that the only way he will manage again is if he is given complete control of the baseball operations and a long-term contract. Fox said yesterday that he and Twins owner Carl Pohlad won’t agree to Martin’s demands and he won’t be asked to apply. “We’d rather not give multi-year contracts to Martin or anybody else,'’ Fox said, adding he had a list of 58 candidates that he would whittle to four or five by season’s end. Martin, realizing quickly that he was not going to really be considered, decided to educate the Twins fans about the organization. “They have the players to completely reverse this year’s record,” he said. “They have a much better club that either the Texas or Oakland teams I took over. They have better pitching than I had at either place.”
“I would need the complete backing of the front office. Otherwise it would be very difficult for a manager to work there,” he said. Martin further said he did not believe the people running the Twins “have had any experience in baseball. I’m talking about people who don’t know what is going on in the pits.” Martin said he was not asking to make trades alone. “Of course, you talk to other people when you make trades,” he said. “But I don’t want people making a trade and then I have to go along with it. I realize a club needs a general manager, but I don’t want the general manager to say he is going to make a trade even if I don’t like it. You are fighting city hall otherwise.” While Martin would be a great drawing card for Carl Pohlad, he had already been fired once as manager of the Twins in 1969. Plus, one of the primary reasons he was fired after just one very successful season in Minnesota was his fistfight with Howard Fox, who at the time had been the traveling secretary.
With that cleared up, Martin’s close personal friend, Sid Hartman, reported that “sources say the top candidates for the Twins’ job are former New York Mets and Atlanta manager Joe Torre; Joe Altobelli, currently a New York Yankees coach who managed San Francisco for three seasons and led Baltimore to the World Series in 1983, and former Twins pitcher Jim Kaat, a broadcaster for the Yankees.” However, a strike against Kaat was that, like with Ray Miller, he had no previous managerial experience at any level and his only coaching experience was as a pitching coach. Hartman continued, “Also, the name of former Yankees, Detroit and Boston manager Ralph Houk is reported to be on Fox’s list. Another rumor is that St. Louis manager Whitey Herzog is anxious for a change after managing the Cardinals for seven years. If Herzog became available, he would be a top candidate.”
Tom Kelly guided the team to a 12-11 record to conclude the 1986 season and helped them pass Seattle to avoid finishing in last place in the AL West. As soon as the season concluded, the future leadership of the Twins’ organization became further muddled as President Howard Fox began dropping hints about transitioning into semi-retirement. Fox would stay on as president and the senior executive officer, but most of the baseball operations would be turned over to vice president Andy MacPhail who had joined the organization a year earlier after working with the Cubs and Houston Astros. MacPhail was charged with running the search for a new manager; three others - Fox, owner Carl Pohlad, and Carl’s son Jim Pohlad - would also be very involved in the process.
Jim Lefebvre, a hot young managing prospect who had just won two consecutive Pacific Coast League titles in Phoenix, was informed that he would not be considered for the post. Likewise, Angels coach Cookie Rojas was also dismissed after applying for the position. Instead, the Twins decided that if they were going to choose an untested manager, they would keep the choice in-house and settle on Kelly. Still, Joe Torre and Joe Altobelli were considered the leading contenders for the position while Jim Frey, formerly of the Royals and Cubs, was beginning to emerge as a third candidate. While sorting through these names, the front office insisted its goal was to name a manager before the start of the World Series on October 18.
On October 9, MacPhail flew to Baltimore to formally interviewed Frey for the position. Frey, who had managed the Royals to the World Series in 1980 and the Cubs to the NL East title in 1984, had been a long-time coach for Earl Weaver (like departed manager Ray Miller). “Andy and I had a general discussion,” Frey said. “He wanted to know about my theories of managing a ballclub. I got the impression they like the guy who replaced (Ray) Miller (Tom Kelly). I guess they want to name a manager within the next two weeks.”
MacPhail, who interviewed Kelly immediately after the season concluded, was scheduled to interview Joe Torre and Joe Altobelli in the following couple of days. Following these interviews, MacPhail was expected to submit a report with a recommendation to Fox and the Pohlads. Then, the Pohlads were expected to interview the final choice before an official announcement was made public. However, Carl Pohlad had just undergone hip surgery at the Mayo Clinic and was expected to be bedridden for the next two weeks. Sure enough, Joe Altobelli was interviewed by MacPhail a day after Jim Frey. However, Altobelli, who had guided the Orioles when they won the 1983 World Series, failed to make much of an impression on MacPhail and was quickly dropped from consideration. In fact, MacPhail also returned from the East Coast without interviewing Joe Torre, either. MacPhail had been so smitten and impressed by Jim Frey, that he returned knowing that the choice was between Frey and Kelly. Veteran and rookie. Outsider and insider.
With the Twins wanting to name a manager within the week, the staff decided to try to hold interviews in Carl Pohlad’s hospital room. Still, two wild cards hovered above Andy MacPhail’s recommendations. First, Billy Martin, and his corresponding attendance boost, was still available. Second, the Pohlads, frustrated after choosing Miller as their first manager under the recommendation of Fox, may have been impressed with somebody completely outside of MacPhail’s search, and MacPhail at this point was the “boy genius” who had not yet been given any major decisions.
On October 21, Jim Frey traveled from Baltimore to Edina to spend three hours interviewing with the Pohlads in Carl’s home while the owner continued his recovery from hip surgery. “We were impressed by Frey and he certainly will get strong consideration for the job,” said Jim Pohlad, a team director. “He seemed to present himself very well. I don’t know enough about baseball to judge his knowledge of the game, but he seemed to know what he was talking about.” The talks also explored Frey’s willingness to join the organization in the front-office if he was passed over for the managerial opening. While Frey maintained that his preference is to be hired as a manager, he did not quell the idea of becoming an executive. Still, Frey had impressed the Pohlads enough that he had jumped Tom Kelly to become their first choice. Jim Pohlad announced that a decision would not be made until Fox and MacPhail returned from the World Series. Once the entire hiring committee could get together, they expected to have an announcement within a week.
Just a week later, after the return of Fox and MacPhail, Kelly had jumped back to the front of the line. In fact, it was expected that Kelly would be named manager at a press conference on October 29. Sid Hartman noted, that “MacPhail would be sticking his neck out. If Kelly doesn’t work out, it wouldn’t help MacPhail’s standing in the organization”.
However, a day before the scheduled press conference, the organization had shifted its plans and delayed its final decision. “We haven’t decided as yet who will be our manager,” said Jim Pohlad. He went on to add that the delay was primarily due to the fact that his father had not had an opportunity to meet with the finalists. Of course, since Jim Frey had spent three hours in the Pohlads’ house, and since Tom Kelly had numerous meetings with the owner after his promotion to interim manager, this excuse seemed unbelievable.
Another week passed without the deadlock being broken, so Frey decided to create some leverage on his part. Frey reached an agreement to become the color broadcaster for Chicago Cubs games on WGN Radio in Chicago if he was not hired as the manager of the Twins. Frey asked the station to “give me another week or two. If things didn’t work out at Minnesota, I would come to Chicago to see what happens.”
Still, as the days passed, it seemed more and more likely that Jim Frey would be the final choice. Most players favored Kelly simply because he had led them in the minor leagues, but George Frazier, who had played for Frey in Chicago, gave a different reason. “If Jim Frey does get the job in Minnesota, our relationship will be strained, to say the least. . . . I did not get along with Jim Frey. I’m not at the top of his Christmas list and he’s not at the top of mine,” explained Frazier. Additionally, he exercised a clause in his contract to demand a trade. The Twins quickly mocked and scoffed at Frazier’s demand. “To be honest, I haven’t had to reject any offers for George, yet,” MacPhail said. Patrick Reusse quoted former manager Billy Gardner when he wrote, “Three outfits will be after him - the Army, the Navy, and the Marines.”
With chaos now in the manager’s seat with uncertainty surrounding the decision, in the front office with Fox possibly relinquishing control, in the owner’s mind with the Pohlads not yet sold on Andy MacPhail, and on the roster with George Frazier demanding a trade, another chaotic figure decided to reemerge. “I won’t go just anywhere to manage, but if the right deal with Minnesota was offered, I certainly would listen,” Billy Martin said. “I’ve always been interested in that job but I haven’t talked to anybody from the Twins. And I’m not applying for it. I don’t know who ever gave the Twins the impression I would have to run the whole thing. That’s a bunch of baloney. I’m just interested in the managing thing. I wouldn’t want to disturb the others [in the front office]. It’s just that if I’m managing, I’d like to have a say in who stays and who goes down [to the minors].”
Looking back, it is really hard to understand how the Twins would have been given the impression that Billy Martin would want to control everything. The impression likely did not come from the guy who said a month earlier that the only way he will manage again is if he is given complete control of the baseball operations and a long-term contract. Martin added, “I think that club could win the pennant next season,” he said. “It’s got good power, good defense, some starting pitching and speed. It’s just that they haven’t used a lot of the speed.”
Rather than Martin, another candidate suddenly reemerged into the mix. Andy MacPhail, under orders from Carl Pohlad, flew to Chicago to conduct an interview with Joe Torre on November 3, and then he held a second interview by telephone a few days later. “I’d like to get into a situation where I have a chance to win, and I think the Twins can win,” said Torre. “I talked to MacPhail at the World Series, and we met in Chicago. No promises were made to me, but we did have a good interview.”
MacPhail clearly was growing anxious to have somebody - anybody - in place as the organization transitioned with him taking more control. “We’re getting to the point where we should get this done, or it will start interfering with the operation of the ball club,” MacPhail said. “I’m sure everyone would like to have the manager in place by the end of the week, so we can start preparing.”
Still, while all of these wheels were turning inside the organization, both Jim Frey and Tom Kelly were left completely out of the loop. After a meeting between the Pohlads, Andy MacPhail and Howard Fox on November 9, Frey and Kelly were summoned the next day and told the decision. Kelly flew in from his home in Parlin, New Jersey and Frey flew in from Baltimore and they were told they would both be hired by the Twins. Kelly would be named the manager while Frey would become the chief talent evaluator in the front office in charge of all player personnel. Specifically, Frey would provide input on trades and roster movements while reporting to MacPhail.
Of course, a search this chaotic could not conclude smoothly. With Tom Kelly sitting around waiting in the anteroom outside of Carl Pohlad’s office for six hours, Jim Frey made a big-time play for even more power. Frey, knowing that the Pohlads had concerns about the inexperience of both Kelly and MacPhail, tried to manipulate those feelings as several of Pohlads advisers hinted that the public would reject the team’s choice of the unproven Kelly. “I just sat there and didn’t do anything,” Kelly told reporters when asked about his visit to Minnesota. He added, “Apparently they had problems with Frey.”
After Frey left the meeting, Kelly finally was allowed to briefly meet with the Pohlads and MacPhail. MacPhail pushed to name Kelly as manager at a press conference the following day regardless of Jim Frey’s decision. Jim Pohlad expressed support for the idea, but Carl quickly squashed the idea and ended the meeting asking Kelly to return in the future.
With anxiety clearly rising with the Pohlads, Kelly was asked for his thoughts about having Frey around to oversee his job. Knowing full well that, if Frey took the front office position, he would be looking over his shoulder and wondering if Frey would fire him, Kelly seemed unfazed by the possible arrangement. “I get to run the game, that’s all I’m asking for. I want the chance to manage, that’s all,” Kelly explained. He added, “Andy MacPhail told me there were no guarantees. He just told me to be patient a few more days, wait and see what happens.”
Knowing that he could fall back on his job offer from WGN Radio, Frey tried to shoot for the moon in his demands. The Twins called his bluff and sent him home to Baltimore without a decision. However, the main side effect was that the team failed to ever announce Tom Kelly as manager. Frey, hoping everything would stay under wraps, was frustrated to learn that the Twins leaked their decision to hire Tom Kelly. Still, the team kept the position officially open while continuing to dance with Frey by telephone.
According to Patrick Reusse, “Twins vice president Andy MacPhail was upset by Frey’s hardball negotiating and urged the Pohlads to forget Frey, go ahead and make the announcement on Kelly and look elsewhere for a veteran baseball man. The Pohlads, though, took a liking to Frey during an earlier interview and seem to think he’s the sage needed by MacPhail’s young baseball department.”
Furthermore, the discussion on November 10 would have given Frey much of the authority in making trades, deciding on which free agents to pursue and targeting minor league talent for promotion to the big leagues. The Pohlads were not the only ones smitten by Frey’s interviewing ability. Patrick Reusse wrote, “The hiring of Frey, 55, would bring a desperately needed quality to this ballclub: personality. Frey’s a character - opinionated, egotistical, a straight talker, an old-line baseball man.”
A day later, Frey continued to keep the Twins twisting in the wind as he mulled his options. He announced that he wanted to choose between the Twins offer as their chief talent evaluator and WGN’s offer as the Cubs’ radio color man by the end of the week. At this point, Andy MacPhail had completely endorsed Tom Kelly for the position of manager regardless of any personnel moves within the rest of the organization. Still, Carl Pohlad did not want to make any moves or announcements until he had secured a more veteran baseball mind to balance the youth and inexperience of Kelly and MacPhail. In fact, some sources said Pohlad was still mulling over the possibility of taking the managerial job away from Kelly and giving it to Frey if that was the only way to lure Frey into the organization.
At this point, the Pohlads finally stopped budging. Frey was given the exact job description of the chief scout, a final salary offer, and told that there was no way he would be supplanted Tom Kelly as the choice for manager. With this information, Frey continued to ponder his options. Reached at his home in Baltimore, Frey said, “I’ve got to make a decision. Hopefully, it will be in the next couple of days.” He added, “There is no sense in waiting too long. It’s just something I have to sit down with and decide what I want to do.”
With a final decision still in limbo, some of the players began joining George Frazier and weighing in on the situation. “I guess it shows what’s going on in the front office,” Bert Blyleven told Charley Walters of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “It seems like nobody knows who’s in charge or what’s going on. You just wish something would happen for Tom Kelly’s sake.” Pitcher Mike Smithson, sensing the potential tension that could exist between Kelly and Frey, endorsed Kelly. “He’d be good for the team if they let him run it. But I don’t like a situation where the manager has to go in and report to the others [in the front office] about how to run it.” Frank Viola added, that Kelly “would be ideal for us because a lot of us have come up through him and know how he manages. A new guy wouldn’t know the organization…”
“It just seems like they’re making a travesty out of the whole thing, like they’ve got to analyze it from every direction,” third baseman Gary Gaetti said. “Not just from baseball, but from business, the banking aspect, the personal aspect, the public relations aspect, season tickets, experience - let me see, what else can I throw in there? - the prime-lending rate…” “I just hope they do it [hire a manager] before spring training,” first baseman Kent Hrbek said. Of course, with several prominent players stumping for Kelly, Carl Pohlad began to second-guess himself again because of concerns that Kelly was too close to the players.
A day later, Patrick Reusse of the St. Paul Pioneer Press tried to untangle the Gordian Knot which seemed to exist in the organization. “The issue,” he wrote, “has become power. Howard Fox had it. Andy MacPhail has been getting more of it. Jim Frey wants it, and Pohlad seems to be considering that possibility.” He added, “The belief here is that Frey has tried to negotiate a deal that would allow him to run the ball club. Frey would be MacPhail’s boss. Frey would have the last word on all personnel matters.”
When calling around trying to understand the delay, Reusse received a vague message from Frey: “I have a genuine interest in going up there under the right conditions. We haven’t been able to resolve it. I have a couple of more days to work it out.” Pohlad, on the other hand, continued to insist that negotiations had concluded and that Frey had already received the team’s final offer. Both Carl and Jim Pohlad met with Andy MacPhail on November 13 in another attempt to reach a consensus and move forward with a decision.
MacPhail left the meeting and said that no decisions were made, but that there was a 50-50 chance Tom Kelly would be named manager the following day. While supporting his boss publicly, MacPhail’s frustration with the delays was becoming increasingly apparent with each passing day. Of course, Carl Pohlad immediately undercut MacPhail’s hope to name Kelly as manager the following day when he announced, “We haven’t named a manager yet and I don’t think we will until early next week.” Likewise, Tom Kelly had not spoken with anyone in the organization in several days as he stayed at his home in New Jersey hoping that the job, which appeared to be his just a few days earlier, did not slip away. When asked if the delay and silence were hurting his chances, Kelly said, “I don’t know if it does or does not… No one has promised me anything. All I can do is wait.”
A day later, Frey’s final demands began crystallizing. Rather than wanting to jump into the front office, Frey’s heart was still tied to being a manager and he was attempting to convince Pohlad to dump the unproven Kelly. Sid Hartman wrote, “One thing is apparent: Pohlad is impressed with Frey, and would like to have his expertise in the organization. If he can’t sell him on joining the front office, don’t be surprised if he hires him as manager. Kelly still is the favorite, and has proved he can manage by winning in the minor leagues. But you get the impression that Frey has gained ground this week.”
Now, the public began shifting its finger from Frey towards Carl Pohlad as the cause for the continued delay. Dennis Brackin wrote in the Star Tribune, “Truth is, the frustratingly slow search for a manager provides just one more glimpse into the corporate workings of Pohlad’s Twins, an organization that is extremely slow to make a decision.” Despite receiving MacPhail’s endorsement of Tom Kelly, Pohlad was convinced the organization needed to find a place for Jim Frey. Thus, when Frey balked at the front office position, Pohlad had moved into a holding pattern waiting for Frey’s demands while never actually offering the managerial spot to Kelly. Frey knew Pohlad was full of doubt, and merely kept dragging along the process hoping Pohlad would finally cave and offer him the managerial spot (which would pay him nearly twice as much as he would receive for joining the front office).
As the team continued to appear divided and indecisive, the barbs hurled at the front office grew sharper. Dennis Brackin wrote that the rest of baseball viewed the team as “an organization with an owner who freely admits he knows nothing about baseball, yet feels compelled to issue orders and make decisions because he’s not quite sure there’s anybody out there he can trust”. Every day Frey held out was a day in which Pohlad further convinced himself that the organization needed Frey and a day in which Andy MacPhail and Tom Kelly’s futures grew a little bleaker.
Back To Square One
On November 19, ten days after he had summoned both Tom Kelly and Jim Frey to his office, Carl Pohlad blinked and finally offered Frey the managerial position. Pohlad called Frey that morning to offer the on-field job after it had become apparent that Frey would never reach an agreement for a front-office position. Shockingly, Frey turned down Pohlad’s offer of a two-year contract for $200,000 a year in an attempt to ask for more security.
“Mr. Pohlad did offer me the job as the Twins manager and I turned it down,” Frey said. “I have a year left on my contract with the Cubs [from when he was fired as manager early in the 1986 season]. I also have some deferred money coming from the Cubs. A two-year contract with the Twins wouldn’t have been a good financial deal for me. If they had offered me a three-year contract, I might have jumped. I had told them previously that I needed a four-year contract to work in the front office and a three-year contract as manager.” Pohlad again offered to let Frey mull this new offer for a few days, but Frey, for the second time tried to shoot for the moon.
This time, rather than let the negotiations drag over a few days, Frey tried to hardball Pohlad into offering more years. “I told him to think it over for a couple of days, but he had his mind made up,” Pohlad said. “If he said he needed a little more money, I might have said yes. I really didn’t get a chance to negotiate with him.” Pohlad refused to commit to more than two years, and Frey quickly closed the negotiations and finally accepted WGN Radio’s offer to be the color broadcaster for Chicago Cubs games. “At one point, I really thought I was going [to Minnesota],” Frey told reporters. “In the end, I decided it was better not to.”
With Pohlad back at square one, the search returned to Tom Kelly. However, Kelly had now been publicly spurned by the team. Additionally, young vice president Andy MacPhail had seen his recommendation publicly disregarded. “I was very impressed with Kelly when I met with him recently,” Pohlad announced. “I don’t doubt that he can do the job. But I want to make sure we get the right man.” Pohlad added that his ideal plan was for Frey to manage for a couple of seasons with Kelly staying as his third-base coach. Then, he would move Frey into the front office and promote Kelly to manager.
A frustrated Kelly responded, “I thought I was in line for the job. I’m a little surprised they turned around and offered Mr. Frey the job, but that’s the owner’s prerogative. It’s his ballclub.” Still, Kelly knew he had little choice but to sit idly by while the search continued. “I have no control over anything. If they’re bringing in more people to interview, I guess I just have to wait and see.” He added, “I don’t know where I stand, and I don’t know if they know. I feel like I’m punchy, like I’ve been in a fight and just got KO’d in the 15th. This thing’s got me fooled.”
Pohlad now gave the order to MacPhail and Fox to bring in another couple candidates to interview, but they retorted that they were finding it difficult to locate good candidates. Billy Martin and Joe Torre had already been eliminated from consideration (Martin, obviously had never really been considered anyway), but former Yankee, Red Sox, and Tiger manager Ralph Houk expressed interest in taking the front-office position on a part-time basis. Another name mentioned for both openings was former Pirate, Astro, and Yankee manager Bill Virdon. Unfortunately, Virdon was hunting with friends and would be unavailable for a week.
While waiting for Virdon to return to civilization, Andy MacPhail interviewed former Seattle manager Chuck Cottier by telephone. MacPhail received good recommendations regarding Cottier and, after the first interview, scheduled an appointment for them to meet in person a few days later. “I think the Twins have good personnel,” Cottier said. “I would really like a chance to manage that club.” When speaking about the current candidates, MacPhail also mentioned that Joe Torre’s name was slowly working itself back into consideration. “I’m still interested in the job,” Torre said, but he added that he had not spoken with anybody with the Twins in ten days. Jeff Torberg also expressed interest in the job, but the Twins never bothered to contact him.
To hedge himself from further embarrassment, MacPhail told reporters that a new manager would probably not be named until after the Pohlads could settle on a long-time baseball man for the front office position. Ralph Houk was beginning to emerge as the new leader for the front office position. Houk was initially offered the position after the World Series, but turned it down because it was a full-time job. This time, he was receptive because MacPhail was asking him only to help in a part-time capacity. “The offer is interesting,” Houk said from his Florida home. “I do miss baseball. I haven’t decided as yet what I will do.”
A day later, the position continued to grow on Houk. “I’m looking favorably on the job,” Houk told reporters when reached at home. According to Sid Hartman, the addition of Houk was pretty much guaranteed. He wrote, “Once Houk’s hiring is announced, the Twins probably will name their manager.” The following day, Hartman added, “Twins owner Carl Pohlad was so impressed with Chuck Cottier during last week’s interview that the former Seattle manager is likely to get a job in the organization.” Of course, Cottier, like Jim Frey before him, would prefer to be named manager, but Andy MacPhail was pushing for him to join Houk as another talent evaluator.
Finally, on November 24, two weeks after the fateful day in which Tom Kelly and Jim Frey were summoned to Minnesota, Carl Pohlad made his decision. Tom Kelly was introduced as the new manager of the team and Ralph Houk and Bob Gebhard joined the organization as talent evaluators. Andy MacPhail, who survived a direct challenge to his authority by Jim Frey, was promoted to executive vice president and was given the final say on all baseball decisions. MacPhail explained, “I think it’s going to help when fans get exposure to the kind of people we brought in. I think they’ll recognize that the process was more than just naming a manager, that we were restructuring the organization and it had to be done under the media scrutiny of an alleged manager search.”
Gebhard, who had been the Montreal Expos’ farm director since 1982, was hired to complement Houk because the sixty-seven year old Houk asked to not be required to leave Florida. The position which Gebhard filled had not even been created until the day he interviewed when it began to become clear that Ralph Houk was only willing to fill certain aspects of the front office. In the extended, drawn-out search, Gebhard was hired just three days after he even became a candidate to join the Twins. He interviewed, was offered the job on the spot. and accepted the position after just two days of thinking it over. Gebhard would be tasked with scouting external talent and initiating trade discussions. Gebhard was a Minnesota native who jumped at the chance to move closer to home and higher up the front office ladder. “I’ve been with Montreal for 13 years and enjoyed my job. It’s a first-class organization so I had a lot to consider before I decided to leave them. But this is a promotion from the job I had at Montreal.”
Kelly, after waiting through several months in limbo, was rewarded for his patience with an opportunity to lead the Twins. “I want to thank Mr. Pohlad for putting his confidence and trust in me and giving me the opportunity of a lifetime,” Kelly said at the press conference. “It’s a great honor for me, and being only 36 years old, I know it took a lot of courage by Mr. Pohlad to give a person of my age the chance to become a major league manager. I’m going to do the best damn job I possibly can.”
“There were times that it did not look real good,” Kelly said. “But I was optimistic, still confident that I had a good chance. If you get down, it just makes you worry more.” Carl Pohlad, despite mountains of evidence to the contrary, insisted that he never opposed the hiring of Kelly. “Tom was not the second or third choice,” Pohlad claimed. “Tom was the first choice. That’s the only comment I’m going to make.”
Kelly again reiterated that he would not be intimidated or bothered by having an experienced manager already within the organization. “Mr. Houk has assured me that he’s not interested in managing again,” Kelly said. “I think it will help me, having him available to give advice. He’s a great man, a great baseball man. He’s forgotten more about the game than I know about it.” MacPhail also insisted Kelly would not be second-guessed. “It’s fundamental to the organization that a manager manages a team,” MacPhail explained. “You’re making a mistake if you do anything other than that. When you get down on the field or in the clubhouse, that’s Tom Kelly’s show. That’s his domain.”
Ralph Houk initially was offered the job in October, but he refused when MacPhail asked him to relocate from Pompano Beach, Florida to Minneapolis. MacPhail, who’s father hired Houk as the Yankee manager who replaced Casey Stengel in 1961, continued to attempt to gauge Houk’s interest throughout the fall and found a much more receptive answer once the job description shifted to part-time without the need to travel. Houk’s new role would require him to scout the Twins internally and to make recommendations to MacPhail and Kelly regarding organizational needs as well as internal player movement. “In this job I don’t have to do all the traveling,” Houk explained. “That’s what was tough, all the traveling. You know, on planes all night and in the morning.”
“I remember Andy [MacPhail] as a little kid,” Houk said. “He came from a baseball family, and his daddy, Lee, was probably the most dedicated baseball man I’ve ever known in my life. He talked baseball night and day, and I think Andy has about the same type of outlook that Lee did. It’s all baseball. I’m sure that’s one of the main reasons I’m here, because Andy kept insisting that I join the organization.”
Rather than leaving the state, Houk agreed to spend spring training with the team in Orlando to help evaluate the 40-man roster and to help Tom Kelly organize the drills. Additionally, he was expected to communicate his thoughts throughout the season as well as in trade negotiations. Regarding trade talks, Houk explained, “I know a lot of people in baseball. I should have some pretty good ‘ins’ with some of the managers around the league that I’ve known all my life, with some of the general managers. I should be able to open some doors for some pretty good conversations. Whether we can make some moves or not, I don’t know.”
With these changes, Carl Pohlad finally began to feel content with the staff he had hired. “We didn’t have too many good young players in the minor leagues when I bought the club,” Pohlad said. “They didn’t have the money to sign the draft choices [Tim Belcher and Bill Swift were two who got away, for example]. But I’m satisfied that Terry Ryan and the scouting staff have done a great job drafting the right players and signing them the past two years. I think our future is great. I think Gebhard is as good as we could find. I’m particularly happy that we were able to have a guy the caliber of Ralph Houk in our organization.”
In addition to the changes in the upper leadership, the 1986 coaches were finally notified about their future. After several months of uncertainty about whether they would be offered jobs, the entire coaching staff was told it would be retained under Kelly. Of course, even back in November 1986, Sid Hartman wrote, “There had been some criticism of the job [Dick] Such did with the pitching staff.” The only spot open was that of the third base coach replacing Tom Kelly. An early contender was former managerial candidate Chuck Cottier who Pohlad guaranteed would be “offered a job in the organization.” “It is all up to Cottier if he wants to work for us,” Pohlad said.
In a quick show of support for Tom Kelly, Carl Pohlad changed his tune a few days later and hired Rick Renick, Kelly’s hand-picked choice, to be the new third base coach. Renick was Kelly’s minor league teammate in 1974 and 1975 while at Tacoma, and he had been the third base coach for the Montreal Expos during the previous two seasons.
With the contentious search concluded, with a new manager, a new vice president, and two new chief scouts, and with a roster that barely escaped the American League West cellar in 1986, the team was finally ready to move forward to 1987.
I went through many, many newspapers articles to write the proceeding article. I used ProQuest mainly for archives of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the Chicago Tribune, and the Chicago Sun-Times, but a few of my notes trickled in from other newspapers as well. ProQuest was then supplemented by microfilm from the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Additionally, Howard SInker was kind enough to read over one of the earlier drafts to look for glaring inaccuracies as he was the beat reporter who authored several of the articles I used in my research.
I originally wrote this back in October 2007 for my old site. I lost the intro, but the rest remains. Let's see if this managerial search is run a little more competently.