Cubs should aim to emulate Twins’ continuity
BY GORDON WITTENMYER firstname.lastname@example.org June 16, 2012 8:12PM
Matt Garza spent his first three seasons with the Twins, who wouldn’t let him pitch until he fixed his mechanics. | AP
Updated: July 18, 2012 6:27AM
When Matt Garza got to Fort Myers, Fla., in 2005 after the Minnesota Twins made the college pitcher their first-round draft pick, he got a sudden and unwelcome education in Twins baseball.
Instructors didn’t like his mechanics, so they wouldn’t let him pitch.
“We worked on some stuff to where I couldn’t throw off a bump until I got cleaned up,’’ he said. “It wasn’t a bad thing, just more of a precaution. It probably saved my career.’’
How much of a role such precautions played in the power pitcher avoiding major arm problems in eight professional seasons is impossible to know. But the former Tampa Bay Rays playoff hero and current Cubs starter credits a lot of his success with his three-year stint with the Twins.
“A lot of teams have emulated it,’’ Garza said. “They were real adamant on certain things and certain ways things got done. And that’s the way it was, and that’s the way it works.’’
Could it have worked here?
With the Boston Red Sox and a good portion of their so-called Nation descending on Wrigley Field, this weekend has turned into an ad-nauseam reminder of the Red Sox Way that Cubs president Theo Epstein is trying to mold for his new team.
But even before Epstein became available last fall, at the end of the Red Sox’ epic collapse, the Twins’ Terry Ryan declined an offer to interview with the Ricketts family and talk about bringing the Twins Way to Wrigley.
“There’s no such thing as a ‘Twins Way,’” scoffs Ryan, who began his second term as the team’s general manager in November, perhaps reluctantly, after four seasons as a special assistant to the GM.
‘‘It’s just the right way to play the game. And most of that is respect for the game, making routine plays, playing defense, throwing strikes. Ultimately it comes down to talent and players and execution, but it also comes down to makeup and work ethic and accountability, all that type of stuff that we and every organization believe in.
‘‘Some years it works better than others.’’
Ryan, who had an up-close look at Epstein’s Red Sox career from across town in Fort Myers, Fla., during a decade of spring trainings, said Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod showed him a tack and emphasis similar to what the Twins have done for the last three decades.
Tom Kelly, who became the Twins’ manager, and Rick Stelmaszek, who joined Kelly’s staff, helped establish a Twins method in the early 1980s when they were minor-league coordinators. Specifics on bunt plays, relays, base-running, defensive footwork and countless other things were defined in detail and put in writing so instructors from rookie ball on up knew the ways and the language of the organization.
‘‘Not anything new,’’ Ryan said. ‘‘It was just maybe a little bit more communication and a little bit more structure.’’
That’s what Epstein has espoused since day one, down to the Cubs Way book being written this year to replace a less specific version that longtime organizational instructors say might be one-third the size.
But if there has been a glaring difference between the Cubs and Twins over the years, it’s the very thing that’s going on now — another major shakeup on the North Side designed to decisively, finally change the losing culture.
‘‘We’ve had a lot of continuity here and stability. That’s part of it,’’ Ryan said. ‘‘You can’t change farm directors and scouting directors and field coordinators, pitching coordinators and major-league managers and have all that stuff come through the major-league level and have it play itself out [consistently]. That stability usually comes from right at the top, ownership.’’
Kelly and Stelmaszek are still with the Twins. Manager Ron Gardenhire spent 11 years on Kelly’s staff before succeeding him. Assistant GM Rob Antony started 25 years ago as a media-relations assistant. Mike Radcliff was the longest-tenured scouting director in the game before a 2007 promotion.
In 29 years under Tribune ownership, the Cubs had nine general managers, 21 field managers and almost as many philosophical fresh starts.
Chairman Tom Ricketts promises a long run of family ownership, but it will take a long time to see the continuity — maybe even the success.
‘‘It looks like they’re committed to doing that,’’ Ryan said. ‘‘There’s a plan in place, and I suspect, knowing Theo and Jed the way I do, that that’s exactly the path they’re going to take. They’ve got a plan in mind, and they’re going to follow it, and I suspect it comes with player development and scouting and the amateur talent they bring in.’’