SI Vault
 
Master of the Trade
Nicholas Dawidoff
March 30, 1992
When it comes to building a baseball team for the '90s, Andy MacPhail, G.M. of the Twins, is the best in the business
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
March 30, 1992

Master Of The Trade

When it comes to building a baseball team for the '90s, Andy MacPhail, G.M. of the Twins, is the best in the business

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

Growing up in Baltimore in the early 1960s, Andy MacPhail spent many of his summer evenings sitting in his father Lee's office, waiting for him to finish work. It was a musty little room, windowless and spare, save for the row of clipboards hanging from nails along the walls. But for a boy, there is often a splendor to the old man's place of business. So it is that the watchmaker's son grows up to lean over benches scattered with springs, and the ophthalmologist's boy finds himself between walls covered with modest T's and mighty E's. For Andy MacPhail, it has been the clipboards.

Lee MacPhail spent his professional life in baseball administration. From 1958 to '66 he was the general manager of the Baltimore Orioles. When a night game ended, Lee headed for the Orioles' clubhouse while young Andy and his brother Bruce went off to play catch under the parking lot lights. After a while they would come inside. "Sometimes we'd sit in the office and pretend to be player and management," Andy says. "Our scouting reports were Dad's clipboards hanging on the wall. I remember that negotiating with Dave Nicholson was interesting because he had lots of power and lots of strikeouts." That was about as close to Nicholson and the other Orioles as Andy MacPhail was permitted. "My father," he says, "was very careful that if there was going to be some appeal to baseball, it should be the appeal of the game itself, not the illusory glamour of rubbing shoulders with the players."

Today, at 38, Andy MacPhail is beginning his sixth season as general manager of the Minnesota Twins. He was, as they say, born for the work. Already he has won the World Series twice: in his first, "Boy Wonder" year of '87, when he and his equally precocious rookie manager, Tom Kelly, who was 37 at the time, nudged the Twins past the St. Louis Cardinals, and again last year when the Twins defeated the Atlanta Braves. "In '87, it was a mad scramble," says MacPhail. "In '91, it was validation of a true baseball organization. I take more pride in 1991."

MacPhail has succeeded with an enlightened yet distinctly unsentimental approach to baseball management. He cares about his players, make no mistake, but MacPhail and his wife, Lark, have never gone to dinner with any of them, which no doubt has made the inevitable parting of ways easier. Vanished are the days in baseball when a general manager could form his team and then sit back and watch it play for a few years.

"It's completely different," says Lee MacPhail. "We operated under budgets where one player's salary wasn't going to wreck the team financially. It doesn't seem to me to be as much fun today."

Soon after Minnesota bested the Braves last October, seven Twins filed for free agency. Five of them—Jack Morris, Terry Leach, Steve Bedrosian, Dan Gladden and Al Newman—will not be playing in Minnesota this season. The departures of Morris, a St. Paul native and the World Series hero; Gladden, the popular left-fielder; and Newman, an infielder, were greeted with mild consternation on the prairie. But the fans are growing accustomed to MacPhail's methods. His first move in 1987 was to release outfielder Mickey Hatcher, who was the favorite player of Twins owner Carl Pohlad. Over the years MacPhail has traded or relinquished such beloved Twins as Frank Viola, Gary Gaetti, Tom Brunansky, Bert Blyleven and Jeff Reardon. But today "baseball is a business," as Twins outfielder Kirby Puckett says, and MacPhail is the baseball businessman for the '90s.

He didn't hurt his reputation last week when he made up for the loss of Morris—and stunned division rivals—by trading two prospects to the Pittsburgh Pirates for 20-game-winner and free-agent-to-be John Smiley. The deal is a departure for MacPhail, trading youngsters for a player who can leave after this season, but it gives Minnesota a solid chance to repeat. Says MacPhail, "This is an opportunity to maintain our competitiveness when we may be precluded from doing so in the future if the economics go unabated."

"I don't think MacPhail believes winning a World Series and losing $10 million is a successful season," says Pat Reusse, a columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "He's intrigued by the challenge of running a team with limited resources."

There is more to MacPhail than simple fiscal sangfroid. He is reasonable: In his six years as Twins general manager, not one player has had a salary arbitration hearing. And he is principled. "Last year he didn't negotiate with any free agents during the season," says third baseman Mike Pagliarulo, a free agent whom MacPhail re-signed for '92. "In some organizations, some guys get extensions during the season, some don't. I'd think that would carry over into the locker room."

Word gets around. Infielder Donnie Hill and pitcher Bill Krueger both signed with the Twins in the off-season although several other teams offered them more money. "The Twins recruit good players with good hearts," says Pagliarulo. "They breed unselfish players who play as a team, win or lose."

Continue Story
1 2 3