The thing about a conversation with Twins general manager Terry Ryan is always that you can learn an incredible amount of baseball just by keeping your ears open.
What you won't get in any conversation is any agreement from Ryan that he's had much to do at all with his club's success during his tenure. This is not false modesty. It's real modesty, from a man who loves baseball, knows what a privilege it is to be in the game and has no interest at all in adding any luster to his own reputation.
He's twice been named Executive of the Year, but that sort of thing seemed to occur to Ryan as more of an embarrassment than an honor. Still, the record is clearly going to show that during Ryan's first stint as general manager of the Minnesota Twins, from 1994-2007, he put together the clubs that won six division titles over nine seasons, from 2002-10.
Whatever the Twins did, they did without spending a bunch of money. They were the role model for every other small-market franchise on how winning was possible; the grassroots emphasis on scouting and player development. The Oakland Athletics got the movie. But the Twins organization won as much respect as any club in the game for diligence, for intelligence, for not letting less revenue defeat them in any way.
Terry Ryan was at the forefront of that. You wouldn't get him to admit it, but he was in charge of putting together an organization that did things the right way, and a team that could compete with anybody over a 162-game season.
When the news came Monday that Ryan, 60, has cancer, the first reaction to the news among people who know Ryan was in the vicinity of "life really isn't fair." We already knew that, but do the reminders have to be this drastic?
The good news is that Ryan's cancer is treatable. Ryan said that it was detected as a lump in his neck in an annual physical exam by Twins team physician Vijay Eyunni, leading to a diagnosis of squamous cell carcinoma.
"Thankfully, incremental tests indicate the cancer appears to be confined to my neck and has not spread to other regions of my body," Ryan said.
"At the direction of Dr. Eyunni, I am currently being treated at the Mayo Clinic [in Rochester, Minn.], as well as Minnesota Oncology. I've been assured this form of cancer is treatable and remain optimistic about my return to good health in the near future."
There will be a lot of people pulling very hard for that outcome.
Ryan, who was drafted as a pitcher by the Twins organization, had initial success in the Minor Leagues, but then had a career-ending injury. Originally from Janesville, Wis., Ryan subsequently earned a degree in physical education from the University of Wisconsin.
Starting in 1980, Ryan spent six years as a scout for the New York Mets. He returned to the Twins as a scouting director, then became vice president and player personnel director. He became the Twins' general manager in 1994 and served in that capacity until after the 2007 season, when he stepped aside, allowing assistant GM Bill Smith to take over. Ryan remained in the organization as a senior advisor. After Smith was dismissed, Ryan agreed to return to the general manager's role following the 2011 season.
Ryan will not be at Spring Training in Ft. Myers, Fla., with assistant general manager Rob Antony filling the GM's duties.
The Minnesota franchise will be a focal point of baseball this summer with the All-Star Game to be played at the Twins' splendid downtown-Minneapolis home, Target Field. We can all fervently hope that a healthy Terry Ryan will be on hand, in order to give somebody else the credit for whatever goes right.