Are the Twins a Baseball Team or a Camel?

I’ve worked in a corporate office environment since I was 21 years old. Over the subsequent 30-some years, when it comes to management styles and philosophies, I’ve pretty much seen (endured?) them all.

I remember back in the 1980s and early 1990s, my company had a big push toward what I call “group think”. We had previously had a very autocratic, control freak-type president, so I suppose this may have been a bit of an over-reaction to that. In any event, everything became “team” oriented. We had teams (which is just a nicer way of saying “committees”) for everything. If you weren’t a member of at least half a dozen teams, you just weren’t trying very hard.

It wasn’t a total disaster, of course. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with tossing ideas around with a group of smart, progressive experts on whatever the subject matter assigned to that team might be. Some very good ideas came out of those meetings and if you ever did arrive at a consensus decision, it was helpful for implementation purposes to have gotten buy-in from around the table. Even if you didn’t happen to agree with the decision, you liked feeling your input had been considered. We all like that.

And when it turns out that your team made a good decision, it’s a great feeling to know you share the credit with your other team members. It’s a natural high to have the president of your company tell everyone what a great job your team did and how important that work was in the ultimate success of the company over the course of the year.


But you know what’s coming next, don’t you? Yeah… how many committees are really made up completely of smart, progressive experts? Most aren’t and, as a result, the finished product is seldom smart or progressive. Often, the results are a disaster.

When that happens, good luck finding anyone willing to stand up and be accountable for the decision and taking responsibility for fixing things. Accountability can be a real problem in a “group think” organization.

Fixing things becomes problematic, too, because that assignment falls back on the team (or gets pushed to yet another team). That’s all well and good unless the problem needs fixing immediately, because while committees have some things they may do well, doing anything quickly is not generally one of those things.

There’s a reason that they say the definition of a camel is a “horse designed by a committee.”

All of which finally brings me around to the Minnesota Twins.

Since I don’t have an office in the Twins front office suite, I admit I have no first-hand knowledge about how they do things there. But from most accounts, it sure seems like they take the “management team” approach to an extreme, at least where it comes to the actual baseball operation (from all accounts, Jerry Bell pretty much took on responsibility for getting Target Field built and that turned out pretty well). Bill Smith isn’t so much “General Manager” as he is the “Team Leader” of the management group, which is made up of people like Mike Radcliff, Rob Antony, Jim Rantz, Terry Ryan and, of course, Ron Gardenhire.

All of these people have their respective areas of expertise, of course, but the public sense of how things work is that this group of people work together as a team to chart the course the Twins will follow in any given season and beyond.

It’s worked out great for most of the past decade or more, too. Most of these same people have been around in one capacity or another throughout a period of considerable success on the field. Terry Ryan,  Bill Smith and Ron Gardenhire may be the guys most often credited for all the winning seasons this millennium, but they’ve all been quick to point out what a “team effort” it’s been by all of the management group as they’ve developed players, promoted from within, and watched as those guys have won division title after division title.


But the Twins didn’t win the division title this season. They didn’t even compete for it. They finished 8 games back… of the Royals… in the competition to not finish last. This comes just one year after winning the division.

And as fans, we want to know who’s responsible.

In typical “group think” fashion, however, the answer coming from the Twins front office is, “nobody”.

I suppose in some way it’s noble that people in authority aren’t throwing others under the bus… not directly, anyway. And some changes are being made. The AAA manager and hitting coach have been relieved of their duties, but that’s kind of like an executive committee responding to their company’s stock tanking by firing the manager of their mail room and issuing a press release to assure stockholders that they’re taking action. It’s nice to know they noticed something is wrong, but hardly reassuring that they know what to do about it.

Look around. The Red Sox won 90 games and their manager is gone… perhaps followed shortly by their GM. The Angels only won 86 games, so their GM and his top two assistants are excused… even though they have a manager who’s probably got even more say over his roster than Gardy does. We may or may not agree that those teams made the right decision, but the message sent to their fans is that they do hold people accountable when results do not meet expectations, especially when the owners have spent competitively on payrolls.

I’m not suggesting the Twins fire everyone… or that anyone needs to be fired, for that matter. But I do believe that the people running the team should have specific responsibilities and they should be accountable for the decisions made within their respective realms.

Everyone makes mistakes. But if one of my managers makes a mistake, I tell them to learn from it, don’t do it again, and move on. If mistakes are continuous or especially egregious, we’ll need to find someone else to do that job. But don’t tell me that you and your team got together and all agreed this is what we should do so none of you are really responsible.

Maybe Dave St. Peter has told Bill Smith exactly that… that he screwed up and he needs to fix things. Maybe the conference call with the season ticketholders was one way Smith was directed to address issues with fans. Maybe St. Peter was on the call primarily to make sure Smith did exactly that.

Maybe Smith’s acknowledgment that the team missed JJ Hardy most of all and now needs a shortstop was his way of telling Gardy, “that was your idea, it didn’t work, and now we’ll do things my way.”

I certainly don’t expect the Twins to suddenly start broadcasting every detail of their internal discussions. Maybe there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes than what we’ve seen and heard.

Maybe we’ll see changes. Maybe we’ll see some accountability.

Let’s hope so.

Or they might as well just rename the team the “Minnesota Camels”.

– JC