Three Twins officials -- president Jerry Bell, general manager Terry Ryan and senior
vice president of business affairs Dave St. Peter -- convened in a Metrodome conference
room late last week to discuss the 1999 season and the francise's uncertain future.
The discussion with four Star Tribune reporters was a mixture of optimism -- most of
the 17 rookies to play this season offered hope for better days -- and pessimism -- a new
stadium remains a long shot, casting doubt about the team's future in Minnesota.
Terry Ryan, general manager
A year ago Terry Ryan wearily fielded questions about whether he would be asked to
return for another season as Twins general manager. This season Ryan appears more relaxed,
more self-assured, more focused on a future that is now a clearly defined youth movement.
Ryan and manager Tom Kelly sent 17 rookies into games this season, and most of them
survived. Although the record showed no improvement, the youngsters provide a modicum of
Asked if he felt more secure about his future, team president Jerry Bell interrupted,
saying: "He should, if he doesn't."
"We had some good things going here for the better part of the summer. June,
July and August, we started to make some strides, and all of a sudden in September, we
have a hit a wall and it's quite unfortunate because that is pretty much how the year may
be remembered," Ryan said. "For the most part, we've had some people step into
positions where we've rushed many players this year. . . . There's some hope
here that we won't be looking for somebody to take Joe Mays' spot or we won't be looking
for somebody to play left [where Chad Allen had a good rookie season]. We think that
[Cristian] Guzman should be our shortstop of the future. [Corey] Koskie looks like he may
be our third baseman of the future. So we've answered some questions.
"We've got a long way to go. . . . We don't have much power. But our
pitching staff is in halfway decent shape. That hasn't been the case here for a long time.
Now, all of a sudden, we're looking for position players. And they're a little easier to
find on any market than pitching. . . . We've got a halfway decent core of
players here that I think we can build around."
Ryan said the Twins' payroll next season will probably mirror this season's $16.8
million figure. He said other organizations spend twice as much as the Twins do on
scouting and minor league development. Still, it is clear that Ryan has tired of feeling
sorry about being a small-market team. He believes it's time to get past that, although he
"If you've got a veteran team like Baltimore or New York, none of these
[rookies] would have been on this team. But we've never been Baltimore or New York, so
forget that and just take for granted that we're the normal Minnesota Twins, and we'd have
had three or four of these guys make this club anyway. . . . The other thing
that I think we can look at this year, there are a couple of teams in the game, Cincinnati
and Oakland, for instance, that do not have huge payrolls. We can't use that as an excuse
Ryan's thoughts on a variety of subjects:
The possibility of finding a legitimate No. 3 and No. 4 hitter
within the organization: ''It depends. We do [have possibilities]. It depends on
how they're going to react and what step they're going to take. . . . [Matt]
Lawton. [Todd] Walker. [David] Ortiz. It depends which direction we go. We need some of
the players in the organization to take the next step.''
The conference room phone kept ringing. The tentative deal to sell the Twins,
contingent on a new St. Paul stadium being built, was going down. Jerry Bell was the man
in the middle, and has been for the past five years. A former suburban playground
director, former Metropolitan Council staffer, former Dome director, longtime Twins CEO,
he acknowledged that, on operations, the Twins will probably be in the black this season,
with expenses at about $45.5 million and revenues at about $47.5 million. The carrying
costs of owner Carl Pohlad's debt would push the team in the red, he said. He also allowed
that as much as a new ballpark would enhance the Twins' viability, a stadium is not the
panacea; restructuring the economics of the game and the relationship between big-and
small-market teams is the answer.
He described the competing interests of teams with large media revenues in big markets
and teams like the Twins.
"We had this discussion a few years ago, even before some revenue sharing was
approved. It was pointed out [by large-market owners] why should a large-market team --
and I don't want to point out [Yankees' owner] George Steinbrenner because he wasn't the
only one who felt this way -- but why should he contribute to a smaller revenue team when
it would simply enhance our financial position? I said, 'Fine, we will agree to a minimum
payroll.' I was trying to make a point that we're not in this just looking for more money
to help the owner but to be more competitive. The large-market owners turned that
Still, even if political miracles occur and the ballpark gets approval from St. Paul
voters, the Legislature and Gov. Jesse Ventura, the Twins will have to spend at least
three more seasons at the Dome. Won't that continue to drag down the franchise?
"If the referendum passes, you can rest assured that David [St. Peter] is
going to be looking for a whole bunch of new season-ticket holders. Priority seating in a
new ballpark would clearly be determined by those who own the seats in this ballpark. So
you'll have a fairly good indication of the interest in a new ballpark right away. The
deal with Mayor [Norm] Coleman also has other thresholds, of selling 20,000 tickets and
some private suites. So while it sounds like a very big nut to crack, with the
requirements in the deal, it isn't that difficult moving into a new ballpark."
He went on to talk about the role of Carl Pohlad's personality in all this.
"I think if you take polls, Carl's an issue, but in reality not a big issue.
If you took a poll of the Legislature, it would probably be a big issue. I think the
general population is still thinking the way they should. And that is: 'What's it going to
take to make the Twins competitive? I want to be a baseball fan, I don't want to be a
business of baseball fan. I don't care about Carl Pohlad one way or the other unless
someone else is going to make us a more competitive team. Then I care.'
"But that's not going to happen just with a change of ownership; that's going to
happen with a change of environment. . . . A stadium is a huge piece of it. But
no, it's not the only way. Baseball recognizes that. All we have to do is take a look at
Seattle. They have a gorgeous new facility. But [in trying to sign Ken Griffey Jr. and
Alex Rodriguez] they still have economic issues to deal with."
St. Peter, senior vice president of business affairs
As vice president of business affairs for the Twins, Dave St. Peter has one of the
most difficult jobs in professional sports: marketing a team that is not only a perennial
loser, but one that can offer its fans no guarantee that it will be playing in Minnesota
beyond next season.
The basic numbers for the Twins this season looked acceptable: more than 8,000 season
tickets, a home attendance of a little more than 1.2 million. But a closer look revealed
about 3,000 of those season tickets were $99 packages for upper deck general admission.
And no-shows significantly reduced the actual attendance.
"At the end of the day, clearly, I think we had a lot more paid attendance
than people suspected, but it's been well document that obviously we sold a hell of a lot
of discounted season tickets," St. Peter said. "We did an extensive survey of
our season-ticket customers, and I can tell you that we made some strides in that area. I
think most people feel better about games. Unfortunately that core group of fans has
shrunk. And for us to really get that core to where it needs to be a couple of things need
to happen. We've got to have hope. I think hope has returned to a certain extent. There's
a better feeling about the club today than there was a year ago. What I can't gauge is
just what impact the ballpark referendum is going to have on our fans. I think they're
growing weary of this whole stadium debate, and they're very concerned about the
stabilization of the franchise."
Surveys showed that a majority of fans purchasing the $99 season ticket attended
only five to 10 games this season, according to St. Peter. He said many fans apparently
purchased the package just to receive the gift -- an autographed Kirby Puckett bat. The
$99 promotion helped contribute to the average price of a Twins ticket this season of
about $8, according to St. Peter. That, he says, is about half of most other American
League teams. St. Peter calls the $8 average "unacceptable" and promises that
"We've spent a lot of time for years trying to ensure the affordability of
Twins baseball, and that isn't going to change. What I think we need to do is work very,
very hard to try to bring in as much revenue as we possibly can from ticket sales. I think
as an organization we've probably been too quick to discount [tickets] in recent years
because of the challenges we face. We're going to try to retain, or maintain the
affordability of our pricing structure, and probably not be as aggressive in offering
additional discounts over and above the existing pricing structure."
St. Peter said the $99 package will remain, but he indicated the incentive sort of
gifts -- like the Kirby Puckett bat -- will go to those buying full-priced season tickets.
"We have to do a better job quite honestly of taking better care of the people
who are full season-ticket holders. And that's where the incentive is going to go and
that's where it should go. . . . The bottom line, there are some people who are
buying [the $99 tickets] to literally come to games, and I think because of that, you'll
probably see a package similar to that, minus the Kirby Puckett bat."
St. Peter's thoughts on marketing this year, and next year:
"I think the one thing that we failed on this year enough of was to brand our
young players, to brand the Chad Allens, the Cristian Guzmans and the Torii Hunters.
. . . Next year we're going to sell our schedule. We have flat out the best
schedule I've ever seen us have. You going to have a night where you have Sammy Sosa
playing here on Saturday night and Mark McGwire playing on Sunday afternoon. I think we
can sell that. We're going to sell the affordability of this thing and the family