The Magnificent Falvine took the stage Tuesday. The pre-eminent illusionists of our time had just fired a Hall of Fame player from St. Paul less than a year after he won the American League Manager of the Year award, and now here they were, sitting behind microphones, not telling us why.
They did a little soft shoe, hid a few quarters behind their ears, praised Paul Molitor as if they were hiring rather than firing him, and spoke in generalities so vague that they could have been discussing the weather.
I asked team President Dave St. Peter to penetrate the fog.
“There’s a partnership that Derek Falvey talked about the day he was hired with the Twins,” St. Peter said. “I think he felt as if the relationship with Paul had evolved mightily and there were other aspects of the partnership where I think Derek felt that maybe a change of voice was going to be very important for us to continue to unlock the young talent across our organization.
“I think that’s probably the No. 1 reason. It has nothing to do with Paul’s baseball acumen, nothing to do with our won-loss record.”
My interpretation of that cautious answer: Molitor was fired for several reasons, and none of them would have sounded great coming out of Falvine’s mouths as they fired a local hero.
Reason No. 1: Molitor was never their guy. Like most aggressive young baseball bosses, Falvey and Levine have an idea what they want as a manager, and Molitor, while a good manager, did not fit their image.
Their plan was to allow Molitor to leave after last season … and then the team got hot, made the playoffs and made Molitor the manager of the year. The Twins had to bring him back, and he wouldn’t agree to less than a three-year contract. He was in reality negotiating a lucrative severance package.
Reason No. 2: While no one questions Molitor’s leadership or intelligence, there were rifts on his coaching staff between Molitor loyalists and Falvey appointments. Molitor might have been blamed for not assuaging those problems.
Reason No. 3: Take St. Peter at face value: The organization wasn’t happy with the way current young players such as Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano were progressing, and wants a hand-picked teacher in place for the next wave of talent.
Falvey and Thad Levine took over what they thought was a disaster. The Twins’ surge in 2017 forced them to keep Molitor, and try to win in 2018. The team’s failures in 2018 brought them back to their original plan.
I don’t think it’s fair to fire or blame Molitor when the front office made a handful of moves that backfired this season. Molitor won 78 games with a lousy team that traded its best players at midseason.
But this isn’t about fairness. It’s about The Falvine Plan, a complete overhaul of an entire organization that appeared to have fallen behind modern baseball.
Luckily for Falvey and Levine, we might not have any idea whether the plan is worthwhile for years.
They’ll find that firing a manager is much easier than hiring one. Twins history is proof that logic might not apply.
Tom Kelly won two World Series in five years … and had an eight-season losing streak. Ron Gardenhire took the Twins to six playoff appearances in a nine-season stretch … then had a four-season losing streak. Molitor, in four years as the Twins’ manager, presided over two surprising successes and two disasters. Logic indicates that it wasn’t managerial expertise that fluctuated, but the quality of players.
Molitor was the smartest ballplayer I ever covered — just ahead of Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek. He offered savvy, wisdom, experience and strong relationships with the Twins’ young players. He treated people well and represented the franchise with class.
I think this move is a mistake, and that Falvey and Levine were tentative during their news conference because they know how they would look if they scapegoat the guy who lost with the players they supplied.
Whatever adjective we apply to this decision, the one that fits best, in retrospect, is “inevitable.”
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at TalkNorth.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org