The Minnesota Twins’ new regime has taken some hits for some of their recent layoffs, but the decision to let go of longtime Twin Doug Mientkiewicz, one of their most successful minor-league managers and an important former player, seemed to be oddly timed, at the least.
Mientkiewicz has posted four winning seasons – and won two titles – in five years managing in the Twins’ minors. And he was cleaning up hurricane damage from Irma around his home in Islamorada, on a key about an hour south of downtown Miami, when he received the call from a minor-league executive that he was being fired. So that didn’t help the timing of the call.
“We certainly didn’t intend to appear callous. But we understood it could be construed as such,” Twins general manager Thad Levine said. He also said they ultimately decided it was best to give the news sooner so he wouldn’t miss any outside opportunities, rather than wait for the hurricane to be older news.
Speaking about the decision to fire him now rather than later, Levine said, “We didn’t view either option as particularly attractive. We recognize that, and we own that.”
Based on his record, Mientkiewicz should be able to get another good job. But he is left to wonder at a difficult time why he wasn’t retained for this one (he says he didn’t even ask, though he says the minor league exec who broke the news declined to even say whose call it was).
People familiar with the key people in this episode speculate that Mientkiewicz’s outspokenness can be seen as brashness, and Mientkiewicz pleads guilty to being opinionated.
“I’m sure that had something to do with it. You want to fault me for being passionate, I can live with it,” he said. “I know my personality is not for everyone, and I can rub people the wrong way. But at the end of the day I’d like to think my body of work can overcome that.”
His body of work is excellent, and at the end of the day, he was more respectful than outspoken about his own situation.
“I’m not bitter,” he said. “I understand it’s a business, and life goes on. If I get another job I’ll do the things they ask of me, and try to create as many big leaguers as I can.”
Mientkiewicz received many references in the form of plaudits from former players like Byron Buxton and others, who made what seemed like very heartfelt comments about what he meant to them. And someone else familiar with the situation said they weren’t just blowing smoke, and that the players really like him. Mientkiewicz admitted he’s “very hard” on the players, so that makes their obvious respect all the more impressive.
Mientkiewicz said that while there was no contact with the big bosses since spring, they did express some concern about the players’ development, based on the Twins’ abysmal 2016 season. The Twins have miraculously turned it around this year, and 16 players who played for Mientkiewicz have come up to the big leagues and contributed.
It sounds like the issue was more about “process,” though that can be hard to define. Mientkiewicz admits no one came out looking great in ’16.
“(The players) made mistakes last year. But it wasn’t because they weren’t taught well,” Mientkiewicz said. “It comes fast for everyone. Some of the guys went straight up from Double-A. There aren’t too many Mike Trouts in the world.”
No, but the Twins have some good ones now, and their future looks pretty bright, now that they’ve jumped all the way up into playoff position, to everyone’s surprise. Meantime, Mientkiewicz is “going to try to learn from my mistakes,” whatever they were.
For now, he said, the main thing is, “I’m going to miss the players.”
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