By Joe Christensen, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) –
MINNEAPOLIS — The only current Twins employee who has been with the franchise since it moved from Washington in 1961, called it a career Monday.
Jim Rantz has served with five general managers and 11 field managers, but the 75-year-old will be remembered for more than his longevity. A former minor league pitcher who climbed the front office ladder, he is credited for discovering Kirby Puckett. Under Rantz’s direction, the Twins boasted a model farm system for much of the previous decade.
But after 52 years with the organization, Rantz decided that was enough.
“It’s time to enjoy the family and the grandkids, and see how the summers go without baseball every day,” Rantz said.
General Manager Terry Ryan said it was an emotional scene as the Twins minor league director announced his retirement at the team’s organizational meetings in Fort Myers, Fla.
“You talk about a face of a franchise,” Ryan said. “Even though Jim’s not out there in the public view very much, inside this organization, the roots of the organization — it is Jim. He hired (manager Ron Gardenhire). He was part of hiring me and almost all of our major league coaches and managers and trainers.”
A St. Paul, Minn., native, Rantz said he is especially proud of the fact he got to spend so much time with his hometown team. He was a standout hockey and baseball player at now-defunct St. Paul Washington High School. In the 1960 College World Series, he pitched 10 innings in a 2-1 victory over Southern California, giving the Gophers the NCAA title.
He signed with the Washington Senators a few months before they announced they were leaving the nation’s capital for Minnesota. After spending five seasons in the minors as a pitcher and manager, he moved into the Twins front office in 1965.
He spent four years as an assistant public relations director and 16 years as the assistant farm director under George Brophy. During the 1981 players’ strike, Rantz and his wife, Pearl, took the family to watch their son, Mike, play in an Illinois collegiate league. The opposing center fielder stole the show, and Rantz wouldn’t forget Puckett’s three extra-base hits or his superlative defensive play that day.
The Twins signed Puckett for $25,000 in 1982. Four years later, Rantz became the team’s minor league director.
Former Twins manager Tom Kelly said he used to wonder why Rantz was so patient in waiting to promote players through the system. But in working more closely with the team’s minor leaguers in recent years, Kelly has seen the benefit this has on players’ confidence.
“The formula seems to work,” Kelly said. “Just like in anything, there are always streaks where you run hot and cold for a little bit, but you can’t even count the number of players who’ve gone up through the system.”
The Twins inducted Rantz into their Hall of Fame in 2000. He will remain with the team through Dec. 31, and Ryan said the team will choose his successor before that date.
For now, Brad Steil has been named interim farm director. Steil, 36, has been with the Twins for the past 12 years, including the past five as Rantz’s top assistant overseeing the team’s minor league system.
“He’s a bright guy, he’s been around Jim for the last eight or nine years, and he’s got a pretty good presence,” Ryan said. “He’s got the ability to evaluate, he’s certainly organized, he’s got a tremendous work ethic. He knows what we’re all about.”
Rantz said he told Ryan and former GM Bill Smith last year that 2012 would be his final year as minor league director. He timed the announcement with the start of the organizational meetings because about 85 people who are scattered throughout the season are all together at once.
“We had a lot of laughs,” Rantz said. “It turned into a roast at the end there.”