BY: Richard W. Humphrey
Yesterday’s stunning announcement of Nolan Ryan’s departure from the Rangers brings to an end the Ranger career of the most storied figure in Ranger history. Ryan surprisingly signed as a free agent with the Rangers after the 1988 season. He said later that he expected at the time to play a year and then retire at the age of 42. He stayed five, winning 51 games for Texas. Included in his Ranger career was his 300th win, 5,000th strike out, and two no-hitters.
That concluded a 27 career in which he won 324 games and a ticket to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 1998. He remains the only player in the Hall that was inducted as a Ranger.
He returned in 2008 as President. The team was floundering on and off the field under the ownership of Tom Hicks. On the field, the team was good for a win total in the 70′s. Off the field, home attendance dropped below 2,000,000 for the first time in 20 years and the team eventually went into bankruptcy under the burden of the heavy debt load Hicks had placed on the franchise.
Hicks had a general manager still in his 20′s (Jon Daniels) getting fleeced in trades by Major League pros, who was ardently sticking to his buffoon of a manager (Ron Washington) that guided the team to two last place finishes before Ryan arrived. Hicks needed Ryan’s credibility, and Ryan was up for the challenge.
Ryan immediately put the emphasis on pitching and youth. Mike Maddux was hired as the pitching coach, and the team’s ERA has been in the American League’s top half in every year since. Young players in the Rangers’ system were brought to the big leagues instead of getting traded for aging veterans. Trades like Chris Young and Adrian Gonzalez, both of whom became All-Stars, for an injury riddled Adam Eton who pitched half a season before leaving in free agency became a thing of the past. Some players like Derrick Holland were undoubtedly rushed to the Majors too soon when they really needed more minor league seasoning; but they were allowed to develop as Rangers.
The results soon became evident, both on and off the field. The Rangers went to the World Series in 2010 and 2011 after never previously winning a playoff series in club history. Off the field, the Ryan persona attracted new rock solid ownership to rescue the team from bankruptcy. Texas’ home attendance not only returned to levels above 2,000,000, but has actually exceeded 3,000,000 twice.
Ryan showed patience with his manager and general manager, giving them a chance to grow into their jobs. Daniels is now recognized as one of the top GM’s in the game. He has unquestionably built a productive farm system that promises to keep the Rangers competitive for years. Manager Ron Washington isn’t mentioned with the top managers in the game like Jim Leyland and Joe Maddon, but there is tons of respect for the job he has done with Texas.
Unfortunately, the old school philosophies of Ryan and the new school ideas of Daniels can’t seem to work together any longer or even coexist. Daniels has the ear of majority owners Ray Davis and Bob Simpson, and Daniels has pressed them to back him in the political battle.
No matter what was said to the contrary at yesterday’s press conference, Daniels has literally run Nolan Ryan out of town. The spat first became public last March in spring training when the Rangers issued a Friday afternoon press release announcing that Ryan’s title would be Chief Executive Officer going forward, and that Jon Daniels had become President of Baseball operations.
At the time, Ryan contemplated resigning. At yesterday’s press conference, Ryan recalled his thoughts at that point saying that he felt particularly obligated to previous commitments and hence stayed. Personally, I felt that it was all but certain that he would leave after the 2013 season.
The first clue that yesterday’s outcome was on its way came literally just hours after the season ended, when bench coach Jackie Moore was fired. Moore was for sure a Ryan hire, and his departure made known to all that Jon Daniels had the authority to make the move and that Ryan no longer held the stroke in the organization to prevent the move. The handling of the firing was indicative that the gloves were off in the Daniels/Ryan power struggle.
Moore is a veteran of more than 50 baseball seasons with long service to the Rangers, having previously served as a coach under Ranger managers Whitey Herzog, Billy Martin and Kevin Kennedy. Despite the history with the team, he was unceremoniously axed. No offer of another position in the organization. No press conference to honor his service to the team. Just a cold good bye in a press release.
Moore unloaded earlier today on ESPN radio. His vindictiveness is as unbecoming as the manner in which he was axed. It is evident from his comments though that the rift between the Daniels and Ryan camps was far deeper and more long standing than fans have realized. The revelation of front office dictating playing time decisions has been suspected, but Moore’s comments clearly confirmed the suspicion. Moore comes off sounding like an embittered old man, but he does point up areas of serious concern for the Rangers going forward.
Yesterday’s announcement then was not a surprise. Much was made over the use of the terms “resigned” and “retired”. One appeared in the Rangers’ press release and the other by Ryan at the press conference. When questioned on the point, Ryan, who appeared on the podium with majority owners Davis and Simpson, said the distinction didn’t make any difference. Make no mistake about it, Ryan could easily show up with another team in some advisory capacity. He resigned.
It was also disclosed yesterday that Ryan has sold his ownership interest in the team to Simpson and Davis. Terms were not disclosed, but rest assured that Ryan is walking away with more than loose change in his pocket.
The ownership sale puts a touch of finality on Ryan as a Ranger. That’s a sad day for Ranger fans. Ryan is the most beloved player in Ranger history. He has been an integral part of the Rangers’ on the field success over the past four seasons. This is not a good development for the team.
Daniels is certainly capable as GM, but there is no assurance he will make the Rangers competitive again after clearing out Nolan Ryan and his baseball men from the organization. There is a solid pitching base, but the team is offensively challenged. The farm system is bereft of offensive talent at the upper levels, so there is much work to be done to get the team back to the playoffs. Unfortunately, the Rangers won’t have Nolan Ryan around to help get the job done.
COCKTAIL CONVERSATION: Former Rangers with the final four teams in the playoffs are: Michael Young, Adrian Gonzalez and Edinson Volquez with the Dodgers; Mike Napoli, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Ryan Dempster and Koji Uehara with the Red Sox, and Joaquin Benoit with the Tigers.
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