Once Nolan Ryan deigns to stop the passive-aggressive posturing that has turned Texas Rangers spring training into a soap opera more than worthy of a storyline on "Dallas," perhaps Rangers ownership will realize their predicament really isn't much of a predicament at all.
In the 11 days since someone in Ryan's camp leaked to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram his dissatisfaction with the Rangers' new power structure that took away his title of team president, all Ryan has mustered publicly is a statement that said absolutely nothing, a hubristic response unbecoming a CEO whose organization is in crisis mode. Meanwhile, ownership has bowed to the altar of his Nolan Ryanness, saying pretty, pretty please stick around. President of baseball operations Jon Daniels, who was promoted to that position from general manager in order to give bigger titles to his consiglieres and keep them with the Rangers, has talked about what a pleasure it is to work with an icon. And all the people wanting to speak the truth have bit their tongues because revealing it amid Ryan's tantrum would be hypocritical.
Since no one else seems inclined to say it, then, here it is: Nolan Ryan is acting like a big baby. And if he has the best interests of the Texas Rangers in mind, maybe he should leave, because rarely do powerful men find détente when they feel as though their territory has been encroached upon, and because the last thing one of the game's model organizations needs is a festering wound.
If this is hard for owners Bob Simpson and Ray Davis to stomach, they might want to take off their Texas glasses and adopt the perspective of the 49 others states looking at this and wondering why Nolan Ryan seems to believe he can have his cake and eat it. Well, mostly because Ryan represents everything Texans love about Texas, and the prospect of losing an icon to some New York carpet-bagger skunks their Shiner.
Reality is, Ryan's position in this fight – a fight he picked, mind you – is far weaker than anyone seems willing to acknowledge. There is no other team in baseball that would hand Nolan Ryan its reins. None. The Houston Astros might invite him on board as a figurehead, but with George Postolos as CEO and Jeff Luhnow as GM, they have no room for anything more. Considering Ryan's job with the Rangers now involves more than that, if it's input he truly craves, his current situation is better than any with the Astros. And unless Ryan wants to leave Texas – and one friend says that at 66, with children and grandchildren and business to look after, he wouldn't consider going elsewhere – it's Rangers or bust.
Daniels, on the other hand, has spent 7½ years turning the Rangers from habitual doormat into a major league and player-development force. Certainly Ryan has helped. His strengths (gravitas as one of the great players ever and respect from some of the game's bigger names) complement Daniels' (shrewd trades and signings, respect among Texas' player-development staff and a keen mixture of statistical know-how and scouting savvy), and they've made a good team, which is why Ryan's hissy fit was so surprising. If Daniels' ascending to president meant promotions for lieutenants Thad Levine, A.J. Preller and Don Welke, too, it would keep in place the Rangers' successful hierarchy.
Should ownership cower to Ryan's demands, the message to Daniels is clear: We have chosen sides. At which point Daniels would find there is a rather strong market for his services. A 35-year-old GM who took teams to back-to-back World Series tends to find himself in high demand. Yes, some executives begrudge Daniels for the Rangers' work in Latin America – they see the Jairo Beras incident as indicative of a larger issue of sidestepping rules – but if shadiness in the international market were a crime, baseball's death row would be turgid. The widespread perception within the industry: The Rangers' success is due more to Daniels than Ryan.
For a successful businessman, Ryan is ignoring a simple principle: It is bad business to pick a fight with someone who has options when yours are limited. This is no longer the kid GM, some nameless, feckless stooge. The Rangers had a good thing. If Ryan is to stick around and Daniels really does stand by his word publicly that he wants him back, Ryan must repair that thing.
This, after all, is the team that survived two Josh Hamilton relapses. The team whose manager did cocaine and retained his job. The team that watched a fan fall out of its stands and die in front of his little boy. Everyone in sports loves to talk about adversity. Well, the Rangers of Ryan and Daniels understand legitimate adversity.
The last thing the Rangers need is the dysfunction that pervaded the organization before Daniels took over. Cohesion is one of his hallmarks. Everyone has disagreements, sure, but if any organization had parlayed its trials and travails into the sort of foundation that could make it through disaster, it was Texas. Only a great force could disrupt that.
Nolan Ryan qualifies, and the longer this goes on, the more people will kiss the ring to smooth things over. Enough of that. Even with a reduction in power, Ryan still has a better role with the Rangers than he would anywhere else. Everyone in the organization still welcomes his input. He is undeniably great at Being Nolan Ryan, and Being Nolan Ryan has its benefits.
So long as he plays nice. Ryan does not need to be the only alpha in the room. Job titles and power and office politics poison the real goal here, one that this exercise in egotism only neuters: winning a championship. If Nolan Ryan's primary goal has more to do with retaining his authority than that, such misplaced priorities prove that maybe CEO isn't a title he's deserving of, either.
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