COMMENTARY | It will be difficult for the Texas Rangers and their fans to get used to life without their CEO, Nolan Ryan, who in the last 5 years was at the forefront of lifting the Rangers to heights they had never seen before.
On Oct. 17, Ryan announced his retirement as CEO effective at the end of October, which should have surprised no one after the way the club treated him in spring training. He held the titles of president of baseball operations and CEO before he was unceremoniously stripped of the former title in March and it was given to general manager Jon Daniels.
Reduced to just a figurehead, Ryan considered leaving at that time but decided to stay with the club. It was a classy move on Ryan's part after the brass disrespected him so badly. He remained uncharacteristically silent for a few weeks after losing his team president title and even caused fans to gasp when he gave legendary local sportswriter Randy Galloway a "no comment."
When he finally did speak, Ryan did as he always does -- he said all the "right things" and did not make any waves or complain about how he had been treated, even though his pride had taken a blow. After all, Ryan is arguably the most beloved athlete in the history of professional sports in Texas and one of the most down-to-earth guys you could ever meet. No one else compares, and no one ever will.
The Rangers are going to miss Ryan in many areas, but perhaps mostly for his ability to lead and influence because of who he is. It was Ryan who, when he was hired as team president in 2008, began to place the emphasis on pitching -- an area in which the Rangers were historically lacking, even when Ryan himself pitched for the team. Ryan encouraged the Ranger pitchers to just "go one more inning."
It was Ryan who wanted pitching coach Mike Maddux after the 2008 season when manager Ron Washington wanted to bring in his friend from the Oakland A's, Rick Peterson. Ryan was familiar with Maddux from Maddux's days as the pitching coach of the Ryan-owned AA Round Rock Express. In the five seasons since Maddux has come on board, Ranger pitching has flourished as the team won consecutive American League pennants in 2010 and 2011.
People want to give credit elsewhere for the Rangers' success in the last 5 years, but I believe the lion's share of it should go to Nolan Ryan. It is not a coincidence that the Rangers experienced unprecedented success on the field and at the gate (3 million fans in consecutive years this season and last) since Ryan took over as team president in 2008. In 2010, Ryan won ownership of the team in a Fort Worth bankruptcy court and took over the title of CEO in 2011 after Chuck Greenberg left the ownership group.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Ryan's departure comes shortly after the team fired popular bench coach Jackie Moore against Ryan's wishes. This announcement came despite team management's insistence that Ryan still had the final say over all baseball decisions. Also, perhaps not coincidentally, it comes after Daniels made the announcement that the team will shift its focus back to improving offense, believing the team to be on solid ground pitching-wise. While the Rangers do need a couple of more sluggers in the lineup, a team can never have enough pitching.
The Ranger brass is saying all the "right things" now as well as Ryan departs to ride off into the sunset and spend more time on his ranch outside of Houston. They believe they have the pieces in place for a winner. It's just hard to imagine it happening without Ryan.
The Rangers have announced that they will not replace Ryan as CEO, and it's just as well. No one can replace Nolan Ryan.
Brian Honea is a Dallas, Texas-based freelance writer who is a lifelong Texas Rangers follower.
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