Nolan Ryan’s recent departure, whether by resignation or retirement, didn’t feel quite right then and still needs time to absorb. Everyone tried to say the right thing, just as everyone struggled to isolate precisely what that might be.
What will occur over some days and months — both to the baseball club and, ultimately, its Ryan-built fan base — is that this awkward time would be seen as part of a natural evolution. In most big businesses, top officials’ tenures begin ending on the day they start; the how and when only fall partly within their control.
As a player, Ryan was a first-ballot Hall of Fame pitcher, owner of the almost unthinkable seven no-hitters and 5,714 strikeouts. His status as a Texas baseball legend, for his service with both the Houston Astros and the Rangers and for the way he lived his life, was unmatched.
Tom Hicks, in one of his few bright moves as Rangers owner, hired Ryan as a team executive in 2008, and Ryan would carve a new legacy of excellence. It might be tough to remember that far back, long before the success, but those Rangers needed close to everything: talent, attendance, identity — or, mostly, credibility.
Ryan brought that and passed it along to the organization. He built from within, kept key people around him, hired some new ones and shepherded the club through Hicks-inspired bankruptcy to stable ownership, which included him. All the while he was the guy in charge, in word and deed.
What we learned last spring, not long before the 2013 season began, was that while fans were still reveling in renewal on the field — two World Series appearances, three consecutive playoff berths, 3 million fans filling The Ballpark in Arlington — reality had diverged from perception.
When ownership made it official, marginalizing Ryan by splitting his president’s title among two subordinates, the sand had about dribbled out of his hourglass. The Rangers remain fundamentally a baseball product, and baseball decisions belonged to Jon Daniels, president for baseball operations and the young general manager Ryan kept back in 2008-09.
Ryan remained chief executive officer mostly in name alone, clearly not how he wanted to spend his time. It’s one thing to be the face of a franchise; it’s quite another for that to be your only job.
Ryan, a true Texas legend for his baseball skills and instincts, on and off the field, handled his last season in Arlington better than most might have and leaves with respect, dignity and a franchise far, far better than he found it. And precious few in this life can say that.
The Dallas Morning News