So this is how this is going to end … really? This is a joke, right?Nolan Ryan is going to leave the Texas Rangers today by packing up his office at the Ballpark and heading home — like any other employee who is retiring or changing jobs.No, not even that. No send-off. No party complete with a Texas Rangers watch.The final date on Nolan Ryan’s contract is Oct. 31, 2013. Nolan didn’t make it that long. He is already gone. Back to Round Rock. His bosses (they weren’t his partners) didn’t enforce his final work date, so he departed early.No party. No meeting with the employees who had so revered, or at the least respected, him. Nothing.Three days after Ryan resigned on Oct. 17, he returned to his office at the Ballpark and cleaned it out. He picked a Sunday so no one would be there as he packed up his belongings in the office he had occupied since February 2008.The new occupant of Ryan’s old office? Team co-owner Ray Davis. Davis said he is going to be more of a frontman for the franchise he co-owns with Bob Simpson, and thus far he is doing just that.Godspeed. Just don’t bother trying to fill Nolan’s boots.The irony is that, for decades, the Rangers did everything in their power to attach themselves to Nolan Ryan, and they parted ways because they couldn’t wait to get rid of him.The reasons for him to depart as an executive may be valid and for the best, but the team will regret how it fumbled his departure. Now it must create an identity without him.He is not perfect, but Nolan Ryan deserved better than this.He did not return calls for an interview. Davis did not respond to an interview request.Ryan is 66 and spent nearly five decades in baseball with several franchises, yet the Rangers have clung to this man — and his Texas persona — like he has been theirs from the time he was drafted out of Alvin High School.Generations of fans forget that, when he signed with the Rangers as a player in 1989, the team was just another middle-of-the-road club with minimal star power. He made the Rangers a national brand. Even though he was 42, Ryan was a draw.When his legs finally gave out and he retired in 1993 at age 46, the team lost its identity.There is a reason why the Rangers built a statue of Nolan Ryan. He played only five seasons for the Rangers in a 27-year career — yet he has his own statue. The Rangers claimed Nolan as theirs because they wanted to be associated with a winner.When former team owner Tom Hicks hired the Hall of Fame pitcher as team president in 2008, Ryan made the team into a national brand — and a winner. The Rangers went to the World Series in 2010 and ’11 under his watch.It is no coincidence the Rangers’ best seasons occurred with Ryan as a president.Did Ryan receive too much of the credit? For sure. The team is loaded with competent and smart people, but none has Nolan’s record. Nolan is reminiscent of Cowboys coach Tom Landry: We forget their bad games, or bad deals. There is a reason these two are the only locals with statues. There are a lot of people at the Ballpark who owe Ryan a thank you, beginning with manager Ron Washington and GM Jon Daniels. Ryan could have fired either one early in his tenure, but he elected to wait it out to before determining it would work out.Now the Rangers are “ready to fly” after needing his ability as a player or an executive to save them on the field and with the paying public.Maybe Ray Davis will be one of the few new sports owners-turned-frontman to get it right and not overreach. Daniels is no dummy, and he has a good team. A winning record cures a lot.But it won’t be the same. Even if Davis and Simpson and Daniels watch every home game with their spouses from behind home plate, it won’t be the same as seeing Nolan and Ruth Ryan in those seats. They were a larger-than-life Texas couple, who had the gift of feeling approachable.The Rangers with Ryan were family, and now they’re just another big league club with an Ivy-League-educated exec and big-money guys who have fun with their billion-dollar sports fantasy team.Sure, we’ll root for them and hope they win the World Series, but it won’t be the same.The face of the Texas Rangers is gone. The team’s identity now resides in Round Rock.Nolan Ryan is gone because, for the first time, the Rangers are convinced they don’t need him.No joke.
Mac Engel, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @macengelprof