March 3, 2013

Rangers' power shift could have Nolan Ryan looking for exit

Though owners want him to stay, the hunch here is that Ryan will soon be leaving the Rangers.

He picked out the uniforms. He chose the hot dogs. He appointed the pitching coach. He hired the guy who runs the Ballpark.

He gave the Texas Rangers credibility at a time when they needed it most.

Nolan Ryan did all that and much more.

Maybe, like all good fairy tales, this story will have a happy ending, and the Rangers, all of them — Nolan, Jon Daniels, the owners, Rick George, the manager and players — will live happily ever after, with a World Series trophy to remind them of it.

But that, in part, is up to Ryan, whose job powers were quietly amended Friday afternoon.

Do I think Nolan Ryan, Hall of Fame pitcher and living legend, is thinking about leaving the Rangers? I do, but that’s nothing more than an educated hunch.

The announcement Friday was as respectful as it was frank. General manager Daniels was adding the title of president of baseball operations, and chief operating officer George, hired in October 2010, was named president of business operations.

As the release from the club immediately noted, “In their respective roles, Daniels and George will continue to oversee the day-to-day baseball and business operations of the Rangers organization under the leadership of Chief Executive Officer Nolan Ryan.”

A long quote, attributed to co-owners Bob Simpson and Ray Davis, followed, lauding Nolan and the way he’s teamed with Daniels and George to make the Rangers a success.

The owners’ point was made. But the business of smoothing ruffled feathers was never louder.

The timing itself of the announcement was conspicuous. Club ownership had gathered in Scottsdale, Ariz., for its annual spring meetings.

Somebody put Daniels’ and George’s promotions — and the altering of Ryan’s powers — on the agenda, in other words. This didn’t come up just because Elvis Andrus got a big tattoo.

There was a cordial quote from Nolan as well in the club’s announcement. But it seemed more conspicuous that when colleague Randy Galloway — who’s known Ryan for, oh, 70, 80 years — asked him, Nolan declined to comment.

He’s upset. Yet, does Ryan have a right to be?

The knee-jerk, knee-slapping Texas answer, of course, is of course he does. He’s Nolan Ryan. Daniels has an office in center field. Nolan has a statue.

But something prompted putting this on the meeting agenda. Daniels told reporters at spring training Friday that ownership stressed the importance of keeping the current operating staffs in place.

Daniels’ staff, in particular, has earned the right to be rewarded with promotions from within. Assistant GM Thad Levine and player personnel director A.J. Preller are both highly deserving.

No one has ever complained to me about this, publicly or privately, but it had to be somewhat of a blow when, in the flush of back-to-back World Series appearances, longtime Astros executive Tim Purpura was thrust into the middle of the organization chart as senior director of player development.

As of Friday’s announcement, Daniels will decide on those hirings and promotions.

A power play? No, Simpson and Davis made the decision that led to Friday’s announcement, not Daniels. The principal co-owners didn’t become mega-millionaires by hiring leadership groups who couldn’t work together.

Read the news release. Nolan is the CEO. Clearly, they want Ryan to stay and for this to work.

If he decides to retire from the Rangers in two months, four months or whatever, however, Ryan’s departure will produce a seismic tremor throughout baseball and, particularly, throughout Texas.

There are Rangers fans, alas, who think that Nolan Ryan solely owns and runs the ballclub. They think Nolan got them to the two World Series, traded for Cliff Lee, signed Adrian Beltre and invented the Boomstick hot dog. And a lot of that is right.

But there was much to do. And there remains more.

Nolan Ryan can remain a part of that. The owners said Friday that they want him to.

The educated hunch here, however, is that he won’t.

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