Gil LeBreton

February 11, 2014

Rangers fans need to get over the Nolan news

Rangers have turned the page, and it seems Nolan has too.

Baseball in Texas is a better world with Nolan Ryan in it.

Texas Rangers. Houston Astros. Round Rock Express. It doesn’t matter whose fans will get to see him on game nights.

Even after his untidy departure from the Rangers, Ryan’s name brings a mantle of royalty to any ballclub’s company directory.

The news Tuesday that the Astros had hired Ryan as an “executive adviser” suggests that Nolan himself was thinking along the same lines.

Having just turned 67, Ryan gets to work with his son Reid, who became the Astros’ president last May. Nolan’s new position will require no set office hours. In fact, he reportedly didn’t even want an office.

Not a bad gig, if you can get it. But for a baseball Hall of Famer to go from being CEO of a two-time recent World Series team to being just a consultant — a guy in general manager Jeff Luhnow’s iPhone directory — seems exactly like the kind of job change that soured him in Arlington.

Make no mistake, Rangers Inc. has turned the page on the Nolan Ryan Era. It’s doubtful that anyone on Randol Mill Road took Tuesday’s news as a declaration of in-state baseball war.

Yet it was worth reading Nolan’s words to the Houston Chronicle’s Jose de Jesus Ortiz.

“I visited with Jim [Crane], Jeff and Reid on several occasions,” Ryan told Ortiz. “I think they all made me feel like they would like to have me work for them. They appreciate the experience and knowledge that I’ve gained over the course of my life in baseball. They value that and feel there’s a need.

“The fact that I feel appreciated and feel wanted certainly played a big role in that.”

Meow. There’s no mistaking who those remarks were directed toward.

If that’s what this new title is all about, Ryan is entitled to one last chin-high fastball at the current Rangers regime. But it’s unbecoming. It’s not like Ray Davis or Jon Daniels charged the mound or anything.

Rangers fans had to see this coming, this reunion of Nolan and the team he first pitched for in 1980. When Ryan cashed in his ownership shares last November but left his baseball career door ajar, there seemed little doubt that Houston would be calling.

Luhnow, however, already has marked his territory. The Astros are being rebuilt, not with owner Crane’s dollars, but from the ground up, the way that Luhnow’s former team in St. Louis has done.

By all accounts, few major league teams, if any, are taking advantage of baseball’s new metrics and scouting like Luhnow’s Astros. Somebody needs to explain to me how Ryan’s “experience and knowledge” is going to fit into that.

The baseball world outside of Arlington seems to mistakenly assume that Ryan donned his spikes each spring and gave daily clinics to the Rangers pitchers. True, his belief that the team’s starters should not be bound by a strict pitch count became a recurring sidebar. But by last season, other than Yu Darvish, Rangers pitchers seldom ventured beyond the 100-pitch mark.

Ryan’s wise counsel, however, was felt throughout most of the six years he was with the Rangers front office. They proved to be the best years the Texas franchise has ever had.

Ryan will always be a part of the Rangers. His statue, after all, stands just beyond center field.

But the franchise has turned the page. Rangers fans need to do so, too.

It’s the Astros’ turn again to reap the benefits of Nolan Ryan’s baseball greatness.

If that’s what he wants, message delivered.

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