Nolan Ryan threw no fastballs Friday night.
No curveballs, either, actually. And nothing high and tight, aimed at his former colleague’s young, Ivy League chin.
Ryan is with the Houston team now, and let me confess that in person it is difficult to get used to hearing Nolan talk about “them” and “us” and not thinking he was mixing up his baseball pronouns.
But, indeed, that page has been turned expediently. Ryan said he spent 10 days this month at the Houston Astros’ spring training camp in Kissimmee, Fla., watching and learning and advising, just the way he did in 2008 when he agreed to help the Texas Rangers.
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The Arlington thing might have worked, too, he said. If then-owner Tom Hicks had only defined Ryan’s and Jon Daniels’ realms of responsibility more clearly, their working relationship might have meshed instead of splintered.
“I don’t think Tom Hicks prepped Jon Daniels really well and oversaw the relationship enough to make sure it got off on the level that it probably should have,” Ryan said Friday at the Alamodome.
“But being new in that position [club president], I look back on it now and I think I would’ve encouraged Tom to probably be more involved in that relationship altogether.”
Instead, a chilly divorce — a sort of very conscious baseball uncoupling, if you will — took place last October. Ryan swiftly divested himself of a reported $7 million share in Rangers ownership, and by February he had joined his son Reid and new owner Jim Crane in the front office of the Astros.
By his ensuing silence, Nolan seemed to speak volumes. Even Friday, however, as the Rangers and Astros squeezed again into the Alamodome’s baseball phone booth, Ryan chose to speak about the split in restrained generalities.
“I would say there are certain aspects of when I was there,” Nolan said, “where I was disappointed with the way things worked out. But you can’t control those things.
“You do what you think is in your best interests and the organization’s best interests, and that’s what I did.”
Ryan was asked to compare his new role with what had become of his job description with the Rangers.
“I’ll be available for Jim and Jeff [Luhnow, the Astros GM], if they have requests for me,” Nolan said. “Really, it’s not me setting my schedule and having the responsibilities that I had with the Rangers. It’s more or less trying to assist them in ways that they feel like I can.”
Hmm. So that’s it? The Astros only have to dial 1-800-NOLAN?
Ryan probably could have had that, plus his part-ownership and his unblemished reputation, had he chosen to remain with the Rangers. But instead, it ended messily, with little or no comment from Nolan, who left the fans and the media to fill in the blanks.
And so here we stood Friday, listening to Nolan mix his we’s and they’s, deftly dodging the chance to burn some old bridges.
“Well, basically, I look at that as a part of my career that I’ve turned the page on,” Ryan said. “And now I’ve gone on to the next phase of my career.”
Maybe, as he said, the eventual rift might have been avoided if the former owner had better defined the roles. But I don’t think so. As ownership changed hands, both Daniels and Ryan seemed to have their own ideas of what each was in charge of.
He is with the Houston team now, in any case, standing in front of the Astros‘ dugout, talking about Astros players and his new office at Astros, Inc., that the owner has set up for him.
He doesn’t plan to use the office much, though, Nolan said. His son Reid and the Astros can just call him when they need him
Beyond that, Nolan Ryan’s smile and his relative silence spoke volumes Friday night.
He said he was disappointed with the way things worked out.
So were a lot of us.