By Dave Ervin
Okay, let’s get this out of the way up front: Nolan Ryan has been a hero of mine since I was nine years old. Growing up, he replaced Santa Claus as the revered mythological figure of choice right around the time he pitched in the All-Star Game at the age of 42. So it’s no wonder I, like many Texans, tend to be empathetic with Nolan on this whole Ranger’s front office soap-opera.
But for maybe the first time in my baseball consciousness, I am just a little disappointed in Big Tex.
A few weeks ago, the Rangers announced that Jon Daniels would have “increased power” in his role as General Manager this year. I’m still not exactly sure what that means. Was Daniels bitten by a radioactive spider? I assume JD was given some of the decision making power that (ostensibly) used to belong to Ryan, but to be honest the whole hierarchy in the Ranger’s front office has always been a bit hazy to me.
The best I understand it, Nolan, as CEO, pretty much has or had veto power over any and all moves made by the club. But it has been said time and again that neither he nor Daniels interfere with the day-to-day happenings on the field (i.e. lineup cards, or imposing a no-facial hair policy on Derek Holland).
But it’s also been made clear that Ryan isn’t the “money man”. That role belongs to Ray Davis and Bob Simpson, both of whom I couldn’t pick out of a line up, though I’d assume they’re both old and at least one of them probably wears a monocle.
So if GM Daniels deals with trades and roster moves, Daddy Warbucks and Uncle Moneybags foot the bill, and Ron Washington handles the business in the clubhouse, just what did Nolan Ryan have taken away? What sort of “veto power” did he ever really have?
Sure, Ryan is an invaluable “face of the franchise” – the scary oil painting of the family patriarch over the Ranger’s fireplace, but Daniel’s increased power didn’t affect that aspect of Ryan’s impact. Is it something to do with scouting? Nolan is definitely an old-school guy – valuing his eyes and his gut over advanced Sabermetrics and poo-pooing things like pitch counts and caffeine addictions (weekly stab at Josh Hamilton). But it doesn’t seem likely that Nolan ever had much of a voice in the scouting department, as the majority of the Rangers top prospects are “Daniels guys”.
So why did Nolan get so pissed? And why was he been silent for so long? Why has the most accessible and up-front living Hall-of-Famer declined interviews and press conferences like a modern day Salinger?
I think it can be summed up in one simple, three-letter word: Ego. As much as it pains me to say it, and in spite of everything we know about Nolan Ryan, you have to assume Big Tex has a tinge of pride. You try striking nearly 6000 major leaguers and see if your head doesn’t swell just a bit.
It’s my opinion that Nolan Ryan never pulled as may strings in the front office as Ranger fans were led to believe. Like the office of Texas Governor, he was always a bit of a figurehead (a figurehead whose very presence makes a pitching staff better, granted, but a figurehead nonetheless). Jon Daniels’ promotion – if it was really a promotion – didn’t really swipe any power away from Nolan, it just brought to light how little he actually did.
Don’t get me wrong. The Rangers aren’t the same team with Nolan out of the picture. I was thrilled to hear (through a written statement, of course) that Nolan was sticking with the club (for the 2013 season, at least), because his worth, nebulous as it may be to define, is huge. You can’t put a value on something as intangible as the presence of a baseball god sitting in the front row of every home game. And I’m sure his opinion matters a great deal to Jon Daniels and the rich old men at the top. But again, that isn’t going to change just because Daniels has a new title.
In the end, Nolan got his feelings hurt. For a moment at least, the curtain was pulled back and everyone saw the wizard was really just a little man pulling levers and pushing buttons. Only Nolan wasn’t the little man. Or the wizard. Nolan was the guy in the corner drinking a beer and grilling hot-dogs for the latest local TV ad.
Nolan Ryan means a lot to the Texas Rangers. But the practical aspects of his job have always been hard to pinpoint. Now he’s simply aware that Ranger fans know that – and that embarrassed him. In the end, the man who once finished an inning with blood oozing out of his face couldn’t take a blow to his pride.