By Dic Humphrey
The Rangers’ announced late Friday that Texas Rangers General Manager Jon Daniels has a new title to go along with being General Manager – President of Baseball Operations. Rick George was named President of Business Operations. Nolan Ryan’s title was reduced from CEO/President to simply CEO. On the surface, it appeared to be perhaps a shuffling of titles to keep intact the baseball team that Daniels has assembled, particularly Thad Levine and A. J. Preller, who have been attracting interest from other teams.
It was Randy Galloway though that immediately jumped on the announcement as being something of far more import. He suggested that this constitutes a real lessening of Ryan’s power within the organization. He mentioned that agents had commented that Ryan had not been involved in free agent signings during the winter, and that Nolan perhaps even looked disinterested. Galloway suggested that Ryan could be leaving the organization before the end of the 2013 season.
A weekend later, it has become obvious that Galloway was on to something with his early take on Friday’s announcement. We are now told these changes were made last November, just not announced until Friday. Neither Ryan nor Daniels is commenting on the reports of Ryan’s departure. The only solid comments have come from Bob Simpson, one of the two major team owners. As reported by Galloway in Monday morning’s Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, “Nolan Ryan leaving the Rangers would be a tragedy, and something we don’t want to happen. We absolutely do not want Nolan to leave. The moves we announced were to preserve Nolan, not to remove him, or remove his power. We want Nolan to be with the Rangers forever and in charge of team as long as he wants to be.”
Has the damage been done?
Despite his strong protests that nothing is going on, it has become painfully obvious that there is a struggle in the Rangers’ front office. Ryan is an old school baseball man, and rumor has it that his clashes with the new school Daniels have gotten to the point that he is leaving. Galloway initially indicated Ryan could depart by the end of the season. That was later amended to before opening day. With the crescendo that is building, it wouldn’t be surprising if he’s gone by the end of this week. Apparently the rift between Daniels and Ryan is far bigger than anyone initially imagined and irreparable.
At this point, the situation is already a PR disaster for the Rangers. Ryan is clearly the most beloved player in Ranger history. Under his watch as President, the current ownership group was put together to rescue the team from bankruptcy and the ineptitude of former owner Tom Hicks. Under his watch, the team has made two World Series appearances, after winning just one playoff game in history before Ryan arrived. Under his watch, the Rangers drew a record attendance of almost 3.5 million fans last year, and have a season ticket base that is a multiple of the one they took over in 2010. He has credibility with fans and in baseball circles, and his departure, which looks to be a certainty at this point, will be a disaster for the Rangers.
Jon Daniels has done a marvelous job of putting together the team on the field, a talented minor league system, and scouts and personnel to find and develop major league players. It’s clearly one of the top five minor league systems in baseball, one that should fuel the Major League team to be competitive for years. For sure Daniels deserves a lions’ share of the credit for turning the team around. Make no mistake about it though; Ryan has been an integral part of putting the successful team on the field. The additions of Clint Hurdle as hitting coach in 2010, as well as Mike Maddux and Jackie Moore as pitching coach and bench coach, were Ryan’s hires. They have solidified the on-the-field team management. They have literally been the lifeboat that saved a struggling overmatched manager – Ron Washington.
For sure though, Daniels will ultimately bear the blame for Ryan’s departure, and it won’t be forgotten soon. That’s undoubtedly why he has made no comment this weekend as the rumors began to swirl. He will be the loser no matter how this turns out. Commenting now will only throw fuel on the fire.
As for Ryan, it is already rumored that Houston owner Jim Crane would love to have him join the Astros. Ryan is as big of a fan icon in Houston – if not bigger – than he is in Rangerland. Ryan grew up in Alvin, which at this point is almost a Houston suburb. He spent a greater portion of his Major League career as an Astro than he did as a Ranger. The Astros are at rock bottom talent-wise at this point. They are joining the American League West this season, and Ryan would not only add tremendous credibility to the organization, but a wealth of knowledge to tackle the baseball challenges the Astros now face. Ryan turned 66 this past January and has three years remaining on his Ranger contract. However, insiders report he wants to be in baseball. The legalities of joining the Astros with the Ranger contract in place would have to be worked out.
Ultimately, Daniels will survive the PR storm that is brewing. Ultimately, a good team on the field is the best solution for these problems. With the talent Daniels has assembled on and off the field, the Rangers will continue to be competitive for years to come. They’ll be that good team. However, Ryan’s departure will create a hole that won’t be filled any time soon.