The President and Chief Executive Deity

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My initial (and cynical) response to the news that Lynn Nolan Ryan has become the President of the Texas Rangers was that this is an extremely cynical move by Tom Hicks:   

"I don’t think there would have been anyone else besides Nolan that I would have done this for,” said Hicks during yeterday’s presser. “Nolan’s the biggest hero we’ve ever had.”

"Done this for"?   Hicks did this for Ryan?

Nolan Ryan clearly doesn’t need a job.  What, exactly, is Hicks doing for Nolan Ryan?

Before I examine that question, let me begin with this disclosure:

I don’t think of Nolan Ryan as "the biggest hero we’ve ever had."   My life as a Rangers fan began when I moved to Tulsa in the summer of 1993, a couple of months before Ryan threw the final pitch in his Hall of Fame career. 

I grew up in central Nebraska as a fan of the Royals and Dodgers, so I never really thought of Ryan as a Ranger at all, much less "the biggest hero we’ve ever had." 

Quite frankly, the manner in which Rangers fans tend to pretend he never played for the Angels, Astros or Metropolitians has always tickeled me and I’ve thought that his choice of lid for his HOF plaque was sort of a sad example of history for sale to the highest bidder.   

I don’t mythologize Ryan.   From my point of view (which is to say, from the point of view of someone without a dog in the fight), he was certainly no Tom Seaver or Steve Carlton.   

Having said all of that, I do have enormous respect for Ryan.  In particular, I’ve been impressed with how he’s managed his life and business in retirement from the game.  I’m simply saying that, for me as a disconnected observer on this issue, he’s not really a Ranger and he’s no more of a baseball deity than Seaver or Carlton (or Jim Palmer or Don Sutton for that matter).

All of that is necessary disclosure prior to sharing my thoughts about the advent of the reign of Ryan as Emperor of the Rangers.  So before looking at what this does for Nolan Ryan, let’s look at what this does for Tom Hicks:

It takes a ton of heat off of an owner who, I think by now, has had all of the heat he can take.   Ryan is now the de facto "owner" of the Rangers with "ultimate authority" to run the organization as he sees fit.

In other words: 

Why didn’t the Rangers sign Barry Zito?   Ask Nolan.   

Why is payroll so low?  Ask Nolan.   

Why are ticket prices going up?   Ask Nolan.  Ask the Hall of Famer.  Ask Mr. Baseball in Texas.  Ask the man with the statue in center field. 

Ask G-d.    If you dare.   It’s out of my hands.  The great Nolan Ryan is calling the shots.

And for this — for consenting to take the heat — I expect (despite words to the contrary) that Ryan ends up with a piece of the club, which has to be what he really wants.   That, I think, is ultimately what Hicks is doing for Ryan.

But as I continue to mull this over in my head, one thing makes me somewhat optimistic about this move.

LBO artists are great at identifying undervalued assets, obtaining them, and spinning them off — perhaps after a restructuring of some sort — for a huge profit, usually in very short order.  Patience isn’t really a virtue in that game and results are generally realized in very short order. Hicks is one of the best LBO artists alive.   

What LBO artists are not necessarily good at is running an organization over the long haul and, clearly, Hicks has not been great at managing the Rangers over the long haul in spite of the fact that he’s tried just about everything.

Despite what you’ve been told, the franchise  has not made an appreciable operational profit during his tenure as owner. Despite what you’ve been told, the value of the Rangers has not grown significantly when compared to other MLB franchises over the past ten years.    And, of course, the franchise has not won.

What Hicks seems to have done is constantly try to restructure the thing in a desperate effort to make it a success.  That might work in business.  It has worked for Hicks in business.   It does not work in baseball and hasn’t worked for Hicks in baseball.  And it never will.

Two years ago, Hicks hired an Ivy League-trained economist as the General Manager of his baseball franchise and what the economist has attempted to do since then is exploit market inefficiencies by selling off overvalued assets for undervalued assets.   He’s been wrong.   He’s been right.  By all accounts, he’s getting better.   He’s somehow sold Hicks on a plan that Doug Melvin tried to sell him on six years ago, which is to build the organization for the long haul from within.  It’s a plan designed to deliver long-term gains, but which doesn’t lend itself to the landing quick hit.  It requires a lot of patience. 

Given Hicks’s track record, the chances of Daniels having the opportunity to see his plan through are probably slim and none.   Hopefully, Ryan will bring some of that famous Texas hard-headedness to the table and allow Jon Daniels’ plan to play out a little longer.   

There’s not much doubt in my mind that the hiring of Nolan Ryan as President of the Texas Rangers is, above all, a symbolic and at least somewhat cynical move, but he jut might be the one person in the world who can keep Tom Hicks’s hands off of the Rangers. 

So while I don’t think of Ryan as a Rangers deity, Hicks does, and if that gives him enough juice to keep Hicks from changing course once again and disturbing the plan for future growth that Jon Daniels has put in place,  Ryan may very well do something for Tom Hicks that is far more valuable than anything Hicks has done for him. 

3 Comments

A couple thoughts –

First of all, I agree with your observations about Nolan Ryan’s “hero” status among Ranger fans. I am constantly amused by the fact that many Ranger fans ignore one significant fact about Ryan’s stint with this team: he chose the Rangers as a matter convenience – not necessarily because he wanted to be Ranger.

I’ve heard a couple of interviews with Tom Grieve in which he’s admitted that Nolan Ryan fell into their lap. Ryan wanted to be near his Texas home, loathed the Astros owner at the time – so much that he wouldn’t say his name publicly – the Rangers were his default choice. Obviously, he enjoyed his time with the franchise enough to extend his contract, work with the team for 10 years after retiring and put a Ranger T on his Hall of Fame plaque – makes him a very gracious man – but a hero? I think not. He was a hired gun, like all free agents are. As you pointed out: the fact that he’s the first player wearing a Ranger hat on a HOF plaque doesn’t mask the fact that he’s not a player who most fans think of a Ranger.

The Rangers, or should I say specifically Tom Hicks chose to let go of the HOF player who is associated with the Rangers – and will likely go in wearing an old English Tigers D – Pudge Rodriguez.

I also agree with your assertion that for the last 10 years lack of patience has been the overriding problem with this franchise – with the worst culprit being Mr. Hicks.

However, personally, rather than assume the worst of or ascribe motives to Nolan – I’m going practice what that owner has not – patience. Let’s see what happens – I hope you are right that Nolan Ryan takes Tom Hicks out of the decision making equation and furthermore rather than being a disruption, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that having Nolan Ryan as team president is not just a great PR move, but also another step in solidifying the stability this franchise so badly needs.

http://emc.mlblogs.com

I have a slightly different perspective on the value of Nolan Ryan to this franchise. I moved here from Philly shortly after the end of the Steve Carlton era. For a few years, Carlton literally carried that team’s pitching staff on his back. During Nolan Ryan’s tenure with the Rangers, he literally carried Metroplex baseball on his back.

Look, we won the same number of World Series with him as without him but the Rangers were a much better team with him. His major contribution was to the great mass of casual baseball fans. During the Ryan era you could talk to fans in the stands who could not name more than a few other Rangers but could easily tell you Nolan’s strikeout totals or his no hitter tally. How many people attended Rangers games over the years because they first became interested in Nolan Ryan first, and then became interested in baseball?

In his public and commercial appearances he always seemed like a really nice guy. With all of the adulation he received, he still seemed like an “aw shucks” country boy and the metroplex loved him for it. He bore the weight of our hero worship in an abashedly self deprecating fashion that was beyond the abilities of mere mortals like Carlton.

Sure, Nolan had some great years in New York, California and Houston but it’s just like marrying a divorcee, you don’t want to dwell on these things. The important years began and ended in Arlington.

As a GM, Daniels looks to be steadily improving to the point where we can forgive him for the boneheaded rookie mistakes he made (blame Hicks instead, he could have vetoed those trades). However, it is Nolan Ryan who will be the “face” of the franchise. We have sorely lacked an identifiable persona in the front office.

So, for me, I look forward to the administration of President NoNo. Maybe he can give himself the contract to supply the beef to the ballpark concessions.

Great article Mike and I love your perspective. I, too wonder what it is that Hicks provides Nolan that is more important than what Nolan brings to the franchise. Again, it appears that Hicks is simply purchasing as vast supply of credibility when bringing Nolan on board.

No one knows what tomorrow holds, but it certainly appears today that Nolan will give JD the credibility as well as a buffer zone in which to operate for the next 2 years. JD’s performance along with the performance of the organization will then determine what the path is.

Heaven help us if there is a bump!

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