Of Nolan Ryan: Searching For Truth


May 31, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Texas Rangers chief executive officer Nolan Ryan during the game against the Kansas City Royals at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Texas won 7-2. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

With Nolan Ryan‘s resignation from the Texas Rangers, it has certainly stirred the pot within the fan base, certainly ruffled its fair share of feathers. With all this talk of “camps” — whether it be in favor of Nolan or Jon Daniels — we know those camps no longer exist. At least not in the front office. Instead, they’ve bled into the fan base.

A couple mornings ago I wrote a radical article about the now former CEO, and being removed I still feel the same in my stance, if not stronger.

My reasoning remains simple in nature. All I ask is: What did Nolan Ryan ever tangibly do to improve the on-field product? If you are a firm supporter of the former CEO, my challenge for you is to answer this question. It’s a simple question.

In Texas, the paradigm shift began in 2007, propelled by three trades. The first was sending Mark Teixeira to the Braves for a massive return including Elvis Andrus, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Matt Harrison, Neftali Feliz and Beau Jones; the second was trading Eric Gagñe to the Red Sox for Kason Gabbard, David Murphy and 17 year-old outfielder, Engel Beltre; the third was of less significance, but still worth mentioning, shipping Kenny Loften to the Indians for catcher Max Ramirez.

Again, this was in 2007. Nolan Ryan didn’t arrive in Arlington until 2008, where ownership was still led by the fledgling Tom Hicks, and where baseball operations were still handled by Jon Daniels.

A consistent defense of Nolan is given in the vein of Jon Daniels wouldn’t even be here if Nolan Ryan had fired him, which might be the most ludicrous of all defenses. If you think the Rangers would be worse off had Ryan fired Daniels, you would be correct, so why should we be giving him credit since he didn’t? That’s like saying a person deserves credit for not throwing away a winning lottery ticket. Nolan Ryan did nothing to better the on-field success of the Rangers in his 6 years under the umbrella of two separate ownership groups, but as far as doing nothing when it came to not removing Jon Daniels as GM, I suppose we can consider that as something.

One of my consistent readers, and one of my old pals from the now defunct Baseball Time in Arlington blog — Andy — wrote this in response to my previous Nolan piece:

Seems a bit harsh to say “thanks for nothing”, unless you were being kind of facetious, especially when you just listed some things we should be [thanking] him for. Especially Maddux, whom we have every reason to believe has been instrumental in our pitchers’ success of late.

First, I wasn’t being facetious. That was honesty. Second, after his work with the Brewers, Mike Maddux was pretty clearly one of the premier pitching coaches in Major League Baseball. Being a smart man, I find it hard to believe that — had Nolan Ryan not been a member of the front office — Jon Daniels wouldn’t have noticed Maddux as a serious candidate to be the team’s next pitching coach. Daniels is generally two steps ahead of the baseball curve, so you’d be suspending disbelief quite aggressively to assume he wouldn’t have noticed a candidate so obvious that he might as well have been slapping him right in his face.

But, if we are to submit that it was Nolan who singlehandedly brought Maddux in, then fine. We can step off into the deep end for a second. However, if we do that, then we also have to give Ryan credit for bringing in two of “his” guys — former Astros (and buddies) Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman — who essentially provided nothing to the franchise over the last two seasons. That wasn’t Jon Daniels. That was Nolan Ryan making a vague attempt at showing his prowess as a “baseball guy”. At $15 million, Oswalt and Berkman combined to produce +0.7 wins for the Rangers.

I’m trying to give Nolan the benefit of the doubt here. I really am.

And if the Maddux-Ryan marriage is as strong as some make it out to be, then it should be expected that Mike Maddux will either (a) be fired from his position as pitching coach, since he’s not a “Daniels guy,” or, perhaps, (b) that he will leave the organization for a different job. Right?

The thing is, as much as people want to either give Nolan Ryan credit for ascertaining Mike Maddux, or give credit to Mike Maddux for turning around the Rangers pitching staff (which I think is a completely valid outlook to have), you would still be missing the point:

It was Jon Daniels who provided the pitchers. And it’s the pitchers who have physically had to go out and help the Rangers win baseball games.

This is the case in making Scott Feldman a starter, C.J. Wilson a starter, in acquiring Cliff Lee from the Mariners, in getting Colby Lewis on a ridiculously cheap two-year, $5 million deal, in bringing Yu Darvish in as the most expensive international important in major league history — a move, mind you, that was strongly opposed by Nolan Ryan and his “camp.”

All those moves were made by Jon Daniels and his elite group of personnel.

So, still, my challenge stands. This is not a matter of whether or not I like Nolan Ryan, or whether or not I’m a Jon Daniels supporter. Those two sentiments should be fairly self-evident by now. This is about where credit is due, and for too long it’s gone to the wrong man.

Jon Daniels is the orchestrator of the trades. It’s his staff that evaluates talent. Nolan Ryan has been the one to sit back, getting fat on the accolades, when in reality nothing would be different had he not been here in the first place. The Rangers would have the same pitchers, the same position players, and they would still be a winning franchise.

People don’t come to the ballpark to watch Nolan Ryan sit in the first row. They just don’t. They comes in droves — north of $3 million for two consecutive seasons — to watch a winning product on the field. And that’s had nothing to do with Nolan, everything to do with Jon Daniels.