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.