Ryan back on the outside, looking in
But 'it's not like I am sitting around twiddling my thumbs,' Hall of Famer says
Nolan Ryan's daily schedule is busy.
But there's a void.
He checks in at the office at R Bank Texas. He tends to details with Nolan Ryan All-Natural Beef. And he keeps up on the Triple-A Round Rock Express, which he and sons Reese and Reid own.
"It's not like I am sitting around twiddling my thumbs," said Ryan.
The big leagues, however, are now in his rearview mirror.
"It is hard to realize I am not associated anymore," he admitted.
Ryan stepped down as the chief executive officer of the Texas Rangers on Oct. 31. But it wasn't because he had lost his passion for baseball.
Ryan has never been comfortable as a figurehead. He's a doer, not a watcher, but he was on the short end of a power struggle within the Rangers organization a year ago, Ryan no longer is an active participant in shaping the baseball vision of a franchise he has twice been credited with saving.
There are no hard feelings.
Ryan, who will turn 67 on Jan. 31, accepts the idea there is a new generation of baseball thinkers, to whom computers and spreadsheets carry more weight and experience is no longer considered an asset.
"It was not an easy decision," Ryan said of his resignation as Rangers CEO and the divestment of his minority stake in the team's ownership. "But it was the right one. I was frustrated.
"There was a segment of people I didn't enjoy dealing with. We were on opposite pages, and they had an agenda."
Ryan could have hung around. He was involved in the business side. And he does remain arguably the biggest name in his native Texas.
It was his signing as a free agent for the 1989 season that has been hailed as a key moment in the Rangers' ability to rally the support for the building of a new stadium, which kept the team in Texas. And it was Ryan who surfaced in February 2008 to assume the role of club president for former owner Tom Hicks, and eventually organize an ownership group that purchased the team from Hicks in August 2010.
"When I first joined the Rangers, I tried to convince Tom to let me just be on the baseball side, but he wanted me to work with both, baseball and business," said Ryan. "[The baseball side] is where I feel I have something to offer."
Not that Ryan can't handle the business world, as well. He oversaw the Rangers as they climbed out of dire financial straits to become one of the most solid franchises in baseball, both on and off the field.
With oldest son Reid now the president of the Houston Astros, there has been speculation that Ryan could rejoin that franchise. It's an idea that has been encouraged by Astros owner Jim Crane.
Ryan, however, has declined, at least so far.
"Obviously, with Reid, I've enjoyed working with him over the years," Ryan said. "But I can't get into the same situation [as with Texas]. With what I have accomplished, working with someone who does not embrace me and my opinion is not the place for me."
Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, who joined the franchise 18 months before Reid was hired to be the team's president, is among the new breed of GMs, and Ryan said, "It would not be fair to Jeff to drop me on him. If he wanted me and welcomed my opinion and advice, I'd consider it."
A common thread to Ryan's success has been his active involvement in every project he has taken on.
It used to bug the late Buzzie Bavasi, when he was GM of the California Angels, that Ryan was so committed to his ranching business.
Ryan wouldn't show up for Spring Training until the mandatory reporting date of March 1 because he would attend a major cattle sale in Houston -- although due to offseason conditioning, Ryan was ready to throw 100 pitches his first day in camp. And he would actually work on the ranch in the offseason.
"What if he loses a finger roping one of that cattle?" Bavasi would ask.
"I'm not going to ask someone to do something I won't do," Ryan would explain.
But Ryan was able to do more than most anyone else. He was a first-ballot inductee into the Hall of Fame, drawing support from 98.8 percent of the voters after a career in which he struck out more batters (5,714) and pitched more no-hitters (seven) than anyone in history. His 324 victories rank 14th on the all-time list.
He was diagnosed as needing Tommy John elbow surgery after the 1986 season, but he was headed into his 40s, so he declined because it meant he would have to spend a full year rehabbing.
"I was too old for that," said Ryan. "It takes too much work for me to be ready every season to miss a year. ... I felt I'd just let the scar tissue build up and see what happened."
What happened is that Ryan pitched seven more years in the big leagues, retiring at the age of 46. He struck out more than 200 batters in five of those seven seasons, including 301 in 1989, and pitched his final two no-hitters.
And then he entered the private business world until initially being hired by former Astros owner Drayton McLane for a job that was more of a figurehead than active participant, which led him to get involved with the Rangers.
Now he is back on the outside, looking in.