Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

Sports

October 18, 2013

Phillips column: It's a shame Nolan Ryan had to leave

Corsicana — If you ever go to Cooperstown, there’s just one Texas Rangers cap in the Hall of Fame. It sits atop the head of Nolan Ryan on his plaque there.

Just one.

You know, you can’t wear Ryan’s jersey if you play for the Rangers.

Somebody had the good sense to retire No. 34 years ago.

And then there’s that statue.

At Wrigley Field they have statues of Ernie Banks and Ron Santo.

Pittsburgh has monuments to Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell and Honus Wagner.

The Tigers have an entire row of statues (my favorite is the one of Ty Cobb, kicking up dirt as he slides into second).

The Giants have Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal.

And of course, Yankee Stadium has Monument Park.

There’s only one statue of a player for the Rangers.

Just one.

No one went out to the ball park and tipped it over on Thursday.

It just felt like it.

Nolan Ryan, the man who was the face of the Rangers when they didn’t have a face, is gone.

He stepped down from his job (and I use that word loosely) as CEO of the Rangers, leaving a big hole (that’s what co-owner Bob Simpson called it, bless his heart).

Ryan was all class in his farewell, just what you would expect.

He said all the right things when he left, and he said them in his unmistakable Texas way so when those knuckleheads at ESPN showed the clip on TV the whole nation was reminded that Ryan was a Texan first and a baseball man next.

There was something that told you all was right with the world when Ryan pitched wearing the word TEXAS across his chest.

Back in the late 1980s and early 90’s Ryan made the Rangers relevant when they weren’t.

If you were a baseball fan and you didn’t live in the Metroplex, the one thing you knew about those Rangers was they had Nolan Ryan.

He was the face and the arm of a franchise.

He pitched until he was 46 and didn’t leave the game until he absolutely had to, so you can imagine how hard it was for him to walk away again.

In his heart of hearts, Ryan knew he it was time to leave.

Imagine how hard it was for Ryan to have to sit there and watch his friend Jackie Moore get fired as the Rangers bench coach at the end of the season.

Think about it. You’re the CEO of the club and you couldn’t say a word to save a friend’s job.

About a week before Moore was fired, another Ryan guy, Tim Purpura, who was the Rangers senior director of player development, was told he was being reassigned.

Ryan tried to make it work with Jon Daniels, and even a person with no knowledge of baseball could see the two men combined to make the Rangers one of the best franchises in the game.

Daniels was the GM when Ryan took over as the club’s president in 2008. Two years later the Rangers are in the World Series and one pitch away from winning it. They went back again in 2011, and probably would be playing in the ALCS today if Nelson Cruz hadn’t been dumb enough to use steroids.

Daniels, who is now president and in charge of everything, is a big part of this success. He’s the man who pulled the trigger on the Mark Teixeira trade with Atlanta (I know Braves fans who curse that trade to this day), and he’s the guy who signed Josh Hamilton and brought Yu Darvish to Texas.

He’s young and bright and he is THE Rangers now.

It’s his team, and has been since last spring when the owners stripped Ryan of his power. Sure, they left him with the title of CEO but once they took president off his parking spot, the shift was complete and the soap opera was in place. It has been talked about, written about and talked about some more, this uneasy power struggle between Daniels and Ryan — the whiz kid and the Ryan Express, the old school knowledge and feel for the game rubbing against what’s new and shiny.

Both men deny it, and the Rangers owners did their best to avoid it on Thursday. Daniels didn’t even talk to the media, and Ryan threw his best curveball, telling the world the Daniels situation had nothing to do with his decision.

He’s 66 and wants to go home to the ranch and spend more time with his grandkids. He was all class right to the end.

You know, if Ryan could still throw 100 mph fastballs that he would be pitching today at 66.

But even after he defied all the odds and pitched no-hitters in his 40’s (It’s still impossible to believe the man threw his seventh no-hitter when he was 44), in the end Ryan finally walked off the mound.

 He simply didn’t have that overpowering fastball and he knew it was time to leave.

When the Rangers stripped him last spring the same thing happened. It was like telling Ryan, OK you can still pitch, but we’re not going to let you throw anything over 85.

They took his power. They took away his heat.

Ryan knew that, and he spent one more year trying to do what he could do.

But when the season ended he knew it was time, knew it just wouldn’t work.

 He knew it was time to walk off the mound.

Just wish he would have had a chance to tip his cap.

 

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