It’s Time to Let the Cowboy Ride Away
There aren’t many people who love Nolan Ryan more than I do. He not only embodies Texas baseball, but he embodies the whole Texas spirit. A Texas cattleman who was part sports legend and part western hero, he may as well have had a single shot Colt .45 on his hip when he walked to the mound.
A gunslinger by trade, he was known for throwing heat, but he also had a nasty curveball that was extremely fast for a breaking pitch. His tip of the hat was almost as iconic as the image of him pitching with a bloody nose. He was 6’-2” of pure Texas salt and grit. And who didn’t love watching him put Robin Ventura (20 years his junior) in the headlock and give him the business, working him over like a rogue steer that didn’t want to go down the chute?
The late 80’s and early 90’s didn’t have many bright spots to brag about for Rangers fans, but seeing Nolan finish his career in a blue uniform provided several of them. While wearing the big red “T”, Ryan recorded his 5,000th career strike out, as well as his sixth and seventh no-hitters, and 300th win.
It was a dream come true for so many Rangers fans to see Nolan come back to the front office when he bought the team with Chuck Greenberg in 2010. And while everyone knew he wouldn’t be suiting up, there wasn’t a Rangers fan alive who didn’t want to see some of that cowboy spirit infused throughout the organization from the top down. We all hoped the zeitgeist of perennial .500 clubs with hot bats and average pitching and defense could shift and we would see the Rangers finally put together a team for October baseball.
It seems things were just right as the financially struggling franchise was purchased by Ryan’s group just a few weeks before they would appear in the 2010 World Series, then would return next year. For the average fan, very few of us know exactly what went on in that front office, but it makes us feel good to think that underneath a necktie was a pair of Wranglers and a cowboy hat who was driving the organization to be the best it could be. In the midst of all of this would be Jon Daniels’ role as GM, which at the time none of us really thought much about.
While the current roster is almost completely different from the World Series teams of 2010-11, the culture of the club is one of excellence. And even when injuries plague this team, they find ways to Never Ever Quit. From the front office, to the manager, to the AA and AAA prospects, this is a club that is no longer pegged for .500 ball, but has become quite accustomed to being one of the top teams in the AL West, even, the league. And we would be kidding ourselves to think that the Express had nothing to do with that shift.
But another key component in the recent success is the role of Jon Daniels.
Were Ryan and Daniels really the proverbial oil and water? Could they really not make it work? Were there really huge philosophical differences even though Ryan wasn’t ever expected to be a GM? Well, most of us will never know.
If you follow the Rangers on social media comments and threads, you don’t have to look very far to find indignant fans who are quick to bash JD. They think he’s destroying the team and will blame him for all kinds of stuff – most notably Nolan’s departure, but even lesser stuff such as the injuries that were way beyond his control. (Maybe we should start with Derek Holland’s dog?)
Fans are stuck on the “glory years”…both of them. And for them, the whole reason this team is not what it was in the World Series years is simply because of Nolan Ryan’s departure. Forget injuries, streaky hitting, rookies in key roles, and a horrible late-season resignation of a really good manager. It’s all Nolan’s fault. Wait, no…it’s not Nolan’s fault. It’s JD’s fault because Nolan’s gone and he’s still here.
Well, here’s the thing about cowboys. Cowboys ride away. Just ask George Strait about that one. Regardless of who said what, who had philosophical differences, or maybe even what the Express needed at this particular point in his life, he is gone. And no, I don’t think this will be a Josh Hamilton story where he comes walking back into that front office for the price of a couple of cheeseburgers.
Like every good cowboy he’s ridden off into the sunset. He left a while back. He’s gone.
What’s left is Jon Daniels who has managed to continue to put competitive teams on the field; the AL Manager of the year; a mostly healthy team who managed to win the division and make a run at a pennant with a bunch of key injuries; and a strong core returning from last year.
Blaming the current office for what happened with Nolan Ryan won’t do anything to help the organization. We should be able to look back and smile at the time we had with him as a player and as an executive. 34 will always be a part of Texas. But the cowboy rode away. We need to let him go.