CUTTING OUT THEIR HEART AND SOUL

By Murray Chass

March 17, 2013

We have seen it happen before, wealthy entrepreneurs feeling less appreciated than they think they should be while one of their employees gets credit for their company’s success.

I’m not talking about General Motors or Google or Microsoft. This is about the Texas Rangers, and jealousy is the best reason I can come up with to explain and understand the organization’s bizarre developments this month with the greatest icon in Texas baseball history.nolan-ryan1-225

Earlier this month the Rangers’ co-owners Ray Davis and Bob Simpson cut Nolan Ryan’s legs from under him by adding stilts to two executives to whom he had been superior. With the club’s March 1 news release announcing the promotions of Jon Daniels and Rick George, Ryan was no longer the club president.

The Rangers’ 2012 team media guide listed Ryan as CEO and president. The commissioner’s 2012 media information directory listed him as president and CEO. The 2012 M.L.B. confidential directory called him president and CEO. Even the 2013 spring training directory referred to him as president.

But the March 1 news release downgraded Ryan to Chief Executive Officer. President no longer, Ryan was suddenly staring up at two other presidents, Daniels, president of baseball operations, and George, president of business operations. Daniels had been general manager, George chief operating officer.

This is not the sort of thing one does to a man of Ryan’s success, accomplishments and stature, a figure who is the heart and soul of the franchise. I am not speaking solely of Ryan’s achievements as a matchless pitcher, his seven no-hitters, his 5,714 strikeouts and his election to the Hall of Fame, for example.

Post-career, Ryan has been a successful businessman, rancher and banker. Most important, in the context of his baseball job, he joined the Rangers five years ago at the request of the previous owner, Tom Hicks, and straightened out the mess the bumbling owner had made.

But he went well beyond fixing the franchise. He quickly built it into a winner that played in the World Series in Ryan’s third and fourth years. In Ryan’s fifth year, last year, the Rangers set a club attendance record, drawing 3,460,280 fans, third most in the majors behind the Phillies and the Yankees.

Yet came the news release March 1 announcing the promotion to president of Daniels and George.

The release didn’t say, but in promoting Daniels and George, the co-owners Davis and Simpson stripped Ryan of his title as president. They didn’t say why. Davis and Simpson, in fact, haven’t said anything. The development cried out for an explanation, but none was forthcoming.

Had Ryan committed some unpardonable sin? Had he run afoul of the organization? Had he done something to undermine the owners? Had he been insubordinate?

John Blake, executive vice president for communications, said Davis and Simpson weren’t talking. Ryan and George did not return calls seeking comment.

Of the principals involved, Daniels was the only one to respond to an interview request.

Jon Daniels2 225“I think the reaction has been bigger than the news,” he said. I suppose that depends on one’s point of view. Daniels, a capable general manager, is the beneficiary of the owners’ decision. Ryan understandably might not see it the same way.

“I don’t want to speak for Nolan,” Daniels said but suggested he saw nothing wrong with the new setup.

“In general,” he said, “we’ve always made decisions as a group. Somebody has to make the call for the most part. That’s been the way it has been here.”

But what Daniels said next undermined the idea that nothing has changed. “When Nolan has felt strongly, we’ve gone with his calls,” the new baseball president said. “That’s the way it’s been for the five years we’ve worked together.”

But now whose preference will be followed? It doesn’t figure to be Ryan’s; if it is, why put Daniels in charge of baseball operations?

“I think the big thing is the group of people, the people who are at the table whose opinion is valued,” Daniels said. “That hasn’t changed. I hope it doesn’t change. Nolan hasn’t said anything to me about anything. I hope he doesn’t. I think we work well together. The things I’ve learned from Nolan and vice versa have been good for the organization.”

When Ryan joined the Rangers in 2005, Daniels had been the general manager for two years and was only 30 years old. At the time it seemed highly likely that Ryan would bring in a more experienced man for the position. That speculation, however, turned out to be wrong, and Daniels has, in effect, outlasted Ryan.

Another ironic twist:

Ryan and a Pittsburgh lawyer, Chuck Greenberg, headed the group that bought the bankrupt Rangers from Hicks in August 2010. Shortly after the group gained control, Ryan and Greenberg clashed over various aspects of club policy.

Davis and Simpson, wealthy Dallas oil men, whom Ryan had recruited, backed Ryan, and Greenberg bowed out. The owners’ position in that confrontation only makes this latest development more puzzling.

Daniels said the owners had spoken to him about their plans. He seemed to suggest that part of their motivation for the move was to insure that the club’s top people remain with the Rangers.

“Everybody who works with all of us and ownership desire we can retain our people and keep long-term success in place,” Daniels said. “Rick and I are to run our departments on a day-to-day basis. Nolan is CEO, and we both report to him. Our focus is on the big picture and the direction of the franchise. That’s my understanding on how we’re going forward.”

But Ryan is no longer the president. “That’s correct,” Daniels said. Then he added, “I’m not a title person. Titles can be meaningless. They’re really independent of talent, loyalty, accountability, trust, authority. Titles don’t really mean anything.”

Unless you are a man of Ryan’s stature and you have the top title and it’s snatched from your desk.

At the end of the first week of March, Ryan left the Rangers’ spring training complex in Arizona and flew to Dallas to meet with Davis and Simpson to presumably get an explanation for their actions. It was considered possible that the former pitcher might resign altogether. However, a statement from Ryan March 10 was the only public comment:

“Over the last week, Ray Davis, Bob Simpson, and I have been in discussion and met in-person. The conversations have been productive, and we have discussed my role as CEO of the organization. We agreed these discussions will continue as we go forward.

“I am very proud of what the Rangers have accomplished over the last several years, and I believe our preparations for the upcoming season are what is important.

The crux of the discussions was whether or not Ryan would remain with the Rangers under the new circumstances. He’s still there, but no one knows for how long.

“He and ownership are talking to try to resolve it,” Blake, the PR man, said.

“I don’t know what final resolution there will be.”

“In ownership’s mind,” Blake added, “the new titles solidified a definition of roles that had been in effect. Jon Daniels and Rick George oversee their respective day-to-day operations and report to Nolan, something that had already been in place.”

“Hopefully,” he said, “there will be a positive resolution.”Nolan Ryan Jon Daniels2 225

But how could it be positive for Ryan? Davis and Simpson have embarrassed a man who has done nothing to invite embarrassment or demotion.

A person close to the Rangers said there is a tenuous peace between Ryan and Daniels. They have had their differences. Ryan has prevailed, but winning the battles apparently led to losing the war.

Fifteen months ago the Rangers hired Tim Purpura, former general manager of the Houston Astros, as senior director of player development. He was Ryan’s choice. Daniels preferred Jayce Tingler, the Rangers’ minor league field coordinator, but Ryan felt the 31-year-old Tingler was too young for the job.

In another difference of opinion, Ryan wanted to retain the veteran Jackie Moore as Ron Washington’s bench coach. Daniels wanted to make a change. Moore, who was also the manager’s preference, remained bench coach.

Weary of such outcomes, someone in Daniels’ group went to ownership and complained that Ryan wasn’t letting Daniels do his job. The jealousy I mentioned at the start of the column apparently exists in the organization below the ownership level as well as on it.

Those feelings create animosity and political infighting, and there seems to be plenty of that going around.

According to the person close to the Rangers, co-owner Simpson is the one who pushed for the restructuring of the front office, even though Ryan is one of his minority partners. Simpson is one of those owners who enjoys hanging out in the clubhouse and relishes the attention ownership brings him.

There are, after all, plenty of wealthy oil men in Texas, but how many own a major league baseball team?

Simpson, however, has taken it a step farther. Fancying himself a writer of country-western songs, Simpson borrowed a saying the manager often uses – “That’s the way baseball go” – and wrote a song with that as the title.

He paid Merle Haggard to record it, and the Rangers play it every night at the ball park.

The only problem is that isn’t the way Nolan Ryan baseball goes. What the 66-year-old Ryan will ultimately do about his new role with the team is open to speculation, but it seems unlikely that he will remain with the Rangers.

His son Reid runs the Rangers’ top minor league team, the Round Rock Express, which plays an hour and a half from San Antonio. The Rangers play their last two spring exhibition games in San Antonio, and part of the speculation is that Ryan won’t do anything to detract from those games but will leave the Rangers afterward.

RETIREMENT RIGHT PLACE FOR TORRE

Joe Torre Team USA2It is painful to say this, but Joe Torre did such a poor job managing Team USA in the World Baseball Classic that I think Bobby Valentine could have done better. Despite the Americans’ obvious problems hitting and scoring runs, Torre managed with the imagination of a tree trunk.

Torre managed as if he had Murderers’ Row in his lineup, forgoing any kind of small-ball strategy and waiting for a three-run home run. Of course, to slug a three-run home run, you need to get two runners on base, and the Americans had trouble doing that in the final two games against the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.

With the way David Wright was hitting, his absence due to injury (yes, he was injured in the WBC, though he could have incurred that injury anywhere) hurt the USA team. Ryan Braun, Joe Mauer and Giancarlo Stanton didn’t produce enough to overcome his loss.

Maybe Torre was slow to recognize his deficit. Maybe, coming in the last two games, it didn’t give Torre enough time to adjust. Good managers, though, can adjust quickly and adapt to new circumstances.

But what do I know? Torre once told me I didn’t know anything about baseball, and neither, for that matter, did any other writer.

Comments? Please send email to comments@murraychass.com.