Nolan Ryan returns to Rangers as team president
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Twenty years later, Nolan Ryan's job is to once again revitalize the Texas Rangers.
The Rangers introduced the Hall of Fame pitcher as team president Wednesday with the fanfare of a major free-agent pickup, just as Ryan was in 1988 when Texas signed the right-hander to help fill seats and bring wins to the struggling franchise.
Only now, the 61-year-old career strikeout leader who set many of his greatest milestones in a Rangers jersey is tasked with doing the same from the front office.
"Another thing in my career that I never anticipated," Ryan said. "You really wonder where baseball and life is going to take you."
Ryan threw an unmatched seven no-hitters and won 324 games in a record 27 major league seasons. The last five of those came with the Rangers and included his final two no-hitters and 5,000th strikeout.
Texas owner Tom Hicks, whose team has finished no better than third in the AL West since 2000, called the hiring a pivotal point in club history. Ryan retired with the Rangers in 1993, leaving the game as a fan favorite who was as well known for his sizzling fastball as his toughness and work ethic.
"Nolan is the biggest hero we've ever had as an organization," Hicks said. "He's our hero. He's also a guy who happens to be a very successful businessman."
Ryan got a hero's reception at The Ballpark in Arlington, where his number remains the only one to ever be retired by the Rangers. A packed hall of onlookers cheered as Hicks introduced his latest hire with a video highlight package that trumpeted the return of The Ryan Express.
Ryan replaces Jeff Cogen, who was moved by Hicks to the Dallas Stars during a shake-up of his hockey team in November.
Ryan will be in charge of baseball operations, a role that Hicks said Cogen didn't have as president. Hicks described Ryan as an asset useful in evaluating the character of players and prospects while dealing with business issues as president.
Ryan repeatedly mentioned the "learning curve" he faces as a first-time team president. He stood next to 30-year-old general manager Jon Daniels, who is less than half Ryan's age and who Hicks said is still ultimately accountable for player personnel.
"It's hard for me to predict what impact I might have on the baseball business aspect of it," Ryan said. "I think I probably have a better feel for the playing aspect of it."
In recent years, Ryan has been a consultant for the Houston Astros, another former team, and part owner of two Astros minor league teams in Texas. He had taken that role after spending 10 years doing marketing and public relations appearances for the Rangers after his retirement.
Ryan leaves the Astros with more than a year remaining on a five-year personal services contract he signed in 2004. He most recently served as special assistant to the general manager, scouting players and holding pitching camps.
Astros owner Drayton McLane said Hicks approached him last month seeking permission to speak with Ryan. McLane said the Astros will continue their relationship with the minor league franchises in Round Rock and Corpus Christi, which are run by Ryan's sons.
"I had said to Nolan on several occasions that we wanted to keep him," McLane said. "But this was a big job opportunity that he had there."
This isn't the first time Ryan has left the Astros for the Rangers. In 1988, he signed as a free agent after nine seasons in Houston.
Though the Rangers' only three playoff appearances came after Ryan retired, Texas hasn't made the postseason since 1999. Pitching has long been a frustration; the Rangers had the fewest strikeouts in the AL last season and their team ERA ranked in the bottom five.
Texas tried to bolster its rotation last month by signing free agent Jason Jennings, who grew up in Dallas watching Ryan pitch. But bringing Ryan into the front office is likely to stir the most excitement among Rangers fans, many of whom still revere the Texas native.
Some of Ryan's best moments occurred in a Rangers uniform, including his 300th victory.
Even the image of Ryan putting Robin Ventura -- 20 years younger than the aging pitcher -- into a headlock after Ventura charged the mound in Ryan's final season remains a favorite memory for Rangers fans.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
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