Nolan Ryan Did Not Save the Texas Rangers

The Hall-of-Fame pitcher is being credited with turning the baseball team around—but things started changing for the club long before he got there



The Texas Rangers' 12-game winning streak, the longest in Major League Baseball this season, ended this week with a loss in Anaheim. But their torrid run (they have lost only four games this month) has re-established them as contenders for the post-season. The rise of the Rangers, who won the American League pennant last year in their first trip to the postseason since 1999, is fast making them the secondary team for fans who hate the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox equally. Now, if only people could give credit where credit is due.

The public face of the Texas Rangers is Team President and CEO Nolan Ryan, who is widely regarded as the best baseball player from Texas (in my mind he's the best player not named Roger Clemens, but that's a different debate). Ryan pitched a record seven no-hitters and struck out more than 5,000 hitters in a Hall-of-Fame career that included a nine-year stint with the Houston Astros and five more with the Rangers. His popularity has helped them navigate several difficult circumstances such as the aftermath of a fan's death earlier this month at Ranger's Ball Park in Arlington.

Ryan is a charismatic, tough-talking Texan, and since becoming President of the Rangers in 2008 and even more so since becoming part-owner last year, he has made several pronouncements against the conventional wisdom of managing young pitcher's workloads via 100 pitch limits. He has even instructed the team's minor-league pitching coaches to lose their counters and make judgments based on observation and not pitch counts. This has made him immensely popular in the press and he is routinely give the lion's share of the credit for the Ranger's rise. Numerous mentions on the MLB channel and ESPN's Baseball Tonight suggest that Ryan is the architect of the Rangers success. This article from the New York Times all but credits him for changing the baseball culture in Texas from the spendthrift, ineffectual ways of previous club owner Tom Hicks. The article states early on, "Ryan has presided over the team's baseball operations for the last three years. Thanks in large part to his guidance, the club is headed to the postseason."

Stephen Hawkins of the Associated Press were even more enthusiastic. In a playoff preview last autumn, he gushed, "Texas bottomed out again in the 2000s, until the Ryan Express roared in again. Everything good the Rangers have ever been and everything great they could become all trace back to Ryan."

Even players are wrapped up in the Ryan love fest. Texas outfielder David Murphy told ESPN, "Ever since Nolan has been on board here, this franchise has gone nowhere but the correct way and the right direction inside and out," Murphy said. "You look at the farm system, you look at the big league club and it's gotten better in all aspects. "

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Martin Johnson is a writer living in New York City. His work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Daily, and the Root.

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