Nolan Ryan played coy when asked about his feeling towards the Texas Rangers, but if you read between the lines...
Tim Heitman / USA TODAY Sports
By Matt Mosley
Looking back, I'm not sure whether Nolan Ryan even flirted with retirement. When he walked away from the Rangers organization, he called it a resignation.
It's likely that Ryan started thinking about a return to the Astros the minute his eldest son, Reid, was hired as that organization's president last year. I wondered at the time if new owner Jim Crane was hiring one Ryan to get to another. The Astros desperately needed the type of credibility that Nolan's name brings.
And the Rangers decided nearly a year ago they could live without Ryan as a powerful voice in the organization. No matter how principal owners Ray Davis and Bob Simpson want to present it now, they picked GM Jon Daniels over Ryan in what had become a power struggle. If the Rangers can get back to making noise in the playoffs, this fan base will be able to move on from the Ryan era.
But what if the Astros are somehow able to close the gap in the A.L. West in the next few years? What if they surge past the Rangers? If that happens, Rangers fans may be inclined to believe in the Ryan Curse.
On Wednesday, Ryan sounded like a man who still had a bitter taste in his mouth about how things ended with the Rangers. And I believe one of his biggest regrets is not walking away sooner.
"I felt like it was time for me to move on and I chose to do that," Ryan said on 103.3 FM's "Friedo & Fitz Show." "If the circumstances were different maybe I would still be there, but that's not the way it worked out. I believe things work out for the best and look to the future."
Asked what circumstances needed to change, Ryan laughed and said, "I don't know. I really would rather not go there."
Maybe the most interesting part of the interview came when Ryan was asked if he had extra incentive to beat the Rangers in the A.L. West. He indicated that he had more interest in beating the Oakland A's, a nod to the team that has won back-to-back division titles. I'm not sure if that was a little jab at the Rangers, although fans may take it that way.
What I do know is that Ryan played a large role in turning around the Rangers. It was his name and status that lured Simpson and Davis into a battle for the rights for a team coming out of bankruptcy. His first assignment in Houston may be cleaning up the Astros' mess of a television package. Roughly half of the Houston area didn't have access to Astros games last season, and those that did weren't tuning in. (Who can forget that 0.0 rating?)
The Astros have also made it clear that Ryan will have significant input in baseball operations. General manager Jeff Luhnow has embraced this hire, but let's not act like he has much of a choice in the matter. Luhnow is doing some interesting things at the minor-league level in order to build for the future, but he'll need to make progress in the big leagues in the near future. If Luhnow and Ryan disagree on a an important baseball move, who's Crane going to side with?
Early on, I think Ryan will try to get a feel for the landscape of the organization. But he's not going to simply be a figurehead. That's what he'd become in the Rangers organization, and it hastened his resignation.
It's hard to imagine the Astros having much success in the A.L. West over the next couple seasons, but at least the rivalry has a bit of juice now. The Astros have acquired the most iconic figure in the history of the Rangers.
And the Rangers basically offered him up on a platter. Maybe Ryan's return to Houston won't amount to much.
But if he makes the same impact he did with the Rangers, Simpson and Davis will have some explaining to do.