Friday, October 18, 2013
Nolan Ryan wasn't about to back down
By David Schoenfield
This was the only way the Nolan Ryan-Jon Daniels-ownership power struggle could end: With the 66-year-old Ryan stepping down as Rangers CEO and walking out into the sunset, his life in baseball probably over. Once it became clear that co-owner Ray Davis was going to back Daniels, did you think Ryan would accept a position of speaking at business luncheons and shaking hands with season-ticket holders?
Of course not.
Think of Ryan the pitcher. This is a guy who never gave in to a hitter. Throw a 3-2 fastball down the middle? Are you kidding? Ryan would prefer to hit a corner or throw a curveball, even if he did throw 100 mph. He'd rather give up a walk than a hit, the ultimate sign of Texas bravado. This is a pitcher who twice walked more than 200 batters in a season.
"Nolie has thrown more 3-2 curves than any power pitcher in history," Tom Morgan, his onetime pitching coach with the Angels, said in a 1980 article in Inside Sports. "I tried to change him, believe me. Many, many times I told him, 'Just throw it as hard as you can down the middle of the plate -- they won't hit it anyway. Just pitch one full game like that for me and see how it turns out.'"
But that wasn't Ryan's style. He was going to do it his way. He walked eight or more batters in a game 29 times in his career, five or more an astonishing 232 times as a starter -- 30 percent of his career starts. In this game -- 13 innings, 10 walks, 19 strikeouts -- he must have thrown well over 200 pitches.
Give in? Never.
"I walked a lot of guys. I drove managers crazy," Ryan told Tony Kornheiser in that 1980 article, after the pitcher had signed as a free agent with the Astros. "They said I wasn't pitching the way someone of my ability should. If I'm going to lose, I'm going to lose my way. Who gets the L? Out of nine guys, I live with the L for the rest of my life. If I had to walk off as the losing pitcher, then I had to do whatever I could to make sure it didn't happen."
Ryan had to step down. This was not a guy who let others define his role.
We can't know the inner workings of the Ryan-Daniels relationship, but Ryan was clearly from a different generation. You have to imagine the two butted heads on more than just front-office personnel ("Nolan guys" or "Daniels guys"). You have to believe Ryan's philosophies differed greatly from Daniels, a general manager who is part of the statistically savvy wave of GMs who changed the way front offices have been run over the past decade.
"Pitchers have been pampered," Ryan told Sports Illustrated in 2010. "I'd go to spring training, and all they'd do was throw on the side. Now how in the world do you learn how a hitter's going to react to your pitches without a hitter in there? I always thought that was crazy. Our expectations of them have been lowered. There's no reason why kids today can't pitch as many innings as people did in my era. Today a quality start is six innings. What's quality about that?"
That was a popular story for a long time: The Rangers were going to stretch out their starters, have them throw more innings and more pitches, because that's what tough guys from Texas do (or did). That never really happened. You can't approach baseball in 2013 as if it's still 1973. Plus, not every pitcher was born with the ability to throw 150 pitches a game. Here are the Rangers' ranks in innings pitched per start:
The Rangers reached the World Series in 2010, and a lot of publicity was given to how Ryan's belief on changing the mindset of the starters was a key to the team's success; as you can see, they ranked just 22nd in the majors in innings per start that year. The year before, they had ranked 17th. Yes, the workloads increased slightly in ensuing years -- in part because Daniels put together better pitching staffs -- but the Rangers were never doing anything different than other clubs.
I'll miss Ryan, especially those TV shots of him in the stands in the playoffs, looking ready to punch someone after some inexplicable Ron Washington decision.
The Rangers now belong to Davis and Daniels. New school won out over old school, and that too is the way it had to be.