Arlington Power Struggle: Jon Daniels vs. Nolan Ryan

This week, Randy Galloway of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that there’s been a major power struggle in Arlington. Here’s what happened: back in November, the Rangers decided to give Jon Daniels a promotion to CEO — Nolan Ryan’s current title. Daniels declined, and so Daniels took a promotion to president of baseball operations.

Maury Brown notes that the promotion is a way of giving Daniels more job security: “Ask yourself when the last time a President of Baseball Operations was fired? With the exception of Tal Smith of the Astros (which was about a new owner coming in and putting his stamp on the club), you just don’t see it.”

But within the last few days matters have come to a head. Ryan apparently feels shunted aside, and that appears to be because he partly is being shunted aside. Ryan has received a lot of public credit for the Rangers’ resurgence since he was hired as president in 2008 and became a minority owner in 2010. According to Galloway, Ryan has also seriously meddled in Daniels’s affairs, as Ryan directly hired bench coach Jackie Moore and pitching coach Mike Maddux. Galloway doesn’t report on whether Daniels took personal offense, but “it’s been a heavy sticking point for some of Daniels’ assistants,” and when underlings are unhappy that usually means the boss is unhappy. This is a nasty little power struggle. What happened?

Daniels is taking the high road, since he already has all the power he wants. “I don’t want him to leave,” Daniels told ESPN Radio. “Effectively I [have final say]. But he has the ability to veto something, I think.”

Many have noted that this appears to mirror what happened two years ago, when Nolan Ryan forced out CEO Chuck Greenberg, seven months after Ryan and Greenberg had assembled an ownership team to buy the Rangers. After orchestrating Greenberg’s ouster, Ryan took the title of CEO while retaining the title of president.

That also set up what columnist Evan Grant calls an “unnecessary” clash in 2013. “The Rangers never should have given Ryan two titles when Chuck Greenberg was pushed out of the organization,” Grant writes in the Dallas Morning-News. “He should have moved into the CEO’s role then and the current array of titles could have been divided up then.”

Part of the problem with analyzing this from the outside is, it’s hard to figure out just how much credit Nolan Ryan actually deserves for the Rangers’ success in recent years, or their collapse down the stretch last fall. What’s more, this palace intrigue may not affect the on-field product in 2013. David Murphy predicted that the team would be unfazed:

I don’t think it’s an issue. We’ve had plenty of distractions over the years that haven’t become issues. I think an issue with a player is one thing but if it’s something that deals with the front office, that’s not an issue. We have absolutely no control over that.

Ryan receives a lot of credit from reporters and people within the game for the team’s success, but I’m not exactly sure what he deserves that credit for. Most of the stories about Ryan have noted his hiring of Maddux, but that’s a decision that probably should have been made by the general manager.

Similarly, writes Star-Telegram columnist Gil Lebreton, “It had to be somewhat of a blow when, in the flush of back-to-back World Series appearances, longtime Astros executive Tim Purpura was thrust into the middle of the organization chart as senior director of player development.”

In recent days, numerous columns have been written to praise the moves that Ryan has made, and they inevitably discuss the Purpura and Maddux hirings — hirings that probably should have been made by the general manager, and will be made by team president Jon Daniels from here on out. The rest of the plaudits boil down to platitudes, praising Nolan Ryan for how much he matters to the state of Texas or just how famous he is.

“Nolan Ryan brought the Rangers credibility,” writes MLB.com’s Richard Justice. “We all know Ryan’s importance to the Rangers,” writes ESPNDallas.com’s Jean-Jacques Taylor. Ryan “might be the most famous Texan of all time, ahead of even Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin,” writes Ken Rosenthal. Tim Kurkjian worries that fans will revolt, calling Ryan “the most important and the most popular Texas Ranger ever.”

I don’t live in Texas, so I’m not in a good position to evaluate whether or not he is indeed the most popular Texas Ranger in team history. He may be in that position now, following the release of the Mitchell Report, considering that many of the greatest players in team history have been connected to performance-enhancing drugs, including Rafael Palmeiro, Juan Gonzalez, Alex Rodriguez, and the single best player in team history, Ivan Rodriguez.

But that’s revisionist history. Moreover, before he rejoined the team in 2008, Nolan Ryan wasn’t particularly identified with the Rangers, who were only the team he retired with. Nolan Ryan was only a Ranger for five of his 27 seasons. He spent twice as much time in Houston, and went into the Hall of Fame as an Angel though he went into the Hall of Fame as a Ranger. The greatest Texas Rangers pitcher was Charlie Hough.

But Ryan had a great nickname for his fastball, seven no-hitters, and a first-ballot induction into the Hall of Fame; naturally, he was more famous than most other people connected to the team, and has remained so. Has Ryan notably benefited the team other than to lend his fame and credibility?

“First off, this notion that Ryan is just some figurehead is a bit overstated,” writes Maury Brown. “He’s a great scouting mind, so you lose that. … Would it impact attendance? Marginally.” Moreover, credibility may be hard to quantify but that doesn’t mean that it’s valueless. Ryan helped stabilize a franchise that was rudderless in the wake of Tom Hicks’s ownership, and he commanded and maintained the respect of all the players in the organization. He was also more or less smart enough to let Jon Daniels have his way most of the time.

But he meddled, and he had too many titles, and Daniels deserved to have greater autonomy, so Ryan’s fellow owners rather thoughtlessly promoted Daniels a bit too close to Ryan’s domain. They probably never wanted to push Ryan out, but everyone recognizes that of the two, Daniels was more valuable. The team making this move without consulting him would likely have injured his pride.

For now, Nolan is staying mum, and many writers used to access have taken notice. “Ryan, one of the most accessible-to-the-media jockdom executives in the United States of America, suddenly stopped taking phone calls for six days,” writes Galloway. “What does that leave for Nolan Ryan as CEO?” asks the Morning News’s Tim Cowlishaw. “It’s a question that remains unanswered seven days later for the simple reason that Ryan refuses to behave a like a CEO.”

Nolan Ryan is almost certainly thinking about appearances. “Ryan absolutely would not retire from the Rangers,” Galloway writes, citing anonymous sources. “If he leaves it will be because the owners no longer wanted him in the role he originally had.”

That’s a bit of a contradiction in terms: the owners have already indicated that they don’t want him in the role he originally had, and now Ryan is mulling over how he wants to respond. If Ryan leaves the team in a huff, then he will look like he justified the team’s actions, but if he can find a way to get fired or forced out, then he will look like the aggrieved party. That would look good for him. If he stays, then his authority will have been notably lessened. But the Rangers are moving on. The coup is over. The Texas Rangers have been Jon Daniels’s team since 2005, and they will remain his team.

We hoped you liked reading Arlington Power Struggle: Jon Daniels vs. Nolan Ryan by Alex Remington!

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Alex is a writer for The Hardball Times, and is a product manager for The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @alexremington.

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Dirk Diggler
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Dirk Diggler

You might want to check your facts on which team Ryan went into the HOF as.