ST. PETERSBURG -- On Tuesday night, before Game 1 of the American League Division Series, Rangers president Nolan Ryan had a relaxing dinner with family and friends at a quiet restaurant along the St. Petersburg waterfront. There were no attorneys, judges or bankruptcy experts present. There were no documents to sign or depositions to give. The sale of the club is complete, the Rangers are in the playoffs and Ryan is able to focus on what he enjoys most. Baseball.
"Obviously, the last month has been very enjoyable and even through some of the poor performances that we've had," Ryan said. "We have a stretch where we lose five or six games, and it looked like it was going to turn into a race again. So your focus and perspective is different, but we didn't have the bankruptcy hanging over our head. "It seemed really strange that one day you walk out of the courtroom and you don't have to go back over there when that pretty much dominated your life for about a six-week period. It was just an adjustment getting used to it, but I can tell you it's much more relaxed around the stadium and the front offices now." There was a time back in June and July when Ryan openly admitted he wasn't having much fun. The Rangers were in bankruptcy court and the sale of the team from former owner Tom Hicks to a group headed by Ryan and Chuck Greenberg was dragging at a interminably slow pace. Other potential buyers were looming in the background. Ryan hinted at the possibility of walking away from it all at the end of the season. That is all behind the Rangers now. Greenberg-Ryan won the auction in early August, the sale was unanimously approved by the other owners a few weeks later and now the playoffs are here. This is what Ryan has been waiting for ever since he took over as club president three years ago. The Rangers might not be here if not for Ryan's leadership during one of the most turbulent periods in club history. Most club presidents usually operate in the background, counting gate receipts, planning marketing strategies and tending to sponsors. Usually they have little to do with the product on the field. That's not the case with the Rangers, but not every organization has a president who won 324 games as a pitcher while setting records for no-hitters and strikeouts. "Don Welke [senior baseball advisor] talks about the key to building a winning organization is stability and ability," general manager Jon Daniels said. "In a lot of ways, Nolan brings both. Going through the sale process with uncertainty, he was definitely a calming influence because a lot of people didn't know what to expect. "The impact on the baseball product is invaluable. He is very collaborative and inclusive. He has strong opinions but at the same time he is open to different ideas. He has been fun to work with." Manager Ron Washington talked about the "presence" Ryan brings to the organization. "He brings total presence," Washington said. "He commands respect. He's a solid baseball man. He's been in the trenches, and in a way he's like E.F. Hutton: When he speaks, you listen. Because usually everything that comes out his mouth makes total sense. "And that's the one thing when you've got a young group that you want to make sure that they understand, respect for everybody, the game, your teammates, the coaches, front office, outside personnel, security guards, ticket takers. That's the one thing that I think Nolan has brought to Texas -- a family atmosphere. Everyone that has anything to do with the Texas Rangers is involved. That's what makes him special." Ryan also led a turnaround of the Rangers' culture and history of pitching. Rangers fans probably would have taken that above anything else Ryan could have done in his lofty position at the head of the organization. Ryan took over before the 2008 season. From 2000-07, Rangers pitchers had a combined ERA of 5.11, the second highest in those eight years of any Major League staff. It wasn't much better in Ryan's first year, and he was determined to do something about it. "I didn't follow the Rangers the three previous years before I got here because of my involvement with the Astros," Ryan said. "So the first year, my intent was just to be an observer and try to get a feel for our organization and what I felt like that we needed to address. And that's pretty much what I did. "And I can tell you, there were times it was very frustrating to watch some of our games because we'd be up 12-6 and we'd go home down 13-12, and those games were very painful and long to sit through. It didn't take too long to realize that we needed to address our pitching issues, and I put that number one as a priority." Three years later -- with Daniels and staff going all-out to acquire pitching, Washington making it a priority at the Major League level and pitching coach Mike Maddux and bullpen coach Andy Hawkins implementing the overall program -- the Rangers finished fourth in the American League in pitching with a team ERA of 3.93. It was the highest the Rangers have finished since they led the league in 1983. "It would be nice if he could sprinkle some magic dust on me and I could throw 100 miles an hour," pitcher C.J. Wilson said. "Everyone looks up to Nolan Ryan. ... He pitched for like 27 years or something like that, you know, so it's like as far as I know, he probably threw more pitches than any pitcher in the modern era, and so he's got more experience, and he'll talk to you about control, overthrowing, throwing a curveball, throwing all that kind of stuff, changeups. "Everything he says ... not all of it is going to apply because we're sort of different types of pitchers, but at the same time, you'll take everything he says and try to apply it to yourself. It's actually really awesome to have him around. When you have a front-office guy or a GM or now a team owner that has the experience and knows what it's really like to be on the field, it gives a whole different level of credibility." Ability. Stability. Presence. Credibility. It makes for a nice dinner on the St. Petersburg waterfront and a nice atmosphere for winning by an organization in the playoffs for the first time in 11 years.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.