Please Come Home, Nolan Ryan: All Is Forgiven, For God's Sake

There's not much discussion of the Texas Rangers down in these parts -- except for when they're beating the asses of the Houston Astros, which they seem to do quite often. So Tom Hicks announcing now that he's willing to sell a majority interest in the franchise normally wouldn't generate much interest in Houston.

Normally, that it is. Except when Houston icon Nolan Ryan might be involved.

Ryan is a partner in two successful minor league franchises affiliated with the Houston Astros, the Round Rock Express and the Corpus Christi Hooks. And one of Ryan's partners in these two franchises is Don Sanders, a former minority owner of the Houston Astros under John McMullen. Ryan is also the president of the Texas Rangers, a position he was allowed to assume when Drayton McLane let him out of a management contract Ryan was under with the Astros.

On Wednesday, when Hicks made his announcement, Ryan refused to comment, saying that he had yet to speak with Hicks about the matter. Yesterday, Ryan told the Dallas Morning News that "I think that here in the future we'll see where this goes, and if there's a possibility, I wouldn't rule it out."

Ryan also stated that if he purchased the Rangers, he would so as part of a group because "it's very rare that you find one or two individuals owning them, it's usually a group."  

If a somebody new comes along to purchase the Rangers, they'll find a team that, unlike the Houston Astros, is in good shape talent wise. Ryan has made improving the Rangers pitching staff a priority, and unlike previous Ranger-management types who allowed Hicks to unwisely spend millions of dollars on the likes of Ismael Valdez and Chan-Ho Park, Ryan has worked on building a pitching staff in the minors that is equipped to pitch in the homer haven that is the Rangers home ballpark -- currently, the Rangers pitching staff ranks first in the majors in complete games. The Rangers are also in first place of the American League West, and along with the pitching, Ryan has been stressing that his team learn to play defense.

The Astros are none of those things at the moment. While the Rangers currently have one of the best minor league systems in baseball, the Astros have one of the worst. And while the Rangers currently have one of the best pitching staffs in baseball, the Astros have one of the worst. The Astros defense is atrocious -- witness Miguel Tejada allowing seven unearned runs to score on Monday afternoon. Also, unlike with the Astros, Ryan has installed a strong management team up in Arlington.

Drayton McLane seems to be happy with his management team here in Houston.  He went so far yesterday as to say that Cecil Cooper was not going to be fired, and neither he nor general manager Ed Wade employed the dreaded words "vote of confidence." But one can't help thinking that maybe the Astros would be in better shape today if it was Ryan, and not Tal Smith and Ed Wade were running the club.  

The city was devastated when Nolan Ryan departed the Astros after the 1988 season and joined the Texas Rangers. I can't help but imagine that things would be any better this time around if Ryan were to purchase the Rangers and turn them into a consistent winners while the Astros sank into oblivion of mediocrity. If that was to happen, then I think it's quite possible that John McMullen and Bud Adams will no longer be the most hated sports team owners in Houston history.

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John Royal is a native Houstonian who graduated from the University of Houston and South Texas College of Law. In his day job he is a complex litigation attorney. In his night job he writes about Houston sports for the Houston Press.
Contact: John Royal