How Nolan Ryan Saved the Texas Rangers

Sam RichmondCorrespondent IApril 23, 2012

ST PETERSBURG, FL - OCTOBER 04:  President and CEO Nolan Ryan and manager Ron Washington of the Texas Rangers celebrate after the Rangers defeat the Tampa Bay Rays 4-3 in Game Four of the American League Division Series at Tropicana Field on October 4, 2011 in St Petersburg, Florida. The Rangers victory sends them to the American League Championship Series.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The 2012 Texas Rangers are an almost unstoppable force.  The team has some of the best hitters in all of baseball in Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler, Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz. They possess some great young starting pitching headlined by Neftali Feliz and Derek Holland, as well as the much-hyped Yu Darvish. The club also has a solid bullpen with the likes of Mike Adams and Joe Nathan.

It's hard to imagine that this talented team, which has made two consecutive World Series appearances and is among the few favorites to reach the promised land in 2012, finished in the cellar of the AL West only five seasons prior.

Flash back to that 2007 season, where the Rangers finished 77-85: The team was owned by billionaire investor Tom Hicks, who had purchased the team in 1998. 

Hick's ownership started out promising, as the team made the postseason in 1998 and 1999, but due to a series of missteps on his part, 1999 would be the last time the Rangers made the playoffs during his ownership. 

In 2008, unhappy with the direction of the franchise, Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan stepped in and was named president shortly before spring training

Ryan inherited a roster built by Hicks with more than its fair share of issues.

Under Hicks,  the team focused primarily on the offensive end and was known for doing so through expensive free agents rather than building talent in the teams' farm system.

Hicks proved that he wasn't in the business of winning but was in the business to grab headlines. That's the only reasoning that can explain his decision to sign then shortstop Alex Rodriguez to a 10-year contract worth $252 million.

Texas Rangers shortstop Alex Rodriguez waits to bat  July 17, 2000 at Tropicana Field, St. Petersburgh, Florida. (Photo by A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images

The deal was not only $63 million dollars richer than any other deal in Major League Baseball history, but it was reportedly at least $50 million dollars more then the second highest bidder for A-Rod's services.

With Ryan running the show, the Rangers, while still maintaining an elite offense, have placed an emphasis on pitching—specifically, pitching talent that was honed in the Rangers' organization. 

The Rangers have developed Holland since drafting him in 2006. And Feliz, as well as fellow starting pitcher Matt Harrison, began their time in the farm system in 2007. 

Rounding out the starting rotation are Darvish and Colby Lewis. The Rangers under Ryan’s watch signed the latter in 2010 on a two-year contract worth $5 million. That turned out to be an excellent signing, as Lewis posted 26 wins with a WHIP around 1.20 over the span of that contract.

That $5 million spent on Lewis is a far cry from the $65 million the Rangers, under Hicks' guidance, gave to Chan Ho Park following the 2001 season. Park would pitch four seasons for the Rangers, never posting an ERA below 5.46.

Some may say the 2012 signing of Japanese pitcher Darvish was reminiscent of the Hicks era; however, it's quite different, considering Darvish has been regarded as possibly the best Japanese pitching prospect. Also, Darvish wasn't signed because an owner desired to make a splash in the headlines, but because it was a move that could potentially push the Rangers over the top.

Ryan has not only saved the team on the field, but off the field as well.

While still primary owner in 2009, reports began to surface that Hicks' holding group Hicks Sports Group was in the midst of serious financial issues.

The problems culminated in the Rangers filing Chapter 11 in May of 2009, with estimated debts of up to $575 million. But Ryan and his partner Chuck Greenberg saved the day, agreeing to buy the team for that amount and to pay back all those the franchise owed money. Greenberg would eventually step down in 2011, leaving Ryan as the CEO and president of the team.

Among the bidders was Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. While Cuban has proven to be a great NBA owner, he wouldn't have brought nearly as much to the table as Ryan has and will be able to do in the future.

Having spent time in a Ranger uniform as a player and having played a significant role in building the team's current roster, Ryan is the perfect individual to lead the club.

The Rangers have started out the 2012 season 13-3, good for the best record in all of MLB.

You can find Ryan in the owners' box at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington smiling, knowing he is responsible.