Nolan Ryan and the 9 Best Players Turned Front Office Personnel in MLB History
While it is a common occurrence to see former Major League Baseball players transition into on-field coaching or instructional roles after their playing days are through, it is a rarer occasion in which past players move into front office roles at the big league level.
The most high-profile of such cases currently in the game is baseball legend, Nolan Ryan, co-owner and team president of the Texas Rangers. Mr. Ryan, a beloved hurler, baseball legend and Hall of Famer, can be seen nightly, right behind home plate, directly overseeing the on-field performance of the franchise he once played for in the latter stages of his career.
Of course, there are many managers and coaches that boast big league playing experience, but only a handful of former players occupy front office positions within the game. At the moment in the MLB, only three of the 30 general managers around the league are ex-big leaguers: Billy Beane of the Oakland A's, Ruben Amaro Jr. of the Phillies and Kenny Williams of the Chicago White Sox.
It may seem like a low percentage, but when one considers the various aspects of such a role that are far beyond simply knowing the game, it begins to make more sense. While those in instructional roles can clearly benefit from a wealth of playing experience, the facets of front office jobs that have little to do with the actual sport and more to do with business acumen and management expertise preclude many former players from reaching such levels within a franchise.
Along with Nolan Ryan, let's take a look at the 10 greatest former players to eventually transition into front office roles with a Major League Baseball franchise. These will be players that actually held a recognized, well-defined front office role, rather the countless ex-players that have occupied some type of nebulous "special adviser" or "consultant" role, as those are far too frequent and difficult to define to be focused upon here.
A perennial subject of many "why isn't he in the Hall of Fame?" discussions, Ted Simmons was a slugging catcher and part-time first baseman for the Cardinals, Brewers and Braves throughout his 21 seasons as a big leaguer.
Simmons, an eight-time All-Star, was a .285 hitter, slugged 248 home runs and drove in 1,389 RBI. Though he was a slugging catcher, he lacked the defensive ability of his contemporary, Johnny Bench and was subsequently overshadowed by the Cincinnati star.
He had set all-time records for catchers with 2,472 hits and 483 doubles, records which stood for years before being broken by Pudge Rodriguez. Also, his .285 career average is tied with Berra, and is the highest of any catcher to have played since 1950.
Following his retirement from baseball due to a host of injuries, Simmons acted in several capacities at various posts within the game.
From 1989-1991, he re-joined the Cardinals as the Director of Player Development and moved on to the Pirates to serve as their General Manager from 1992-1993, until a heart attack made him abandon the position.
In 2000, he joined the San Diego Padres as their Director of Player Development and Scouting Director, working with them until 2003.
He then served both the Brewers and Padres as a bench coach for a few seasons before once again returning to a front office role, this time serving as a special adviser to the General Manager of the Seattle Mariners for the 2011 season.
Though Joe Torre is now mostly known for his massively-successful run at the helm of the late-1990s juggernaut in the Bronx, his playing career was rather distinguished prior to his involvement in management.
Over 18 seasons, Torre hit .297 with an .817 OPS, as well as a 128-plus adjusted OPS. He amassed 252 home runs and 1,185 RBI, along with 2,342 career hits.
He was a significant star for much of the 1960s, but his contributions were largely overshadowed by his teammate of nine years, Henry Aaron.
Following his playing career, Torre endured 14 seasons of less-than stellar results as manager of the Cardinals, Braves and Mets, with a sojourn as a broadcaster for the Angels intervening in his managerial career.
Upon taking the reigns of George Steinbrenner's Yankees in 1996, Torre experienced immediate success and became a New York legend in the process. Though his prior managerial career had been unremarkable, during his tenure as Yankee manager, his team's won four of five World Series from 1996-2000. They would also appear in two more, in 2001 and 2003, before he would eventually leave the team following the 2007 season to take over as manager of the Dodgers.
After a three year stint in Los Angeles, Torre retired from on-field management and was thought to be done with the game for good at age 70, but the allure of baseball proved too strong.
Prior to the 2011 season, Torre was appointed as the Executive Vice President for Baseball Operations for Major League Baseball, overseeing on-field discipline issues as well as umpiring across the league.
Joe Cronin was truly what may be referred to as a baseball lifer.
A career .301 hitter, Cronin, a seven-time All-Star as a shortstop, never possessed a ton of power, only surpassing 20 home runs once. However, he was an adept run producer throughout his career, driving in 100 or more eight times and totaling 1,424 RBI. His .857 OPS makes him one of the greatest hitting shortstops in baseball history.
Interestingly, while he was putting together a Hall of Fame playing career, Cronin also managed the Senators from 1933-1934, as well as the Red Sox from 1935-1947. As a manager, he tallied a record of 1,236-1,055, proving to be successful both in and out of the dugout.
Following his retirement in 1945, he managed for two more seasons before transitioning into the Boston front office. He became the general manager, and served in that capacity until 1959.
Continuing his trend of constant involvement in baseball, he immediately moved onto his next role in the game, becoming the president of the American League in 1959. Cronin would be the first former player to be elected to such a post within the league. He would occupy that position until 1973, finally retiring from the game after nearly 50 years of continual involvement.
A career-long member of the Detroit Tigers, Hall of Fame second baseman Charlie Gehringer played from 1924-1942.
The 1937 AL MVP was a career .320 hitter, with an .884 OPS, collecting 2,839 career hits and 1,427 RBI over his 19 seasons. He also tallied 1,774 runs scored over the course of his career.
After retiring in 1942, he joined the Navy and served for three years, until the end of WWII.
In 1951, he became the Tigers general manager as well as vice president but served only two years as the team's GM, due to a lack of fondness for the position. Gehringer would stay as the vice president through 1959, before moving on to other business ventures.
Though he was voted to the Hall of Fame in 1956, the other "Hammerin' Hank" remains largely underrated, despite his impressive career totals and two AL MVP awards in 1935 and 1940.
Hank Greenberg, star of 12 seasons with the Detroit Tigers and one last year of his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, was one of the more feared sluggers of his era, equaling anyone who played in the mid-to-late 1930s.
Greenberg slugged 331 home runs with 1,276 RBI, along with an incredible 1.017 career OPS, which stands as the seventh-highest in baseball history.
Also a .313 career hitter, Greenberg's counting stats suffered due to missing an entire year in 1936 because of a broken wrist from a collision. In addition to missing that entire season, Greenberg missed four-and-a-half years due to military service during WWII. Though he would never see combat, he served 45 months and missed a significant portion of his career from 1941-1945.
Following his retirement from the playing field, Greenberg transitioned into management, serving as the farm system director of the Cleveland Indians from 1948-1950, after which he became the team's general manager until 1957.
Two years later, in 1959, Greenberg bought into partial ownership of the Chicago White Sox and served as vice president and general manager of that franchise until 1961.
He was a leading candidate to be the first owner of the franchise that would eventually become the Angels in Los Angeles, but due to various reasons, the plan ran into difficulties and Greenberg eventually declined to participate in the project.
Playing from 1973-1993, George Brett of the Kansas City Royals was one of the greatest overall players of his era, earning All-Star berths 13 times.
In his Hall of Fame career, he collected 3,154 hits, 317 home runs and 1,596 RBI. He was a .305 lifetime hitter, with an OPS of .857.
During the 1980 season, Brett was named the AL MVP, while hitting .390 with 24 home runs, 118 RBI, a stellar 1.118 OPS and 203-plus adjusted OPS.
Brett won the 1985 World Series with the Royals, helping their cause with an ALCS MVP en route to the championship.
Upon his retirement following the 1993 season, Brett progressed into management, being named the Royals' Vice President of Baseball Operations, a title which he still holds to this day.
In addition to his duties with the Royals, Brett is involved in the ownership of numerous minor league franchises.
One of the most-feared pitchers in baseball history, Nolan Ryan has taken his Texas-sized personality and dominance from the mound into the boardroom, headlining the current renaissance in Arlington.
Ryan, along with the now-departed Chuck Greenberg, led a group of investors that took control of the Rangers in August of 2010, possibly rescuing the franchise by purchasing it from the ownership team of Tom Hicks.
His career in a baseball front office was born in 2000, when he started the Round Rock Express franchise, serving as owner of the minor league franchise that is now the Rangers' Triple-A affiliate.
Following his success in that business venture, Ryan was hired by then-Rangers' owner, Hicks, to perform the duties of team president, as well as to be involved in some on-field decision making matters. He immediately began to work to transform Texas into an organization rooted in pitching prowess, something he certainly knows well.
The legendary hurler served under Hicks from 2008 until 2010, when his ownership team assumed control of the Rangers and helped lead them to the first-ever World Series appearance in franchise history.
Nolan Ryan's reputation was forged on the pitching mound, dominating hitters in both leagues over the course of an almost-unfathomable 27-year career. Beginning as a gangly 19-year-old in 1966, Ryan pitched an amazing 5,386 innings, until 1993 when he eventually retired at age 46.
Along the way, Ryan pitched for four franchises, the Mets, Angels, Astros and Rangers, instilling fear in the hearts of thousands of hitters with his intimidating 100 mph fastball and legendary curveball. Utilizing those weapons, a fierce competitiveness and a steely resolve, Ryan established several pitching marks that are unlikely to be approached for decades, if ever.
Perhaps the most untouchable record would be Ryan's 5,714 career strikeouts, which stand over 3,300 more than the closest active pitcher, Javier Vazquez. Let me put that 3,300 margin in perspective for you. Only 11 pitchers over the course of baseball history have amassed at least 3,300 strikeouts in an entire career, and that's how many Nolan Ryan leads the nearest active competitor by.
As well as his insane strikeout total, Ryan also leads all hurlers with a staggering 2,795 bases on balls. Though that's not typically a goal to aim for, it very likely contributed Ryan's utter dominance throughout his career. After all, if you terrified of getting drilled with an errant 100 mph fastball, you're never quite comfortable in the batters' box.
That level of discomfort aided Ryan in his other most remarkable record, his seven career no-hitters. Sandy Koufax is his closest competitor in that category with four. Nolan Ryan cemented his legend in Texas, as he threw a no-hitter in both 1990 and 1991, both while a member of the Rangers. Two no-hitters isn't the most impressive part, but the fact that he accomplished the feat at ages 43 and 44 is truly incredible. In addition to his record seven no-hitters, he also tossed 12 one-hitters, tied with Bob Feller for the most in history.
Though he wasn't on many particularly great teams throughout his career, Ryan amassed 324 career victories, standing at No. 14 all-time.
His 6.5 hits per nine innings leads all MLB hurlers, and his 61 shutouts rank seventh.
Following his 27 seasons of dominance, Ryan reluctantly hung up his spikes at the end of the 1993 season and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1999, earning 98.8 percent of the required votes.
Shortly thereafter, he began his ascent to the upper ranks of the Texas Rangers front office.
Eddie Collins checks in as the earliest member of our player-turned-front office executive.
Playing predominantly in the dead-ball era, Collins compiled a brilliant Hall of Fame career, playing from 1906-1930 with the Philadelphia Athletics and Chicago White Sox. He was the 1914 AL MVP and was a member of the infamous 1919 Black Sox team, although he was never implicated in any wrongdoing.
During his playing days, he was a .333 lifetime hitter, with 3,315 career hits, 1,821 runs scored and 1,300 RBI.
During his last three seasons in Chicago, 1924-1926, Collins served as the team's player/manager.
Following his retirement in 1930, he coached in Philadelphia for two years, before progressing as an executive with the Boston Red Sox.
Collins served a long stint as the Red Sox general manager, retaining the job from 1933-1947. During his tenure, he was responsible for bringing stars such as Jimmie Foxx, Joe Cronin and Lefty Grove to Boston. He is also credited with originally scouting and signing Ted Williams and Bobby Doerr on the lone scouting trip of his career with Boston.
Within the pantheon of baseball greats, "Hammerin' Hank" Aaron is a true legend. Holder of several hallowed Major League records and near the top of almost every leader board one can imagine, Aaron left an indelible impression upon the game he loved.
His 755 career home runs still stands as the all-time record in many minds, his record 2,297 RBI may only come under fire from Alex Rodriguez if his hip holds up for several more seasons and his 6,856 total bases may stand forever as well as his 1,477 extra base hits. A-Rod has an opportunity to potentially catch him in those categories, but it will take a valiant effort from the tainted Yankee slugger.
In addition to Aaron's records that he currently owns, he also is third all-time with 3,771 hits, fourth with 2,174 runs scored and fourth with 2,552 runs created. His 141.6 Wins Above Replacement rank him sixth and fifth among all position players. To say he was an impact player is a severe understatement.
Following his retirement from baseball in 1976, Aaron re-joined the Braves nearly immediately as the director of player development. He was inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame following the required waiting period, in 1982, being enshrined with a 97.8 percent vote.
Several years later, Aaron was awarded an elevation in rank within the front office, when he became senior vice president of the Braves organization in 1989, as well as serving as a special assistant to the president of the team.
Still actively involved with the Braves at age 77, as well as with MLB as a whole, the baseball legend was granted an even greater role in 2007, being tasked with reviving the interest in baseball within the African-American community. He has long been a friend of MLB commissioner Bud Selig and has performed a number of advisory duties over the course of Selig's reign as baseball's chief.
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