- Associated Press - Saturday, October 22, 2011

ARLINGTON, TEXAS (AP) - If Nolan Ryan had his own 2011 baseball card, there wouldn’t be enough space to list all of his roles with the Texas Rangers.

CEO. President. Part owner.

Pitching guru. Consultant for all other baseball matters, on and off the field. Resident Hall of Famer and living legend.

For Game 4 of the World Series, he’ll even catch a ceremonial first pitch.

And yet, despite all those titles, none captures the essence of what Ryan means to the Rangers.

Ryan is the team’s heart and soul. He brought credibility when he arrived as a player 22 years ago, then stability when he returned to run the front office three years ago. Since moving to the top of the organization’s depth chart last summer, all that’s happened is a first-ever trip to the World Series a few months later, followed by a return trip this year. Texas and St. Louis were tied 1-1 going into Game 3 on Saturday night.

Frame his importance one more way: Try naming another baseball team right now that’s as defined by one person as the Rangers are by Nolan Ryan.

“That’s something we needed here for a long time, to have a bit of an organizational identity,” said Michael Young, who has been with Texas since 2000, long enough to become the franchise’s career hits leader. “Nolan is an icon in this state and in this city for what he’s accomplished as a baseball player. Having him at the top of the team is something we’ve all benefited from.”

Ryan’s most important moves may have been those he didn’t make when he arrived as club president.

Rather than sweeping out the incumbent general manager and manager to put in “his people,” Ryan decided to get to know Jon Daniels and Ron Washington. He was impressed by Daniels, the youngest general manager in baseball history, and by Washington, a first-time manager. He and Daniels also decided to stick by Washington after he admitted using cocaine during the All-Star break in 2009, and again when that story was revealed during spring training in 2010.

Daniels already had begun rebuilding the farm system and Ryan helped put his stamp on the way pitchers come through the organization. As the career leader in no-hitters and strikeouts, he knows a little something about pitching; having set another record by pitching for 27 seasons, he also knows plenty about keeping arms and legs fresh.

Cleaning up the business side was more challenging because it included a trip to bankruptcy court and an auction that pitted Ryan and partner Chuck Greenberg against Mark Cuban, the billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks. The Greenberg-Ryan tandem didn’t last, though. Their personalities clashed and the energy billionaires who backed their ownership group were asked to pick only one to stay. Greenberg left the organization during spring training.

The toughest moments of Ryan’s tenure came this summer, when a firefighter taking his young son to a game died while trying to catch a ball tossed to him by the boy’s favorite player, Josh Hamilton. The next day, the 64-year-old Ryan called it “one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen at the ballpark.”

Ryan attended the funeral and became a source of comfort to the grieving family. He kept in touch with the widow and persuaded her to bring her son to the first playoff game _ and for the boy to throw the first pitch to Hamilton. First, Ryan made sure Hamilton, a recovering substance abuser still battling his own personal demons, was OK with it. It turned out to be an emotional, poignant start to the postseason. Ryan also has commissioned a statue of the man and his son to be erected next season, representing all fans. The club also will raise the railings throughout the park to the highest in baseball.

“An organization has so many roots expanding in so many directions,” said Jackie Moore, who’s known Ryan for decades and worked for him with the Astros, on the Ryan-owned Round Rock Express and now as the Rangers‘ bench coach. “Whether it’s the business office or the baseball operations, baseball decisions, to have someone of the status he has, to stabilize everything that goes on, to have that foundation, how can you do better than Nolan Ryan?”

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