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August 13, 2010

On the Beat

A Legend Takes Over

by John Perrotto

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Nolan Ryan didn't know how to react once he and Chuck Greenberg initially completed the purchase of the Rangers for $582 million from Tom Hicks. A 16-month ordeal that took enough plot twists to fill a suspense novel came to an end when the rest of the Major League Baseball owners approved the Ryan-Greenberg group after it had won the team at auction in bankruptcy court last week in Dallas.

Thus, Ryan, the Hall of Fame pitcher and Rangers team president, struggled to express his feelings about owning the team he played for the final five seasons of his career from 1989-93.

"It's hard to comprehend that it's all behind us," Ryan said of the sale process. "It dominated our lives so much and there were so many twists and turns during the process. It's really hard to sit back, take it all in, realize that we're absolutely through with it and focus on the task we have at hand. As time goes on, we'll get much more comfortable with it. Right now, though, it's just hard to think it's really over."

Rare is the opportunity to buy a franchise that finds itself with the biggest lead of any of the six division leaders in the major leagues. Yet that is the situation that Ryan and Greenberg, the Pittsburgh sports entrepreneur who put together the group of investors that made the winning bid, are stepping into. The Rangers have a 7 ½-game advantage over the Angels in the American League West as they try to reach the postseason for the first time since 1999.

"What kept us going was that we always believed in what the future could hold for the Texas Rangers," Greenberg said. "To be able to move forward now without any distractions and embrace all the great opportunities and momentum that is building both now and for the future is a wonderful feeling."

Now that Ryan and Greenberg, who will serve the Rangers' CEO and managing general partner, have taken over, the question is what kind of changes they might make. While they plan to introduce some marketing initiatives to help increase attendance, the baseball operations will stay intact. After all, it would be folly to fire someone like general manager Jon Daniels or manager Ron Washington when the team is in first place.

Thus, the hottest topic of the moment for Ryan and Greenberg is the summer's heat of Arlington. Though Rangers Ballpark being the hottest venue in the major leagues is certainly as much a breaking news story as the Lindberg baby being kidnapped, it became an issue Wednesday night when the Rangers blew a 6-1 lead and lost 7-6 to the Yankees.

Rangers left-hander Cliff Lee raised the point that it was the hottest game in which he had ever pitched. Considering the Rangers traded four players for Lee on July 9 and have made re-signing the potential free agent their top off-season priority along with extending Washington's contract, his comments made everyone in the Metroplex take notice.

Ryan says he would like to find ways, within financial reason, to make Rangers Ballpark a cooler place for the fans to enjoy the game. "I think a lot of times people have been dealing with the heat all day and don't want to come out to the ballpark and deal with it for three more hours, especially when we're in the midst of a heat wave," he said.

However, Ryan said he sees no reason for the Rangers to do anything that might make conditions cooler for the players. He also shot down the idea of adding a retractable roof to Rangers Ballpark, even if it were an affordable option, which it is not.

"Our players feel like the heat is an advantage for us against visiting teams," Ryan said. "When visiting teams come in here, a lot of them are overwhelmed by the heat."

Greenberg concurred, saying, "I think the whole heat issue has been blown way out of proportion. If you look back, this franchise has drawn 41,000 people to games in the hottest time of the year. If people weren't watching our games, they'd be outside watching their sons and grandsons play football. We want to make The Ballpark more enjoyable for our fans, but the best way to do that is by playing good baseball and being in a pennant race. When you do that, people will come to the games regardless of the weather. The heat issue is talked about a lot more outside the clubhouse than inside the clubhouse. We plan to play baseball here into late October regularly, and I think most players would rather play those games in the warm weather of Texas than in 39 degrees and freezing rain in the North."

---

Ozzie Guillen is the White Sox' manager. However, sometimes it is almost hard to distinguish if his favorite team is the White Sox or their AL Central rival Twins.

The two teams played in a showdown series for first place that ended Thursday night at U.S. Cellular Field with the Twins taking two of three. Yet Guillen couldn't quit talking about his admiration for the Twins and manager Ron Gardenhire, who has been to the postseason in five of the last eight seasons.

"I don't know what is the reason nobody gives them any credit in baseball," Guillen said. "Year after year after year, they are in the pennant race. I don't know why they aren't given enough credit. If someone else smarter than me says that, everyone will listen. When I say something, they are only looking for my bad stuff. I say Ron Gardenhire is the most underrated manager in the game, but Gardenhire has been lucky to manage quality players. For a lot of people, (former Twins outfielder Carlos) Gomez was going to be the next Ricky Henderson, but they shipped Gomez (to the Brewers in a trade) out for a reason. Everyone who goes to play for them, it seems like they play good. They are where they are because they are good. They play the game right and do everything, and it's not a surprise to me what they are."

Guillen used to get a kick out of calling the Twins "piranhas." However, he has dropped that moniker now that their payroll has risen to $97 million with the opening of Target Field this season.

"They aren't small piranhas anymore," Guillen said. "They're making a lot of money there, too. The payroll is pretty high, and they have great players out there."

---

It seemed that Kirk Gibson would be no more than a caretaker when he was promoted to from bench coach to interim manager by the Diamondbacks on July 1 when manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Josh Byrnes were fired. However, Gibson is starting to make a case that he should be considered for the permanent job.

The Diamondbacks are 15-22 since Gibson took over after Hinch led them to a 31-48 mark. The Diamondbacks have been playing much better lately, winning six of their last eight games. They are showing the type of intensity Gibson was famous for during his 17-year career as an outfielder from 1979-95.

"We are playing nine-inning games," center fielder Chris Young said. "We're playing 27 outs. Everybody is playing hard."

---

MLB Rumors & Rumblings: White Sox bench coach Joey Cora is expected to be a strong candidate for the Mariners manager's job after being passed over in favor of Don Wakamatsu during the 2008-09 offseason. … Reds management has had a love-hate relationship with second baseman Brandon Phillips, and it is believed that his controversial remarks about the Cardinals this week could be the impetus for him to be traded in the offseason. … While the Yankees and Angels are expected to get into bidding war for Rays left fielder Carl Crawford when he becomes a free agent in November, the Nationals also plan to make a big run at him.

---

Scouts' take on various major-league players:

Pirates first baseman Jeff Clement: "He's swinging the bat better than before he got sent down to the minor leagues earlier this season, but he is strictly a bench bat, at best. His swing is too long and too slow to play every day and he can't field his position."

Dodgers outfielder Jay Gibbons: "He's swinging the bat pretty well for a guy everyone had left for dead, and for good reason. I wouldn't bet on his for the long term, but right now he's given the Dodgers a lift."

Royals left fielder Alex Gordon: "He's hitting the ball hard consistently for the first time in a long time. He's not going to be a superstar, but I do think he's turning the corner and can be a productive regular."

Yankees center fielder Curtis Granderson: "He looks completely uncomfortable at the plate. He's really jumpy and his swing is long."

Rangers designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero: "He had such a great first half but he looks worn down now. I don't know if it's the Texas heat or old age setting in, but his bat is really sluggish."

Angels designated hitter Hideki Matsui: "I really don't see him being an everyday player next year. He's just not the threat he used to be. He might have to go to spring training on a non-roster deal if he wants to keep playing in the States."

Marlins closer Leo Nunez: "He's fallen in love with changeup and keeps getting beat with it. I don't understand why. He throws 96 mph and can blow people away."

Phillies right-hander Roy Oswalt: "This is going to turn out to be a great pickup for the Phillies. He might not be the same guy he was five years ago, but he's still pretty darn good. If he's not a No. 1 starter now, he is at least still a No. 1.5 starter."

Tigers reliever Ryan Perry: "He's not a finished product yet, but I really think the kid has a chance to turn into a top-flight closer. He's got a dynamite arm."

Rockies right-hander Esmil Rogers: "A lot of people think he is better suited to relief, but there's something there I like. I could see him turning out to be a pretty solid No. 4- type guy in a rotation."

---

Three series to watch with probable pitchers and all times Eastern:

Dodgers (59-56) at Braves (66-48), Friday-Monday August 13-16
Hiroki Kuroda vs. Tim Hudson, 7:35 p.m.; Ted Lilly vs. Derek Lowe, 7:10 p.m.; Vicente Padilla vs. Jair Jurrjens, 1:35 p.m.; Chad Billingsley vs. Tommy Hanson, 7:10 p.m.

Red Sox (66-50) at Rangers (65-48), Friday-Sunday August 13-15
Josh Beckett vs. Tommy Hunter, 8:05 p.m.; Jon Lester vs. Colby Lewis, 8:05 p.m.; Daisuke Matsuzaka vs. C.J. Wilson, 3:05 p.m.

Padres (67-46) at Giants (66-50), Friday-Sunday August 13-15
Clayton Richard vs. Jonathan Sanchez, 10:15 p.m.; Mat Latos vs. Madison Bumgarner, 4:10 p.m.; Wade LeBlanc vs. Tim Lincecum, 4:05 p.m.

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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