For Master of Mound, a New Tight Spot

It has been the perfect life, really, for many of his 61 years. Nolan Ryan had a Hall of Fame pitching career. He was wildly successful in every business venture he touched. He has been married 40 years to his high-school sweetheart, raising three successful kids.

"Really, I couldn't have been happier," Ryan says. "I was very comfortable, and really enjoyed what I was doing. It's just that, well, I wanted a challenge. I love a good challenge.

"And I got one right here. It's just a little more complex than I anticipated."

Ryan, one of the greatest icons in Texas, is putting his impeccable reputation on the line.

Ryan is president of the Texas Rangers, whose club again is in last place in the American League West, with a 7-13 record. The Rangers were embarrassed in a four-game sweep at Boston's Fenway Park and tied with the Detroit Tigers for the worst record in the AL entering their series there Tuesday.

"The way Nolan put it to me," says close friend and former teammate Don Baylor, "'I'm already up to my knees in alligators.'"

Ryan, the first Hall of Famer to become a club president since Christy Mathewson in 1925, inherits a team that has finished last or next to last in the AL West eight consecutive years. They've had one winning season this decade.

For a man who won 324 career games, with a record seven no-hitters and 5,714 strikeouts, it's striking that he's saddled with a franchise defined by pitching ineptitude. The Rangers didn't have a pitcher win more than 10 games or pitch more than 173 innings last year. They've had only two complete-game victories within their division since realignment in 1994.

Ryan had 222 complete games by himself. He threw at least 300 innings twice.

Missed the Game Too Much No wonder President George W. Bush, during a White House luncheon in February, asked Ryan if he knew just what he was getting into.

"Why would you take that job?" Bush, the former Rangers owner, asked Ryan.

Ryan, who relayed the story, told Bush he simply wanted a challenge.

"I guess I didn't realize what a grip this game had on me," Ryan says. "You look so forward to getting away from the pressure of the game, the grind, the schedule and everything else, but when you're away from it, you miss it."

Ryan, baseball's first million-dollar player, realizes the game has changed. Players are averaging nearly $3 million a year. The industry is generating nearly $7 billion. And agents are loathe to let their clients throw 300 innings.

Still, Ryan is determined to change the pitching philosophy in Texas. He would love to confiscate every pitch counter used by coaches. It drives him batty when he watches pitchers being pulled from games because their pitch count hits 110 or 120.

"We have to change this mindset," says Ryan. "Some of the guys have been on a pitch count since Little League. It should be tailored to the individual.

"These pitchers have to realize what their capabilities are, and build up their stamina. I remember it used to be that 300 innings was the benchmark for an ace. If you were a starter, you were expected to pitch at least 250 innings. Now, you may have one guy go 200 innings on your whole staff.

"That's why you see 12, 13 pitchers on every team."

Ryan expressed these sentiments to the Rangers front office and coaching staff. He may be a softy at heart and always a gentleman, but when the boss talks, you better listen.

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