It’s a little too soon to say for sure, but Nolan Ryan may have started something. His fellow Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn seems to have a hankering to become a baseball owner. Gwynn is reported to be teaming with film producer Thomas Tull in a bid to buy the San Diego Padres, for whom Gwynn played his entire major league career.
This may come as a slight shock to some fans today, but Ryan and Gwynn aren’t exactly unprecedented for becoming players-turned-owners. Some did better as owners than as players, depending on your point of view about “better”; at least one did better as a pitcher than as an owner when all was said and done:
Charlie Comiskey—A .264-hitting first baseman who scored 994 runs in his major league career, Comiskey is sometimes credited as the first man to play his position behind the base inside the foul line. Comiskey eventually became a player-manager and shepherded the move of the St. Paul Saints to Chicago and membership in the American League in 1900. The Old Roman then became the renamed White Sox’s owner from the league’s inception until his death in 1931. He won five American League pennants and two World Series, but he’s remembered only too much the best for the penuriousness which helped inspire the plot to throw the 1919 World Series.
Connie Mack—Former major league catcher. Became the owner/manager of the Philadelphia Athletics. Presided over two legendary A’s dynasties before retiring as manager in 1950; he remains the only major league manager ever to win consecutive World Series on two separate occasions. (He was also the last major league manager, along with Brooklyn’s Burt Shotton, to manage his team wearing a suit and tie instead of the team uniform, though Shotton sometimes wore a Dodger jacket instead of his suit jacket.) The Tall Tactician—who was famous as a manager for repositioning his fielders by way of signaling with his lineup card—became the team’s co-owner with Ben Shibe after buying out two other partners in 1913, becoming the sole owner in 1937, following the deaths of Shibe and his two sons. He sold the A’s in 1954 when he was near bankruptcy (Mack’s sole income had always been baseball and the A’s), and new owner Arnold Johnson moved the team to Kansas City—and all but promptly made it a virtual finishing team for the Yankees, especially since he was beholden to Yankee co-owner Del Webb for getting to buy the A’s in the first place.
Clark Griffith—A better than serviceable major league pitcher. (He once led the National League with a 1.88 ERA; he was a seven-time 20-game winner, albeit in a time when winning thirty wasn’t unheard-of.) The Old Fox eventually became the owner of the Washington Senators, winning three pennants and an unlikely World Series (in 1924). He may even have thought about integrating major league baseball in the 1940s, his attitudes about race being broken down little by little by his shepherding of the legendary Homestead Grays toward playing their home games in Griffith Stadium when the Senators were on the road.
Branch Rickey—Once a major league catcher (three seasons), and manager (the St. Louis Browns), Rickey actually became a partial owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers (after years of making his reputation running the St. Louis Cardinals and pioneering the farm system) in the 1940s. Until he was bought out by Walter O’Malley in 1950, the Mahatma finished the rebuilding of both Ebbets Field and the Dodger system and, of course, smashed the colour line by signing Jackie Robinson. (He also had his ways of keeping Dodger salaries down when it suited him, of course.) After his Brooklyn buyout, Rickey moved on to become the general manager of the moribund Pittsburgh Pirates, where some of his actions were controversial enough (including and especially his undermining of their lone drawing card, Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner), but others planted several of the seeds that would sprout the Pirates’ 1960 World Series winner. He returned to the Cardinals as a consultant until his death; his behind-the-scenes machinations may or may not have helped compel manager Johnny Keane to plan his resignation after the 1964 season while accepting a backchannel offer from the Yankees to replace incumbent Yogi Berra, whom they planned to dump no matter how 1964 ended up. (It ended up with Keane’s Cardinals playing Berra’s Yankees in a thriller of a World Series, the Cardinals winning in seven, and with both managers out the day after, Berra being executed and Keane shocking Cardinal owner Gussie Busch with his resignation . . . at the press conference where Busch planned to announce Keane’s rehiring!)
Nolan Ryan—Emerged the winner in the bankruptcy auction of the Texas Rangers. The Rangers have been to back-to-back World Series (they haven’t won one yet) since the Express took the helm. Should they win a World Series under his helmsmanship, Ryan would become the first man in major league history to win a World Series ring as a player (he pitched for the 1969 Miracle Mets) and as an owner.
MEANWHILE, BACK IN THE JUNGLE . . .
SAY WHAT? WHAT WAS THAT?—If the second Roger Clemens trial ends up leaving the government looking like chumps, they may have their own star witness to thank for it: it seems that, when the judge allowed the jury to submit questions they would have liked asking chief accuser Brian McNamee, one of the jurors submitted: “Why should we believe you when you have shown too many inconsistencies in your testimonies?” U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton apparently has the rare practise of inviting jurors in trials over which he presides to submit their own questions. Walton did tell the attorneys at the bar during conference that he wouldn’t ask the quoted question: “That’s for [the jury] to decide.” The Associated Press, however, doesn’t have to be that discreet: The sheer fact that there were 29 questions shows a degree of uncertainty about McNamee’s testimony. And McNamee is merely 95 percent or more of the government’s case against Clemens, who’s on trial a second time (the first ended in a mistrial that was declared practically the minute the trial began) for lying to the House Subcommittee for the Delivery of Great Messages to Kids in 2008 when he said he never used human growth hormone or other actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances.
BOILED LANCE—It seems the absolute best-case scenario for Lance Berkman to come back from his torn meniscus (the ACL turned out to be undamaged, though it could still be replaced during surgery) is six to eight weeks . . . if at all. The St. Louis first baseman is preparing himself quietly for the possibility that his career might be over, according to numerous reports. Berkman, one of the heroes of the Cardinals’ improbably World Series conquest last fall, injured himself trying to field a throw covering first base. (He caught it, ending the inning against the Dodgers, then leaned on his knee and went down in a heap.) “To be perfectly honest,” he told reporters Monday, “fearful is the wrong word,but I’m certainly concerned that not just what the injury is but why did it happen? That’s what needs to be addressed. Even if I get this thing fixed, if the joint is not stable, it’s going to happen again. I talked to the doctors today and they said then you can really mess it up if you have the instability and try to go out there and play.” If Berkman is finished, it would be the end of one of baseball’s classier careers of the past ten years or so.
NO KNOCK ON WOOD—You can only admire Kerry Wood for going out the way he went out: not with his last known act winging his glove and cap into the stands in abject frustration, but in going out to the mound once more, ringing up a punchout, then calling it a career after taking a big hug from his young son on the field. You can feel, as quite enough of Cub Country probably does, that Wood’s is a sad story, an outsized talent throttled by injuries and possible overwork once upon a time, but think about this: He went from a heralded if injury-compromised starter to a near-elite reliever. He had a warp fastball and some skittery breaking balls, he developed almost chronic shoulder and elbow issues that kept the talent from reaching its once-supposed destination, and he did the best he could with what his body allowed. And, few loved the game as passionately and deeply as Wood has loved it. He was a tenacious competitor when his body allowed him to be; he was and seems to remain a pleasant man off the field. And he’ll always have the arguable second-most dominant single-game pitching performance (I’d have to say Harvey Haddix’s twelve perfect pull up just ahead) in the history of the Show, not to mention (and he swears this is his favourite) his NLCS bomb in Game Seven, 2003.
BLAST FROM THE PAST—When The Boys of Summer author Roger Kahn decided to dip into the ownership waters by buying a big piece of the Utica Blue Sox (about which Kahn wrote Good Enough to Dream), he dropped the news to Carl Furillo, the great Brooklyn right fielder (nicknamed the Reading Rifle in honour of a strong throwing arm) with whom he struck a friendship while writing the book. “You? An owner?” Furillo cracked. “You’ll be lucky if you don’t have two ulcers by Opening Day.”