(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeAnalysts.)
You don’t mess with Nolan Ryan, at least not in Texas. Today, former Rangers’ managing partner and CEO Chuck Greenberg learned that lesson the hard way.
I have great respect for the Texas Rangers franchise and am enormously proud of all we have accomplished together since August. Unfortunately, Nolan Ryan, the co-chairmen and I have somewhat different styles. While I am disappointed we did not work through our differences, I remain wholeheartedly committed to doing what’s right for the franchise.” – Chuck Greenberg, quoted by MLB.com, March 11, 2011
Less than one year ago, Greenberg was an instrumental figure in the long, drawn out and often messy process that resulted in the sale of the Texas Rangers from the Hicks Sports Group to Rangers Baseball Express. Although Greenberg was the leading figure throughout the initial sale process and subsequent bankruptcy court-ordered auction, the name of the ownership group he put together pretty much said everything about where the future of the franchise was headed.
The initial plan was to have Nolan Ryan (the Express) focus on baseball operations, while Greenberg took care of the business side. At first, that formula seemed to be working well. In the couple of months they ran the team together, Greenberg scored a number of business successes, including a new lucrative cable TV contract, while Ryan oversaw a roster reconstruction that culminated in the franchise’s first trip to the World Series. Soon thereafter, however, it seems as if egos got in the way and the partnership fell apart.
According to an MLB.com report, the first sign of friction occurred when Greenberg injected himself into the team’s pursuit of Cliff Lee. Unhappy with the blurring the lines of their division of power, Ryan reportedly objected to Greenberg’s increased profile on the baseball side of operations, and that dispute resulted in the latter’s resignation.
Greenberg’s decision reportedly comes after weeks of attempted mediation. After that process failed, it seems as if Ryan laid down an ultimatum, thereby forcing the team’s two largest investors, Ray Davis and Bob Simpson, to make a choice. Davis is from Dallas and Simpson is from Ft. Worth. Needless to say, the New Jersey-born Greenberg probably didn’t stand a chance. If there was only going to be room for one sheriff on the Rangers, you can bet it wasn’t going to be the east coast lawyer.
Whether or not he was treated fairly, Yankees’ fans aren’t likely to have sympathy for Greenberg. After all, when he wasn’t criticizing the denizens of Yankee Stadium for being uncivilized, he was exulting in the role he played steering Cliff Lee to Philadelphia. It remains to be seen if those high-profile incidents contributed to Greenberg’s demise, but many in New York will undoubtedly enjoy the karma.
The friction between Ryan and Greenberg really isn’t that unique. In fact, a very similar situation occurred when George M. Steinbrenner purchased the Yankees from CBS back in 1973.
When the Yankees’ sale was made official on January 4, 1973, the AP headline read “Burke Heads Syndicate Buying New York Yankees”. Burke referred to Michael Burke, who served as Yankees President when the team was owned by CBS. At the time of the sale, Burke’s role as matchmaker between Steinbrenner and CBS head William Paley was vital. Some have even argued that Steinbrenner would not have been able to buy the Yankees without his intervention. This claim is supported by a story from Bill Madden’s recent book, “Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball”, in which Paley cited Burke’s continuation with the team as an important consideration of the deal.
“Mr. Paley. I can assure you we wouldn’t want to it any other way…I won’t have much time for baseball, so Mike’ll have to carry the load…He’s Mr. Yankee, and that’s a helluva asset for us”. – George M. Steinbrenner, quoted in “Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball”
Steinbrenner’s endorsement lasted about a week, when much to the surprise of Burke, Gabe Paul was hired to serve in a “major post”. Paul, who had been vice president and General Manager of Steinbrenner’s hometown Cleveland Indians, was literally added to the management team on the day Burke was set to announce the formation of a group over which he would preside. Needless to say, the late addition caught Burke off guard, making for an awkward press conference in which he was at a loss to explain the apparent redundancy.
Not only did the Yankees have Burke serving as CEO and Paul as the new administrative partner in charge of business affairs, but Lee MacPhail was the general manager. With Steinbrenner proving to be a much more active general partner than initially expected, it soon became clear that Burke’s role with the team would be marginal. So, on April 30, Burke announced his resignation from the team. And, to no one’s surprise, Paul assumed most of his duties. By the end of the 1973, MacPhail would also depart, giving Steinbrenner what he had wanted all along: Gabe Paul as his right hand man.
Although there are definitely some differences between the two circumstances, the similarities are still striking. Like Burke, Greenberg acted as an influential point man who facilitated the sale of a team to the ownership group he represented. However, both men were really figureheads, something that became evident soon after the sale. Also, just like the straight-laced Steinbrenner and hippie-leaning Burke had nothing in common, you can just imagine the clashes between Greenberg and his Texan owners. Making each man’s position even more precarious, Burke had to deal with Gabe Paul, a renowned baseball executive who also hailed from Cleveland, while Greenberg had to share power with Ryan, a baseball legend and prominent Texan. When you add up all the circumstances, you can see why both men wound up being forced to promptly resign their position.
So, let this be a lesson to any future limited partners attempting to purchase a baseball team. Make sure your position in the group is on sound financial footing, or, at the very least, try to avoid sharing power with an influential baseball man who hails from the hometown of the principal owner. After all, those who ignore history are usually condemned to repeat it. Just ask Chuck Greenberg.