Nolan Ryan stood on the dirt behind the on-deck circle after a Thursday exhibition game at Surprise Stadium, politely signing autographs. The line of fans interested in having him sign a T-shirt, photo, bat or program ran all the way to the top of the stands, and then snaked around toward home plate.
Ryan, clad in khakis, red polo shirt and cap, seemed in no hurry to walk down the right-field line and into his office at the Rangers' spring training complex. It was exactly the kind of Rockwellian scene Commissioner Bud Selig must have envisioned when he enthusiastically welcomed Ryan into the fraternity of Major League Baseball owners last August, after he and partner Chuck Greenberg, who owns the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, won a bankruptcy auction in which their competition was media/NBA billionaire Mark Cuban.
But this isn't an era of peace for baseball ownership.
So a few hours after making small talk with fans, Ryan and the deep-pockets guys in the Rangers' ownership group put the finishing touches on buying out Greenberg, who may have enjoyed the wildest ride of any owner in history.
Greenberg, with his successful background in running minor-league franchises, was supposed to bring stability to a troubled franchise that Tom Hicks had crippled financially. But he somehow wore out his welcome with Ryan and the team's heaviest backers even before the American League pennant could be unfurled at Rangers Ballpark.
The Rangers join the Mets, Dodgers, Astros, Orioles, Athletics and Rays in having either serious ownership or stadium issues. And the Yankees again have a saber-rattling Steinbrenner (Hank) to keep things interesting at the start of what are anticipated to be perfunctory negotiations on a labor contract.
Selig has said he finally will retire when his contract ends at the end of the 2012 season. But with no heir apparent in place, and fires breaking out all over the once-tranquil landscape, will he really be able to walk away?
Nothing's more crucial than having a New York franchise with a new stadium somehow on life support. That's the situation for the Mets, with the Wilpon family so strapped and under financial attack for ties to Bernie Madoff that the franchise has needed loans to operate and seems headed for a fire sale that could leave it in need of another miracle. Donald Trump is one possible savior.
The McCourt divorce has been an embarrassing chapter for the Dodgers. But there are buyers for them, although the appeal process on the high-stakes divorce could leave the team in limbo for at least another two years.
Drayton McLane Jr., who has been a very good owner for two decades with the Astros, has decided he would like to cash in but - based on his asking price - just might be bluffing. Peter Angelos stubbornly is clinging to an Orioles team that could have Cal Ripken Jr. involved in the style of the Rangers' Ryan.
The A's Lew Wolff and Rays' Stuart Sternberg have been unsuccessful in solving the stadium issues that limit the growth of their franchises. The Rays' outlook is surprisingly bleak, as Sternberg and general manager Andrew Friedman have done wonders with the organization yet haven't attracted enough fans to Tropicana Field to allow them to retain their homegrown stars, like Carl Crawford.
It should be no surprise that Ryan is assuming Greenberg's CEO responsibilities for the Rangers. He's a hands-on executive. When he gets involved with something he wants control.
He has it now. Selig must hope he has no problem holding it.
One reason the Rangers are looking to move Michael Young for starting pitching is Neftali Feliz apparently is headed back to the closer's role. Mark Lowe, who had been billed as a possible stopper, didn't help his cause Thursday when he walked the leadoff man with a two-run lead in the ninth. Feliz would welcome a return to the role he filled well enough to win Rookie of the Year. . . . Jon Garland's injury is a blow for the Dodgers, whose key is the depth of their five-man rotation. ... The Angels are hoping to get first baseman Kendrys Morales on the field March 20. That's right - Kendrys. He says his first name has been misspelled since he defected from Cuba. . . . Jack Wilson, who has been exclusively at shortstop in his 1,202 starts, is getting a long look at second base from the Mariners, who added Brendan Ryan from the Cardinals. The Mariners are awaiting a midseason arrival by second-base prospect Dustin Ackley, MVP of the Arizona Fall League.