Nolan Ryan and finding the perfect celebrity owner

J. Meric

Nolan Ryan and Magic Johnson resuscitated the long dormant tradition of celebrity owners. So which celebrity should replace Ryan (and for what team) when he steps down next week?

The Nolan Ryan Era in Texas is over. Again.

The Texas-born Hall of Famer announced last week that he would be resigning his position as Rangers' CEO at the end of October. Ryan also announced that he will sell his stake in the club, which he acquired in 2010. As a former player, Ryan was unique in Major League Baseball's owners' club, a celebrity owner with a built-in fanbase. Since his arrival, the Dodgers have added their own celebrity owner to the mix, renewing an MLB tradition from decades past.

The heyday of baseball's celebrity ownership came in the post-war years, when radio and film stars dominated cultural conversations. One of the biggest stars of the era was Bob Hope, who grew up in Cleveland. In 1946, Hope bought a stake in the Indians and owned it for much of the rest of his long life. A 1963 issue of Sports Illustrated featured the comedian on the cover, dressed in an Indians uniform. In the accompanying article, Hope is described as a "sports nut" who's quick-wittedt around ballplayers.

On another occasion Hope found himself exchanging network banter with Fred Haney, Lou Burdette, Duke Snider and Willie Mays. "Fred," he said to Haney, "you haven't always been in baseball, have you?"

"What do you mean?" asked Haney.

"Well, weren't you with the Pittsburgh Pirates for a couple of years?"

Joining Hope in the celebrity owners' circle was fellow comedian Danny Kaye, a longtime fan of the Dodgers. As Los Angeles pushed toward the 1962 pennant (their 102 wins that season ultimately landed them in second place), Kaye recorded a hit song called "D-O-D-G-E-R-S (Oh really? No, O'Malley!)". In 1977, Kaye became one of the owners of the brand new Seattle Mariners, though he eventually sold in 1981.

In 1978, Kaye and Hope worked together on a two-hour special for NBC celebrating the 75th anniversary of the World Series. Billy Martin, Sandy Koufax, the Muppets and other luminaries guest-starred. The production also included a number of sketches, including a Kaye/Hope number called "Mound Conferences":

DANNY: (approaching the mound) What’s wrong, Dizzy? You just walked six batters, gave up twenty-two hits and you just beaned the owner’s mother.

HOPE: Picky. Picky. Picky.

Kaye's White Christmas partner Bing Crosby was also a longtime co-owner. In 1946, while Hope was investing in the Indians, Crosby purchased a share of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The next year, Hope and Crosby partnered up to purchase a share of the NFL's Los Angeles Rams.

Hope and Crosby were featured in this 1947 short, making small talk about their newest purchases:

Crosby, who died in 1977, was still making news in 2010. It was then that the only known full recording of Game 7 of the 1960 World Series (featuring Bill Mazeroski's famous home run) was found in Crosby's wine cellar.

Things are a bit different today, in that MLB's current crop of celebrity owners are both athletes-turned-businessman. Surprisingly, this particular trend began nearly 15 years ago in the NHL and NBA. In 1999, NHL great Mario Lemieux helped rescue his longtime club, the Pittsburgh Penguins, out of bankruptcy by purchasing the team. The next year, fellow NHL legend Wayne Gretzky took an ownership stake of the Phoenix Coyotes. Also in 2000, NBA great Michael Jordan took his own stake in the Washington Wizards. He is now the majority owner of the NBA's Charlotte Bobcats. Thanks to this series of moves, it never seemed too crazy when Ryan joined the list in 2010 or when NBA great Magic Johnson followed in 2012.

But with Ryan exiting the club, Major League Baseball is in danger of losing its momentum in this crucial category. If that happens, baseball might fall behind the NBA or (gasp) the NHL, and that just can't happen. So if baseball were to get another celebrity owner, who would it be and for which team?

The Red Sox seem an obvious choice. With mega-movie stars Matt Damon and Ben Affleck both well-known Red Sox fans, no one would be surprised if either (or both) decided to throw a little cash at the club to become part of the family. Of course, that seems just a little too obvious, so maybe we should dig a bit deeper.

In Baltimore, people have been talking about the prospect of Cal Ripken joining O's ownership since before he retired. But with Peter Angelos ensconced as Orioles owner for the next three centuries, and with recent talk focusing more on Ripken's managerial prospects, this seems unlikely. Can we get Idris Elba instead? Stringer Bell was named after his part-time job at Camden Yards, right?

The Cardinals are also unlikely to change ownership any time soon, but why should that factor into our hypothetical? As with the Red Sox, the Cardinals have a too-obvious candidate in Jon Hamm, a St. Louis native and baseball fan who has gained an immense level of fame in recent years. However, Hamm's success is still relatively new, which makes it hard to believe he could buy more than the smallest share of his favorite club. Instead, I like to think that fellow-native Scott Bakula would leap at the chance to join the Red Birds, and put right what once went wrong when he agreed to star in Major League: Back to the Minors.

Finally, my favorite candidate for new celebrity owner is for the Milwaukee Brewers. Unlike the others, this pick didn't grow up rooting for the Brewers. In fact, he is a rock star from Detroit and a well-known fan of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Despite that, I don't think anyone will argue that Alice Cooper would fit right in at Miller Park. In fact, I think Milwaukee fans will welcome him wholeheartedly into "The Good Land."

As crazy as these ideas sound, let's not forget that, five years ago, "Rangers owner Nolan Ryan" and "Dodgers owner Magic Johnson" sounded just as crazy. As Ryan and the Rangers split ways one last time, let's hope some other celebrity steps up to fill his void among MLB owners -- for old time's sake.

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