From Players to Owners: Now Gwynn Wants a Shot

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.)

Famous as a manager for repositioning his fielders by way of signaling with his lineup card, the Tall Tactician 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 — all but promptly making it a virtual finishing team for the Yankees, especially since Johnson 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 way of 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 color 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!)

Ryan, of course, 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, of course) and as an owner.

Of course, becoming a baseball owner doesn't exactly come without its hazards. When Roger Kahn, author of The Boys of Summer, 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."

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