Rocking chairs don't fit him.
When he was pitching for the California Angels in the late 1970s, general manager Buzzie Bavasi was aghast when he found out that Ryan, during the offseason, actually worked along with the hired hands on his cattle ranch.
"What if he loses a finger?'' Bavasi fumed. Ryan smiled.
"I can't ask people to do what I'm not willing to do,'' Ryan explained.
He always challenges himself to understand the job at hand, prepare to handle it and never be outworked. This is a guy who pitched his last seven years in the big leagues after being diagnosed with a tear in the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow and opting against Tommy John surgery.
And in his 40s, when Ryan was finishing off his career pitching for the Texas Rangers, he would show up at Spring Training ready to throw batting practice the first day in camp and conditioned to throw 100 pitches or five innings in his first game. As a result, early on, he would pitch on back fields, facing hitters from the Minor Leagues, making sure the game innings were saved for guys trying to get ready for Opening Day.
Ryan put together a Hall of Fame career that included a record-setting seven no-hitters, but it wasn't all about him. And it still isn't all about him.
Earlier this spring a reporter asked Ryan who, in light of the loss of Josh Hamilton to free agency, is now the face of the Rangers franchise. Ryan mentioned a handful of players, at which time the writer asked if Ryan thought he could fit that role.
"No,'' he said. "The face of the franchise is somebody in uniform, somebody the fans can see on the field and relate to."
All of that adds up to confusion about what is going on right now with the Rangers. In making what on the surface was a rather mundane announcement last week that Ryan, who had been the team's president and CEO, would remain the team's president and CEO, but that general manager Jon Daniels would become president of baseball operations and chief operating officer Rick George would become president of business operations.
The plan, according to the announcement, is for Daniels and George to handle the day-to-day duties.
Ryan, apparently, will have a lesser involvement. He will become more of a visible figure than an active figure. At the age of 66, some could see this as a way for him to cut back on his workload.
Former Houston owner Drayton McLane wanted Ryan to work for the Astros. He didn't have a particular job. He just wanted Ryan's presence because of what he meant to the franchise, and the fact he grew up in Alvin, just down the road from Houston.
It didn't work.
Ryan wanted to work. He didn't want to be a mascot.
What he did was become president of the Rangers, going to work for former owner Tom Hicks.
Ryan had, after all, been a key figure for the Rangers in the final five years of his career, when he threw the final two of his record no-hitters, earned his 300th win and became the only pitcher in history to strike out 5,000 batters. What's more, his presence created credibility for the franchise and that was a key element in getting voter approval for construction of the stadium the Rangers now call home.
And Ryan returned to be a key figure in the Rangers' survival as a member of the front office. He guided the team through bankruptcy, was a cornerstone of the new ownership group and enjoyed watching the Rangers not only advance to the World Series for the first time ever in 2010 but get there again in 2011.
All the time, he talked about the job that Daniels and his staff had done, deflecting the public attention for the success of the team on the field.
But when the folks in Texas rank you right up there with Earl Campbell, Sam Houston and Davey Crockett among the greatest Texans in history, you wind up on center stage, even if you don't want to be there.
Ryan has declined to speak about the revised front-office structure, other than a statement in the team's press release in which he congratulated Daniels and George.
Daniels' comments have been brief. He said there won't be "a dramatic change.'' He said, "I still report to Nolan.''
But if there isn't a dramatic change, why make the change?
The franchise has made three consecutive trips to the postseason, which is as many as it had made in their previous 49 years combined.
Bob Simpson, a co-chairman of the ownership group, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram this week that Ryan leaving the Rangers "would be a tragedy" and is not something the group wants to happen.
"We absolutely do not want Nolan to leave. The moves we announced were to preserve Nolan, not to remove him, or remove his power," Simpson said. "We want Nolan to be with the Rangers forever and in charge of the team as long as he wants to be."
Such statements, however, haven't quieted the speculation. They have only added to the confusion.
Ryan does have three years remaining on his contract. However, he could walk away from that if in the next few weeks or months he finds the new alignment doesn't fit.
He has been successful outside of baseball, as well as inside, and he isn't going to hang around just for photo ops.
Ryan may be older. He may be wiser. But he still has the drive that made him a Hall of Fame pitcher and allowed him to twice step in and save the Texas franchise.