Now he wants to apply that patience to the Astros' turnaround effort and, through his presence, perhaps help speed it along. The Hall of Fame pitcher, who was brought in as an executive advisor on Feb. 11, arrived at camp for a 10-day visit on Tuesday and took in Wednesday afternoon's game against the Nationals at Osceola County Stadium.
The Rangers didn't endure anything like the Astros' three consecutive 100-loss seasons, and they probably had more talent at the Major League level, but Ryan sees similarities between Texas' buildup to contention and Houston's current situation.
"I think today the Astros are probably positioned very much like the Rangers were in '08 when I went over there, because there were a lot of talented kids in the Minor League system, and those kids were within a year or two years of coming to the big leagues," said Ryan, who was named the Rangers' team president in February 2008. "So I think that's probably about where the Astros' farm system is."
As for the role the 67-year-old Ryan will play in Houston's efforts, he said it won't be strictly defined, at least initially. Right now he is in the process of learning about the organization. He plans to make himself available to whomever might need him, then see where things go.
"Once everybody develops a comfort level, then people will have a better feel for what they want me to do or where they feel I might be able to make the most contributions," said Ryan, who grew up just south of Houston, in Alvin, played nine of his 27 seasons for the Astros and served as an advisor to former owner Drayton McLane from 2004 to 2008.
General manager Jeff Luhnow believes Ryan will be able to "share a lot of wisdom" with both the players and staff.
"I think it's going to be defined over the course of the next few months, based on his areas of interest and based on our areas of need," Luhnow said. "Certainly, the obvious starting point from the baseball operations side is pitching. We've got a lot of talented young men here, and he can mentor some of them, guide some of them."
The Astros already have Roger Clemens contributing as a special assistant to the GM, so the addition of Ryan gives them the expertise of two of the top three strikeout pitchers of all time. Luhnow believes that lessons from Ryan and his record 5,714 K's will resonate with the organization's young pitchers in a different way from the ones they hear every day.
Beyond that, Ryan could lend his insight to roster decisions and the construction of the Major League and Minor League teams, as well as the First-Year Player Draft. Even before he joined the Astros, he frequently gave advice to Reid Ryan, his oldest son and Houston's president of business operations since last May.
While he's in Kissimmee, Ryan will watch games when the big league team is in town and spend time at Minor League camp when it goes on the road. During the regular season, he expects to be at Minute Maid Park for parts of most homestands, although that is up in the air.
However much he is around, the Astros are glad to have him.
"You're looking at a person that has accomplished pretty much everything there is to accomplish in baseball," manager Bo Porter said. "For us to have that resource afforded to us, I think it's an absolute privilege."