We’re not Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Instead, we’re 20-Year-Ranger-Fan, sitting in for 40-Year-Ranger-Fan and taking a grateful trip down Memory Lane.
20 years ago today I started a love affair with the Texas Rangers. It was my first time going to a baseball game outside of Baltimore, where I had lived at the time. I was on vacation visiting my dad for a week, which was awesome for me. I always had to share my time with my dad with my sister, this was the first time in a while that I would have extended time alone with my dad.
My dad decided to take us to two games at Arlington Stadium in its final season. The games were against the Toronto Blue Jays and featured some of my favorite all time Rangers, Juan Gonzalez and recent Rangers HOF inductee Ivan Rodriguez. It also had Rafael Palmeiro and Jose Canseco. The great home run days where we had very little pitching.
Before these games my dad and I had attended an Orioles-Rangers game together with my sister in Baltimore, and to my shame I razzed him with the rest of the Orioles fans. This time was different, we were in Texas, the team was Canadian, and it was just my dad and me. I remember laughing at Doug Strange’s name, being 12 years old it was a funny name to me. I remember cheering on Pudge and showing up early to the second game to try and get autographs. I remember that unfortunately the Rangers lost both games that we attended. But what I remember most and treasure the most was being able to spend time with my dad and bond with him.
As I said earlier I didn’t get much alone time with my dad since my parents got divorced and I lived in Maryland and he lived in Texas. But, this one week was special for me, because to me my dad hung the moon and the stars. So the Rangers were a way for me to bond with him, and boy did I. I was able to talk about the Rangers with him. That was all it took to get me hooked as a Rangers fan. I started following them religiously, when I would go to school in the mornings I would grab the paper in the library and look up box scores. I was able to give my O’s fan friends grief when the Rangers won 26-7. Most importantly I had another thing to talk about with my dad when we talked on the phone.
Eventually I moved back down to Texas and was able to go to more games with my dad. I ended up going to college in North Texas and had the ability to watch more games on TV being in the Rangers market. Then after college when I moved away again, but now with the internet I was able to keep up with the Rangers. After the Rangers won the ALCS in 2010 the first person I called was my dad so that we could celebrate together. When I eventually moved back to Texas and to Arlington in 2011, my dad and I went to our first game together since 96 and watched as the Rangers beat the A’s to move closer to clinching the #2 seed in the AL. I was also able to go to Games 4 and 5 of the World Series that year.
Tonight when we tee it off against the Yankees I won’t be at the game, but I will probably be watching it on TV with my fiancée and will raise a toast to my favorite team, but more than this I will probably give my dad a call to thank him for all that he’s done for me and raise a toast to him for being a great dad and sharing this lifelong obsession with me. Thanks Dad.
There are players that have defined just about every era of Texas Rangers baseball, good and bad.
The first team I followed, as the Washington Senators in 1970, were known primarily for Ted Williams managing and Frank Howard hitting.
Following the move to Texas, the first Rangers teams saw the emergence of Toby Harrah, followed by Jim Sundberg and Jeff Burroughs. In ’74 Fergie Jenkins came over from the Cubs and became the Rangers’ first dominant pitcher.
Buddy Bell came along and was the dominant name along with Sundberg for Texas starting in ’79 and going through ’83.
During the early Bobby Valentine years, the names we knew were Charlie Hough, Steve Buechele and Pete Incaviglia. In 1989, Nolan Ryan became the face of the Rangers, where he remained a fixture through 1993.
Gonzalez was the first to leave in 2000. At the end of that year came the next in line, Michael Young.
Young was the second guy in the trade with the Blue Jays that sent Esteban Loaiza to Toronto. Pitcher Darwin Cubillan was supposed to be the main piece. He appeared in all of 13 games in a Rangers uniform, compiling a 10.70 ERA before being sent packing to Montreal.
The second guy in the trade would only go on to play in 1,823 games for the Rangers, the most in club history. He also leaves Texas as the Rangers’ all-time leader in at-bats, runs, hits, doubles, triples and total bases. He was selected to seven All-Star teams, second only to Ivan Rodriguez in club history. He was named the Rangers Player of the Year five times, tying him with Juan Gonzalez for the most in club history.
Here’s the funny thing about Michael Young. He has never been the most important player in the Rangers’ line-up. His first couple of years, he had Palmeiro and Pudge right there with him. After they departed, there was Alex Rodriguez taking up the mantle. When A-Rod left, there was still Mark Teixeira and Hank Blalock. They would then be supplanted by Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz.
All those players who provided the real pop. Yet Michael Young was anointed as the face of the franchise. Part of that is certainly due to longevity and continuity. Through all the changes, Young was a constant. But it was more than that. Every manager he’s ever played for has admired his work ethic, his professionalism. Ron Washington admits the running of the Texas clubhouse was a job he ceded to Michael Young.
The past few years he had major detractors, mainly because he twice demanded a trade. He volunteered to move to shortstop. He didn’t volunteer to be the third baseman. Two years after that he didn’t volunteer to become the DH/super utility guy. His relationship with General Manager Jon Daniels was strained, virtually non-existent at the end. Once he put on the uniform, though, Michael Young was all business. In the clubhouse and on the field, he didn’t complain about his role. Once the season began, he did his job to the best of his ability. Could I do that if I was asked to take a role I didn’t want? I seriously doubt it.
Young had a farewell press conference yesterday. He said in retrospect, he should have been more accepting of his move to third base but doesn’t regret anything about his displeasure in moving to DH. He looks at the move to Philadelphia as a new challenge and that he loves new challenges.
My guess is he will have a rebound year as the Phillies third baseman. He won’t be great defensively, but he’ll get his average back towards the .300 mark and he’ll hit for more power than he did in 2012. I’m also willing to bet Charlie Manuel and every Phillies player to a man will, by the end of the season, say he has made a positive difference in their club’s fortunes, no matter what his WAR might indicate.
I also predict that after his playing career is over and Jon Daniels has moved on to his next opportunity, Michael Young will return to the Rangers, be it in the front office, as a coach or even Rangers manager. And when that day comes, even his detractors will welcome him back with open arms.
I’m looking forward to seeing the development of Jurickson Profar, Leonys Martin and Mike Olt over the next few years. Maybe they’ll be the ones who finally deliver that long sought after World Championship. If they do, I’ll be ecstatic. I’ll also think about Michael Young and wish he was there to see the dream come to fruition.
- Losing Face (40yearrangerfan.mlblogs.com)
June 20, 1991. I was getting ready to watch another Rangers game on TV, this one a road contest against the Chicago White Sox. It was the first full year of the Bobby Valentine era.
Rangers fans had some hope in 1991. Nolan Ryan was heading the rotation. Jose Guzman was having a good year and Kevin Brown was coming off back to back 12-win seasons. The offense was shaping up as one of the more prolific ones the Rangers had ever had, with Juan Gonzalez in his first full season as a Ranger, teaming up with veterans Rafael Palmeiro, Julio Franco and Ruben Sierra.
Overall, the Rangers were doing OK. They were in third place in the West at 33-27, but only four games off the lead. They did have a weakness, though, at catcher. The names Geno Petralli, Mike Stanley, Chad Kreuter and Mark Parent weren’t making anyone forget Jim Sundberg, the best catcher in Rangers history.
It was on June 20th, 1991 the Rangers decided to make a change. They called up a 19-year-old catcher and announced he would be in the starting line-up against the White Sox that game. This youngster, who had just gotten married in celebration of the call-up, was a kid named Ivan Rodriguez.
I had no idea who this kid was. I was a Texas Rangers fan, but I’d never paid real close attention to what was going on in the Rangers minor league system. The TV announcers at the time (Merle Harmon and Norm Hitzges maybe?) said Rodriguez, like Juan Gonzalez and Ruben Sierra, was part of the Rangers new pipeline of talent from Puerto Rico. That was the extent of my knowledge.
What I did know was it was a pretty decent pitching match-up: Kevin Brown for the Rangers vs. Black Jack McDowell for the White Sox. For awhile, it was a pitcher’s duel. Through six innings, the Rangers were nursing a 1-0 lead. Rodriguez flied out and grounded out in his first two at bats.
More importantly, Rangers fans saw something in the top of the 5th inning. With one out, Joey Cora was hit by a Kevin Brown pitch. Cora decided to try to steal second two pitches later. Cora failed. Rodriguez fired a perfect strike to second to nail him, keeping the Rangers on top, 1-0.
Texas would up the lead to 2-0 in the top of the 7th on a Juan Gonzalez home run, but Brown ran out of gas in the bottom of the inning. The Chisox tallied three runs to go up 3-2.
In the 8th, Chicago got a 1-out single from Warren Newson. Looking for an insurance run, Newson took off on the next pitch. Another perfect throw from Rodriguez to second. Newson was out. The kid was 2-2 throwing out runners in his major league debut and looked to have a cannon for an arm.
Top of the 9th, White Sox still up 3-2. Bobby Thigpen walked Rafael Palmeiro, then gave up back to back bombs to Ruben Sierra and Julio Franco to put Texas up 5-3. Two outs later, with runners on 2nd and 3rd, the rookie stepped to the plate and hit a single on a 2-1 pitch to plate the final two runs of the game.
1-4 with 2 RBI and two runners caught stealing. That was the first time I saw Ivan Rodriguez play. 21 years later, Pudge will be honored today at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington and throw out the first pitch in his official retirement ceremony. Sometime in the near future, his #7 is bound to be retired (sorry, David Murphy).
Nolan Ryan was the first man to enter baseball’s Hall of Fame wearing a Rangers uniform, but much of his glory came before he even donned a Rangers uniform. Five or six years from now, Pudge Rodriguez will become the second man to wear a Rangers uniform to the Hall, but he’ll be the first to do so after coming through the Rangers system first before entering the Rangers dugout.
Pudge spent the first 12 years of his career with the Rangers and had a brief stint at the end of the 2009 season. With Texas he had a career .304 average with 217 Home Runs, 842 RBI, 81 steals, an MVP Award in 1999, 10 of his 13 career Gold Gloves, six of his seven Silver Slugger Awards, ten of his 14 All-Star Games berths and for his career caught 46% of all runners who tried to steal on him. That stat doesn’t even cover the number of runners he picked off first before they even had a chance to steal. He is baseball’s all-time leader in games caught.
Tonight he receives the first official thanks for a job well done. The next official one will be in Cooperstown.
Thanks for the memories, Pudge.
After a well-earned rest consisting of being sick as a dog for about a week, your humble scribe feels human again and finally able to write down a coherent thought or two to open 2012.
Spirit of 76:
Having not checked on such things lately, I only recently discovered this blog made MLBlogs Top 100 blogs for 2011. Among the “amateurs”, World Series 41, Rangers Fan 1 ranked 76 on the Hot 100 and thus worthy of allowing me to add the nifty little image you see on the right of this column. Of course, this blog wouldn’t be anywhere if there weren’t readers out there stopping by for a visit, so it is with humble thanks to each and every one of you that I proudly post the “Top 100″ image on this blog. Seriously, without your views and comments, I probably would have given up the ghost of this column long ago, but I promise to continue writing as long as you continue reading. Thanks again. This brings me to the next topic…
The Name Of The Blog
I’ve already received a couple of public comments asking whether this space will be renamed yet again. As most of you are aware, the original name of this blog was “World Series 40, Rangers Fan 0.” It was renamed when my beloved Rangers made the World Series for the first time. Now, if I were to continue on in the same vein, the 2012 name for the blog should rightly be “World Series 42, Rangers Fan 2.” Somehow, though, I feel like back to back World Series appearances have rendered the title less amusing than its original intent. Therefore, keep coming back to this space, as a new, and probably more permanent name will be unveiled. I’ve tossed a few ideas around in my mind, though none of them seem quite catchy enough. I’d gladly entertain suggestions from my readership as well, so feel free to pass along ideas in the comments section!
The Hall of Fame Vote
The Hall of Fame Class of 2012 was announced today and Barry Larkin of the Cincinnati Reds was the only player named on this year’s ballot. This being a Rangers-centric blog, I bring the HOF vote up to show how the Rangers came out on this year’s ballot. Rafael Palmeiro was the highest ranking Ranger on the ballot, still finishing far off the pace with 12.6% of the vote in his second year of eligibility. Juan Gonzalez, in his second year of eligibility, couldn’t muster the minimum 5% to stay on the ballot, getting only 4%, while Ruben Sierra didn’t even manage to garner one vote from the Baseball Writers Association of America. Palmeiro and Gonzalez are both hurt by the steroids issue. Juan Gone was hurt even more by the fact he was constantly hurt. Despite being a 2-time MVP, Gonzalez spent much of the latter part of his career on the DL. Juan was front and center on the steroids issue, though, having made an appearance in the infamous Mitchell Report, so even had he had a few more healthy years he probably would have had a hard time getting into the Hall.
Palmeiro is another case. Raffy probably will never make the Hall, simply because he was so insistent he had never crossed the line when speaking to a Congressional hearing on steroids, then getting busted for a positive result mere months later and getting suspended for 50 games. Was it the first time Palmeiro had used steroids? Even if it was, there’s direct evidence he would use something to give him an extra edge. Does anyone besides me remember the TV ad he did for Viagra when it first came out? While I don’t know if Viagra has been added to MLB’s list of banned substances, I do know it was listed as being a drug of concern to MLB. I loved Raffy when he was with the Rangers and it kills me to see him wrapped up in all the controversy. Still, I can’t support his case for the Hall of Fame because of it.
As for Sierra, he was a once promising player whose fortunes fell rather quickly after a few good years. There was never any strong case to be made for Sierra to make the Hall.
The next Ranger to enter the Hall of Fame? Without a doubt, it will be Ivan Rodriguez the first year he’s eligible. That won’t be for at least another five years.
It took about four years to get from being aware of major league baseball to becoming a full-fledged team fan. My first major league game was a Senators game. I got free tickets to a game for doing a backyard carnival for Muscular Dystrophy. In junior high, we got to catch one of the Red Sox-Cardinals World Series games in ’67. Fanhood, however, didn’t kick in until 1971.
I still remember being a freshman in high school in 1971, bringing my transistor radio to school with an earpiece. We were having a school assembly that day- for what I don’t remember- and I was ready for the season opener. Back then, there were two traditional opening day games. The Cincinnati Reds home opener and the Washington Senators home opener were the two. Living in Maryland, I could pick up the Senators home opener on my radio, so I decided to try to listen to the game without getting caught during the assembly. I succeeded.
If you lived in Maryland, especially in 1971, you were an Orioles fan. The Birds had lost the ’69 Series to the Mets, beat the Reds in ’70 and were loaded to repeat in ’71. About the only thing the Senators had going for them was Ted Williams as their manager (they were 70-92 in 1970). While not new to the game of baseball, 1969 was my first year of starting to become a fan of a team. I pulled for the Mets in the ’69 Series because I loved their story of rags to riches (this didn’t make me popular among my Oriole fan friends) and I pulled for the Birds in ’70, but I really wasn’t a fan of any team.
I probably would have remained that way for a while longer, except for two fateful turns. First, my eighth grade year, in 1970, I had gotten my first paper route, delivering the Washington Post. This put me in direct contact with regular news about the Senators. Second, I took that transistor radio to school that day to listen to the traditional opener. And what an opener it was. I remember few details about the game, but I do remember the result: The Senators were playing the A’s, who were expected to be one of the best in the American League, and Dick Bosman threw a gem for the Nats, an 8-0 shutout.
The 1971 Senators team was full of hope. They had traded for former 30-game winner Denny McLain from the Detroit Tigers. They also had acquired Curt Flood to play the outfield. I knew nothing of the finances of the game and the players at the time, but I knew they were two very good players. When the Senators not only beat the A’s, they trounced them, a fan was born.
I began telling all my Oriole friends about the Senators, trying to sway them. And oh, did I enjoy the start of that season. While Curt Flood had not hit a lot yet, coming off a self-imposed exile in which he was protesting the fact that he could not become a free agent, his presence was felt in the Nats line-up.
The Senators would follow their defeat of the A’s with a loss to the Orioles and a 4-game split with the Yankees. After losing two of three to the Red Sox, they went on to win two of three from the Indians, swept a two-game set from the Yankees, took two of three from the Brewers and another two of three from the Twins. After 20 games, “my” team was sitting at 12-8 and things were looking good.
And then it ended.
Sitting at 12-8, Curt Flood suddenly decided to retire. I don’t recall if he decided he didn’t have the skills any more or the interest. Regardless, he left the team, and in one fell swoop, the team totally deflated. The Senators lost 18 of their next 21 games to fall to 15-26 and things never got better. They ended the 1971 season at 63-96. Owner Robert Short announced he was moving the team to Dallas after the season. In the last game of the season, leading the Yankees 7-5 in the 9th inning, fans stormed the field before the end of the game, leading to their last game in Washington being a forfeit.
I should have known better. I should have taken it as an omen and moved my allegiance to the Orioles, who I had great respect for. But I was then, and still am, a very stubborn individual, so I stayed true to my Senators, now known as the Texas Rangers.
I have stayed loyal through nearly 40 years of fanhood, delighting in the accomplishments of stars like Frank Howard, Mike Epstein, Jeff Burroughs, Toby Harrah, Ruben Sierra, Jim Sundberg, Juan Gonzalez, Ivan Rodriguez and Rafael Palmeiro as well as lesser known players like Joe Foy, Del Unser, Darold Knowles, Pete O’Brien and Kevin Elster. I have witnessed home-grown Senators and Rangers become stars for other teams: from Adrian Gonzalez and Sammy Sosa in recent years back to Eddie Brinkman and Aurelio Rodriguez in the early 70’s (they went to Detroit in the Denny McLain deal). I even moved to Texas in 1983 (not because of the Rangers) and have stayed a Lone Star State resident and a closer follower of “my” team ever since.
In 40 years of being a Senators/Rangers fan, I think I have witnessed winning records maybe ten times at best (I don’t have the heart to do the research to find out the actual figure). There was one delightful four year stretch in which the Rangers went to the playoffs three times, only to stomp on my heart again by losing nine of ten playoff games, all to the Yankees. I remember Billy Martin’s first year as manager when the Rangers came oh so close. I remember the year the Rangers fired their manager, hired a new one who managed one game and then quit, forcing them to hire their third manager of the season.
So now we come to 2010 and I am starting this blog, hoping this is the year the futility ends. I write this as a fan- not a fan who’s a whiz at strategy or sabermetrics, just one who has loved his Rangers/Senators through thick and thin for a LOOONNNGGG time with only one playoff win to show for it.
So no more history except for today’s history. Let the 2010 season begin. And let it end with at the very least a wild card berth, at most the first title in franchise history!
Tomorrow: Hopes and Fears for the 2010 Season