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.
I am sick to death of everything associated with performance enhancing drugs. I’m sick of hearing about PED’s, I’m sick of hearing about athletes who are using PED’s, I wish it would go away and never tarnish the sports pages of my favorite newspaper again.
I have always taken a more nuanced approach to the whole steroids and the Hall of Fame issue. I think Barry Bonds should be in the Hall of Fame, not only because he was putting up Hall of Fame caliber numbers before his association with BALCO and steroids, but also because at the time of his use, they were not out and out banned by Major League Baseball. They may have been illegal substances as far as the government is concerned, but not according to baseball.
You want to keep players out of the Hall who were caught using after bans were put into place by MLB, then be my guest. You get no argument from me.
So now there’s an article written in a Miami newspaper. A lengthy article. Seven pages on-line long. An article that apparently shows the BALCO days still aren’t behind us. BALCO has just been replaced by the “Anti-Aging Clinic”. In particular, one of these clinics seemed to have a lengthy list of clients, including Bartolo Colon and Melky Cabrera, who were both suspended in 2012; Alex Rodriguez, who admitted juicing when he played with the Rangers, but has insisted he has been clean as a whistle ever since; and Nelson Cruz of the Texas Rangers.
(Snarky comment) Nellie, if this is true, I’m afraid the PED’s you used last year didn’t enhance your performance at all. Your home runs, slugging percentage and OPS were down from 2011 and your strikeouts were way up. (End snarky comment)
This article appears to be well researched and the odds are pretty good based on what I read that the Rangers are now looking at the distinct possibility of going without Cruz for the first two months of the 2013 season. Considering how much power the Rangers lost in the line-up due to the departures of Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli, this is going to make the Rangers offense look completely different than in years past.
Baseball players aren’t choirboys, we all know that. Thanks to the money that can be made by players, it’s no surprise that many are willing to cross a line in order to aid their personal bottom lines. It’s not good human nature, but it is very human and visible in all walks of life: from business people who gain in their careers even when it comes at the expense of the very customers they’re supposed to serve; stockbrokers who gain an edge from insider trading; educators who learn how to rig test results so it enhances the funding for their schools; police officers who manufacture evidence to pad their arrest stats. Every profession has cheats associated with it.
For me, this is the first time the cheating has affected my team in the present day. There have been plenty of Rangers tainted by the cloud of steroid use: among them Juan Gonzalez, Jose Canseco, A-Rod and Rafael Palmeiro. They all were “outed” AFTER the fact. This is today. The 2013 season. Nellie Cruz. Hypocrite I may be, but despite the nuance I have in the PED argument, it hurts that a player from MY team apparently has chosen to cross that line and affect his team’s chances due to his own selfishness.
Juan Gone, A-Rod, Canseco and Raffy using steroids didn’t affect the way I felt about them because they always struck me as the type of guys that would do something like that. Nellie has never struck me that way. I probably have more affection for Nelson Cruz than I had for any of those other four. He plays with joy. He was instrumental in starting the whole “Claw and Antlers” thing in 2010. Now I’ll never look at Nelson Cruz the same way. If he gets a suspension, which would not surprise me at all, what will my reaction be after he serves his suspension? Will I immediately forgive him and move on or will I have an instant suspicion as soon as he hits his first home run of the season? I honestly don’t know.
In honor of Joe Shlabotnik, Charlie Brown’s favorite player in the Peanuts comic strip, here is the latest player in Rangers history who we rooted for even when things didn’t work out.
Here’s the Shlabotnik Non-Star mentioned most often in my blog posts, almost always as a point of comparison to the latest Rich Harden outing.
Bobby Witt grew up in the backyard of the Washington Senators in Arlington, Virginia. Maybe it was that connection that kept Bobby from signing with the Cincinnati Reds when they drafted him out of high school in 1982. Regardless, he decided to go to the University of Oklahoma instead, where the Rangers made him their first round draft choice (and #3 pick overall) in 1985.
Bobby’s first year in the minors was with AA Tulsa in 1985, where he went 0-6 with a 6.43 ERA. This was the beginning of the Bobby Valentine era in Arlington. In 1986, Valentine decided it was time to start over from scratch and it really showed in the pitching staff. Despite a minor league career that comprised only 11 games and no wins, Bobby Witt made it to the Rangers in 1986, joining a starting staff that comprised one veteran (Charlie Hough) with four rookies (Witt, Kevin Brown, Edwin Correa and Jose Guzman).
The first four years of his career saw Witt lead the American League three times- in walks. He also led the league twice- in wild pitches. And he led the league once- in earned runs allowed. Needless to say watching Bobby Witt was an adventure, and that’s without even considering the games Witt started that Mitch Williams then came in to pitch. Yeesh!
Despite these adventures in pitching, Witt actually managed a winning record in 1986, going 11-9 with a 5.48 ERA during the Rangers surprise run to an 87-75 finish. Mostly, though, Witt was the consummate .500 pitcher, plus or minus a win throughout most of his Rangers career. He followed up his 11-9 with 8-10 records in ’87 and ’88 and 12-13 in 1989.
“Promise” is the word most used about Witt in these early years. You got the feeling that one day Witt, as with all the young Rangers, would figure it out, put it all together and propel the Rangers to greatness. In 1990, Rangers fans thought that had finally happened with Bobby Witt.
The season started out in typical Witt fashion. A good game here, a couple of bad games there, control issues just about every game. By the time June was almost at a close, Bobby sat at 3-8 on the year with a 4.97 ERA. On June 28th, Witt faced the Twins in the Kingdome, allowing one run in seven innings in picking up the win. He followed it up with a complete game win over the Orioles. After a no decision against the Red Sox, Witt then ripped off seven wins in seven starts with three complete games and four double digit strikeout games. From June 28th through the end of the season, Witt went 14-2 with a 2.40 ERA and a 12-game winning streak. Singlehandedly, Bobby Witt kept the Rangers in the AL West race, though they would end the season just four games over .500 at 83-79.
Bobby Witt ended the 1990 season with a 17-10 record and a career low 3.36 ERA. The sky was now the limit for the righthander with “promise”.
1990 turned out to be a tease. It was by far Witt’s best season in the majors and he never came close to the dominance he showed that year. In 1991, Witt went 3-7 with a 6.09 ERA. In 1992 he was 9-13 with a 4.46 ERA. The Rangers were out of the pennant race at 65-69, Bobby Valentine had been fired, Ruben Sierra was unhappy and had regressed. The division rival A’s were in the pennant race, however, so Texas made a bold move. The Rangers sent Witt packing to the Oakland A’s, along with Jeff Russell and Ruben Sierra, in exchange for Jose Canseco.
Witt spent the rest of the ’92 season, along with 1993 and 1994, with Oakland where he pitched like, well, Bobby Witt, going a combined 23-24 with an ERA in the upper 4’s. Witt signed as a free agent with the Florida Marlins. In 19 starts, Witt was 2-7 with a reasonable (for him) 3.90 ERA when the Marlins traded him back to Texas for Wilson Heredia and Scott Podsednik (bet many of you didn’t know he was originally in the Rangers organization). Down the stretch Witt was 3-4.
1996 was the year of the Rangers’ first division title and trip to the playoffs. You could say Bobby Witt was a major factor in that success. He did go 16-12 on the year but that’s as much a testament to the Rangers offense, which now featured the killer trio of Palmeiro, Rodriguez and Gonzalez. Witt’s ERA was a robust 5.41 for the division winners. Witt’s only playoff appearance for the Rangers was in ’96 when he gave up three runs in 3 1/3 innings against the Yankees.
Bobby followed up the ’96 campaign with a 12-12/ 4.82 ERA mark in 1997. After resigning with the Rangers for 1998, he was 5-4 with a nasty 7.66 ERA when the Rangers sent him to the St. Louis Cardinals. He would never pitch for the Rangers again. Witt finished his career going 7-15 for Tampa Bay in 1999, 0-1 for Cleveland in 2000 and 4-1 for Arizona in 2001. Astonishingly enough, Witt got a World Series championship ring in his final year in the majors, throwing one shutout inning for the Diamondbacks against the Yankees.
Bobby Witt ended his career with a 142-157 record and a career ERA of 4.83. For his Rangers career, Witt was 104-104, 4.85.
Other career highlights: With Oakland, Witt had a one-hitter that would have been a no-hitter were it not for a blown call in the 6th inning. He is also the first American League pitcher to have hit a home run since 1972 when he hit one in interleague play against the LA Dodgers in 1997 while a member of the Rangers.