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.
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.
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.
So I have been given the weighty task of carrying on in my father’s footsteps for the next couple of days. As such I felt that as 40 Year Ranger Fan had done, I should share a little about my history of being a Rangers fan.