Damned Rangers

The Texas Rangers better win the pennant this year, if only to atone for subjecting fans to two decades of baseball hell. Mike Shropshire chronicles the team's cursed early years in an exclusive Observer excerpt.

Contrary to the general public assumption, though, the baseball players of that era couldn't really qualify as big dopers. The extent of their participation in the mind-alteration league certainly ranked as feeble when compared to their brethren in the dignified sport of football, both college and pro. A well-known player for the Dallas Cowboys once told me that he and most of his teammates played every game of his senior season at a Southeastern Conference school loaded on LSD.

The drug of choice in baseball of the '70s, other than staggering quantities of CC and Seven, was greenies, mild amphetamines that the players referred to as "ability pills."

But according to what I was hearing from Whitey Herzog, no miracle of the pharmacological sciences could produce an ability pill potent enough to propel this assembly of Rangers talent out of the basement on the American League West. "Here's a team that won 54 games last year and lost 100, and then, over the winter, Shortie [Rangers owner Bob Short] goes and trades off the only two decent pitchers on the team," Herzog claimed. "And for what? The Beeg Boy!"

The Beeg Boy of note was Rico Carty, the affable Rico Carty, whose bat had been every bit as lethal as Hank Aaron's was in the Braves lineup. Emphasize the word had. The ravages of age had caught up with Carty rather prematurely, which made him all-too typical of the cast that Herzog was assembling in Pompano. Some of the players had a commendable past and some would have a future (except for the pitchers, who had neither), but none of the players who would do battle for Herzog that season was experiencing what might be described as their natural prime.

Whitey Herzog was sure talking a lot of baseball during the course of that lovely azure South Florida spring of 1973, but not with a great deal of relish. Of all the public personalities I have encountered during a "career" in journalism, I never dealt with anybody who was as unafraid of telling the truth as Whitey Herzog.

The whole purpose of spring training, other than to get the players' livers in shape for the extended season to come, traditionally has been to inflate the media with artificially optimistic hype and outrageous propaganda regarding the prospects of the hometown team. "Now that old Spud Jones had that cataract surgery, I wouldn't be surprised if he hit .450"--that's the kind of spring training rhetoric that sells those season ticket packages back home. In more conventional circumstances, Herzog might have been willing to do that. But this season he apparently felt it was his obligation as a responsible citizen to alert the public back in North Texas that something dreadful was about to happen. Poor Whitey was trying to cry out a warning, like somebody shouting to the captain of the Hindenburg to turn on the "No Smoking" sign.

As a player, Whitey experienced considerable exposure to teams of the Rangers' ilk. He'd spent time with the old Kansas City A's, a team that consistently lingered near the rear of the pack. It was with KC that Herzog proudly claimed to be "the first and only player to hit into an all-Cuban triple play--Camilo Pascual to Jose Valdivelso to Julio Becquer." Herzog additionally served time with the original Washington Senators. But he had also briefly savored the bouquet of life as a utility player with the New York Yankees--the Yankees of Casey Stengel's empire of gold. Herzog, the most accomplished storyteller I ever encountered in the entire spectrum of sport and second only to John Forsythe in all categories of public life, offered a ceaseless barrage of tales from another time. Typical was his recollection of a road trip with the Yankees when general manager George Weiss got on an elevator and encountered relief pitcher Ryne Duren, a lover of the grape, barely able to stand. According to Herzog, Weiss stiffened and said, "Drunk again." To which Duren grinned a crooked grin, slapped Weiss on the back and said, "Oh yeah? Me too."

Sadly for Whitey, the thrilling days of yesterday had been replaced by the unfunnier realities of the day. His first baseman, Mike Epstein, hit a grand-slam home run in an exhibition game against the Orioles. Herzog's response: "That'll look great in the box scores you guys send back to Texas. But tell the readers that in this rinky-dink little Pompano ball park, the wind blows every lousy pop-up over the right infield fence. Back in Texas, that ball Epstein hit wouldn't have carried past the pitcher's mound."

The manager's direst concerns involved the pitching staff, and he offered these evaluations: The "ace" of the group, Dick Bosman, now in the twilight of his mediocre career, was capable of producing seven decent innings every other start. Of the remaining four, Pete Broberg and Don Stanhouse had good arms but didn't know how to pitch. The other two, Mike Paul and Rich Hand, knew how to pitch but had arms like worn-out rubber bands. Paul told me that he so loved the great American game "that when they finally run me out of the major leagues, I'll go pitch in the Mexican League." One year later, Paul did just that.

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