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.

That was Whitey's timetable. Bob "You Can Fool Some of the People Some of the Time and That's Good Enough for Me" Short was hatching a different and more accelerated schedule for David Clyde's professional advancement. This was show biz, after all, and while there were plenty of big butts in North Texas, not nearly enough were located in the box seats at Arlington Stadium.

In David Clyde, Short figured he was blessed with the most promising overnight gate attraction since Jo-Jo the Lizard Boy hit the State Fair of Texas.

By drafting David Clyde, the Rangers bypassed two players who would probably wind up in Cooperstown: Dave Winfield and Robin Yount. Between them, they would collect over 6,000 major-league base hits.

Three other players taken in the first round of the 1973 draft--John Stearns, Lee Mazzilli, and Gary Roenicke--went on to long and productive big-league careers. Interestingly, the Rangers' third-round pick, Len Barker, emerged as a quality big-league starter (with the Indians) who would pitch a perfect game against Toronto in 1981.

At the time, no scout in baseball disputed that the Rangers did the right thing by claiming Clyde as their top pick, but the idea of bringing the prize stud directly into The Show left Herzog shaking his head. "This ain't high school. Up here, he'll find the strike zone shrinking fast, and he won't find any 130-pound kids swinging at the high one.

"Another thing," Herzog cautioned, "in high school Clyde has been used to great success. In this league there will come the time when he can't get anybody out, and that can really pull a kid down."

But Bob Short, in his fashion as showman, would have put a gnome in the line-up to attract paying fans if Bill Veeck, the White Sox owner, hadn't thought of it first. Promotions like Cough Syrup Night were not filling seats in Arlington. The owner was getting desperate. Rumor had it that during the last home stand, someone had called the stadium ticket office asking what time the game started and was asked, "What time can you be here?"

The deal was done. Clyde would join the team in Minnesota that coming Sunday and make his big-league debut at home the following week. Back in Texas, a press conference was held in the Rangers dugout to announce that Clyde had officially signed for what Short termed "a considerable amount...a very considerable amount." That amount, $150,000, was in 1973 indeed deemed considerable for someone who had just turned 18. Clyde had apparently hired a Sunday-school teacher to script his comments for the press conference. "This fulfills a lifetime dream. It is wonderful to be the top draft choice." And so on. Significantly, as far as being tossed into the major-league shark tank for Bob Short Entertainment Enterprises, Clyde said that both he and his old man were all for it.

And, after what he would have to witness and withstand in his dugout in Baltimore during the next three days, Whitey Herzog was probably all for it, too. This team needed something and needed it bad. A fresh face. A transfusion. An iron lung. Anything.

On the Tuesday before David Clyde's celebrated unveiling, Oscar Molomont [Rangers director of special events] scheduled still another promotion: Hot Pants Night. This was not a giveaway. Instead, Oscar brainstormed a contest open to any female who wanted to win a trophy confirming that she and only she had the best-looking ass in North Texas. The pageant entries outnumbered the paying fans. They don't have promotions like that at ball parks very much anymore.

The setting at Arlington Stadium was very different on Wednesday. Fans began arriving an hour before the gates were open. In the press lounge upstairs, Bob Short looked out, surveyed the gathering throng, and said, "They told me it would be like this every night before I moved the team down here."

I wandered down to the dugout, where perhaps a thousand people were jammed, waiting to see the young messiah emerge to warm up. The stands were filling up and even Herzog seemed nervous now, pacing in the dugout tunnel. "This is a helluva thing to ask of an 18-year-old kid," he said, as if suddenly stricken by second thoughts. "But that's the way they said they wanted it...the kid, his parents, Bob Short. One thing I do feel good about. [Umpire] Ron Luciano will be working the plate. A lot of these old heads like to put the squeeze on a kid like Clyde. But Luciano will call a fair game for him."

Herzog then walked out of the dugout and told the crowd, now eager to catch a glimpse of the Rangers' left-handed prodigy, "He'll be up here in a minute. I told him to drink a couple of beers and smooth out."

Inside, Clyde seemed completely composed. He was reading a telegram. "Go get 'em number 32." It was from Sandy Koufax. In the stands, a society writer from The Dallas Morning News was interviewing Clyde's petite fiancee, Cheryl Crawford. By now, Clyde was warming up to the accompaniments of high-pitched squeals from some adoring teenyboppers clustered around the bull pen. "I think it's great," Cheryl told the reporter, "that other women find David attractive." Within the course of a year, the future Mrs. Clyde would apparently exercise the female's legendary prerogative to change her mind on that particular topic.

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