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.

The stadium was completely jammed a half-hour before game time and special events coordinator Molomont had even arranged a pregame show. It was a performance--I am not kidding--by hula dancers. Presumably, the actual date of David Clyde's big night had been confirmed too late for Oscar to line up some strippers.

At last, there could be no turning back. Clyde walked to the mound to a crowd response that would not be seen at Arlington Stadium again for 16 years--the night that Nolan Ryan got his 5,000th career strikeout.

The first Twins batter, Jerry Terrell, walked on four pitches. The next batter, Rod Carew, walked on five pitches. "The thought then crossed my mind," Clyde would tell me more than one year later, "that I was about to fuck this thing up."

...Next, Clyde worked to a 2-2 count on Bobby Darwin, a player built like Mike Tyson. Darwin took the next pitch and umpire Luciano signaled strike three while Arlington Stadium was transformed into an orgasmic ocean of delight. On another 2-2 count, the next batter, George Mitterwald, swung late and low on a waist-high fastball. Then Luciano called Joe Lis out on another fastball and a full count. Industrial-strength adrenaline was flowing in the grandstand.

Clyde gave up a two-run opposite-field home run that curled just inside the foul pole in left field to Mike Adams in the second inning. But Clyde continued to pitch through five full innings. His pitching line for the night was two runs, one hit, seven walks, eight strikeouts. He left with the Rangers leading 4-2. Reliever Bob Gogolewski, forever unsung for his effort the rest of the way, allowed one run in the final four innings. Not only would Clyde fulfill the wildest expectations of the crowd, he also got the win. The loser: nine-time all-star Jim Kaat.

The game [in Milwaukee] on Saturday afternoon brought 15,000 to the stands. Few, I suppose, would remember what happened, but this game was memorable because it gave David Clyde an accurate gauge as to exactly where his baseball future eventually would lead. In Clyde's third-ever major-league start, the Milwaukee Brewers, rarely mistaken for a juggernaut at the plate with the line-up featuring Bob Coluccio and Sixto Lezcano, beat David Clyde and the Rangers 17-2.

This was not a case of the wholesale collapse of a neo-natal legend. The Brewers had already bounced Clyde around to the tune of seven runs in four and two-thirds innings when Whitey came out to fetch him from the mound. By the standards of the 1973 Rangers staff, that effort constituted a routine start. The remaining and uglier portions of the damage were heaped on the relief corps, or what Herzog often termed the "arson squad," the relief tandem of Mike Paul and Lloyd Allen.

[Milwaukee] County Stadium, by the way, contained (and still does) one of the most startling ball-park features in the American League. Next to the scoreboard in center field, high over the stands, a structure resembling an alpine chalet sits occupied by the team mascot, Bernie Brewer. Whenever a Milwaukee player hits a home run, Bernie Brewer, clad in a traditional Oktoberfest getup, zips down a slide into a giant beer mug and releases some white balloons that represent, yes, beer bubbles. I am not going to suggest that the Bernie Brewer routine could or should be written off as hokey. That's for greater minds than mine to decide. What I do know is that with Lloyd Allen pitching for the Rangers, Bernie Brewer was working his butt off.

After the game, Herzog tossed out a peculiar reason for David Clyde's rough outing. "David said the ball felt big in his hand," Herzog said. "That's often a sign that a pitcher doesn't have his real good stuff." The kid who has ascended straight from the manger and into the big leagues offered what seemed a more reasonable explanation: "Maybe I'm not so tough to hit in daylight games," he said.

That night, while pondering the topic of how things could go so wrong so quickly, I would encounter a fact that many Americans probably do not realize. People in Milwaukee do not consume beer in conspicuously vast quantities. But they do drink one hell of a lot of brandy. So, on a Saturday night in the Pfister Hotel, I decided to help them drink it, choosing an inexpensive brand. The label read: "Isaac Newton Brandy...What Goes Down Must Come Up."

Upon my Sunday afternoon arrival for a doubleheader at County Stadium, my head was a gelatinous blimp-size container of tortured nerve endings. That much, I deserved. Richly so. What I did not deserve was Bat Day, an event at which 31,000 representatives of the pride of Wisconsin youth receive a free bat. Why would they stage a thing like that in a steel ball park, where the press box is located immediately beneath the base of the upper deck?

The pounding of wooden bat against metal grandstand started even before the first pitch of the first game, producing the sort of concussive effect that used to happen when we'd drop a cherry bomb down the toilet in junior high school. The acoustics in the press box were like the interior of a submarine under attack from depth charges. Wham! Wham! Wham! Louder and louder yet. Why were these children doing this to me? What had I ever done to harm them? Finally, I almost approached a stadium cop guarding the press box and asked if there was any way he could make them stop.

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