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.

"Not for long," I said. "He's a washed-up pitcher and I'm a washed-up sportswriter." The Canadian guy couldn't figure out why David Clyde and I thought that was so funny.

The visit also served to confirm that life with the Rangers franchise would never be normal. Frank Lucchesi, who normally resided at the opposite end of the spectrum from Billy Martin when it came to the controversy department, was still managing the team. Now even Frank, toward the end of the spring, was involved in a flap with a player. Lenny Randle had been bemoaning the fact that Lucchesi wanted to hand his second-base job to a promising rookie, Bump Wills, whose primary credential at the time was being the son of Maury Wills.

Frank didn't like Lenny's attitude. "I'm tired of all these $90,000-a-year punks complaining all the time. That's a quote. Print that," Lucchesi told some sportswriters. Frank apparently did not realize that the term "punk" had taken on a new context, a sexual one, in certain quarters. Randy Galloway told Lucchesi that calling Randle a "punk" might not be a prudent idea. Frank didn't get it. "Just like I said before--a $90,000-a-year punk. That's what he is."

A punk was what Lenny Randle was not. Randle--introspective, soft-spoken, intensely bright, a martial-arts expert who never touched alcohol--took extreme offense at Lucchesi's comments. So, about an hour before an exhibition game against the Twins at Orlando, Lenny approached Lucchesi, who was still in street clothes, and in less than 10 seconds literally beat his manager senseless, then nonchalantly jogged to the outfield and began running wind sprints.

I arrived at the park about a dozen minutes after the assault and discovered Lucchesi in a tunnel behind the dugout. His bloody head was in trainer Bill Ziegler's lap. Frank looked like he had been run over by a beer truck. The Rangers immediately suspended Lenny Randle and then sold him to the Mets. The following day, before an exhibition game against a new team, the Toronto Blue Jays, one of the Toronto sportswriters was heard to comment, "Jeez. I guess that's how Americans settle everything these days. With violence, eh?" To which Bob Lindley of the Star-Telegram replied, "Yeah. If Randle had hit him with a hockey stick he'd only have gotten a five-minute penalty."

Lucchesi filed a civil lawsuit against Randle and won, but the jury only awarded $25,000. Poor Frank. A warm, outgoing, and caring person, it was not his fault that he looked and talked like one of the bad guys in The Godfather and did not come across to the jurors as a sympathetic figure.

At midseason [Rangers' new owner] Brad Corbett rewarded Lucchesi for his pain and suffering by firing him. Eddie Stanky, fiery and aggressive when he had managed the White Sox more than a decade earlier, was lured from professional retirement to replace Frank. Stanky proved to be the most prudent of all the Rangers' managers. After three days he quit. At 7 a.m., following a night game at Minneapolis, he called three players (Toby Harrah, Mike Hargrove, and Jim Sundberg) from a pay phone at the Minneapolis airport to inform them that he had stared into the abyss of life in Rangersland and not liked what he had seen. Why, somebody wondered, would Stanky just call those three players? Randy Galloway had a theory: "Maybe he ran out of quarters.

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