Push the Panic Button

The Rangers have their worst season in years. The reaction? Ho hum, wait till next year.

The lights are off here, creating a fitting, all-encompassing gloom. No one fills the seats or hawks the hot dogs or slugs the beers. No one occupies the dugouts or sends baseballs screaming into the fall air or makes diving catches on neatly groomed grass. It's empty and quiet now--almost eerily so. The Ballpark is dead, and will be for the next six months.

Then again, it's been dead for the last six months.

So the disaster, the big, huge stinker of a season for the Rangers has finally, mercifully, stumbled to a halt. You can almost see Johnny Oates and Doug Melvin kneeling together somewhere, praying like two teenagers drunk for the first time.

God, if you get us out of this, we swear we'll never trade for Dave Martinez again.

How different this scene is from a year ago, when Texas was bending over for its annual spanking courtesy of the hated New Yawkas. But that was OK by you. At least the Rangers made the postseason. At least they won their third division championship in four years. Who knew they wouldn't capture another this season?

Admit it, you got comfortable. You expected them to win again this year because, prior to this Chernobyl reenactment, they'd marched to eight winning campaigns in the previous 11 seasons. They'd made you forget about summers past when losing was as predictable as the parched heat. They made you think this would go on forever, that baseball was as indigenous to this area as Walker, Texas Ranger and the abomination that is Texadelphia.

It seems the GM fell for it, too. Became complacent, Melvin did. Ditto his field general.

Now, how can I possibly indict them after everything that's happened this season? How can I criticize a team that lost everyone from Ruben Mateo to Pudge to Pete the Peanut vendor due to injury? Easy. I'm from Philly.

Beyond that, though, there's something fundamentally amiss about how the organization is handling this team. A team that finishes more than 20 games out of first, a team that is 20 games under .500, a team that just struggled to its most dreadful performance since 1988 isn't that bad solely due to injuries. Injuries are part of the demise, sure, but to label them the whole reason, the onlyreason, is simply naïve.

"Injuries happen to everybody," Royce Clayton says. Normally jovial, the shortstop, who hit a lackluster .242, looks understandably weary sitting there, alone, by his locker. "Good teams just overcome that and persevere. We didn't do that. This has just been hard on everybody."

As it should have been. Fact is, your Rangers (71 wins) were only slightly less pathetic than the A.L.'s worst teams, Tampa Bay (69 wins) and Minnesota (70 wins). That should send large, scarlet-colored flags shooting up the Ballpark flagpole. You'd think it would work Melvin, Oates, and some of the players into a lather, because in sports, particularly baseball, knee-jerk reactions are as commonplace as farmer tans--e.g., the probable dismissals of Montreal's Felipe Alou and Arizona's Buck Showalter.

Now here's the funny part. No one in the provincial existence known as Rangersland seems to be worried. Not Melvin or Oates or any of the players. Owner Tom Hicks has said publicly that Melvin will return. Melvin has said publicly that Oates will return. And no one has said anything, publicly or off the record, about "reorganizing" a roster that finished with the second-most errors and the worst ERA in baseball.

Everyone knows this wasn't acceptable, this season, but no one is sweating it because it appears no one has been, or will be, branded the fall guy--and don't give me Dick Bosman, the team's pitching coach who was much maligned and recently released. His firing won't make the waves the front office should be looking for, or even the ripples. If they expect a turnaround by exiling Bosman, they shouldn't hold their breath. Discarding a single coach rarely has significant impact. To shake things up, you'd have to dump the entire coaching staff, as Mets manager Bobby Valentine was forced to do to keep his job last year. Such action would be an unnecessary, even irrational, decision in this case.

No, the Rangers brass needs to pick on someone who will turn heads, but, so far, it doesn't appear they will. What I want to know is, why isn't everyone on the lookout for pink slips? Because this mess, as my mother used to scold theatrically, didn't make itself, so shouldn't someone be held accountable?

Recently, the Rangers announced their attendance figures. Said they drew more than 2.8 million fans, up more than 28,000 from a year ago. Said it was the fourth time in the last five years they've hit the 2.8-mil mark. Not bad. Maybe, since they're not being forced to pinch pennies, the Rangers aren't looking to pinch jobs, either.

"This will be an important off-season for us," counters Oates, surrounded by a knot of reporters significantly smaller in size than the group that hounded him only a few months ago. "Will Ruben Mateo be ready? Will Justin Thompson be ready? Or Pudge? It's impossible to know what direction we'll go. Doug [Melvin] has a lot of irons in the fire; who knows what direction we'll go?

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