By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Comfort for some of them, perhaps. Comfort for Fuson--the declared heir and a guy who was credited with several trades on behalf of Hart and the Rangers--um, not quite. Fuson left the organization shortly thereafter (described in wire reports as the result of being "squeezed out in a power play with manager Buck Showalter and general manager John Hart"). Fuson was out of baseball until this March when the San Diego Padres tapped him to be a special assistant to the team's general manager. Fuson left bitter and quickly after Hart's unexpected resigning, which gave media and fans everywhere all the material they needed to launch into more conversations about why Hart is a self-serving ass. Despite the fact that Fuson was a largely unknown commodity, most everyone in North Texas eagerly anticipated the day he replaced Hart.
"As for Hart, I give him low grades," one longtime baseball insider told me. "The core of this team is talent from the [former Rangers General Manager Doug] Melvin era: Blalock, Young, Teixeira, Mench, Nix, Cordero. Hart left Cleveland because new ownership was going to cut the payroll. Hart convinced Hicks that with more money spent, the Rangers could contend in 2002. Melvin and job candidate Dave Dombrowski told Hicks the opposite, and he did not want to hear that. As you know, Hart has made a series of bad free-agent signings. Grady Fuson ran the draft before being forced out, so he gets the credit if those players succeed. Showalter is now the de facto general manager. That was why Showalter pulled the power play on Fuson. Had Fuson come in, he would have lessened Showalter's power. Hart is content to play golf and let Showalter make decisions."
That's a commonly held theory here in Arizona among those who have followed the Rangers in recent seasons--that while Hart is frequently assailed for his decisions, he really isn't the guy who should be lambasted, because he isn't actually in charge. (The Rangers, as an organization, refuse to lend any credence to that notion; from top to bottom, everyone, including Showalter, said Hart was the principal decision maker.) Showalter, some say, is the man who controls nearly every facet of the club's operations, but if that's the case, then why beat Hart up so often? Why bother to tar and feather the guy if he's nothing but a front for Showalter and Hicks? Why not just write him off as a half-bright sycophant and move on?
The whole mind-set is illogical, because you can hate the man for screwing things up or you can hate the man for not doing anything, but you can't hate him for both; he can't be simultaneously culpable and irrelevant.
That doesn't mean people shouldn't take shots at him, because some of it is legit. The potential Alex Rodriguez-to-Boston deal (before he was traded to New York) was a crudely handled joke for the way it was on, then off, then on and ultimately off again. Hart rightly bore the brunt of people's ire for the way the team mishandled that one, for letting media types learn of the prospective deal before it could be finalized (which, in turn, may have accelerated the disintegration). And when the Carlos Delgado negotiations broke down this winter, Hart should have been front and center explaining why it didn't, or wouldn't, work--and he was, but his explanation was, at best, lame.
"[Delgado] is a quality individual, but we want to continue to be committed with our young players and development plan," Hart told The Dallas Morning News when the negotiation broke down. "We have a first baseman in Mark Teixeira and other young players that we do not want to disrupt with potential position changes."
Which is fine, but only if you believe that money had nothing to do with it. The Rangers offered Delgado at least $4 million less than the Marlins, who were also willing to let Delgado play first base. (Never underestimate the combined power of a player's ego and greed.) Florida did what was needed; Texas didn't. In the end, that's what it comes down to: Either you get it done or you don't--everything else is an excuse.
Those kinds of things have been said by several journos in the area (myself included), which explains why Hart still eyes us at times the way a child does a stranger--with suspicion. But no one is considered by the Rangers to be quite as incendiary as Randy Galloway. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist and ESPN radio show host is, unquestionably and with good reason, the face of the D-FW sports media, so his relationship with the general manager speaks, in part, to the press corps' overall dynamic with Hart (and how some fans perceive the GM). At last check, it's a lot like the rapport between the Lebanese and the Syrians--while the two parties have tried to coexist at times, it continues to feel as though they're moments away from all-out war.
"My dealings with Hart? I have none," Galloway says in his distinctive, engaging Grand Prairie drawl. Hart, meanwhile, told an ESPN television reporter on a national broadcast that he never pays "attention to anything Randy Galloway has to say."