By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Though he'd never say it publicly, MLB commissioner Bud Selig must be ecstatic that Greenberg is coming, but even more so that Hicks is going. Last summer the Rangers borrowed approximately $30 million from the league and were governed by MLB the last half of the season. Hence, when the Rangers desperately needed to acquire a free-agent hitter at the July trading deadline, they were financially handcuffed.
Says Daniels, "I'm looking forward to some financial flexibility."
Though still a minority owner, Hicks will not sit on the board and will have zero say in baseball or organizational decisions. His real estate holdings around Rangers Ballpark and Cowboys Stadium are also downsized from 195 acres to 42. Hicks bought the team in 1998 for $250 million.
"I expect him to make a smooth transition into the role of being one of our biggest fans," Greenberg says. "I look forward to his support and enthusiasm."
It is March 17, and the Rangers are calling a hastily arranged press conference in Surprise. Not to announce the confirmation of Greenberg or to trumpet their organizational high hopes of 92 wins and the first division crown since 1999.
Instead, it's the staggering, unprecedented news that their manager tested positive for cocaine last July. After three days of intense introspection last summer, the Rangers decided not to accept Washington's resignation, not to fire him or otherwise discipline him in any way.
While Washington comes clean and Ryan and Daniels offer explanations of why the organization orchestrated a dirty cover-up, Greenberg—without going into detail or elaborating on the decision—is back in Dallas talking about how the saga represents another hoop to jump through in order to obtain control of the Rangers. In the same manner he was apprised of Hicks' colossal debt, Greenberg was informed in detail about his future manager's incident.
"This won't be the last or the biggest challenge we face," Greenberg says. "Obviously it's an unfortunate circumstance to have happen, but you have to deal with it and move forward."
After using cocaine for what he contends was the first and only time in his life, the 57-year-old Washington alerted team officials that he would probably fail a random drug test administered by MLB. Though it marked the first time in American professional sports history for a head coach or manager to test positive for cocaine, Washington finished out the season and, after completing baseball's first-offender drug treatment program, arrived in Surprise with no restrictions and bubbling optimism.
"I am truly sorry for my careless, dangerous and, frankly, stupid, behavior last year," Washington said in a prepared statement.
The Rangers only addressed the issue after Sports Illustrated broke the story, and a column by Randy Galloway in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram opined that a disgruntled former team employee attempted to blackmail the team with information about Washington's ordeal. Though team officials publicly denounced the theory, two club sources pointed an off-the-record finger at longtime clubhouse manager Zack Minasian, fired after last season.
Minasian did not respond to an interview request from the Dallas Observer, but told The Dallas Morning News he never attempted to blackmail the Rangers.
While fans and media and peers debate whether Washington should be allowed to manage, there is no argument about his team's plethora of talent. For the first time since Y2K, this isn't a rebuilding year. The Rangers are built, constructed to win right here, right now.
A team that stayed in the pennant race until September before finishing in second place 10 games behind the Anaheim Angels has added pitching ace Harden, former Most Valuable Player Guerrero and the organic maturity of baseball's most talented farm system.
While Greenberg brings stability, the players offer genuine hope. Washington's hiccup notwithstanding, in Surprise there is unabashed optimism. There is belief that ownership won't run out of cash, thereby limiting stadium restocking and forcing fans to eat ice cream out of San Diego Padres plastic cups instead of Rangers cups. And there is belief that young players such as Julio Borbon, Elvis Andrus, Chris Davis and Feliz will turn the corner from tantalizing prospects to elite performers.
In separate games over the Cactus League's first week, Borbon leads off a game with a single and a steal, Nelson Cruz smacks a couple of homers, Davis digs out of an 0-2 hole with an opposite-field single and Guerrero sends the first pitch he sees as a Ranger to the wall in right field. There are still talented, hyped prospects playing on the minor-league fields that dot the complex, but—despite a lackluster spring training record that included a six-game losing streak—inside Surprise Stadium, the future is now.
"I'll be disappointed if we don't go out and win our division," says Ryan, who predicts 92 wins will achieve that goal. "We've got the talent and depth in place to have us a pretty special team."
Echoes Greenberg, "I trust my baseball people. Everyone in the organization thinks this is the year a lot of our young players break out and make great strides. There's a real belief that we can compete for this thing."