Since Seasons in Hell was published in June, I've done about 30 sports talk-radio programs, and the question that surfaced on almost all of them was this: Why, after more than 20 years, did you finally get around to writing this book?
Usually, my explanation involved the notion that some of these old stories and anecdotes are similar to certain distilled products. You leave them dormant in a cool, dark room for a couple of decades and then, when you pop open the keg, the product should provide more kick and flavor. True baseball fans live in the past, anyway. In the year 2016, Marge Schott might write her memoirs and everybody will think she's hilarious.
But the fact is that guests on radio talk shows are similar to persons testifying under oath in a courtroom. They hardly ever tell the truth. So I now confess that the actual reason this book was written a generation after the fact is the same reason Thomas Edison invented the light bulb. His wife told him to do it. Otherwise he would just--by God--go live underneath the viaduct.
At first, I demurred. Given the contemporary marketing strategies at work in the New York book industry, the nonfiction writer becomes published only if he or she can claim a mail-order psychology diploma, develops a stand-up comedy routine that leads to a sitcom, commits a felony significant enough to make the front page or...fourth and finally, opens a health club. Otherwise, forget it.
I explained to my wife that due to circumstances of stamina and iron-poor blood, none of these four avenues of literary adventure seemed attainable. "Besides," I said. "Do you actually believe that anybody in the New York book business gives a flying you-know-what about the 1973 Texas Rangers?"
"Shut up and do it anyway," she said.
Well, she was right, as it turns out, although I still think the fact that somebody up there actually bought the proposal stands out as the greatest miracle since Jesus of Nazareth turned creek water into a delicate but sassy chardonnay. What actually happened was that a clever literary agent managed to get the manuscript into the hands of a man of rare vision, Donald I. Fine, described by radio personality Don Imus as "pretty much a regulation publishing nut-case."
Anyway, now that the thing is out and actually in a third printing, another miracle has appeared and glows out there on the Mid-Cities horizon. After 25 years of the most abject presentation of on-the-field futility in the annals of modern baseball, the Texas Rangers seem poised to win a division championship.
In Las Vegas betting shops, you could get better odds on Susan Lucci winning a daytime Emmy than on the Rangers appearing in post-season play. The Rangers, in fact, maintain a carefully cultivated performance pattern that is much like that of the character that Lucci portrays on that soap opera. The Rangers, rather than going on winning and losing streaks, seem to experience mood swings. The inevitable result comes in what psychiatrists would diagnose as textbook patterns of willful self-destruction.
Just when the Rangers advance into the sunny side of the win-loss column, they spit up all over their white sports coats and tumble into the orchestra pit. That had been the rite of summer around here for nearly 25 years, but, seemingly, no longer.
These Rangers of '96, while there is still ample time to botch the script, appear enriched with a healthy self-concept--for the first time ever. I suspect that in a photo finish, they will win the American League West, and once that is accomplished, I further suspect that winning championships will become habit-forming.
If that is the case, at least Seasons in Hell will always be around to remind us of the way it used to be.
Editor's note: In 1972, one of the most pathetic teams in baseball, the American League's Washington Senators, moved to the bustling metropolis of Arlington, Texas, and renamed themselves Texas Rangers. After the Rangers' horrendous 1972 season, it seemed the only way was up for the Dallas-Fort Worth area's latest baseball franchise.
But the Rangers would prove wrong such meager expectations, posting a 57-105 record in 1973 and going down in history as one of the worst major-league teams ever.
At the time, Mike Shropshire, 31, was a baseball writer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. His story begins at Pompano Stadium ball park in Pompano Beach, Florida, site of the Rangers' spring-training camp. Manager Whitey Herzog, who'd later go on to World Series success with St. Louis, got his first look at the season's new batch of "talents."
As a connoisseur of essentially unhistoric details of modern Americana, I would rate 1973 as a year of outstanding vintage. Vietnam was winding down and Watergate was heating up. The national attitude that the media now falsely associate with the era known as the '60s did not reach fruition until the early and mid-1970s. Look at the class of 1968 in every high-school or college annual and you'll see that all the boys have haircuts like Forrest Gump's.
The so-called hippie attitude was reaching its zenith in 1973 and, although the lens on my retrospective processes might be a trifle blurred, it seemed then that almost everyone tended to agree that life was too short and therefore should be enjoyed to the maximum extent. Not like the sober '90s, when--because of the economy and AIDS--everybody's getting laid off and nobody's getting laid. Not like now, when wellness is next to godliness.
Contrary to the general public assumption, though, the baseball players of that era couldn't really qualify as big dopers. The extent of their participation in the mind-alteration league certainly ranked as feeble when compared to their brethren in the dignified sport of football, both college and pro. A well-known player for the Dallas Cowboys once told me that he and most of his teammates played every game of his senior season at a Southeastern Conference school loaded on LSD.
The drug of choice in baseball of the '70s, other than staggering quantities of CC and Seven, was greenies, mild amphetamines that the players referred to as "ability pills."
But according to what I was hearing from Whitey Herzog, no miracle of the pharmacological sciences could produce an ability pill potent enough to propel this assembly of Rangers talent out of the basement on the American League West. "Here's a team that won 54 games last year and lost 100, and then, over the winter, Shortie [Rangers owner Bob Short] goes and trades off the only two decent pitchers on the team," Herzog claimed. "And for what? The Beeg Boy!"
The Beeg Boy of note was Rico Carty, the affable Rico Carty, whose bat had been every bit as lethal as Hank Aaron's was in the Braves lineup. Emphasize the word had. The ravages of age had caught up with Carty rather prematurely, which made him all-too typical of the cast that Herzog was assembling in Pompano. Some of the players had a commendable past and some would have a future (except for the pitchers, who had neither), but none of the players who would do battle for Herzog that season was experiencing what might be described as their natural prime.
Whitey Herzog was sure talking a lot of baseball during the course of that lovely azure South Florida spring of 1973, but not with a great deal of relish. Of all the public personalities I have encountered during a "career" in journalism, I never dealt with anybody who was as unafraid of telling the truth as Whitey Herzog.
The whole purpose of spring training, other than to get the players' livers in shape for the extended season to come, traditionally has been to inflate the media with artificially optimistic hype and outrageous propaganda regarding the prospects of the hometown team. "Now that old Spud Jones had that cataract surgery, I wouldn't be surprised if he hit .450"--that's the kind of spring training rhetoric that sells those season ticket packages back home. In more conventional circumstances, Herzog might have been willing to do that. But this season he apparently felt it was his obligation as a responsible citizen to alert the public back in North Texas that something dreadful was about to happen. Poor Whitey was trying to cry out a warning, like somebody shouting to the captain of the Hindenburg to turn on the "No Smoking" sign.
As a player, Whitey experienced considerable exposure to teams of the Rangers' ilk. He'd spent time with the old Kansas City A's, a team that consistently lingered near the rear of the pack. It was with KC that Herzog proudly claimed to be "the first and only player to hit into an all-Cuban triple play--Camilo Pascual to Jose Valdivelso to Julio Becquer." Herzog additionally served time with the original Washington Senators. But he had also briefly savored the bouquet of life as a utility player with the New York Yankees--the Yankees of Casey Stengel's empire of gold. Herzog, the most accomplished storyteller I ever encountered in the entire spectrum of sport and second only to John Forsythe in all categories of public life, offered a ceaseless barrage of tales from another time. Typical was his recollection of a road trip with the Yankees when general manager George Weiss got on an elevator and encountered relief pitcher Ryne Duren, a lover of the grape, barely able to stand. According to Herzog, Weiss stiffened and said, "Drunk again." To which Duren grinned a crooked grin, slapped Weiss on the back and said, "Oh yeah? Me too."
Sadly for Whitey, the thrilling days of yesterday had been replaced by the unfunnier realities of the day. His first baseman, Mike Epstein, hit a grand-slam home run in an exhibition game against the Orioles. Herzog's response: "That'll look great in the box scores you guys send back to Texas. But tell the readers that in this rinky-dink little Pompano ball park, the wind blows every lousy pop-up over the right infield fence. Back in Texas, that ball Epstein hit wouldn't have carried past the pitcher's mound."
The manager's direst concerns involved the pitching staff, and he offered these evaluations: The "ace" of the group, Dick Bosman, now in the twilight of his mediocre career, was capable of producing seven decent innings every other start. Of the remaining four, Pete Broberg and Don Stanhouse had good arms but didn't know how to pitch. The other two, Mike Paul and Rich Hand, knew how to pitch but had arms like worn-out rubber bands. Paul told me that he so loved the great American game "that when they finally run me out of the major leagues, I'll go pitch in the Mexican League." One year later, Paul did just that.
Herzog's everyday line-up included talents who might not have offered first-division potential. They were, however, entirely qualified to hold their own in conversations on topics like bass fishing and provide welcome company at cocktail parties of almost any social strata. The test of time would demonstrate again and again that the Rangers ballplayers were far more entertaining in person than they were on the field.
Epstein, the first baseman, had a World Series ring from the previous season but now agreed with Oakland's director of player personnel that his job skills were better suited to a team like the Rangers. Life in baseball, Epstein told me, was cluttered with too much "inconsequential bullshit," and he had devoted more of spring training to securing his pilot's license than attempting to regain his timing in the batting cage.
Even before the start of spring training, Herzog had said, "If Rich Billings is the starting catcher again, we're in deep trouble." When that evaluation was passed along to Billings, he simply nodded and said, "Whitey, obviously, has seen me play." But Whitey, obviously, had not seen the other candidates for that position play, and now Billings was again penciled in as the starting catcher.
Third baseman Joe Lovitto came endowed with what all the scouts insist are the four essentials necessary for major-league stardom. Lovitto could run, throw, hit, and hit with power. The problem was that while he could do all of these things, Lovitto seldom did. Lovitto told me of an encounter he'd had with Ted Williams the season before: "We were on the road somewhere and Ted called me into his hotel room," Lovitto said. "He told me that I had my head up my ass and that I was wasting my talent."
How, I inquired, had Lovitto responded to a critique like that from a man such as Ted Williams? Lovitto seemed astounded that I would even ask the question. "Well, what would you do?" he demanded. "I told him to go fuck himself and slammed the door in his face."
Meanwhile, the manager was gaining a sharper focus of what he anticipated from this season's team. "Defensively," said Herzog, a man of keen intuitions about the game, "these guys are really substandard, but with our pitching, it really doesn't matter."
When right-hander Jim Bibby joined the Rangers he presented an immediate departure in that he at least looked the part of a ballplayer. Most of the Rangers wore straggly mustaches, generally appeared consumptive, and, when the team marched through an airport en route to the bar, easily could have been mistaken for a bunch of ex-cons. Bibby, at 6 feet 7, had legs like oak trees. His brother Henry had been a key figure in UCLA's basketball dynasty and was now a star with the Knicks.
Jim Bibby, who for reasons known only to himself went by the "stage name" Fontay O'Rooney, was by no means a complete major-league pitcher. But he threw a vicious fastball--"serious heat...severe gas"--that would scare the bejesus out of most American League batters. Parenthetically, Bibby could also lay claim to owning the biggest apparatus of manhood in baseball--an appendage of near-equine proportions--and it was to Bob Short's eternal frustration that he could never harness that particular novelty into a gate attraction at Arlington Stadium.
Short's marketing scheme was entirely one-dimensional. Everything was Something Night at the ball park. Bat Night--they staged about five of those. Ball Night. Cap Night. T-shirt Night. Rangers Keychain Night. Rangers Calendar Night. Yes, and even Rangers Panty Hose (guaranteed to yield fewer runs than the home team) Night. Still on the drawing board was Insane Relative Night and Law Enforcement Appreciation Night, where Grand Prairie cops would stage a pregame demonstration of interrogation techniques.
When I suggested to Short that he was processing junk merchandise, he puffed up and said, "Got any better ideas?" Whenever the turnstile count hit 10,000, it was a good night in Arlington. The solemn reality was that the Dallas-Fort Worth area was gaga over the Cowboys, and the lame antics of a last-place baseball team were not inflaming fan response.
In short, Bob Short needed a miracle.
The Rangers could claim one asset. By virtue of their record the season before--worst in the league--Texas received the top selection in the upcoming amateur draft. All of the scouts unanimously anointed a high-school pitcher in Houston, a left-hander, as the best prospect in the country and perhaps the best of the previous 10 years or the best since Bob Feller or even, according to some, as--aw, what the hell?--the best of all time.
Whitey Herzog, pragmatist and skeptic, had traveled to Austin to watch David Clyde pitch in high-school state championships and was now firing a 21-gun salute, too. According to the manager, Clyde clearly "had the gun" and the only missing ingredient was "developing a change-up and getting the fine-tuning that separates the big leaguers from, well, the guys we've got now.
"Start him off in an all-rookie league, where he'll get used to being away from home with some guys his own age, then pull him all the way to AA or even AAA next year...and I think the kid will be primed for the majors by the time he's 20. And after that," Whitey said (he'd just watched Secretariat win the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths on TV), "we can bottle his sperm." Herzog was fostering visions of a time when managing the Rangers might not be the grotesque experience he was presently forced to endure.
That was Whitey's timetable. Bob "You Can Fool Some of the People Some of the Time and That's Good Enough for Me" Short was hatching a different and more accelerated schedule for David Clyde's professional advancement. This was show biz, after all, and while there were plenty of big butts in North Texas, not nearly enough were located in the box seats at Arlington Stadium.
In David Clyde, Short figured he was blessed with the most promising overnight gate attraction since Jo-Jo the Lizard Boy hit the State Fair of Texas.
By drafting David Clyde, the Rangers bypassed two players who would probably wind up in Cooperstown: Dave Winfield and Robin Yount. Between them, they would collect over 6,000 major-league base hits.
Three other players taken in the first round of the 1973 draft--John Stearns, Lee Mazzilli, and Gary Roenicke--went on to long and productive big-league careers. Interestingly, the Rangers' third-round pick, Len Barker, emerged as a quality big-league starter (with the Indians) who would pitch a perfect game against Toronto in 1981.
At the time, no scout in baseball disputed that the Rangers did the right thing by claiming Clyde as their top pick, but the idea of bringing the prize stud directly into The Show left Herzog shaking his head. "This ain't high school. Up here, he'll find the strike zone shrinking fast, and he won't find any 130-pound kids swinging at the high one.
"Another thing," Herzog cautioned, "in high school Clyde has been used to great success. In this league there will come the time when he can't get anybody out, and that can really pull a kid down."
But Bob Short, in his fashion as showman, would have put a gnome in the line-up to attract paying fans if Bill Veeck, the White Sox owner, hadn't thought of it first. Promotions like Cough Syrup Night were not filling seats in Arlington. The owner was getting desperate. Rumor had it that during the last home stand, someone had called the stadium ticket office asking what time the game started and was asked, "What time can you be here?"
The deal was done. Clyde would join the team in Minnesota that coming Sunday and make his big-league debut at home the following week. Back in Texas, a press conference was held in the Rangers dugout to announce that Clyde had officially signed for what Short termed "a considerable amount...a very considerable amount." That amount, $150,000, was in 1973 indeed deemed considerable for someone who had just turned 18. Clyde had apparently hired a Sunday-school teacher to script his comments for the press conference. "This fulfills a lifetime dream. It is wonderful to be the top draft choice." And so on. Significantly, as far as being tossed into the major-league shark tank for Bob Short Entertainment Enterprises, Clyde said that both he and his old man were all for it.
And, after what he would have to witness and withstand in his dugout in Baltimore during the next three days, Whitey Herzog was probably all for it, too. This team needed something and needed it bad. A fresh face. A transfusion. An iron lung. Anything.
On the Tuesday before David Clyde's celebrated unveiling, Oscar Molomont [Rangers director of special events] scheduled still another promotion: Hot Pants Night. This was not a giveaway. Instead, Oscar brainstormed a contest open to any female who wanted to win a trophy confirming that she and only she had the best-looking ass in North Texas. The pageant entries outnumbered the paying fans. They don't have promotions like that at ball parks very much anymore.
The setting at Arlington Stadium was very different on Wednesday. Fans began arriving an hour before the gates were open. In the press lounge upstairs, Bob Short looked out, surveyed the gathering throng, and said, "They told me it would be like this every night before I moved the team down here."
I wandered down to the dugout, where perhaps a thousand people were jammed, waiting to see the young messiah emerge to warm up. The stands were filling up and even Herzog seemed nervous now, pacing in the dugout tunnel. "This is a helluva thing to ask of an 18-year-old kid," he said, as if suddenly stricken by second thoughts. "But that's the way they said they wanted it...the kid, his parents, Bob Short. One thing I do feel good about. [Umpire] Ron Luciano will be working the plate. A lot of these old heads like to put the squeeze on a kid like Clyde. But Luciano will call a fair game for him."
Herzog then walked out of the dugout and told the crowd, now eager to catch a glimpse of the Rangers' left-handed prodigy, "He'll be up here in a minute. I told him to drink a couple of beers and smooth out."
Inside, Clyde seemed completely composed. He was reading a telegram. "Go get 'em number 32." It was from Sandy Koufax. In the stands, a society writer from The Dallas Morning News was interviewing Clyde's petite fiancee, Cheryl Crawford. By now, Clyde was warming up to the accompaniments of high-pitched squeals from some adoring teenyboppers clustered around the bull pen. "I think it's great," Cheryl told the reporter, "that other women find David attractive." Within the course of a year, the future Mrs. Clyde would apparently exercise the female's legendary prerogative to change her mind on that particular topic.
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.
All I could do, finally, was to place my head next to my typewriter and pray for the swift arrival of the Angel of Death. When I finally opened my eyes again, the first game was over. According to the numbers on the scoreboard, the Brewers had beaten Jim Bibby 7-3, and from the sound of things, Bernie Brewer had been subjected to another active outing.
Now, in the third inning of the second game, the Rangers were already hopelessly beaten and Whitey Herzog was on the field, screaming at plate umpire Bill Haller and flapping his wings like some crazed gander.
Afterward, when the kids with the bats had ceased their assault and were filing out to go home to Oshkosh and Sheboygan or wherever else, I entered the Rangers' clubhouse to inquire as to the source of Whitey Herzog's affliction. His response provided what turned out to be the post-game highlight of my entire tour covering this outlandish baseball franchise:
"It started yesterday, when they were beating up on us with 17 runs. I knew something was up and figured the third-base coach was stealing [catcher] Suarez's signs," said Herzog, speaking rapidly and making wild, pointing gestures, like an old film of Mussolini making a speech. "But today, in the first game, I figured it out. I got some binoculars and looked out there in center field where they keep that little asshole in the costume.
"And that's when I saw the other guy and that's when I was positive. He had binoculars, too, picking up our signs. Then...the other one...in the costume...he wears these white gloves and he'd clap his hands. Once for a curve and twice for a fastball. That's how they were doing it. That has to be it. Either they were getting our pitches or this is the greatest hitting team of all time."
Herzog concluded with a statement that encompassed the spectrum of what had largely amounted to a season of abject frustration: "Can you imagine," Whitey demanded, "that a team would have to cheat to beat us?"
After a short series in Chicago, the Rangers were back in Arlington for a weekend engagement against Oakland. Friday afternoon, [Rangers' secretary] Burt Hawkins called me at home. "Get out to the park early," he said. "Bob Short is having a press conference." Well, a Bob Short press conference ordinarily did not give cause for network alerts that began, "We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming..." [Pitcher] Jim Merritt gave good press conferences. Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson of the Yankees gave an outstanding press conference when they announced they were trading wives. Bob Short, up to this point, had failed miserably in his occasional attempts to rouse the rabble.
This one would be different. Short sat behind a desk in his stadium office. Whitey Herzog sat immediately to Short's left. Short began the press conference by announcing that he had fired Whitey. His reason, he said, was "the artistic state of the Rangers."
The relationship between the Rangers' management and the Rangers' press corps had, from the first, been more informal than what is more commonly seen in professional sports. This press conference was typical. Harold McKinney began calling Bob Short the names that McKinney called his 10-year-old Buick Skylark on the frequent mornings when it wouldn't start.
"Jesus Christ, Bob! Artistic state of the Rangers! Whitey's not the one who went and rounded up Rico Carty and Mike Epstein to be the heart of the batting order! You were! Some fuckin' art you collected there!" People out in the parking lot could probably hear Harold yelling at the owner. Now the cameras were clicking and Bob Short found himself pressed into a defensive posture. Short said that Del Wilbur, the AAA manager from Spokane, had been pressed into service on an interim basis. The full-time guy for 1974 had not been identified yet, Short kept insisting.
Here was where Bob Short could have made things easier on himself at the press conference...by simply confirming that the instant Billy Martin was ousted in Detroit, he had found a warm nest awaiting in Texas. It made sense. All around Dallas-Fort Worth suburbs like Blue Mound, Joshua, and Grapevine, guys were roaring up and down the blacktop roads in pickup trucks adorned with bumper stickers that read: "The West Wasn't Won With A Registered Gun." They had money to spend, but they were spending it all in bowling alleys and head shops and not at the ball park that Short had presumed would have established itself by now as the Poor Man's Country Club.
People were asking me if I missed covering the Rangers. These were the same people who would ask a U.S. Marine if he missed Guadalcanal. What I did miss was spring training, the sun and the sand and not the baseball, and I arranged future ceremonial pilgrimages to the Surf Rider [at Pompano Beach].
I spent a month there in 1977 to prepare a page-and-a-half magazine article. My companion at the poolside bar one afternoon was the familiar figure of David Clyde, back in an abortive final bid for a spot on the Rangers' pitching staff. A newly arrived Canuck sized us up and said, "You two are from Texas. I can tell by your accents, eh? Are you associated with the baseball team by any chance?"
"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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