The Rangers: Still crushing little boys' dreams, 35 years on. (That's li'l Richie, by the way.)
The Rangers: Still crushing little boys' dreams, 35 years on. (That's li'l Richie, by the way.)

The Curse of Sucking

Hell hath frozen over.

The Red Sox and White Sox won a World Series. The Seahawks played in a Super Bowl. The Clippers will make the NBA Playoffs. George Friggin' Mason is in the Final Four. And somewhere Wile E. Coyote just nabbed the Roadrunner.

Yet there, left standing at the gate as the rags-to-riches destiny diesel leaves Purgatory for cooler digs, are our Texas Rangers, better-known as the worst franchise in professional sports. Nasty as an 0-2 splitter in the dirt, the Rangers' legacy--a steroid slugger, a media-mauling madman and epic futility between the lines--is the best of the worst:


Texas Rangers

1. Most games played: Rafael Palmeiro.

2. Most games pitched: Kenny Rogers.

3. Total games: 5,381; total playoff

victories: 1.

Perpetually trying to re-boot a history littered with laughable losses, the Rangers open season No. 35 Monday afternoon against the Red Sox at Ameriquest Field. There's talk of improved pitching, better clubhouse chemistry and naïve optimism based on the well-worn theory of "Dammit, we're due!"

For those two nuns, Zonk and millions of area baseball fans who annually have our spring hope erode into summer nope, it's time to be honest. The Rangers are entombed in a hex stronger than any Bambino or Billy Goat--The Curse of Sucking.

Texas has Major League Baseball's longest streak without a trip to the League Championship Series. For those of us still scoring at home, that's 842 players, 27 announcers, 18 managers, eight general managers, five owners, five logos and zero sniffs of the World Series.

"It's not always easy," says 73-year-old John "Zonk" Lanzillo, the team's drum-beating season-ticket holder since 1978, "but I'm proud to be a Rangers fan."

Baseball in Arlington has had its moments. Hall of Famers Nolan Ryan, Fergie Jenkins and Gaylord Perry pitched there. Ted Williams was the team's first manager. Jeff Burroughs, Juan Gonzalez, Pudge Rodriguez and Alex Rodriguez won MVPs. Three division championships in the late '90s. Rogers hurled a perfect game, Michael Young won last year's batting title and, way back in October '96, John Burkett pitched the Rangers to a 6-2 win over the Yankees in their first playoff game.

But more often than not, the Rangers have subjected their fans to a groundhog daze in which the headlines were eerily identical in '85 and '05--"Pitching, defense remain problems." Fortunately, losing isn't synonymous with boring. Because while the Rangers have rarely been effective, from Darrell Akerfelds to Richie Zisk and every Tom (Grieve), Dick (Bosman) and Harry (Baines) in between, they've always been entertaining.

Pop Quiz time. (Like Toni Basil freaks who can name a song other than "Mickey" off her Best of compilation, these are for die-hards only.)

What Rangers pitcher launched a wayward fastball over the catcher, umpire, backstop, wall and into the crowd at Boston's Fenway Park? (.rekraB neL)

What Rangers manager led his team to a heart-pounding 10-8 victory in '77, only to immediately resign and retire, with a record of 1-0, as the most successful coach in franchise history? (.yknatS yddE)

What Rangers pitcher went into a catatonic trance while holding a shower shoe before a game in '78? (.teroM regoR)

What Rangers manager shattered a clubhouse mirror with a raw potato after a particularly infuriating loss in '93? (.ydenneK niveK)

What Rangers infielder sucker-punched manager Frank Lucchesi in '77? (.eldnaR ynneL)

What team erected a plaque for an opposing player (Cal Ripken), held a tribute day for a career .305 hitter (Rusty Greer), signed two troubled relievers (Steve Howe and John Rocker), traded away a Hall of Famer (Sammy Sosa) for a has-been and a never-was and has never had a Cy Young winner? (.ti desseug uoY)

Finally, what loyal fan in '78 capitulated to a dare and freaked out Ralph Garr's wife by eating a cricket covered in traditional yellow mustard? (.em saw that ,yletanutrofnU)

If you aced it, dude, you stalkin'me? Still, we can commiserate. Misery loves company, and more than 60 million of us have witnessed losing baseball--only 14 winning seasons and an all-time record 179 games under .500--at Ameriquest, The Ballpark in Arlington and old Arlington Stadium.

I was there when Frank Howard hit the Rangers' first home run in the first inning of their first home game on April 21, 1972. I was there for 18-year-old David Clyde's first start and 42-year-old Ryan's 5,000th strikeout. I was there when the Rangers turned a triple play on Manny Sanguillen in '77, when Oddibe McDowell hit for the cycle in '85 and when Mickey Rivers had drunks throwing nickels at him, only to return fire with pennies and "Here's yo change!" I caught a foul ball from Bert Campaneris, listened to inaugural radio voice Dick Risenhoover and laughed when Dock Ellis was trippin' on the mound and Jose Canseco's noggin turned an out into a homer.

Also through it all has been Zonk. Even if you haven't heard of him, you've heard from him. Since '85 when former Ranger Alex Johnson broke a dugout-dancing mascot's drum, he's kept the same superstitious routine. Not that it ever works, but on the third pitch after a Ranger gets on base it starts...duh duh duh-Duh-DUH.

Pimps be damned, it's harder out here for a Rangers fan.

"I get a new drum every year," says Zonk, who these days bangs up rallies from section 32, row 13 behind Texas' dugout. "The original one is at Bobby V's restaurant, but I got boxes of them."

Age, traffic and decades of disappointment have caught up with Zonk. Despite enticements (short of a personal helicopter) from owner Tom Hicks to keep him attending games, he said last year he made only 40 of 81 home dates and this year will probably only see 20.

"One game last year I left my office in Plano at 4 p.m.," Zonk recalls, "and got to the park at 6:10 p.m.."

Still, it is spring. Flowers are blooming, insects are buzzing and Rangers fans are as gullible as ever.

Texas released Rogers, traded away Alfonso Soriano, signed an ace pitcher in Kevin Millwood and kept intact its young, talented infield nucleus of Hank Blalock, Mark Teixeira and Young. There's rising star Kevin Mench, newly acquired table-setter Brad Wilkerson, rookie second baseman Ian Kinsler, refreshing 28-year-old GM Jon Daniels and last year's not-so-awful 79-83 record and...

"If everything comes together," Zonk says in familiar refrain, "we could be all right."

The stars seem absurdly unaligned. Terrell Owens is a Cowboy. Ryan Seacrest is a star. It's no longer safe to get drunk in bars.

Hades is now a skating rink.

Yet sadly, there are our Rangers, not stockpiling champagne, just shades and sunscreen.


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