Your Texas Rangers, With Its Weird Winning Record Into July, Is Hardly The Baseball Team We Recognize.
In 1977, the Texas Rangers employed four managers. In one week.
In 1978, pitcher Roger Moret fell into a catatonic trance in front of his locker while holding a shower shoe.
In 1979, reliever Jim Kern snatched a book from a newspaper reporter and, in a successful attempt to spoil the ending, ate the last four pages.
In 1993, irate manager Kevin Kennedy shattered a clubhouse mirror with a potato.
And in 2005, pitcher Kenny Rogers, unprovoked, attacked a Fox 4 TV cameraman.
This may turn out to be the winningest season in the history of the Rangers. No big whoop. The team has won only one playoff game during its 39-year anguish of a lifetime. But, amazingly, it may also be the franchise's strangest season. So far, it goes something like this:
In 2010, the Rangers, with a fourth-string catcher, a pitching ace rediscovered in Japan and a manager who in spring training admitted to using cocaine, ignored unprecedented bankruptcy proceedings, got off to the best 75-game start in team history and took a lead in the American League West into Major League Baseball's All-Star break.
Oh yeah, and did I mention that condemned owner Tom Hicks—architect of the team's financial clusterfuck—has the audacity to regularly watch games from the front row at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington? Seriously, if they weren't a real team they'd make a fascinating reality show.
The Rangers recently ran off an 11-game winning streak. They went 21-5 in June, the club's best month ever. At next week's All-Star Game in Anaheim, they'll have a franchise record-tying five representatives including Josh Hamilton, Vladimir Guerrero, Elvis Andrus, Ian Kinsler and Neftali Feliz. Possibly six if Michael Young is, as expected, added as a reserve via fan vote.
They hit. They pitch. They run. They field. They sidestep their manager's sometimes-curious calls. They unify via a hand claw and their best hitter found his groove after losing a toe tap.
They—long ago—strayed from the original blueprint.
"I can't say this is exactly how we thought things would work out," admits general manager Jon Daniels, who added to the zaniness by dying his hair blonde to pay off a 10-game winning-streak bet with Andrus. "Some stuff that we planned on didn't pan out, and some other stuff we never expected to show up, in fact showed up. But I'm proud of this team. We've made some adjustments on the fly, and we've played good, solid baseball."
Considering all the ideas that sank, it's shocking the Rangers have a winning record, much less baseball's best record entering this month.
Remember, back in Surprise, Arizona, they were counting on Rich Harden to be their pitching ace, Frankie Francisco to be their closer, Chris Davis to be their first baseman, Jarrod Saltalamacchia to be their catcher and Julio Borbon to be their lead off hitter. The Rangers also experimented with Feliz as a starting pitcher and cringed at how Washington might be a distraction via harsh treatment from fans and media at road games.
But the next cocaine insult hurled toward the skipper will be the first. Even more surprising, Feliz has supplanted Francisco as the team's elite closer and Harden has been the worst pitcher on the roster and is currently shelved on the disabled list. Lewis, who spent the last two seasons pitching in Japan, has been the team's most consistent starter. Davis has been banished to the minors and replaced by Justin Smoak, and Borbon was almost sent packing to AAA before he was moved to ninth in the order and—out of nowhere—transformed himself from a .180 hitter into a .300 hitter.
"The kid stuck with it," Washington says of Borbon. "There's a learning curve with him, certainly, and he's come around for us big time. We never gave up on him, and he never gave up on himself."
No position, however, has encapsulated the Rangers' bizarre journey quite like catcher. In March the Rangers penciled in Saltalamacchia and Taylor Teagarden as their top tandem, with Max Ramirez a distant third in spring training. Early in the season, however, Saltalamacchia forgot how to throw and Teagarden never learned how to hit. Good thing that, on a whim for another camp body more than for emergency insurance, the Rangers signed veteran journeyman Matt Treanor before the season, because it's scary to think where they'd be without him.
Just to keep things chaotic, the Rangers last week traded for catcher Bengie Molina, a 13-year veteran built like your game room's beanbag. Molina will probably call a good game, collect some timely hits and be a calming, experienced clubhouse leader. Because in this season, things don't break—they temporarily fall apart to make way for better fixes.
Of course, some of Texas' grand plan has fulfilled prophecy, with Young again hitting, Andrus fielding, Hamilton returning to 2008 form and Guerrero injecting into the team a bushel of timely RBI and a barrel-of-monkeys worth of boyish enthusiasm.
Simply put, Guerrero has made it fun to play—and to watch—baseball in Arlington again.
"I'm at a loss for words to describe how great he's been for this team and this clubhouse," says Rangers TV analyst Tom Grieve. "Vlad's positive impact is immeasurable. Best free-agent signing in baseball. Period."
Despite the obvious signs of a season destined to be special, or at least strangely entertaining, most area fans aren't ready to shove their Rangers chips to the middle of the poker table. After a one-run loss in Anaheim last week that snapped a two-week hot stretch of 13-1 and trimmed their lead—that's right, their lead—to three games over the Angels, sports talk radio calls ranged from "Mark it down, this is the beginning of the end" to "Things are getting dicey."
Oh ye of little faith and saturated skepticism, trouble happens with these Rangers not between the lines but between bathroom breaks in the courtroom.
Back in spring training, Texas was also counting on Chuck Greenberg to be their new owner. And vice-versa.
"Sometimes these deals can get complicated," Greenberg said in Surprise. "But I'm fully confident it'll get done by Opening Day."
Now, it may never be completed.
Hicks and MLB commissioner Bud Selig still want to sell to Greenberg and team president Nolan Ryan. But Hicks' creditors—to whom he defaulted $525 million worth of loans last year—desire a more lucrative sale. The Rangers responded by diving into bankruptcy, and last week a court-appointed restructuring expert suggested the best way out of the whole mess is a one-day open auction.
Sad. The Rangers are finally producing a winning product we can all be proud of and here they are, reduced to an antique tea kettle volleyed from buyer to lawyer to investor to buyer.
"I've been in enough courtrooms these last few weeks to last me a lifetime," Ryan said last week. "I look forward to the day when we can all focus on the good baseball our team is playing."
In 2010—and only in this wonderfully wacky season—the Rangers have the team and the marketing slogan that screams "It's Time!"—only to have everything put on hold.
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