Black Caesar and Your Texas … Strangers | Dallas Observer


Black Caesar and Your Texas … Strangers

The 2023 Texas Rangers have a new marketing plan to expand the team's fanbase. Having two-time Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom in the starting rotation can't hurt either.
The 2023 Texas Rangers have a new marketing plan to expand the team's fanbase. Having two-time Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom in the starting rotation can't hurt either. Christian Petersen/Getty Images
No Tom Grieve, the face of the franchise who retired in 2022 after 55 seasons with the club.

No Eric Nadel, the legendary radio voice who is missing Opening Day while taking a mental-health break to battle anxiety, insomnia and depression.

And no links to past World Series glory, other than a couple cameos by former second baseman-turned-special assistant Ian Kinsler.

The Texas Rangers who will be unveiled for Thursday afternoon’s 2023 opener against the Philadelphia Phillies at Globe Life Field in Arlington will be almost unrecognizable. Good news: Considering how pathetic the organization has been since its back-to-back World Series appearances in 2010-11 — and in particular the last six seasons — any makeover is welcome.

For the first time in franchise history, the Rangers have a Cy Young winner on their pitching staff. And they have a new manager with three championships on his Hall-of-Fame résumé in their dugout. But beyond ace Jacob deGrom and skipper Bruce Bochy, the most glaring sign that these aren’t your status-woe Rangers is their new TV ad.

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2023 Texas Strangers … ushered in by none other than “Black Caesar.”

The Rangers discovered Kristoddie K. Woods during a fashion/apparel collaboration with the By Way of Dallas line. Woods, a Garland native who played college football at Texas A&M-Commerce, is a poet, author, artist, filmmaker and, now, Rangers hype man. His commercials come as a drastic detour from the Rangers’ customary messaging … and messenger.

They’re also a leap in the right direction toward making fans of all cultural backgrounds feel welcomed and connected to an organization that has endured its share of diversity missteps.

“Using Woods is one step of many in our journey to diversify and dimensionalize the Texas Rangers’ brand,” says Travis Dillon, Rangers vice president of marketing. “As our fanbase and the overall DFW community continues to evolve, we feel that it is important for our brand to have an authentic and diverse voice that resonates with all of our fans.”

Refreshing, especially considering these are the faith-n-family Rangers, who for decades have proudly shirked big-city Dallas to play good ol’ country hardball with All-American, red-meat heroes like Nolan Ryan and Rusty Greer amid the backdrop of “God Bless America” and “Cotton-Eyed Joe.” These are the chicken-fried Rangers for crying out loud, the ultra-conservative franchise whose idea of inclusivity is to stubbornly remain the only team in Major League Baseball to shun a “Pride Night” recognizing the LGBTQ community while proudly hosting five different nights honoring first responders and military members.

Nonetheless, here comes the Rangers’ first “pitch”:
It’s Black Caesar, a burly, bearded Black man wearing an unbuttoned powder blue jersey, bedazzled with all sorts of jewelry and bursting at the seams with Sunday-sermon passion wrapped in a captivating combo of rap-poetry.

"Baseball is back!

But no wake-up call needed; because this offseason we succeeded.

We put in work. Went on a spree.

Got Bochy, deGrom, Eavoldi.

But we don’t hang banners for signings; no, we gotta grab our silver linings.

Rangers nation, let’s change the expectation.

If you’re not excited, you’re not paying attention.

Our arrow is up, be here … for The Ascension.”

The commercial, which began running on TV and social media March 3, has been wildly popular and, not unexpectedly, a tad controversial. Viewed almost a half-million times on the Rangers’ YouTube channel, the spot has already attracted a larger audience than the team’s previous 25 videos combined.

Some traditional fans, however, see it not as a breath of fresh air but more as woefully “woke.”

A sampling of YouTube comments:

“I hate this ad so much!”

“This commercial is so stupid, every time it comes on I just want to kick in the TV screen. How does this represent TX in any way at all?”

“Change your name to Dallas you don’t represent Texas.”

A passionate Rangers fan, wearing the team’s jersey and waxing poetic about optimism for a new season. Yet somehow — dog whistle, anyone? — it invokes a curious case of “shoot the messenger.”

To soothe any concerns, Dillon reiterates that the use of Woods — the Rangers also featured him in their “Turn the Page” video last October — is neither a politically correct one-off nor a permanent about-face, but instead simply a new member of the team.

“You will still hear and see our traditional and well-known faces and voices,” Dillon says. “But they will be joined by others, like Black Caesar.”

To put it delicately, the Rangers have a tricky history with diversity.

Ron Washington was the club’s only Black full-time manager. He also happens to be the winningest manager in team history, and the only one to lead them to a World Series. He isn’t, somehow, in the Rangers Hall of Fame. Who is? Josh Hamilton, who had numerous addiction relapses and embarrassing incidents during his career in Arlington and who last year pleaded guilty to the unlawful restraint of his 14-year-old daughter.

Another sign of the overriding hue and tenor of Rangers’ fandom: The team posted a tribute to Black History Month on its Facebook page Feb. 20. The item received 81 likes and five comments, three of which were later deleted. A post the same day with a photo of players arriving for spring training in Surprise, Arizona, received 1,500 likes and 88 comments.

Of course, tweaking a marketing strategy won’t mean a lick in the standings. Now comes the bigger change: An upgraded roster that, with a little luck and a lot of health, could blur the lines and unite the fan base.

The Rangers should be better. They can’t be much worse.

Since going 95-67 and winning the American League West in 2016, they …
  • Have 0 winning seasons.
  • Are 373-497, winning only 43 percent of their games.
  • Haven’t finished higher than third place in their five-team division — a combined 175 games out of first.
The six-year stretch is the worst baseball since the franchise arrived from Washington, D.C., in 1972. It’s been particularly hideous the last two seasons when the team lost 196 games, fourth-most in the 30-team MLB.

Worse, while languishing as a laughingstock, the Rangers had to watch their bitter rivals — the Houston Astros — win the World Series in 2017 and 2022.

Two years ago majority owner Ray Davis had seen enough and OK’d a colossal payroll increase that acted as a serious statement of intent to fans. At the 2021 Winter Meetings the Rangers shelled out a record $500 million to sign free-agent infielders Corey Seager and Marcus Semien. That came in the wake of the club building a $1.2 billion stadium across the street from a perfectly serviceable park.

“These guys believe they are good. We are good." – Texas Rangers Manager Bruce Bochy

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Despite the glitzier digs, which this season offers new menu items including a $35 hamburger, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos pretzel and a Pizza-filled hot dog, the Rangers haven’t won more or attracted more. In the new Globe Life Field with its retractable roof, air-conditioning and sanitized aura, they have drawn approximately the same number of fans — two million — as in the last seasons at Rangers Ballpark (and down significantly from the peak of 3.6 million in 2012).

Midway through last season’s 94-loss debacle, Davis had seen more than enough. In the span of two days in August he fired both manager Chris Woodward and longtime general manager Jon Daniels.

“We are not good,” Davis famously said at the press conference. “And we haven’t been good for six years.”

And now?

“These guys believe they are good,” Bochy said during spring training. “We are good.”

Nothing like another $300 million thrown at a problem, especially when it buys what this team has lacked seemingly forever: elite starting pitching.

With a lineup anchored by Seager, Semien, first baseman Nathaniel Lowe, burgeoning superstar Adolis Garcia and second-year slugger Josh Jung, the Rangers will have enough offense to compete for a playoff berth, just as they did last year when they scored 707 runs, 12th-most in baseball.

But their starting pitching ERA was 4.63, sixth-worst. More ominous, entering last offseason their projected 2023 rotation had names like Dane Dunning, Glenn Otto, Cole Ragans and Spencer Howard.

The Rangers first retained Martin Perez, coming off an All-Star season. They then offered more money ($185 million) and more years (five) than any other team to deGrom, who has won two Cy Youngs and is the best pitcher on the planet with 100 mph heat when healthy. It’s a high-risk, high-reward gamble, as deGrom is 34 and has made only 26 starts since Opening Day 2021. The spending continued, landing Nathan Eovaldi (who finished fourth in the 2021 Cy Young voting and helped the Boston Red Sox win the 2018 World Series) and Andrew Heaney (the Anaheim Angels’ Opening Day starter in 2020).

A rotation of deGrom-Eovaldi-Perez-Heaney-Jon Gray is as enticing as the Rangers have had in … forever? During spring training deGrom and Eovaldi teased the potential, combining to throw 17 scoreless innings with 23 strikeouts.

In recent years, however, the new acquisitions have been trending down due to injuries. The Rangers are buying Robert De Niro, hoping for the actor from Raging Bull and not Dirty Grandpa.

Bochy’s steady hand should also help. The 68-year-old has 2,000 career wins and twice has taken broken franchises (the San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants) to the World Series.

“We’ve become more pitcher-centric,” he said. “I’m a big believer in having a guy we’re going to start every night that gives us a good chance to win.”

Replacing Daniels in the front office is Chris Young, the former Highland Park High School star who pitched for the Rangers in 2004–05.

“There’s been a talent gap here, no way around that,” Young admits. “But all those growing pains have helped us lay the foundation to win.”

While the oddsmakers favor the Astros to again win the World Series, they also believe the Rangers will indeed be better. They are 50-1 long shots to capture the championship but their projected win total is 81.5, meaning they are expected to be a .500 team in the mix for a wild card playoff berth come October.

Ray Davis in 2022: “We are not good.”

Bruce Bochy at spring training: “We are good.”

Black Caesar on all your TVs: “Rangers nation, let’s change the expectation.”
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Richie Whitt
Contact: Richie Whitt

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