"I sure enjoyed watching Alex play--the fans did, too," Hicks said following the trade. The great thing about that news conference was that the Rangers also announced the re-signing of third baseman Hank Blalock. It was classic redirection, the same stuff used and loved by Jerry Jones. What big trade? Who's talking about that? Don't you know we've signed William Hung of American Idol fame to sing our national anthem? Get your f-ing priorities in order. "I think we'll all look back fondly and say we had three years watching him."
Yeah, 'cause that makes up for the constant losing and abandoned hope. Makes you warm inside, too.
Buck Showalter is standing next to me, just behind home plate. His hands are where they almost always are--in his back pockets--and he spits tobacco juice at the same spot on the grass with remarkable accuracy. He's watching Mark Teixeira in the batter's box while simultaneously answering my questions. It's going well. At least it was.
As I set in on him about the woeful pitching, the bond on my front tooth--the one that cosmetically covers a chip and a gap--comes loose and almost chokes me. I manage to fish it out of my mouth, while Showalter looks on, and deposit it in my pocket. The manager has a curious look on his face--he's either amused or confused.
Before I can figure out which one, I'm saved by a slender, short Japanese man who interrupts us. Politely. Showalter embraces the man warmly. His name is Akira Ogi, a legendary manager in the Japanese baseball league and a friend of Showalter's. With the translator in tow, Showalter drags Ogi over to meet John Hart, who is talking to a throng of reporters a few feet away.
"Excuse me," Showalter says. "But I want to introduce you to someone. His name is Akira Ogi, and he was a great manager in Japan. Any time his team would win, the headline in the newspapers would read 'Ogi Magic.'"
Without pause, Hart adds: "Around here, we're looking for some Buck Magic."
Hart was trying to be funny. What he probably didn't realize was that his words were a backhanded indictment of this club.
They'll all tell you they want to win. That's natural. But the Rangers will sacrifice winning now in favor of going with younger players who can grow into their roles. It's the formula used by the Oakland A's and the Minnesota Twins to great success. It's a good idea, but it's also a slow process and far from guaranteed.
"People bring up the experience factor, but we have a lot of guys who have already gotten their feet wet," Showalter says. "That helps. I think we have a lot of guys who are gonna pop--get to that next level, whatever it might be for them. Developing young guys, bringing along talent--that's a two- or three-year prop for most guys and especially pitchers, and shame on us if we don't have the guts to go down that road. Stay the course. Walk the walk."
Fight the fight. Remember the Alamo.
True, they have some talented young players, but it's likely going to take time before you see that ability translated into wins. Even then it may not happen.
If there is going to be improvement this season, it will be in the infield, one of the best in the game, regardless of age. Teixeira played well as a rookie (.259, 26 homers, 84 RBIs a year ago) and figures to man first base. Mike Young, formerly the second baseman, moves over to shortstop now that A-Rod is gone. He's an excellent fielder--he was second in Gold Glove voting--and had a .306 average, which was tops among second basemen in the AL. Blalock, an all-star last season with impressive numbers (.300, 29 homers, 90 RBIs), will be at third.
Alfonso Soriano, whom the Rangers affectionately call Sori, will play second base. If he sticks around. There have been rumors circulating that Texas was looking to deal him to the Mets.
"That's absurd," Hart says, almost spitting. "It's a fabrication. I'm not responding to this. It's beyond belief what's out there."
Right, because trading the team's best player couldn't happen. Not on this team. Not after the GM huffs and puffs and swears it won't.
If Soriano is here long enough, he could make a significant contribution with his bat and his legs. He had 35 steals last year, by far the most among these Rangers. Showalter says he'd like to run more this year, or at least keep his options open. But managers always say that in spring training.