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Rained Out

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If you're winning, or even sniffing improvement, that can be a slippery way to conduct your affairs. But when you're dreadful, it's best not to insult your fan base with shameful bait-and-switch strategy or outright lies. (Even if you're cutting payroll to make the team more attractive for a sale, as some have suggested.) They ought to be careful with their words, or at least conscious of the way they handle themselves, because it reflects on the team, and the team doesn't need its image to grow any darker.

I doubt anyone has mentioned this to the players, who periodically enjoy rolling their eyes whenever they're asked to talk about life after A-Rod. Surely they want to move forward, but if they're this put-out in March, how frustrated do you think they'll get in August in some outpost like New York or Boston? Because the topic isn't going away--not for a while.

The clubhouse PR snafus aren't solely the players' domain. Hell, they aren't even the most egregious offenders. (Even though guys like Blalock would rather snort lines of boric acid than talk to the press. Someone asked him about that, if he enjoyed talking to us. "Talking to you guys? Yeah, not really." At least he's honest.)

Last year in spring training, Showalter had a very kiss-kiss relationship with the media. This year, he's been a bit more snippy, which is no big deal for most of us because it passes. But no one, not even Fort Worth Star-Telegram renegade Randy Galloway, has gotten it as bad as DMN beat writer Evan Grant. Half the time he asks Showalter questions, the manager gets unnecessarily argumentative or blows Grant off. That implies Grant is doing something right, and he is, but that doesn't make his job any easier. (Grant can sometimes pick at the manager, too, or argue semantics or minutiae, but in terms of their relationship, he gets far more than he gives.)

The worst case: The other day, on the practice field behind the clubhouse, Grant asked Showalter about Rafael Palmeiro. The former Ranger is now playing for the Orioles, and he had many things to say about his old club and manager, none of which were nice. Showalter refused to comment and walked away in a huff. Later, according to someone close to the organization, the manager pulled Grant aside and brought him into a coaches' meeting, ostensibly to smooth things over. Grant asked the same question. Showalter answered it. But this time, it was GM John Hart who jumped all over Grant, attacking him in front of the captive audience and "motherfucker"-ing him. Whatever the backstory there (Grant wouldn't talk about it, and the Rangers, through Elkin, declined comment), and regardless of the DMN's shortcomings--and there are a lot--it's just bad business to make an enemy of the area's most powerful media outlet. (Unless you work for the Dallas Observer, where it's considered a job well done.) The daily paper is not only how most fans get their Rangers news, but it also sets the agenda for what the radio talk shows discuss on most days. More simply: Handling the situation that way was asking for trouble.

If these were individual, isolated incidents, it wouldn't be so bad. But taken on the whole, it speaks to something bigger. Either the Rangers are oblivious to their missteps (which I doubt) and how they poorly portray the organization, or, more likely, they simply don't think they can screw up enough to keep you away from the park. Maybe they're right. On the first day of individual sales, the club sold the second most tickets in its history (though that easily could be attributed to any number of variables, including more games with the Yankees or interest in series with Houston or St. Louis or such).

Granted, the team has made some strides. They're pretty good--not great--with signing autographs, and they've done some things for the community. But they haven't done nearly enough--not for a last-place team. They need to understand that, until they win, they have to make every effort.

The best move the Rangers have made on the marketing/relations front was allowing a group of 15 loyal fans to attend a scrimmage earlier this week. Security wasn't thrilled about the idea because of a lack of park attendants and insurance concerns, but the Rangers made it happen anyway. The group--led by Cal and Shirley Kost, whom everyone calls "the Cookie Lady" because she bakes for the Rangers--was thrilled. They just wanted to watch their boys; it made their day.

That bit of benevolence was manufactured by Showalter. (He may not like some reporters at times, but he loves the Cookie Lady.) Good thing, too. I doubt the owner would have gone for it. Had it been brought to Hicks' attention, the hunch here is that he might have turned old Cal and Shirley upside down and shaken the loose change out of them.

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John Gonzalez
Contact: John Gonzalez

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