Texas Rangers Baseball
For the second time, a team called the Washington Senators struggled to interest fans, and were unable to earn a profit. After ten years of poor-to-mediocre baseball, only one of which was a winning season (1967), the nation's capital was again set to lose its baseball team. The Seanators' owner, Bob Short, who had purchased the Senators in 1967 with mostly borrowed money, found himself in financial peril and made his desire to move the team public.
Enter, Tom Vandergriff. As the mayor of Arlington, Texas, Vandergriff had sought to bring a Major League Baseball team to Arlington for nearly a decade. He was unsuccessful in his bid to lure the Kansas City Athletics. Vandergriff's vision of a team located in his town, his multi-million dollar payment to the Senator's franchise, and Turnpike Stadium (a 10,000+ seat minor league ballpark that was built in anticipation of hosting a Major League team) all worked together to convince Short to move his franchise to North Texas. With approval from 10 of 12 American League owners, work began improving Turnpike Stadium which reopened for the 1972 season as Arlington Stadium and now had a capacity of over 35,000.
Early Life in Arlington
The former Washington Senators were renamed the Texas Rangers, and began play at the start of the 1972 baseball season. Baseball great Ted Williams came with the team as the manager, and their opening day starters were, (C) Dick Billings, (P) Dick Bosman, (OF) Tom Grieve, (3B) Toby Harrah, (1B) Frank Howard, (OF) Joe Lovitto, (OF) Elliott Maddox, (2B) Dave Nelson, (SS) Lenny Randle. The first season as the Texas Rangers was a poor one. The Rangers ended the season with a 54-100 record, finishing 6th in the American League. Williams was publicly against the team's move, and made no attempt to hide those feelings. He retired at the end of the season. The 1973 season began with Whitey Herzog as manager but ended with Billy Martin.
Among the many zany storylines that accompany baseball owners trying to draw attendance, is the story of David Clyde. A standout pitcher from Houston, TX, Clyde was the 1st overall pick in the 1973 draft, to the Texas Rangers. Normally, a newly drafted player would earn his stripes through the minor leagues before becoming a major league player. However, due to a stipulation in his contract, Clyde was allowed two starts for the big club prior to being sent to the minors. He won his first start in front of the first ever sellout crowd (approximately 37,000), and pitched well in his following start, thus convincing ownership that he did not need to go to the minor leagues for development. Sadly, Clyde's failure to develop his arm the way he should have, and an over-zealous ownership group trying desperately to sell tickets, Clyde's career ended at the age of 26 due to persistent arm injuries. Clyde never fully developed into the player most thought he would, with a career record (split between the Rangers and the Cleveland Indians) of 18-33, with a 4.63 earned run average.
In 1974, the Rangers became the first team in MLB history to finish a season above .500 (84-76) after two consecutive 100-loss seasons. They were very competitive that year, finishing 2nd in the American League behind the eventual World Series Champion Oakland Athletics. The late 70's brought a few good years of baseball, and 1981 was the closest the team would come to winning a spot in the playoffs for over 15 years, falling short by a half-game to the Oakland A's in a strike shortened season.
Excitement about Baseball in Arlington
32 games into the 1985 season, Bobby Valentine (Bobby V) was hired as manager of the Texas Rangers. His firey personality was just what ownership had hoped for, inspiring his young group of above-par talent to a 2nd place finish in the AL West in 1986. Excitement levels reached their peaks when Valentine had what many believed to be a superior roster. Prior to the 1989 season, the Rangers signed living pitching legend Nolan Ryan, to join highly regarded pitchers Bobby Witt, Kevin Brown, Kenny Rogers, and knuckleballer Charlie Hough. That pitching staff along with a powerful offense including Juan Gonzalez, Ruben Sierra, Julio Franco and Rafael Palmiero led to very high expectations. However, that collection of talent never finished higher than 2nd place in its division and led to Bobby V's firing during the 1992 season.
During Valentine's tenure, the highest profile player in the Texas Ranger's history, Nolan Ryan, came through. Ryan, a Texas native, left the Houston Astros due to a contract dispute and joined the Rangers prior to the 1989 season. As a Ranger, Ryan acheived record milestones. In August of 1989, Ryan recorded his 5,000th strikeout, and also pitched his 6th and 7th no-hitters (June 1990, May 1991 respectively). Despite being the only Texas Ranger cap in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and achieving milestones that will likely never be reached, many fans remember Nolan Ryan for "the fight."
On August 4th, 1993, Ryan hit Chicago White Sox hitter Robin Ventura with a pitch. Ventura charged the mound only to find himself in a headlock getting punched in the head. Ryan landed five punches to the crown of Ventura's head, and one uppercut to his face before the two could be separated. The steer wrestling move put Ryan in the hearts of all Texans for life. Ryan announced his retirement prior to the 1993 season, but was forced to call it a career two starts early because of a torn ligament in his throwing arm while pitching in Seattle. Immediately following the injury, Ryan tried to pitch through the pain. He threw one pitch following the injury, a fastball clocked at 98mph. He finished his career with 5,714 strikeouts, more than 800 more than Randy Johnson who is second on the all-time list.
A New Stadium, A New Direction
The Texas Rangers opened a new ball park in 1994. The Ballpark in Arlington was built in a classic style to conjure memories of the glory days of baseball. The old cookie cutter stadiums were long gone, and in came baseball shrines with irregular outfield walls, brick facades, organ music and memories. The Rangers used their new stadium to rebrand themselves. They switched from the old blue color scheme, and adopted red as the new primary color. A strong marketing presense and the new stadium helped draw fans for the 1994 season. Then in 1995, the Rangers brought in one of the most respected names in baseball, Johnny Oates who had been unceremoniusly and controversially been fired by new Baltimore Orioles ownership following the 1994 strike season. The Rangers used the 1995 All-Star game, held at the Ballpark in Arlington, as an opportunity to showcase the promising new philosophy of the Texas Rangers.
In 1996, the Rangers, with the A.L. Most Valuable Player Juan Gonzalez, made their first playoff appearance in franchise history. Despite losing in the first round of the playoffs to the New York Yankees 3 games to 1, the season was heralded as a huge success. The Rangers followed the '96 season with two more trips to the post season in 1998 and 1999, losing in 3 game sweeps both years to the dominant Yankees. The 1999 team would be the last Rangers team to make the playoffs until 2010.
Tom Hicks and The Depressing Times
In 1998, businessman Tom Hicks purchased the club for $250 million dollars, plus the cost of legal settlements still pending from building the new stadium. Hicks' first big splash into baseball business came in 2001 when he offered the richest contract in baseball history to Shorstop Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez's 10 year, $250 million contract got the fans excited for the prospect of future Rangers' success, but many pundits questioned the move, and wondered why Hicks would focus the majority of his resources on one player. The contract proved fatal to Rangers baseball, as the club spent the better half of the decade battling for last place in their division, even though Rodriguez was traded to the Yankees following the 2003 season.
Despite having some big names and very talented players throughout the mid-2000's (Eric Gagne, Mark Texiera, Hank Blalock, and more), the Rangers could not climb to the top of their division. However, Eric Gagne and Mark Texiera were traded seperately for, in addition to others, Elvis Andrus, David Murphy, Matt Harrison, and Neftali Feliz who played huge roles in the Rangers' success in the early 2010's.
Turnaround in Arlington
2008 brought with it a feeling of success for the Rangers. Baseball/Texas/Rangers legend Nolan Ryan came back to Arlington to serve as the Vice President of Baseball Operations. His tenacity on the field had obviously translated well into his work in the front office. He immediately began pushing everyone, specifically the pitchers on the staff to work harder, develop further, and to work at baseball, not just play the game. His attitude teamed with Moneyball style General Manager Jon Daniels, who had been promoted in 2005 and was the youngest GM in baseball, 28 years old, and a knack for finding value in players most thought had surpassed their prime, and Manager Ron Washington, hired in 2006, who has a respect for the game like few others ("that's the way baseball go") and a focus on quality fundamental baseball, began to pave a path toward tremendous success. Also added to the fray was a great 5-Tool player with a lot of baggage. A former 1st overall draft pick, Josh Hamilton struggled with alcoholism and drug addiction during his career with Tampa Bay. He wound up with the Cinncinatti Reds, and began to show his expected potential, and that his time with drugs and alcohol had been left behind. The Rangers aquired Hamilton through a trade in which they gave up one of their most coveted prospects, pitcher Edinson Volquez, which proved that Daniels expected nothing but greatness out of Hamilton. Despite finishing with a 79-83 record, there was an air of confidence blowing.
2009 proved to be a turn around season for the Rangers. While the fan base had lost complete confidence in ownership, the team was proving to be a hot commodity. Tom Hicks announced that he would sell minority ownership in the team, then later announced he would sell majority ownership in the team. There were rumors of unpaid salaries and loan defaults. Despite the turmoil, the team finished 2nd in their division, after competing for the majority of the year. Fans supported the team, and the team recognized their fans with an impromptu circle around the field after their final home game.
A sale to Nolan Ryan and Pittsburgh sports attorney Chuck Greenburg appeared to be complete in 2010, but one of Hicks' creditors objected to the sale because they would not be paid their debts in whole. This forced Hicks to put the team into bankruptcy and up for auction. Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig took control of the team, and the sale of the team and saw it through the bankruptcy and auction procedings. After an exauhsting process, the only other bidder in the auction, a company headed by Houston business man Jim Crane and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, dropped out, and Ryan and Greenburg purchased the club.
2009 was the year the Rangers proved they could win, 2010 was the year they did win. After a terrible start to the season, the Rangers hit their stride in June with a 21-6 record, bolstering them to first place in their division, a position they would not lose for the remainder of the year. In July, Jon Daniels engineered a rare trade within the division in which he sent top prospect Justin Smoak and other minor leaguers to the Seattle Mariners for ace pitcher Cliff Lee and veteran reliever Mark Lowe. Other trades brought more veterans to the Rangers who made the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
With the excitement of playoff baseball finally back in Arlington, the Rangers faced the Tampa Bay Rays in the Division Series. The Rangers defeated the Rays 3-2 which marked the first postseason series win for the franchise in its half-century history. The American League Championship Series matched the Rangers with their playoff nemesis Yankees. The Rangers were able to clinch their first pennant in 6 games in front of a home crowd.
One of the great stories coming out of the playoff series victories was the story of true team spirit. The Rangers players, knowing of Josh Hamilton's history of alcohol abuse, celebrated their series wins with Ginger Ale showers rather than the typical champagne. This story took fire and made the Rangers the team to root for.
In the 2010 World Series, the Rangers faced the San Francisco Giants. While it was in whole a very anticlimatic series, the Giants won 4-1, the Rangers did earn their first ever World Series game win at home on October 30.
Entering the 2011 season, the Rangers were widely considered the American League favorites, a spot the franchise had never been in. Despite the pressure of being the favorite, the Rangers met expectations and ended the season with a 96-66 record, the franchise's best ever record. The 2011 ALCS against the Detroit Tigers gave Rangers' outfielder Nelson Cruz a time to shine. He became the first player in Major League history to hit a walk-off grand slam to win a playoff game (Game 2), and hit 6 home runs in the series, the most ever by a single player in a single series.
In the 2011 World Series, the Rangers were widely considered the better team, but the St. Louis Cardinals were red-hot, having won a wild card spot into the playoffs on the final day of the season after having to make up 10.5 games as of August 24th on the Atlanta Braves. The Braves' collapse along with the Cardinals' surge gave the Cardinals and their fans momentum and energy that they rode all the way to the World Series. The momentum appeared to be dying down when the rangers took a 3-2 lead into game 6. Game 6 was a back and forth game in which reliable Rangers closer Neftali Feliz blew a save needing one more strike to deliver the Rangers' first ever championship. Going into the 10th inning, an injured Josh Hamilton hit a two-run home run and gave the Rangers another shot at closing the game, and the series. The Cardinals would not go away however, and Scott Feldman blew his save attempt, again with one strike left to get, allowing the Cardinals to become the first team in history to come back from two two-run deficits that late in a World Series game. The Cardinals ended up winning game 6 in 11 innings, and cruised to an easy win over a dispirited Rangers' club in game 7.
Failing to Meet Expectations
Following two consecutive trips to the World Series, the expectations for the Rangers were extremely high in 2012. Despite losing C.J. Wilson to the rival Angels in free agency, the Rangers appeared to be a stronger team with the addition of Yu Darvish, a Japanese ace, and Joe Nathan, a historically reliable closer. Neftali Feliz was shifted to the starting rotation, and the majority of key players from the previous years were in place. The Rangers led the division throughout most of the season, and appeared to be headed to another division crown. However, despite a 13 game lead at the end of June, the Rangers faltered in late months, including a sweep at the hands of the then 2nd place Oakland A's during the final week of the season. The Rangers ended up falling one game short of the division title, and lost easily to the Baltimore Orioles in the first ever American League Wild-Card "play-in" game.
2013 And Beyond
The Rangers lost key players either by trade or free agency prior to the 2013 Season. Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli, and Michael Young have all moved on, in addition to other key players. Hopes still remain high for the Rangers, and the fan base is still strong. The Rangers for the first time, now that the Houston Astros have moved into the American League West, play in a division with 5 teams, and will be able to play road games within the division without changing time zones (a luxury the Rangers have never had).
Hits - Michael Young - 2,229
Home Runs - Juan Gonzalez - 372
RBI - Juan Gonzalez - 1,180
Runs - Michael Young - 1,084
Wins - Charlie hough - 139
Strikeouts - Charlie Hough - 1,452
Saves - John Wetteland - 150
Complete Games - Charlie Hough - 98
Appearances - Kenny Rogers - 528