It isn’t like they are baseball neophytes. They aren’t a bunch of nobodies with no history. The baseball world at large may look at the Texas Rangers as a glorified Triple A team, never a threat, no great players, sub-par management.
Why should this franchise that has languished in mediocrity garner national attention? They are, and have always been, a collection of baseball also-rans, right? Just a bunch of nobodies going nowhere.
Well, no. Not exactly.
In fact, the Rangers have had their share of baseball royalty don their ball cap. Seriously! It’s true.
Take, for instance, the Rangers’ first skipper. He wasn’t some leftover or castoff from one of the other venerable Major League franchises. Nor was he some anonymous bench coach or minor league coach trying to make his mark at the highest level. He was, in fact, pure baseball genius. He was royalty. He was the man known as the greatest hitter who ever lived.
He was Ted Williams.
And he failed as a manager. He failed as a Texas Ranger. He failed to build a pennant-winning team. So did the parade of baseball legends who would follow him as manager of the Texas Rangers. Whitey Herzog, Billy Martin, Don Zimmer, Bobby Valentine, Kevin Kennedy: Just a few of the great baseball minds who could not get this franchise over the hump.
There were great players, too. Men named Ferguson Jenkins, Jim Sundberg, Toby Harrah, Gaylord Perry, Al Oliver, Buddy Bell, Mickey Rivers, Charlie Hough, Ruben Sierra, John Wetteland, and of course, the great Nolan Ryan, to name a few.
Even team ownership was royalty. I mean, how many Major League owners went on to become governor of Texas and president of these United States the way George W. Bush did?
More than 30 years without so much as a division pennant passed. While the Dallas Cowboys amassed eight Super Bowl trips and won five Lombardi trophies, the Rangers just continued to be the boys of summer, a nice team to go watch, but no expectations.
Then along came Johnny Oates, the late great understated skipper who would finally build a team for success. In the mid-90s, his Rangers won three American League West pennants. Three times they stormed into the playoffs with bombastic bats swung by men named Pudge Rodriguez, Juan Gonzalez, and Rafael Palmeiro.
Each time, the Rangers were summarily dismissed by an unimpressed Yankees team destined to make its own mark in the hallowed history of baseball’s greatest franchise.
Later, the Rangers success in the 90s would be marred by the revelation that Arlington was apparently Steroid Central. Jose Canseco’s book Juiced would open Pandora’s box and by the time the lid was finally forced back down, otherwise Hall of Fame careers would be viewed with suspicion at best and utter disdain at worse.
So, a new century rolls in from the shores that seemed so distant back in 1972, when these Rangers first hit town. A new beginning. Promise. Hope.
But Johnny Oates would soon be gone from Texas, and, sadly, just gone, the victim of cancer. Jerry Narron would not last long. Buck Showalter, a man known to turn a team around would have largely the same level of success all of his predecessors not named Oates had.
Another decade of dashed hopes and pedestrian finishes.
Then came 2010. The year would begin with a whirlwind of controversy. The funny-talking, king-of-subject/verb-disagreement manager, Ron Washington, would test positive for cocaine use.
Fire him, they all said.
No! came the answer from John Daniels, Nolan Ryan, and the rest of the management team. He is our man.
If only that had been the only controversy, the only off-the-field distraction. It wasn’t. There was the not-so-small matter of Tom Hicks’s finances. He owed a lot of people a lot of money. He had to sell the team. So, a deal was struck with the Chuck Greenberg/Nolan Ryan group, and everybody was happy.
Everybody but the creditors, who forced the team into bankruptcy court. The judge said a public auction would be held, and it was.
Meanwhile, general manager John Daniels, operating on a shoe string and a prayer, manages to snag the most coveted arm on the trade block… right out from under the snooty nose of the vaunted Yankees. Cliff Lee became a Ranger!
Still, with everything this club had been through this year, surely the baseball gods would deem the time inappropriate. Surely, the players would crumble under the white-hot lamp of scrutiny. Surely, the Josh Hamilton injury would set them back. Surely, 2010 would take its place alongside all of the years that passed before it as just another year of almost-but-not-quite baseball in Arlington, Texas.
Not so. Under the unlikeliest of managers, under the most difficult of circumstances, the 2010 version of the Rangers would go where none had gone before: the American League Championship Series.
But, why this team? Why this manager? Why did it take so long? Why could these guys do what some great players and great managers could not get done before them? Why did it take this organization 40 years to win its first postseason series?
I think Ron Washington knows. He summed it up perfectly earlier this year, when he gave this immortal answer to some question no one can even remember:
“Well, that’s just the way baseball go.”