Catcher Jim Sundberg says of his Rangers, "It seems like we have always done just enough to lose." True. Four times since 1974, including 1981, Texas has been runner-up in its division. Al Oliver, who was traded to Montreal last week, thinks that a bad attitude traditionally hurts the Rangers. "They hang their heads," says Oliver, who had long been critical of the team's mental outlook and was pushing to be traded. "One loss upsets Texas something awful."
Which means 1982 could be terribly upsetting for the reconstructed Rangers. Critical will be whether two starting lefthanders—Frank Tanana, signed as a free agent, and Jon Matlack—can have turnaround years after disastrous 1981s.
"I stunk," says Tanana of his 4-10 performance for Boston last season, which included a 5.36 ERA at Fenway Park. That's why the Rangers were able to sign him for a relatively cheap $375,000 a year for two years (plus a $75,000 signing bonus). But in 1976, '77 and '78 Tanana was an All-Star with the Angels.
"I stunk," says Matlack of his 4-7 record in 1981 with the Rangers. The aroma was so bad that when Matlack showed up this spring he was told he didn't have an automatic place on the pitching staff. He was also informed by Vice-President Eddie Robinson, "We're not thinking about trading you. On the other hand, nobody else has brought up your name."
The pitching outlook was further clouded when Doc Medich, another starter (10-6 last year), came down with hepatitis during the winter, but the Rangers believe he has fully recovered. Counted on heavily are Rick Honeycutt, the team's most successful pitcher at 11-6 last year, and knuckleballer Charlie Hough, who was 4-1 and fine-tuned at the end of the season.
In a pair of off-season moves, Robinson acquired slick-fielding Met Second Baseman Doug Flynn to supplant the now-traded Bump Wills, and Lamar Johnson. Johnson was signed after he became disgruntled with the White Sox, grousing that he is an everyday player; early indications are, however, that he'll be platooned at first with Pat Putnam. Johnson has a rep for getting fat, so in addition to his $300,000 salary, he'll get a bonus of $5,000 each time his weight is under 225 pounds on 10 designated weigh-in days. Says Robinson, "Players get bonuses for at bats and games played. Why not a bonus for being in shape?"
Two more newcomers will man the outfield, former Expo Larry Parrish in right and former Met Lee Mazzilli in left. Both Parrish, who played third in Montreal, and Mazzilli, who played centerfield and first in New York, had disappointing seasons in 1981. The anchors are Sundberg, Buddy Bell at third and Mickey Rivers in center, though Rivers starts the season on the disabled list because of knee cartilage.
Jim Sundberg has caught at least 90% of his team's games for five straight years and six times in his career, both unprecedented accomplishments. Gary Carter of Montreal isn't far behind him, with four such seasons already. Several Hall of Fame catchers, including Bill Dickey, Mickey Cochrane and Roger Bresnahan, never caught 90% of their team's games in any season.