The streak can't compare to the championship drought of the Red
Sox or the run of Stanley Cup futility ended in 1994 by those
other, East Coast Rangers. But it is getting tiresome. This will
be the Texas Rangers' 25th season in Arlington, and, unlike any
other American League team during that period, they haven't had
so much as a whiff of postseason play. "That's a long time,"
sighs second-year manager Johnny Oates. "Summer comes, you lose
a few games, and people start saying, 'Same old Rangers, wilting
in the heat.' There's nothing you can do about it, of course,
but it's hard to ignore."
That climate theory may be more than just hot air: Texas's
pennant hopes have been swamped by a .449 winning percentage in
July and August. (It's .492 in the other months.) Last summer
the club did shrug off a 10-game losing stretch--and those
annual whispers--and contend until the season's final weekend.
But then, as always, the doomsayers were proved right. And
though Oates is bravely optimistic as the new season dawns,
there seems to be no end in sight to the Rangers' idle Octobers.
Texas has neither the pitching nor the offense to keep up with
the Angels or the Mariners.
The Rangers have, however, brought some championship karma to
the Ballpark by signing World Series-tested righthander Ken
Hill, who will anchor the staff in the stead of Kenny Rogers, a
recent free-agent signee with the Yankees. Hill, 51-29 in the
last four years, closed out last season in Cleveland, where the
Indians did some jinx-jilting of their own. "He's got a
reputation for winning," says Texas general manager Doug Melvin.
"That's very important."
The other three definite starters--righties Kevin Gross, Bobby
Witt and Roger Pavlik--are a montage of mediocrity. Gross has
had a winning record only once in the past 10 years; the wild,
wild Witt has yielded more than a hit per inning over the past
five seasons; and Pavlik, though he pitched well at times last
year, has accumulated a 5.06 ERA since his breakthrough season
March 12, 1996
The fifth spot will be filled by either Darren Oliver or the
newly acquired and able-armed Gil Heredia, both of whom will
also work in long and middle relief, along with former ticket
scalper Ed Vosberg (he got busted for peddling his comps at last
year's All-Star Game). At least when the Rangers take slim leads
into the ninth (9-8? 8-6?), they'll have Mike Henneman, who had
a career-best 26 saves with the Tigers and Astros last season,
to handle the opposition.
Mickey Tettleton (32 home runs in '95) was one of the Rangers'
few healthy sluggers last year. Juan Gonzalez was limited to 90
games by back and neck injuries; Dean Palmer played only twice
after tearing his biceps in June; and Will Clark fought through
recurring back strain and a cracked bone in his elbow. "You
can't sit Will down," says Oates. "He's got an amazingly high
tolerance for pain." Clark, 32, no longer drives the ball like
he used to, yet he is still the man the Rangers want up with the
game on the line. Oates says simply, "He's the guy."
The other guy essential to Texas's success is Gonzalez. After
belting 46 home runs in '93, Gonzalez slipped to 19 homers in
'94, arrived overweight at spring training in '95, clashed with
Oates last summer, and in December got into a headline-making
skirmish with some deejays while watching his girlfriend perform
as a merengue singer in Puerto Rico. Now Gonzalez may have put
his fandangos behind him; he showed up in rippling shape at a
team media function in early February.
A switch from Nixon to Hamilton might be a step up from a
political perspective, but it costs Texas in centerfield.
Free-agent signee Darryl Hamilton hits as well as his
predecessor, Otis Nixon, but he doesn't have Nixon's glove.
Defense isn't a problem at other key spots. Rangy shortstop
Benji Gil is on the verge of winning a Gold Glove, and catcher
Ivan Rodriguez has won four straight. Rodriguez, a .300 hitter,
is the AL's best all-around catcher, which means backup Dave
Valle won't see much action.
Valle, though, is the Ranger doing the most vital lifework. He
spearheads Esperanza International, a foundation that helps the
poor in the Dominican Republic. Esperanza is Spanish for hope.
And that, after years of futility, is something Rangers fans are
trying hard to maintain.
BY THE NUMBERS
1995 Team Statistics (AL rank in parentheses)
Batting Average .265 (9)
Home Runs 138 (10)
ERA 4.66 (8)
Fielding Pct. .982 (4)
The Rangers and Marlins are the only current major league teams
that have never played a postseason game. The Rangers' drought
extends back to 1961, when the franchise originated in
Washington, D.C., as the Senators. Among the teams in North
America's four major professional sports, none has gone longer
without a league, conference or division title than the Rangers'
franchise. (Although Texas's 52-62 record led the AL West when
the 1994 season was ended by the players' strike, no league or
division championships were awarded that season.)
Longest Stretches Without a Title in Pro Sports
League Team Last Years
MLB Rangers-Senators None (formed 1961) 35
NHL Maple Leafs Stanley Cup, 1966-67 28
NFL-AFL Jets AFL East, 1969 26
NBA Clippers-Braves None (formed 1970-71) 25
NFL Cardinals NFC East, 1975 20
NBA-ABA Nets ABA, 1975-76 19
PLAYER TO WATCH
One of the most frightening sights of the '95 season occurred on
June 3, when Rangers third baseman Dean Palmer, lunging at a
change-up from Minnesota pitcher Kevin Tapani, tore his left
biceps off the bone. "It freaked me out," says Palmer. "You look
down and your biceps is up in your shoulder." Palmer, 27, has
always been good for 25 to 30 home runs, and his batting average
has steadily improved since his rookie season in '91. But it was
only last year that he began putting it all together. Before his
injury, he was hitting .333, driving in runs and generating the
greatest bat speed of his career. Now he is fully recovered, and
off-season workouts indicate that his bat speed is too. If so,
Palmer is about to be a star.
PROJECTED LINEUP With 1995 Stats
BATTING ORDER BAs, HRs, RBIs, SBs
CF Darryl Hamilton[***] .271, 5, 44, 11
2B Mark McLemore .261, 5, 41, 21
1B Will Clark .302, 16, 92, 0
DH Juan Gonzalez .295, 27, 82, 0
3B Dean Palmer .336, 9, 24, 1
RF Mickey Tettleton .238, 32, 78, 0
C Ivan Rodriguez .303, 12, 67, 0
LF Rusty Greer .271, 13, 61, 3
SS Benji Gil .219, 9, 46, 2
OF Damon Buford[***] .235, 4, 12, 7*
IF Craig Worthington .221, 2, 6, 0**
STARTERS W-L, ERA
RH Ken Hill[***] 4-1, 3.98**
RH Kevin Gross 9-15, 5.54
RH Bobby Witt 3-4, 4.55
RH Roger Pavlik 10-10, 4.37
LH Darren Oliver 4-2, 4.22
RELIEVERS SAVES, ERA
RH Mike Henneman[***] 18, 1.53**
RH Gil Heredia[***] 1, 4.31
LH Ed Vosberg 4, 3.00
LH Dennis Cook 2, 4.53
*NL statistics **AL statistics
[***] New acquisition (R) Rookie