Two young men with eyes as red as bicycle reflectors,
chain-smoking menthol cigarettes, were conspicuous by their
presence among the retirees and vacationing middle-aged
Canadians seated at the poolside breakfast cafe. With their
thick muttonchops, this duo looked as if they had stepped out of
a photograph of Abraham Lincoln's cabinet. And like Abe's
advisers, they looked haggard enough to need chest X-rays. "I
must have drunk half of the rotgut bourbon in the whole state of
Florida last night," one of the men announced, without a care
about who overheard him. "When I got up this morning I had the
shakes so bad, I couldn't even brush my teeth."
This is an article from the Sept. 23, 1996 issue
His companion nodded and recalled sideswiping a palm tree at 4
a.m. on the expedition from a tavern back to the hotel. "I
should have put a suicide note in the glove compartment before I
started the car!" he said with a burst of laughter. After the
miscreants had finished their coffee and fried eggs and stumbled
from the cafe, one of the Canadian tourists asked a waitress,
"Who in the world are those characters?"
"Those two?" the waitress replied. "Oh, they're with the Texas
After a solemn pause the Canadian shook his head and said,
"Jeez. They sure don't look like any cops I ever saw before, eh?"
And just like that, at spring training in Pompano Beach, Fla.,
in March 1972, the Texas Rangers baseball franchise, which as
the Washington Senators had been uprooted and moved west only
five months earlier, quickly established an identity crisis that
would remain with the team for 25 years. Fielding players whose
talent was more often suitable to American Legion than to
American League ball, the Rangers were a beacon of futility in
professional sports--the ultimate stranger-than-fiction baseball
organization. This team didn't go on winning and losing streaks,
it experienced mood swings. Those people in the stands at old
Arlington Stadium weren't really baseball fans, they were
Finally this season, playing to huge crowds at the magnificent
Ballpark in Arlington, the team without a compass has presented
evidence--remaining atop the American League West for most of
the season--that its quarter-century lost-at-sea adventure might
be over. At long last the Rangers are World Series contenders.
It was perhaps a keen understanding of history that motivated
Senators owner Robert E. Short to transfer his club to North
Texas in his search for a broader fan base, which would raise
the value of the team he yearned to sell. Surely Short had read
accounts of how, in 1896, more than 40,000 Texans went out to
watch a train wreck that was staged outside Waco. Two spectators
were killed and dozens wounded by flying shrapnel when the
boilers of the colliding steam locomotives blew up. These were
the sort of folks who might come out in droves to watch the kind
of baseball that Short was promoting.
Years earlier, after finishing last in the American League two
seasons in a row, the Senators ran a high-powered ad campaign
with the slogan "Off the floor in '64." (Indeed, they rose one
notch in the standings that year.) During the team's final game
at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, in 1971, disgruntled fans held up
obscene signs directed at Short--a parting shot that was
regarded around the Beltway as an appropriate send-off for the
departing team. Short didn't care. He was headed for the
Sunbelt, where the municipality of Arlington, equidistant from
Dallas and Fort Worth, had offered him what amounted to free
meals and lodging.
Short had perhaps underestimated the tenacity of North Texas
prairie tribesmen when it came to parting with their
entertainment dollars. The Dallas Cowboys had beaten the Miami
Dolphins for their first NFL title, in January 1972, three
months before the Rangers' first season opener, and local sports
fans had already spent their emotions--and their ticket money.
On some nights that first Rangers season, the team drew fewer
fans than the Yello Belly Drag Strip, down the road in Grand
Prairie, and the Kow Bell Rodeo, in nearby Kennedale.
Of course, "baseball talent" such as Rangers pitcher Casey Cox
(3-5, giving up 73 hits in 65 innings), infielder Jim (Pee Wee)
Driscoll (0 for 18 in 15 games) and catcher Ken (Piggy) Suarez
(5 for 33 in 25 games) contributed mightily to the fans' apathy.
At midseason a young Rangers infielder, Vic Harris, poked a
single to right against the Chicago White Sox. On the press box
P.A., team statistician Burt Hawkins wearily intoned, "That hit
breaks an 0-for-38 streak for Harris." TV color commentator Don
Drysdale--who as a former Los Angeles Dodger was accustomed to
higher standards of baseball--added, "That elevates Harris to
Number 2 on the Rangers' alltime hit list." Texas completed that
season 54-100 (eight games were canceled because of labor
strife). At one point the team batting average was .217, which
approximated the blood-alcohol level of many players two hours
after a game.
Playing at Arlington Stadium, an enlarged minor league facility,
was another misfortune. The austere little bowl, which could
hold 35,000 if people were stuffed in like anchovies in a can,
had all the charm of a sprint car track in Dry Branch, Ga. But
overcrowding was seldom a problem: The Rangers drew 662,974 that
first year. The stadium's design, meanwhile, maximized the
thermal excesses of the cruel Texas summer. Most of the fans who
sat through the games avoided heat stroke and dehydration by
consuming enormous quantities of Lone Star beer.
"That season the home clubhouse was located underneath the
centerfield bleachers," recalls Tom Grieve, whose 28-year tenure
as player, club executive and, now, TV analyst has spanned the
life of the Rangers. "So after every home game we would trudge
to center, where our loyal fans, all 10 of them, would be out
there waving little banners and yelling, 'Hang in there! Hang in
there!' We were all proud to be on a major league roster, but it
was obvious that this was not a major league setting."
Rangers manager Ted Williams quit at the end of that 1972 death
march. In the Texas vernacular, "He jist threw his tools in the
air and walked off the job." In truth, Williams's departure had
less to do with the Rangers' record than with his inability to
pursue his destiny as the Great American Angler in North Texas.
The fishing hole nearest to Williams's house in Arlington was a
reservoir known locally as Lake White Trash, where the tarpon
My first regular exposure to the Rangers came in their second
season, when I covered the team for the Fort Worth
Star-Telegram. During spring training the Rangers and their
entourage resided, as the Senators had, in the Surf Rider hotel
in Pompano Beach, where the rooms had the rich aroma of Sun
Coast mildew and an ample representation of palmetto bugs, a
genetically superior breed of cockroaches that can be trained to
Each morning the Rangers eagerly evacuated the Surf Rider to
"head over to the yard"--the little stadium in Pompano. Like the
home park in Texas, the Pompano stadium offered none of the
elements that baseball purists associate with the so-called
green cathedrals of the sport. Once inside the chain-link fence
that surrounded the Pompano ballpark, a visitor had the feeling
of being at a retail mart where he or she might purchase a used
tire rim or a crank shaft. In the players' dressing area,
lockers were separated by chicken wire. Overall, the Pompano
stadium had the look of a minimum-security prison. An adjoining
field used only for infield practice was dubbed Iwo Jima by the
Short had hired Whitey Herzog, the New York Mets' farm director,
to replace Williams as the Texas skipper. Herzog, whose playing
career had epitomized that of the journeyman big leaguer, was
bright and brash. He was fond of noting that he was the only
player in history to have hit into an "all-Cuban triple play:
Camilo Pascual to Jose Valdivielso to Julio Becquer."
In the Mets' front office Herzog had produced and directed stars
such as Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Jon Matlack.
After sizing up his Rangers staff, Herzog said, "Most of these
guys maintain the arm strength of a worn-out rubber band."
As a sportswriter used to the mundane and insincere public
utterances of college football coaches, I found Herzog's
fearlessness about telling the truth to be unsettling. Each
afternoon Herzog, usually clad in a bath towel, would prop his
feet on his desk and meet the press. After the fourth day of
workouts he announced, "We're just a couple of players away from
being a contender: Sandy Koufax and Babe Ruth."
During the off-season Short had desperately tried to acquire
players with marquee value. He wound up trading what little
bullpen talent he had to the Atlanta Braves for outfielder Rico
Carty and to the Oakland A's for first baseman Mike Epstein.
Carty, who had won a batting title in 1970 and displayed good
power with the Braves, looked like damaged goods to Herzog. "The
team doctor said that he's seen better knees on a camel," he
said. Epstein, a former Senator, had experienced the sweet
sensation of emancipation during the 1971 season when Short
traded him to Oakland, where he played on a championship team.
Now he was back in Short's corral. In Pompano, though Epstein
tried not to show his disappointment, he had the demeanor of a
man who had been shipped to Devil's Island for a crime he did
In conversations with the beat writers, Herzog sometimes bragged
about players in an effort to boost ticket sales. On other
occasions, particularly late at night in the bar at the Surf
Rider, he seemed to be warning the fans of the ugly play that
was sure to come during the season. He was like somebody on the
blazing Hindenburg yelling to the captain to turn on the no
smoking sign. "Our defense is pretty substandard," Herzog told
me one night. "But with our pitching it really doesn't matter.
And if Rich Billings is our catcher again this year, we're in a
world of trouble."
When reporters passed along that assessment to Billings the next
day, the catcher pondered Herzog's remarks and said, "Obviously
he's seen me play."
Once the 1973 season started, Herzog's worst fears were
realized. By mid-May the Rangers were 11-18, and their play had
deteriorated from mediocre to frequently macabre. Some players
anesthetized themselves on charter flights with healthy portions
of Tennessee skull popper. Meanwhile, Herzog made wholesale
personnel changes. By the second week in June he had replaced
the entire starting rotation. The manager also granted Epstein a
pardon by trading him and his .188 batting average to the
California Angels. Carty wasn't hitting much better and was
waived after appearing in 86 games.
In Arlington Stadium an alarming number of empty seats made it
appear as if a typhoid epidemic were raging. Endless
promotions--Rangers Key Chain Night, Rangers Calendar Night, Bat
Night, Ball Night, T-shirt Night, even Panty Hose Night--failed
to generate much response. In the press box I cornered Short and
said, "What next? Insane Relative Night?"
Short, a Minneapolis native who favored sport coats that looked
as if they had been fashioned from the drapes at the Surf Rider,
puffed up and said, "Got a better idea?"
I didn't, but Short did. With the top pick in the June draft, he
implemented a plan to attract publicity and fans. According to
most major league scouts, lefthanded pitcher David Clyde of
Westchester High in Houston was the plum of the draft, and in
some reports he was rated as the second coming of Herb Score.
Short not only drafted Clyde but also bypassed a minor league
assignment and had the 18-year-old make his first professional
start in Arlington against the Minnesota Twins. That would sell
tickets. Sell an ocean of beer. Generate national headlines. Win
new fans if the kid came out of the escapade alive.
Herzog was doubtful. "What we have to remember, and what David
will soon find out, is that in the major leagues he won't be
pitching against a bunch of zit-faced 130-pounders who strike
out on his high fastball," the manager said one week before
Clyde's debut. But realizing that, as he said, his "next check
from Short might not clear the bank" if the Rangers didn't find
a way to get the turnstiles moving, Herzog endorsed the scheme.
When Clyde walked to the mound on June 27, Arlington Stadium,
jammed to the brim for the first time, looked like the banks of
the Ganges on a holy day. Apprehension set in quickly when Clyde
walked the Twins' Jerry Terrell and Rod Carew to start the game.
But plate umpire Ron Luciano established a compassionate strike
zone, and Clyde whiffed Bobby Darwin, George Mitterwald and Joe
Lis in succession to retire the side. You would have thought
Lindbergh had just landed in Paris.
Clyde pitched five innings, yielding two runs, one hit and seven
walks. He also struck out eight and got the win. "Why did you
yank Clyde after five?" a reporter asked Herzog. "Was he out of
"Nah," Herzog said. "I sent David out to the rightfield stands
to heal some cripples. He's starting here again five nights from
now, ya know."
In his second start, against the White Sox before a near-sellout
crowd, Clyde roughly replicated his earlier performance, but
this time the Texas bullpen blew the lead. In Clyde's third
start, on the road against the Milwaukee Brewers, the pitcher
was blistered for four earned runs and eight hits in 4 2/3
innings in a game the Rangers eventually lost 17-2.
After Texas dropped a doubleheader to the Brewers the next day,
Herzog began to display symptoms of a meltdown. He accused the
Milwaukee mascot, Bernie Brewer, of stealing the Rangers' signs.
Bernie was perched in an ersatz chalet near the centerfield
scoreboard, and whenever a Brewer hit a home run he slid down a
metal trough into a giant beer mug. Herzog claimed that someone
else was in the chalet with binoculars, feeding the Texas
catcher's signs to Bernie, who in turn signaled the Milwaukee
hitters. "The little geek wears these white gloves and claps his
hands--once for a fastball, two for a curve," Herzog sputtered.
"Can you imagine a team that has to cheat to beat us?"
Not that the Rangers wouldn't resort to a trick or two in an
attempt to beat anybody. In late August veteran lefthander Jim
Merritt pitched a shutout in Cleveland and afterward confessed
to having used a lubricant to throw what he called a "Gaylord
Considering the Rangers' lowly position in the standings,
everybody thought Merritt's ploy was amusing--everybody except
Perry and American League president Joe Cronin. Perry, the
Indians righthander who was frequently accused of throwing a
greaseball, deemed Merritt's public disclosure "very foolish...
considering the way he pitched." Cronin fined Merritt.
Merritt's revelation helped establish the Rangers' reputation as
an unorthodox and often bizarre franchise. That image was
reinforced in early September when Short called a press
conference at Arlington Stadium and announced that he was firing
Herzog. Short cited a "lack of artistic success on the field" as
grounds for the manager's dismissal.
Candid to the end, Herzog said, "I thought the emphasis was on
development and not winning right now, but I guess I was wrong
about that. And when you're wrong with a 47-91 record, you're
not going to get very far." Herzog also suggested that Billy
Martin's being fired as manager of the Detroit Tigers earlier in
the week had hastened his own dismissal.
The next afternoon, three hours before game time, I bumped into
Martin on the press-box elevator at Arlington Stadium. In the
Texas clubhouse the equipment manager was attaching the numeral
1 to the back of Martin's new uniform. After I introduced myself
I said, "There are some fairly controversial characters
associated with this team, beginning with the owner. How do you
plan to deal with that?"
Martin seemed offended. "Who do they have," he demanded, "who is
more controversial than I am?"
Short's desire to sell his oddball team to local ownership grew
exponentially toward the end of the '73 season. A novelty food
item--a gooey combination of sodium and fat known as ballpark
nachos--had been introduced at Arlington Stadium, to the delight
of coronary-bypass surgeons in the area, but not much else had
happened to boost interest in the team through two tedious
summers in which the Rangers went a combined 111-205. Short
believed that if you wish to sell a lousy used car in Texas, you
need a gaudy hood ornament (in this case, Martin) to help unload
At the dawn of the 1974 season Short's lawyer, Frank Ryan, was
awaiting a connecting flight in the lounge of the Atlanta
airport when he became intrigued by a conversation at a nearby
table. A man who had a New York accent but Texan ambitions was
telling companions of his desire to own an NBA team. Ryan
introduced himself to the man and explained that while he
couldn't offer anything in the NBA line (Short had moved his
Minneapolis Lakers to Los Angeles in 1960 and unloaded them in
1965), something might be available in the form of a used
two-door American League baseball team.
Within a month Bradford G. Corbett, owner of a Fort Worth-based
company that manufactured plastic pipe, and a group of partners
bought the Rangers for $10 million. Short turned a small profit
on his investment and retained a 10% interest in the team.
Judging by Corbett's responses to questions at the press
conference announcing the sale (Reporter: "Mr. Corbett, has the
American League officially approved this sale?" Corbett,
shrugging: "Uh, well, we haven't had time to look into that
yet"), it appeared that nobody was sure who owned what and that
the new owners hadn't the vaguest notion of how to operate a
But most of that confusion was ignored when the Rangers
unexpectedly charged out of the starting gate. Righthander
Ferguson Jenkins, a nine-year veteran of the National League
whom Texas had acquired in an off-season trade with the Chicago
Cubs, hypnotized American League batters in winning five of his
first six decisions. Making command decisions in the dugout,
Martin rolled hot dice game after game. In early May, Texas was
in first place in the American League West.
The Rangers dogged the defending world champion A's well into
September but finished five games out. Texas had its first
winning season (84-76) and drew 1,193,902 fans, nearly doubling
its attendance of the year before. What's more, the Rangers
nearly swept the American League's individual awards: Martin was
Manager of the Year, Jenkins was Comeback Player of the Year and
a close second to Oakland's Catfish Hunter for the Cy Young
Award, outfielder Jeff Burroughs was MVP, and first baseman Mike
Hargrove was Rookie of the Year.
Despite what would happen later during Martin's five stints as
New York Yankees manager under George Steinbrenner, the mystique
of combativeness that enveloped this maestro of the sucker punch
reached its zenith in Texas. During the '74 season Corbett gave
Martin a membership in Fort Worth's hotsy-totsy Shady Oaks
Country Club, and there, as legend has it, Martin and his
lifelong party associate, Mickey Mantle, created a stir by
running over Ben Hogan in a golf cart. Before long Martin was
persona non grata at Shady Oaks. When I visited him in his
office early in the '75 season to ask him about his pitching
rotation, he waved an envelope containing a bar tab from the
club. "How in the hell do they expect me to go over there and
pay that bill," he said, laughing, "when I'm no longer welcome
on the premises?"
The euphoria of '74 didn't carry far into the next season, as it
became evident early on that the Rangers could not measure up to
expectations. Martin's brawling spilled from the saloons into
the team's clubhouse, and the manager nearly duked it out with
outfielder Willie Davis after one game. Corbett fired Martin in
July, and Texas spent a relatively uneventful couple of seasons
under Frank Lucchesi.
The 1976 team laid the foundation for what would become a Texas
baseball tradition: being at or near the top of the standings
until the All-Star break, then collapsing like a cardboard
suitcase. As Burroughs summed it up, "It went from 'Wow, this
might be the year' to 'Gee, were we overexposed or what?' All in
less than two weeks." Burroughs, whose stats fell off measurably
in the two seasons following his MVP year, was traded to the
Braves after the season.
In spring training in 1977, the Rangers returned to the
territorial waters of baseball absurdity. Lucchesi, who was
grooming Maury Wills's son, Bump, for the second baseman's job,
complained to reporters about the attitude of Wills's
competition, Lenny Randle. Before an exhibition game a few days
later, Randle approached Lucchesi, who was still in street
clothes near home plate, and, without warning, beat the manager
senseless. Randle was traded to the Mets, and after the Rangers
got off to a 31-31 start, Lucchesi was fired.
Corbett hired Eddie Stanky, who proved to be the most prudent of
the many Texas skippers. Stanky managed one game--a 10-8 win
over the Twins--and quit the next morning because, he said, he
was "lonesome and homesick." He had hopped a plane to Alabama
before anybody realized he was gone. Third base coach Connie
Ryan served as interim manager for six games until Baltimore
Orioles third base coach Billy Hunter was hired--the Rangers'
fourth manager in seven days.
In 1978 Rangers pitcher Roger Moret also had to leave during the
season, but he did so in unique fashion. Before a home game
Moret fell into a trancelike state, standing in his underwear in
front of his locker, with an arm extended rigidly in front of
him, holding a shower shoe. When summoned to view the spectacle,
Hunter said, "Good god. I need a lefthanded starter, not some
goddam statue." Paramedics were summoned to deal with the
Because Corbett's plastic-pipe company was suffering heavy
losses (which some analysts pinned on his preoccupation with
running the baseball team), the owner was forced to sell the
Rangers in 1980. A propensity for making bad trades had earned
Corbett the moniker Chuckles the Clown in the local media.
Toward the end of his tenure he stood in his private chamber
alongside the press box looking forlorn as fans below him
chanted, "Jump, Brad, jump!"
The team became the property of Eddie Chiles, a Fort Worth
oilman who remains unappreciated as one of the most eccentric
owners in major league history. As head of the Western Company
of North America, Chiles became famous in Texas for his TV
commercials, in which an actress reminded the viewing audience,
"If yew don't have an awl well, git one!" Chiles further
immortalized himself by narrating ultraconservative radio
commercials in which he bewailed big government to the
accompaniment of a drum roll.
When what was supposed to have been a solid Rangers team hit the
skids early in 1982, Chiles fired general manager Eddie Robinson
and assumed a hands-on role in baseball operations. He decided
that the players, like his sales reps at the Western Company,
should set monthly personal productivity quotas. While one of
Chiles's consultants looked on, each player would sit in the
office of manager Don Zimmer and tell the skipper how he planned
to "hit .320, with four or five doubles, a dozen RBIs and maybe
a couple of f------ dingers" over the upcoming fortnight.
Finally Zimmer couldn't stand it anymore, and after the
consultant left he shredded the players' "expectations" files
with his bare hands.
When Texas fell 20 games under .500, Chiles fired Zimmer but
asked him to stay on a few days until a replacement could be
found. That turned out to be Darrell Johnson, who didn't fare
much better than Zimmer had and was released after the season.
The 1983 season began with a marketing campaign fashioned around
postgame concerts. Doug Rader, a former Houston Astros third
baseman and a nonconformist, was appointed the 12th Rangers
manager in 12 seasons. On the first pitch to the first batter in
the first game of the exhibition season, umpire Jerry Neudecker
called a ball. Rader thought the pitch had been a strike. Loud
enough for every fan in Pompano stadium to hear, Rader shouted,
"Am I going to have to put up with this s--- all year?" One
pitch into his Rangers managerial career, Rader was kicked out
of the game.
As a wardrobe innovation the '83 Rangers wore bright red jerseys
for Sunday home games. Rader referred to his team as "the
running blood clots." While the postgame concerts did attract
some extra fans to Arlington Stadium, Rader expressed concerns
about the Chiles regime and its commitment to baseball. Perhaps
that was because before a game against the Boston Red Sox, Rader
was startled to see an unfamiliar little man in the Texas
dugout. He introduced himself to Rader: "Hi. Ah'm Conway Twitty."
In May 1985 Rader was fired, and Bobby Valentine moved into his
office. With Valentine came pitching coach Tom House, whose
claim to fame was that in 1974, as a pitcher for the Braves, he
had caught Hank Aaron's 715th home run in the Atlanta bullpen.
House, who was studying for a doctorate in psychology, pioneered
bold coaching concepts in a sport that fears innovation. He
insisted that his pitchers heave footballs to each other before
games. The passing motion that produces a tight spiral, House
said, was ideal for perfecting a pitcher's mechanics.
"Opposing teams couldn't believe what they were seeing," said
Rangers TV announcer Mark Holtz. "Neither could the fans when
the team was on the road. People realized that Texas was
supposed to be a football-crazy state, but this was carrying
things too far." When pitchers began punting the balls and
infielders started returning the kicks, stiff-arming imaginary
tacklers, it was blasphemy to baseball fundamentalists.
House gave the job his best shot. But in 1986, when Texas
knuckleballer Charlie Hough broke the little finger of his
pitching hand while shaking hands with an old friend at the
Laughing Fish Pub in Pompano Beach, even House admitted that no
law of physics or rule of logic could be applied to the strange
universe of the Rangers.
It was perhaps fitting that Mideast oil sheikhs might have
supplied the impetus for a change in the team's destiny. When
the price of a barrel of crude skidded to $15 dollars, Chiles's
company faced bankruptcy. He jettisoned his baseball team, and a
new ownership group took over and finally brought stability to a
franchise that appeared to be in need of intensive therapy.
Current team president Tom Schieffer, an Arlington lawyer and
brother of CBS News correspondent Bob Schieffer, recalls that
the negotiations with Chiles in 1988 "were not hurt by the fact
that our group was represented by a man whose Republican father
had just been elected president of the United States."
What George W. Bush, now the governor of Texas, contributed to
the franchise in terms of credibility paled in comparison with
the effect of an off-season free-agent signing by general
manager Tom Grieve. Living legend Nolan Ryan, who wanted to be
closer to his home in Alvin, Texas, signed on with the Rangers
for the 1989 season. But these were still the Rangers, and even
the spectacle of Ryan dressed in a Texas uniform could not
prevent the team's Marx Brothers antics. In the clubhouse
outfielder Bob Brower entertained his teammates with pregame
shows in which his pet snake--"I don't know if it's a python or
a boa constrictor," one Ranger said. "It's the big one,
whichever it is"--devoured live rats. Not to be outdone,
infielder Julio Franco once brought his tiger cub to a game on a
On the field there was slapstick as usual. In May 1993, in
Cleveland, Jose Canseco accomplished a Rangers first when he let
a fly ball bounce off the top of his head and over the
rightfield fence for a home run. On that same road trip Rangers
manager Kevin Kennedy gave in to Canseco's badgering and allowed
his slugger to pitch in a game that the Red Sox had put out of
reach at Fenway Park. During his mound stint Canseco blew out
his right elbow and was lost for the season.
Nevertheless, there were indications that the Rangers' life
beneath the Big Top as a warmup act for the tap-dancing hyenas
might be coming to a close. In his five seasons as a Ranger,
Ryan won his 300th game, threw his sixth and seventh no-hitters
and established a major league career strikeout record that will
outlive cable TV.
Now Rangers manager Johnny Oates sits in the dugout of the
dazzling Ballpark in Arlington and presides over a premier act.
All season the 1996 Rangers have thrown strikes and socked
homers. They have run the bases and played the field like the
Gashouse Gang. After this success there's little doubt that
Texas will draw close to three million paying customers in 1997.
Still, I can't help but remember sitting in Arlington Stadium
before a game in the August twilight in 1973, when it was hotter
than First Baptist hell, and chatting with Rangers third baseman
Jim Fregosi while 1,900 fans found their seats on Ranger
Cigarette Lighter Night. Fregosi told me that he was hard at
work writing his baseball autobiography, the working title of
which was, The Bases Were Loaded and So Was I.
Arlington Stadium lies buried beneath a parking lot, and with it
lies a baseball mind-set that Fregosi hoped to describe in his
book. It is with a feeling more of disbelief than of regret that
I concede that those days have vanished forever.
Texas native Mike Shropshire is the author of "Seasons in Hell,"
a chronicle of the Rangers' early years.