Optimism springs eternal on Opening Day. Yes, it does, even for Rangers fans. We’re four hours away from C. J.’s first pitch in today’s opener at the Ballpark against the Red Sox. The sun is shining, the skies are blue, and it’s already 71-degrees. Perfect. Absolutely perfect.
Coming off the American League pennant and first ever World Series appearance, the normal Rangers Opening Day optimism is running deeper and stronger than ever. Today is a very important day.
Texas’ pitching is a concern, but no more so than it was last April. Michael Young’s not going anywhere. Beltre is healthy. Kinsler and Elvis and Murphy are a year older with more experience — playoff experience at that! Napoli brings added pop against lefties like Lester today. And Hamilton’s even in an early groove. There’s no reason to believe these Rangers can’t repeat as division champs and make another legitimate run to the title.
In recognition of just how far things have come for the Rangers and their fans, I direct your attention back to 1973. It was the Rangers’ second season in Texas. The soon-to-be legendary Whitey Herzog was the Rangers skipper. And he was managing arguably the worst team in Major League Baseball history.
On the first day of spring training, Herzog summed up their chances this way: “This team is two players away from being a contender — Sandy Koufax and Babe Ruth.”
He wasn’t kidding.
Rico Carty, the washed up Braves slugger, was the big offseason signing for the Rangers. After Carty’s first spring workout, Herzog said he’d “seen better knees on a camel.” For the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Herzog added, “When Rico runs from home plate to first, you can time him with a sundial.”
It was bad. Even before the start of spring training, Herzog had said, “If Rich Billings is the starting catcher again, we’re in deep trouble.” When that evaluation was passed along to Billings, he simply nodded and said, “Obviously, Whitey has seen me play.”
During spring training in Pompano Beach, Herzog told reporters, “Defensively, these guys are really substandard. But with our pitching, it doesn’t really matter.”
Early that season Jim Palmer took a perfect game into the eighth inning against the Rangers in Baltimore. But Ken Suarez spoiled it with a grounder up the middle with two outs in that eighth. After the game, Herzog was quoted as saying, “If anybody throws a perfect game against this lineup, they oughtta slap an asterisk on it.”
That Rangers team finished 1973 with 105 losses. Herzog was fired with about a month to go and replaced by Billy Martin the very next day. Whitey wound up in K. C. with the Royals. The Rangers fired Martin almost exactly a year later. And he wound up managing the Yankees in ’75.
Yeah, it used to be bad around here. Really bad.
I was six-years-old during that 1973 season. My uncle Gary was there the night David Clyde made his debut in Arlington. My dad and my grandmother started taking me to Rangers games when I was ten or eleven. Sundberg. Harrah. Hargrove. Bell. I started taking my little brother, Keith, to Rangers games when he was eight or nine. Sierra. McDowell. Krueter. And they never won anything until the fall of ’96, after I’d been married for seven years and we were expecting our first daughter.
It’s not bad anymore. In fact, it’s great to be a Rangers fan today. The Stars are going to miss the playoffs. The Mavs got killed by another Western Conferece contender last night. And the Cowboys are making more news off the field this off-season than they will on the field this fall.
That first daughter and I can’t wait for today’s first pitch.
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