Results tagged ‘ Jim Sundberg ’

Saying Goodbye

There are players that have defined just about every era of Texas Rangers baseball, good and bad.

The first team I followed, as the Washington Senators in 1970, were known primarily for Ted Williams managing and Frank Howard hitting.

Following the move to Texas, the first Rangers teams saw the emergence of Toby Harrah, followed by Jim Sundberg and Jeff Burroughs. In ’74 Fergie Jenkins came over from the Cubs and became the Rangers’ first dominant pitcher.

Buddy Bell came along and was the dominant name along with Sundberg for Texas starting in ’79 and going through ’83.

During the early Bobby Valentine years, the names we knew were Charlie Hough, Steve Buechele and Pete Incaviglia. In 1989, Nolan Ryan became the face of the Rangers, where he remained a fixture through 1993.

In ’91, the golden era of Texas Rangers baseball began with Ivan Rodriguez, Juan Gonzalez and Rafael Palmeiro fronting the team that would win three AL West crowns in four years from 1996-1999.

Gonzalez was the first to leave in 2000. At the end of that year came the next in line, Michael Young.

Michael Young - Texas - 2009 Home

(Photo credit: BaseballBacks)

Young was the second guy in the trade with the Blue Jays that sent Esteban Loaiza to Toronto. Pitcher Darwin Cubillan was supposed to be the main piece. He appeared in all of 13 games in a Rangers uniform, compiling a 10.70 ERA before being sent packing to Montreal.

The second guy in the trade would only go on to play in 1,823 games for the Rangers, the most in club history. He also leaves Texas as the Rangers’ all-time leader in at-bats, runs, hits, doubles, triples and total bases. He was selected to seven All-Star teams, second only to Ivan Rodriguez in club history. He was named the Rangers Player of the Year five times, tying him with Juan Gonzalez for the most in club history.

Here’s the funny thing about Michael Young. He has never been the most important player in the Rangers’ line-up. His first couple of years, he had Palmeiro and Pudge right there with him. After they departed, there was Alex Rodriguez taking up the mantle. When A-Rod left, there was still Mark Teixeira and Hank Blalock. They would then be supplanted by Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz.

All those players who provided the real pop. Yet Michael Young was anointed as the face of the franchise. Part of that is certainly due to longevity and continuity. Through all the changes, Young was a constant. But it was more than that. Every manager he’s ever played for has admired his work ethic, his professionalism. Ron Washington admits the running of the Texas clubhouse was a job he ceded to Michael Young.

English: Michael Young

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The past few years he had major detractors, mainly because he twice demanded a trade. He volunteered to move to shortstop. He didn’t volunteer to be the third baseman. Two years after that he didn’t volunteer to become the DH/super utility guy. His relationship with General Manager Jon Daniels was strained, virtually non-existent at the end. Once he put on the uniform, though, Michael Young was all business. In the clubhouse and on the field, he didn’t complain about his role. Once the season began, he did his job to the best of his ability. Could I do that if I was asked to take a role I didn’t want? I seriously doubt it.

Young had a farewell press conference yesterday. He said in retrospect, he should have been more accepting of his move to third base but doesn’t regret anything about his displeasure in moving to DH. He looks at the move to Philadelphia as a new challenge and that he loves new challenges.

My guess is he will have a rebound year as the Phillies third baseman. He won’t be great defensively, but he’ll get his average back towards the .300 mark and he’ll hit for more power than he did in 2012. I’m also willing to bet Charlie Manuel and every Phillies player to a man will, by the end of the season, say he has made a positive difference in their club’s fortunes, no matter what his WAR might indicate.

I also predict that after his playing career is over and Jon Daniels has moved on to his next opportunity, Michael Young will return to the Rangers, be it in the front office, as a coach or even Rangers manager. And when that day comes, even his detractors will welcome him back with open arms.

I’m looking forward to seeing the development of Jurickson Profar, Leonys Martin and Mike Olt over the next few years. Maybe they’ll be the ones who finally deliver that long sought after World Championship. If they do, I’ll be ecstatic. I’ll also think about Michael Young and wish he was there to see the dream come to fruition.

Pudge

June 20, 1991. I was getting ready to watch another Rangers game on TV, this one a road contest against the Chicago White Sox. It was the first full year of the Bobby Valentine era.

Rangers fans had some hope in 1991. Nolan Ryan was heading the rotation. Jose Guzman was having a good year and Kevin Brown was coming off back to back 12-win seasons. The offense was shaping up as one of the more prolific ones the Rangers had ever had, with Juan Gonzalez in his first full season as a Ranger, teaming up with veterans Rafael Palmeiro, Julio Franco and Ruben Sierra.

Overall, the Rangers were doing OK. They were in third place in the West at 33-27, but only four games off the lead. They did have a weakness, though, at catcher. The names Geno Petralli, Mike Stanley, Chad Kreuter and Mark Parent weren’t making anyone forget Jim Sundberg, the best catcher in Rangers history.

It was on June 20th, 1991 the Rangers decided to make a change. They called up a 19-year-old catcher and announced he would be in the starting line-up against the White Sox that game. This youngster, who had just gotten married in celebration of the call-up, was a kid named Ivan Rodriguez.

Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez, Future Hall of Famer

I had no idea who this kid was. I was a Texas Rangers fan, but I’d never paid real close attention to what was going on in the Rangers minor league system. The TV announcers at the time (Merle Harmon and Norm Hitzges maybe?) said Rodriguez, like Juan Gonzalez and Ruben Sierra, was part of the Rangers new pipeline of talent from Puerto Rico. That was the extent of my knowledge.

What I did know was it was a pretty decent pitching match-up: Kevin Brown for the Rangers vs. Black Jack McDowell for the White Sox.  For awhile, it was a pitcher’s duel. Through six innings, the Rangers were nursing a 1-0 lead. Rodriguez flied out and grounded out in his first two at bats.

More importantly, Rangers fans saw something in the top of the 5th inning. With one out, Joey Cora was hit by a Kevin Brown pitch. Cora decided to try to steal second two pitches later. Cora failed. Rodriguez fired a perfect strike to second to nail him, keeping the Rangers on top, 1-0.

Texas would up the lead to 2-0 in the top of the 7th on a Juan Gonzalez home run, but Brown ran out of gas in the bottom of the inning. The Chisox tallied three runs to go up 3-2.

In the 8th, Chicago got a 1-out single from Warren Newson. Looking for an insurance run, Newson took off on the next pitch. Another perfect throw from Rodriguez to second. Newson was out. The kid was 2-2 throwing out runners in his major league debut and looked to have a cannon for an arm.

Top of the 9th, White Sox still up 3-2. Bobby Thigpen walked Rafael Palmeiro, then gave up back to back bombs to Ruben Sierra and Julio Franco to put Texas up 5-3. Two outs later, with runners on 2nd and 3rd, the rookie stepped to the plate and hit a single on a 2-1 pitch to plate the final two runs of the game.

1-4 with 2 RBI and two runners caught stealing. That was the first time I saw Ivan Rodriguez play. 21 years later, Pudge will be honored today at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington and throw out the first pitch in his official retirement ceremony. Sometime in the near future, his #7 is bound to be retired (sorry, David Murphy).

Nolan Ryan was the first man to enter baseball’s Hall of Fame wearing a Rangers uniform, but much of his glory came before he even donned a Rangers uniform. Five or six years from now, Pudge Rodriguez will become the second man to wear a Rangers uniform to the Hall, but he’ll be the first to do so after coming through the Rangers system first before entering the Rangers dugout.

Pudge spent the first 12 years of his career with the Rangers and had a brief stint at the end of the 2009 season. With Texas he had a career .304 average with 217 Home Runs, 842 RBI, 81 steals, an MVP Award in 1999, 10 of his 13 career Gold Gloves, six of his seven Silver Slugger Awards, ten of his 14 All-Star Games berths and for his career caught 46% of all runners who tried to steal on him. That stat doesn’t even cover the number of runners he picked off first before they even had a chance to steal. He is baseball’s all-time leader in games caught.

Tonight he receives the first official thanks for a job well done. The next official one will be in Cooperstown.

Thanks for the memories, Pudge.

The Shlabotnik Non-Stars: George Wright, OF

In honor of good ol’ Charlie Brown, the Texas Rangers team full of high hopes and low results, but loved by the die-hard fan anyway!george_wright_autograph.jpg

 

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Some of the positions on the Rangers Non-Stars team were hard to fill because, believe it or not, the Rangers/Senators have had a history of exceptional players at those positions. Specifically, a lot of years in team history were filled with Pudge Rodriguez and Jim Sundberg behind the plate. Buddy Bell, Bill Madlock and Dean Palmer spent quite a few years on the hot corner. And recent Rangers history has seen quite a bit of quality at first base with Rafael Palmeiro, Will Clark and Mark Texeira.

When you get to the outfield, it becomes a lot easier to pick among the Non-Stars. For every Juan Gonzalez there were dozens of Oddibe McDowells. We once had Ruben Sierra but countered with more Pete Incaviglias and yes, even Tom Grieves, to mention.

So it is with pride that we hand out the first outfield slot on the Non-Stars team to George Wright.

Huh?

Exactly. Diehard fan as I’ve been for 40 years, George Wright barely made a blip on my radar when I think of all the years I’ve rooted for the Rangers. Yet Wright not only played for the Rangers, he was a starter for two years and one of the main guys off the bench for three more. Still, if I were to come face to face with him tomorrow, I probably wouldn’t know who he was.

George Wright was drafted out of high school by the Rangers in the 4th round of the 1977 draft. Hailing from Oklahome City, Wright wound his way through the minors from ’77 to ’81. Following his 1981 campaign at AA Tulsa, where he hit .260 with 11 HR, 58 RBI and 22 steals, the Rangers felt he was ready for the big time.

Wright mostly manned center field in his rookie year, when he played in 150 games and came to bat 599 times, mostly as the lead-off man in the Rangers order. So he must have walked a lot, right? Nope, only 30 walks. Stolen bases? Guess again. He was caught stealing on 7 of 10 attempts. Scored a lot of runs? Wrong again. He only had 69 for the year. And he batted a merely mortal .264 with a .305 On-Base Percentage. No wonder the Rangers were a dismal 64-98 under managers Don Zimmer and Darrel Johnson.

As if to prove 1982 wasn’t a fluke (!), Wright played in all 162 games for the Rangers in 1983, all but two as the starting center fielder. New manager Doug Rader decided maybe lead-off wasn’t the best place in the batting order for George, so he rotated between 3rd and 8th in the order throughout the year. Actually, Wright’s sophomore year wasn’t half-bad for the Rangers. He improved his average to .276, with 18 HR and 80 RBI and was feared enough to have even garnered nine intentional walks. In fact, Wright finished 24th in the AL MVP voting. 

In 1984, Wright had a hard time living up to the new expectations from his earlier success. He got off to a horrible start in ’84, bottoming out at a low .185 average by the end of May. In mid-June he was sent back down to Oklahoma City for a month to find his stroke again. When he returned to the club in July, the Rangers saw a vastly better hitter. Wright brought his average up from .203 on June 9th to an end of season .243, while dividing his time equally between center field and right field.

1985 was a mirror image of 1984, except it was even worse. This time, Wright was hitting a feeble .175 at the end of May when he was once again returned to Oklahoma City for some seasoning. This time, he was gone for a quarter of the season and was still only hitting .254 in the minors when the Rangers called him back up. This time, Wright didn’t really recover, ending the season with a paltry .190 average. The power he had shown just two seasons earlier had also vanished. Now he hit only two home runs for the Rangers compared to the 18 of 1983.

You would think by now the Rangers would have someone new in their sights for the outfield (true), but Wright still managed to stick with the Rangers one more year. Now he was strictly a utility player. While he managed to appear in 105 games, over a third of those appearances were just as a pinch hitter and he started only 45 times in the outfield, replaced as a fulltime starter by the incomparable Oddibe McDowell (at least everybody hoped he’d be incomparable at the time). In his final full year, Wright hit .202 for the Rangers.

Still managing to hold a big league job, Wright once again stuck with the Rangers to start the ’86 season, but only played in 49 games for Bobby Valentine before being shipped mid-season to the Montreal Expos, where he played the final 56 games of his major league career. After being without a job in 1988, Wright bopped around in the minors from 1989-1991 in the Giants, White Sox and Royals farm systems before calling it a career.

Wright’s career line in five seasons with Texas: .248 BA, 42 HR, 203 RBI 

1971- The Futility Begins: My History As A Fan

It took about four years to get from being aware of major league baseball to becoming a full-fledged team fan. My first major league game was a Senators game. I got free tickets to a game for doing a backyard carnival for Muscular Dystrophy. In junior high, we got to catch one of the Red Sox-Cardinals World Series games in ’67. Fanhood, however, didn’t kick in until 1971.

I still remember being a freshman in high school in 1971, bringing my transistor radio to school with an earpiece. We were having a school assembly that day- for what I don’t remember- and I was ready for the season opener. Back then, there were two traditional opening day games. The Cincinnati Reds home opener and the Washington Senators home opener were the two. Living in Maryland, I could pick up the Senators home opener on my radio, so I decided to try to listen to the game without getting caught during the assembly. I succeeded.

If you lived in Maryland, especially in 1971, you were an Orioles fan. The Birds had lost the ’69 Series to the Mets, beat the Reds in ’70 and were loaded to repeat in ’71. About the only thing the Senators had going for them was Ted Williams as their manager (they were 70-92 in 1970). While not new to the game of baseball, 1969 was my first year of starting to become a fan of a team. I pulled for the Mets in the ’69 Series because I loved their story of rags to riches (this didn’t make me popular among my Oriole fan friends) and I pulled for the Birds in ’70, but I really wasn’t a fan of any team.

I probably would have remained that way for a while longer, except for two fateful turns. First, my eighth grade year, in 1970, I had gotten my first paper route, delivering the Washington Post. This put me in direct contact with regular news about the Senators. Second, I took that transistor radio to school that day to listen to the traditional opener. And what an opener it was. I remember few details about the game, but I do remember the result: The Senators were playing the A’s, who were expected to be one of the best in the American League, and Dick Bosman threw a gem for the Nats, an 8-0 shutout.

The 1971 Senators team was full of hope. They had traded for former 30-game winner Denny McLain from the Detroit Tigers. They also had acquired Curt Flood to play the outfield. I knew nothing of the finances of the game and the players at the time, but I knew they were two very good players. When the Senators not only beat the A’s, they trounced them, a fan was born.

I began telling all my Oriole friends about the Senators, trying to sway them. And oh, did I enjoy the start of that season. While Curt Flood had not hit a lot yet, coming off a self-imposed exile in which he was protesting the fact that he could not become a free agent, his presence was felt in the Nats line-up.

The Senators would follow their defeat of the A’s with a loss to the Orioles and a 4-game split with the Yankees. After losing two of three to the Red Sox, they went on to win two of three from the Indians, swept a two-game set from the Yankees, took two of three from the Brewers and another two of three from the Twins. After 20 games, “my” team was sitting at 12-8 and things were looking good.

And then it ended.

Sitting at 12-8, Curt Flood suddenly decided to retire. I don’t recall if he decided he didn’t have the skills any more or the interest. Regardless, he left the team, and in one fell swoop, the team totally deflated. The Senators lost 18 of their next 21 games to fall to 15-26 and things never got better. They ended the 1971 season at 63-96. Owner Robert Short announced he was moving the team to Dallas after the season. In the last game of the season, leading the Yankees 7-5 in the 9th inning, fans stormed the field before the end of the game, leading to their last game in Washington being a forfeit.

I should have known better. I should have taken it as an omen and moved my allegiance to the Orioles, who I had great respect for. But I was then, and still am, a very stubborn individual, so I stayed true to my Senators, now known as the Texas Rangers.

I have stayed loyal through nearly 40 years of fanhood, delighting in the accomplishments of stars like Frank Howard, Mike Epstein, Jeff Burroughs, Toby Harrah, Ruben Sierra, Jim Sundberg, Juan Gonzalez, Ivan Rodriguez and Rafael Palmeiro as well as lesser known players like Joe Foy, Del Unser, Darold Knowles, Pete O’Brien and Kevin Elster. I have witnessed home-grown Senators and Rangers become stars for other teams: from Adrian Gonzalez and Sammy Sosa in recent years back to Eddie Brinkman and Aurelio Rodriguez in the early 70′s (they went to Detroit in the Denny McLain deal). I even moved to Texas in 1983 (not because of the Rangers) and have stayed a Lone Star State resident and a closer follower of “my” team ever since.

In 40 years of being a Senators/Rangers fan, I think I have witnessed winning records maybe ten times at best (I don’t have the heart to do the research to find out the actual figure). There was one delightful four year stretch in which the Rangers went to the playoffs three times, only to stomp on my heart again by losing nine of ten playoff games, all to the Yankees. I remember Billy Martin’s first year as manager when the Rangers came oh so close. I remember the year the Rangers fired their manager, hired a new one who managed one game and then quit, forcing them to hire their third manager of the season.

So now we come to 2010 and I am starting this blog, hoping this is the year the futility ends. I write this as a fan- not a fan who’s a whiz at strategy or sabermetrics, just one who has loved his Rangers/Senators through thick and thin for a LOOONNNGGG time with only one playoff win to show for it.

So no more history except for today’s history. Let the 2010 season begin. And let it end with at the very least a wild card berth, at most the first title in franchise history!

Tomorrow: Hopes and Fears for the 2010 Season

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