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ON THE RIGHT TRAIL AT LAST? : Long Texas' Lost Team, Rangers Are Riding High

June 23, 1986|ROSS NEWHAN | Times Staff Writer

First, some Texas Rangers history:

This is an organization born of 1961 expansion as the Washington Senators and moved to the Dallas-Fort Worth suburb of Arlington in 1972 with Bob Short, a Minnesota trucking and hotel magnate who had once moved the Lakers to Los Angeles, as owner and fishing authority Ted Williams as manager.

Whitey Herzog followed Williams in 1972 and Billy Martin followed Herzog in 1973, and what almost always followed never made sense and left the Rangers appearing like one of the midway attractions at the nearby Six Flags Over Texas amusement park.

In 14 years there have been three owners, six general managers and 13 field managers, including four during one week of the 1977 season.

This is the organization that traded pitchers Dave Righetti, Ron Darling, Walt Terrell and Len Barker even before they got a chance in the big leagues, that failed to protect Jim Clancy, who is still pitching for the Toronto Blue Jays, in the 1977 expansion draft, and lost reliever Tom Henke to Toronto as 1985 compensation for the Rangers' signing of free agent Cliff Johnson, who was traded back to Toronto even before that season ended.

Listen to Charlie Hough, the 38-year-old knuckleball pitcher who first became familiar with Ranger history when he was traded from the Dodgers in 1980:

"We'd go on road trips and the trainer would point out all the guys who used to be with us and it seemed like every time we got beat it was by a former Ranger and I'd finally say to myself, 'Why the hell aren't these people still with us?'

"I mean, it was pretty obvious that this was an organization that had never been run with any kind of plan beyond next week.

"It was the type organization that would get to the last week of spring training, discover it needed a left fielder and trade half the club for one."

Now Larry Parrish, the 32-year-old infielder-outfielder of the Rangers, is sitting in the bar of an Anaheim hotel on a quiet Sunday night, the Rangers having just arrived for a three-game series with the Angels.

Parrish is alone. He is asked why. A smile lights his face and he says, "Hell, there's only about five of us on this club old enough to drink."

Tom Grieve doesn't look like he'd be one of them. He is 38 and in his third year as baseball's youngest general manager.

He says the Rangers have always been an organization that traded for veteran players in a futile hope they would made an immediate impact.

"It's ironic that we've now done that with the type kids that they always used to trade," Grieve said.

There are 14 players 27 or under on the current roster and 7 rookies. An eighth is on the disabled list. Kansas City Royals Manager Dick Howser recently shook his head and said, "They're starting the bleeping Olympic team."

It is too early to predict whether it will come up gold for a club that lost 102 games more than it won over the previous four seasons and was last at 62-99 in the American League West last year, but these Strangers have now been first in the West since May 24 and either first or second since May 10, overcoming injuries, inexperience and that long absence of credibility and continuity in the front office.

Now, under Grieve and his equally positive and enthusiastic managerial choice, 38-year-old Bobby Valentine, the Rangers seem to have created a new philosophy and respect. Hough, for one, definitely believes in it.

"When I came here there wasn't really an organization and there wasn't the attitude, 'Let's go win a game,' " he said, noting that not one player or coach remains from that 1980 team. "There was no attitude at all expect to show up, put the uniform on and go play. I mean, guys hoped to get three hits or pitch a shutout, but the attitude was like you find in the minors. They wanted to do well so that they would be sent somewhere else.

"But now, since Bobby and Tom Grieve took over, we're playing to win and believe that we can. I love playing here now. I have the feeling this is going to be one of the best organizations in baseball."

Who would have believed it?

Not Randy Galloway, a columnist and former baseball writer with the Dallas Morning News who said the franchise died when Herzog was fired in 1973 and did not revive until Grieve took over.

Herzog had been the New York Mets farm director. He was hired by Short with the same commitment Grieve now espouses: Go with kids, build from within, accept the risks and plan to experience three years of growing pains.

The Rangers had finished 38 1/2 games out in 1972, Williams accompanying the team to Texas only as a favor to Short. The ensuing commitment to Herzog lasted barely three months, let alone three years.

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