It May Be Now Or Never For the Rangers Organization

So two games into Matt Garza’s brief time with the Rangers?

Yes, so far I’m impressed.

Forgive me, it’s sort of become my nature to become cynical about players that come to the Rangers from elsewhere while being hopelessly optimistic about the ones that come out of their own system.

Still, in two starts since coming from the Cubs, the hero of the 2008 ALCS has only allowed three earned runs in 14 innings, bolstering what was already the second-best pitching staff in the American League. (Hey, remember when it was certain that the heat and winds of Texas meant the Rangers would never have good pitching?)

But what also impresses me was in the press conference following Monday’s game, where another poor offensive night cost him a chance at a win and needed two home runs in the ninth to salvage a win for the team. He kept going on and on about, “my team, my teammates.” That automatically makes him light years better than Great God Cliff Lee in my book.

So while Garza can’t carry this team alone, he may just be the addition needed to rescue the season.

Even after their second straight walk-off night where they trailed in the ninth, the Rangers remain five games back of the Oakland A’s in the West. Of course, with nine games remaining against the A’s this season, starting with three this weekend in the toilet that is the I-Forget-What-Company-Name-Is-On-It-This-Month Coliseum, this season still remains far from over.

Which is good, because this has officially become an all-or-nothing season for the Rangers. If they aren’t hoisting the big trophy at the end of the year, they may never get another chance again.

I don’t want to say something like that. But the is organization has already mortgaged its future big time and may not be done doing so.

The Rangers really flushed out their farm system, dealing Nick Tepesch, Justin Grimm, Mike Olt and C.J. Edwards to get Garza. As I type this, they may very well be on the verge of unloading even more to bring in Hunter Pence (though seeing him in a Texas jersey would be sweet) or even bring back Michael Young (is Jon Daniels ready to tuck that tail between his legs?)

It’s exactly the kind of moves you don’t expect JD to make. Just six years after committing highway robbery by getting the foundation of this Rangers team from Atlanta for Mark Teixeria, Daniels has put himself in the position to be on the other end of such a trade.

Not that he may have already done that, as one of the teams the Rangers are battling for a playoff spot in Baltimore is doing so with a plethora of former Rangers

What I’m mainly getting at is, if you were worried about this team’s chances this year with the lack of off-season moves, it may be even worse after this year.

Let’s get this out of the way: Garza isn’t staying with the Rangers after this season. Nellie Cruz, who may or may not play another game for the Rangers after today with a Biogenesis related suspension now looking like a certainty, isn’t re-signing either. Baseball players don’t stay in a football town.

That’s also why no big name free agent, whoever may be on the market this year, is going to sign either. When you’re in an area where Tony Romo sneezing is ogling to get 100 times more press than the Rangers winning a pennant, yo have to money whip a guy to get him to come here. And JD and Nolan aren’t driving this team back into bankruptcy doing that again.

So the only place they can restock the team next year is from within. And that place just became a great deal thinner.

Especially since they’ll be looking for another catcher again after this year. And that position has sadly become bare in the organization, even before the purging.

Not to mention that the can’t miss prospect Jurickson Profar isn’t lighting it up as much as everyone said he was going to. Granted, that can just mean what we all should know – that rookies usually struggle. Hopefully it’s that and not what a number of his coaches were saying going into this season – that he was being rushed and just isn’t ready.

The point is that if the Rangers have any hope in 2014, Profar will have to find a place to play full time while he and Leonys Martin take a big step up. Derek Holland needs to prove this year isn’t just a fluke and that he has become the frontline pitcher we all have hoped/believed he can be.

And someone else from what remains, like a Ryan Strausborger, is going to have to come out of nowhere.

That may be too much to hope for. So we gotta accept that all the eggs are in this basket and hope for a Giants/Cardinals type rally for this season in Texas.

Juan May Be Missing, But He Won’t Be Forgotten

The extreme disappointment of the Rangers getting swept at home at the hands of the Former Rangers, AKA the Baltimore Orioles, had only one silver lining. And that was the celebration of one other former Rangers.

Ivan Rodriguez took his place in the Rangers Hall of Fame Saturday night. We can only hope now that soon number 7 will be off David Murphy’s back and on the Ballpark’s left field facade where it belongs.

But if there is one downer to the ceremony, it would be that one other Ranger great was not there to be enshrined with Pudge.

While The Magnificent Seven was being honored, his longtime fellow Puerto Rican, known to his countrymen as Igor, seems to be fading into obscurity. Some younger fans might not realize just what an unbelievable player Juan Gonzalez was in his prime. He wasn’t putting up the power numbers the likes of McGwire and Sosa were, which many wanted to blame on The Ballpark’s deeper left field power alley compared to Arlington Stadium’s, but he was still one of the most feared hitters and RBI men in the game. Having Chuck Morgan play the Star Wars Imperial March when he came to bat just fit; He was simply intimidating when he stood in the box during those years in the 90s.

When the Ranger strafed Juan primarily for Justin Thompson and Gabe Kapler (plus others), my gut feeling said they were going downhill. I was sadly proven right. Thompson never stared a game for Texas, Kapler did absolutely nothing outside of homering in his first two Ranger at-bats and setting the team’s hitting streak record, and the Rangers would be out of the postseason for 10 straight years.

Even I could tell Juan just never seemed to fit in within the United States. His thick accent always stuck out. He always seemed to be a loner. And because of that, he perhaps received the most criticism for things like not wanting to be an All-Star in 1999 if he wasn’t starting or sitting out of the Hall of Fame game because his baseball pants didn’t fit.

And so, just as I suspected, Juan has chosen to go his own way with his baseball career behind him. He has gone back full-time to his native island, reportedly teaching youth baseball while leading a pretty quiet life.

And even though multiple representatives of the Rangers contacted him about induction, including Eric Nadel, he turned them down.

We may never know if there is any specific reason why Juan has chosen to distance himself from the organization that helped make him a star. The common assumption is that he became permanently soured when The Large Rodent, AKA Tom Hicks, accused him of using steroids in a supposed tirade about Juan’s lack of production when the Rangers brought him back in 2002.

I get the feeling a large number of fans and media members will more remember the gripes and controversy. Me, there will always be one moment I’ll remember above all else.

It was the last game of 1998 before the All-Star break, when he hit his second home run of the game off Randy Johnson to hit the 100 RBI mark for the year. The crowd gave him a standing ovation, and then another one when he came out to right field the following inning. He could not hold back the tears.

But maybe that’s just me – trying to remember the good times above all else.

I also remember TR Sullivan’s column when Juan won the 1996 AL MVP over Albert Belle, saying, “That shows you there is justice in the world. Character should count for something.”

I never got to meet Juan Gonzalez, but I don’t think he was ever a bad guy – just one who struggled to fit in and had his own way about him. So maybe in that way, I can relate.

I wish that one day, Juan will have his plaque in the Rangers Hall of Fame. Time ca heal all wounds, we can only see.

But if this is what Juan truly wants, then I can step back and accept that. And choose to remember the good times of Igor knocking balls all over the Ballpark.

Finally, Pudge Gets His Day

Most people have that one personality that they remember being able to see more than anyone else.

For me, it was the short, stocky Puerto Rican who manned the plate for the Texas Rangers for more than 12 years.

And that’s why it’s going to be an honor tonight to see Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez inducted into the Rangers Hall of Fame.

Hopefully it will soon be followed by David Murphy accepting a new jersey number so #7 can hang from the left field facade where it belongs. But that’s for later.

For now, it’s time for North Texas to show appreciation for one individual who’s greatness wasn’t truly appreciated when it was there.

Pudge was known more than anything for that Howitzer of a throwing arm that made him they guy simply no one wanted to run on. Teams that relied on base stealing – yes, there were still some that existed even in the power ball times of the 1990s – would come to Arlington and find themselves effectively shut down.

It was more than just the arm, however – it was the reflexes. He would get the ball, and within a split second, he was up and in perfect position to throw. Maybe this is just my own nostalgia goggles, but I can almost remember him regularly going crouched position to cannon fired in about half a second, whereas most catchers would take close to a full second.

And the defense was only part of the game. I doubt anyone can fully understand how hard he worked to become one of the best pure hitters of the game.

The term “contact hitter” usually describes someone willing to take borderline pitches to force an even better one. But Pudge was the type of guy who would go after this outside pitches – not because he was undisciplined, but because he could hit them.

I’ll always remember two at-bats above all else when it comes to Pudge. The first was in a June 1995 game with the winning run at third. After swinging and missing at two high fastballs from Lee Smith, you knew he was getting another in the same location, and logic dictates he should hold back. But instead, he finds a way to get the bat up high enough and knock the third fastball at the letters into center field to win the game.

The second was back around 1998 when he hit a line drive shot into right center field for a home run. That was the deepest part of the park at more than 407 feet. And going the opposite way for him.

It all amounted to a total package that was sadly taken for granted. To many in the area, none of what he did on the field mattered as long as he couldn’t somehow guide the team’s young pitchers into Cy Young candidates. It was why so many begged the Rangers to trade him in 1999 to bring in the Great God Roger Clemens. And why when they finally let him go after 2002, newspapers quickly praised the supposed leadership abilities of Einar Diaz.

But as the Rangers headed to another last-place finish in 2003 while Pudge helped carry the Florida Marlins and its young pitching staff to a championship, that claim that he couldn’t work with pitchers was thrown right back in his critics’ faces. Turns out maybe lack of talent on the mound was more to blame in Texas.

Only then did the phrase “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone” truly sink in. And while the Rangers ultimately managed two pennants with Bengie Molina and Mike Napoli behind the plate, the revolving door of catchers goes on.

Sadly, Pudge may never be remembered for being the best at what he did perhaps in history. Historians want to be locked down on the past and treat certain individuals, like Johnny Bench, as untouchable in that regard. And of course, there is the likelihood that baseball’s “moral guardians” will try to lump Pudge in with everyone in the so-called “steroid era”of the 90s and keep him out of the big Hall of Fame for as long as possible.

But for now, Ivan Rodriguez will be honored among the people who will appreciate what he did. Finally.

For Many Rangers Fans, The Seaon Might as Well Be Over

The more things change, the more new Rangers players take part in the All-Star Game, the more they stay the same.
The Rangers prepare for the second half sitting just two back of the Oakland A’s at 54-41. But to hear the cries of the “fandom,” that record might as well be reversed with them being 22 games back.
Hit the panic button! Rangers aren’t in first! Season’s over! When does Cowboys training camp start?
Forget the fact that the Rangers have the second-best ERA in the American League despite having to run multiple rookies into starts due to injuries. With Rangers fans, it’s always about how bad Justin Grimm has been instead of how great Yu Darvish is.
Heck, I’m surprised the cries of “Yu Darvish isn’t a true ace after all,” haven’t started all ready. After Darvish inexplicably went more than a month without a win, talk hosts, writers and pundits scrambled for a reason and latched onto the fact that Yu had been throwing more breaking balls recently instead of trusting in his fastball. Yu’s response was to basically say he doesn’t listen to what the media tells him to do.
I knew there was a reason to like that guy.
Thus, despite having broken through and made the World Series in consecutive years, nothing has changed among the observers in Arlington. This, to just about everyone, is a team doomed to failure and thus nothing more than a novelty meant to keep us briefly entertained and distracted until the REAL athletes show up in Oxnard. (I’m still trying to figure out exactly who on the radio said that.)
And of course, if the inevitable collapse of their pitching staff doesn’t get them, the inevitable implosion of their lineup from Nelson Cruz’s certain drug suspension will.
Never mind that, as I pointed out earlier, these suspensions are not definite – especially since no player will immediately miss games upon filing a grievance. In fact, the players union is now suggesting that, given the time the MLB office has taken and the time a grievance hearing would then take. it likely won’t be until next year that any penalties would actually come, even IF MLB wins its case.
If there’s one thing I’ll admit I’ve liked since giving 1310 The Ticket one more chance, it has been Norm Hitzges, the calming presence of the media. Constantly bringing up the ungodly amount of injuries and how this team has still managed to weather the storm for the most part, Norm has steadfastly begged Ranger Nation to do one thing: Enjoy the ride of a team that has been constantly in the picture since 2009, which seemed impossible at one point.
Sadly, that won’t cut it with the sports market that’s only happy when it’s dominating.
I doubt even the wisdom of Norm will be enough to calm the whining masses. While they point to the fact that the Cows were just a few inches away from making the playoffs multiple times last year and thus are certain to break through this year, the near misses the Ranger shave are proof positive to them that they have no chance of coming out on top.
That’s the most frustrating thing about this whole situation. There is truly nothing this team can do to make people satisfied. Heck, even if they were 12 games up at this time, the social media would be loaded with the likes of “Does the collapse begin now?”
It’s the same old story. If they aren’t dominating, their support shrivels up.
The Rangers’ drop in the standings from where they were in May has already caused those top-ranked attendance figures North Texas was trumpeting to plummet. If they’re even a single game out by the time training camp rolls along, the turnstile count could get even worse.
Until, hopefully, they get everyone healthy, steamroll their way through September and lo and behld, find their way in the postseason for a fourth straight year.
And then everyone will say they knew it all along.

Five Worst Baseball Trades

I’ve decided to hold off any more talk on the Maverick’s off-season moves until it looks like everything has completely died down; that is to say, until one or two specific players have signed. So in the meantime, I’ve decided to post this video that I uploaded a year ago. The opener may be a little dated, but the main body of the video is still relevant for me:

Baseball’s Crusade May Get Backlash From the Union AND Fans

KoenAd

The problem with preaching on top of the mountain is that there are a lot of people looking to knock you down. And that may be the problem those in charge of baseball may soon face.

ESPN reported yesterday that Major League Baseball plans to suspend more than 20 players they have been investigating for months in connection with the Biogenesis clinic supplying them performance enhancing drugs – after the All-Star Break, that is.

In other words, wait until after their Mid-Season Classic so nothing disrupts it and then throw under the bus the players it just triumphed during the game.

Okay, maybe that’s a cheap shot, especially since league spokesman Pat Courtney declared the report premature and would only say “We are still in the midst of an active investigation.”

Still, while Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun are definitely the two players MLB is targeting the most in this investigation, reportedly searching for a way to hand them 100-game suspensions despite them not being convicted a first time (Braun had a suspension overturned), Rangers fans are definitely eyeing this with fear, as All-Star Nelson Cruz is reportedly on the list.

So many baseball fans in North Texas are already declaring their season to be over (which they rarely need much of a reason to do anyway). But they might want to hold the phone on Mister Boomstick definitely being out for at least 50 games.

It should be noted that NOTHING is definite at this point. While ESPN tries to break the story first (while possibly shilling for the front office of its MLB partners, because that’s what that network does), we have to constantly remember that no hard evidence has been leaked at all. We don’t even know if they have the same amount of evidence on every individual player other than a name on a list. Many just assume for now that MLB has all the dirt it needs to lower the boom, and when you ASS-U-ME…

But no matter what, it seems clear MLB more than ever is trying to set itself up as the holy savior of decency – but instead may be setting itself up for the same humiliation its football brethren suffered last year.

The NFL tried to take the same path when it laid the hammer down hard on the New Orleans Saints for the infamous “Bountygate” scandal, when Roger Goodell suspended coordinator Gregg Williams indefinitely, coach Sean Payton for a year and numerous players for taking part in a “pay-to-injure” program. Goodell was hailed by many, including myself, for trying to bring humanity into a game that desperately needs it. And then he ended up with egg on his face as his own predecessor, Paul Tagliabue, declared he did not have enough evidence to convict the players and vacated those suspensions.

Thus it was established once again that in the modern age, a sports commissioner does not have complete autonomy. And that may come back to bite Selig here.

Selig and MLB are desperate to land a big win in their crusade against PEDs, especially after the U.S. Attorney’s office has repeatedly failed in nailing the likes of Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and even wrestling czar Vince McMahon two decades ago. And if Selig isn’t careful, that desperation could be his undoing in this crusade.

No one has failed a drug test, at least not in reference to this current investigation, and that is key. While we don’t know who all the league office is talking to, the main sticking point is that the key witness in the whole thing, Tony Bosch, is someone they said months ago was a completely unreliable source. Yet now they have accepted his agreement to cooperate with them just as they were on the verge of buying the services of Biogenesis investor Porter Fischer to give them the dirt on Bosch.

Thus, if and when such suspensions come down, expect the players union to strike back with extreme ferocity. If it’s not written in stone in the collective bargaining agreement that MLB can definitely suspend players with just circumstantial evidence, the union will fight – and could very well win.

MLB’s best defense perhaps lies in the fact that 1. Definite proof wasn’t needed in 1920 when Judge Landis banned the Black Sox for life for fixing games, and 2. No official failed drug tests were needed for U.S. Cycling to strip Lance Armstrong of everything he had built. But the thing to remember here is that nether Armstrong or the Black Sox had a group as strong as the MLBPA behind them.

Some holier than thou experts might say if the union knew what was best, they’d throw these players under the bus for “the protection of others and the good of the game.” That’s not how a union works. The MLBPA’s job here is to ensure due process is upheld, or else a governing body like the MLB office can eventually flex its muscle and just discipline players with no real evidence whatsoever.

Think something like that wouldn’t happen in major sports? Just ask those who remember the late race car driver Tim Richmond, who NASCAR banned for a failed drug test that was completely bogus just so they could get an AIDS-infected person out of their sport.

But the biggest question in all of this is “Just how much do the fans care?”

Therein lies perhaps the biggest similarity between Selig and Goodell. They are putting forth all their efforts to supposedly “save” their sport for a fan base that doesn’t seem to want it to be saved.

If you approached a casual NFL fan on the streets and brought up the subject of players intentionally abusing and hurting each other, you’d probably get a shrug and a “So what?” After all, wanton violence and abuse is what almost everyone watches football for.

Meanwhile, as the baseball reporters with keyboards and microphones go on and on about the sanctity of Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron’s game being destroyed, most casual fans continue to buy their tickets and high-priced beers and shrug it off with the attitude of “if you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying,” for lack of a better term.

We as an audience have long demanded that our athletes do whatever it takes to win. Wouldn’t it then be hypocritical for us to then chastise them for doing whatever it took?

It seems maybe, just maybe, a lot of fans get that. And if the union wins this fight, the majority of fans will likely be there tho throw the eggs at Selig. They usually stand by the players as long as they don’t go on strike.

Whether Selig can lower the boom on someone like Nellie Cruz has yet to be seen. But even if he can, it won’t stop him from likely receiving a standing ovation from the Ballpark crowd when Cruz is able to step in the batter’s box again.

Stars Could Get Help by Adding One More Voice

While the NHL’s free agency period may not be as covered as the NBA’,s the Dallas Stars are just as active as the Mavericks, pursuing the likes of Vincent Lecavalier and others that can give the likes of Jaime Benn much needed help on the front line. Time will tell which local team gets the fish they want.

But while they’re looking to make additions that wear sweaters and skates, the Stars might want to also consider adding help elsewhere. They may help themselves as much as anywhere with an addition on the broadcast side.

Few in DFW will argue that for years the Stars have had the best broadcast duo in the area in Ralph Strangis and Daryl Reaugh. Brad Sham and Eric Nadel may be loved individually, but the Rangers booth has been a revolving door for years with their second announcer, and most Cowboy fans are still hoping that somehow Dale Hansen will make peace with Jerry and rejoin Sham. But Ralph and Razor.

But they can only do so much. As the team they cover looks to craft a new image, they need help in telling the audience about it. And their own equivalent of Pierre McGuire may be it.

Pierre McGuire, for those who don’t know is the “between the glass” reporter for NBC Sports’ coverage of the NHL. And he definitely is a bit of a lightning rod, as my Twitter feed during the playoffs had quite a few posts asking him to shut up.

But McGuire’s position in the broadcast team remains sound even if quite a few people don’t like how he carries it out. He is hockey’s sideline reporter, out there to talk directly to players, observe the scene from the benches and inform people of the essential “game within the game.” He is their version of Ahmad Rashad or Ken Rosenthal.

While all that can help a new generation of sports fans get to know hockey in the Metroplex, such an addition to the Stars will also help answer the biggest question many may have: “Who are these guys?”

With an influx of young, relatively unknown talent, the Stars no longer have the likes of Mike Modano, Brenden Morrow, Brett Hull, Ed Belfour or Marty Turco to draw in fans. Their biggest task in drawing fans (outside of, you know, winning again) lies in getting them to know the likes of the Benn brothers, Eric Nystrom, Loui Eriksson, Kari Lehitonen and others.

That’s where the third reporter comes in. Such a person could use breaks in game time, and possibly pre-game, to talk about the players as individual people, get the fans to know who they are.

This, of course, would be in addition to getting the viewers in closer to Lindy Ruff and how he operates. A new coach only adds even more uncertainty that fans need cleared up.

If the McGuire comparison is not a good one for you, then think of it as the Stars getting their own version of what Emily Jones does for the Rangers.

Now the only reminding question is who this reporter could be. Well, I know of a young lady with a real good sports knowledge and a great on-air persona – one who was recently let go from 105.3 The Fan…