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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.


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