Monday, October 18, 2010

Been There, Seen That

Mitch Williams, the original "Wild Thing".

As a life-long fan of the Texas Rangers (I was 5 years old when the former Washington Senators moved to Arlington, Texas to become the Rangers), I've seen a LOT of bad times and very few good times (only 4 playoff appearances in their 39-year history). So bad have the Rangers been throughout their history, that the nickname "Strangers" has stuck.

So, this hilarious piece by ESPN baseball writer Tim Kurkjian brought back a lot of bad, but nevertheless priceless, memories:
The Texas Rangers are at the highest point in their 39-year history, making their first trip to the American League Championship Series as the last current franchise to win a postseason series. To appreciate where they are, we must understand from where they have come, the depth from which they have emerged, as told by a guy who was there every night from 1982-85.

I should have known what I was getting into that first spring training as the new Rangers beat writer in 1982. Two weeks after having met me, Rangers center fielder Mickey Rivers asked if he could borrow $2,000, not knowing, of course, that The Dallas Morning News was paying me approximately $14,000 a year, and Mickey was making closer to $300,000. That began an interesting relationship with The Mick, easily the most amusing player I've been around in 30 years of covering baseball.

It was Mickey who said one freezing day in Milwaukee, "The wind was blowing 63 degrees today. I felt like the Lost Mohican out there." (The Lost Mohican?) It was Mickey who would walk through the clubhouse, shirt off, flexing his muscles like Arnold Schwarzenegger, screaming, "I am Cohan the Barbarian,'' instead of "Conan the Barbarian.''

That first spring I pulled out the map in my rental car in an attempt to find the Rangers' spring training facility in Pompano Beach, Fla., and there it was in the lower right-hand corner: "Municipal Stadium, home of the Washington Senators,'' who had moved to Texas 10 years earlier. The spring training home of the Rangers wasn't a complex, it was one full field -- it looked more like my high school field -- and one half-field, on which one day, Rangers reliever Dan Boitano announced during a drill, "I'm going to wheel, throw, and hit that seagull.'' And to the astonishment of everyone, including Boitano, he went to make a pickoff throw to second base, instead threw the ball straight up in the air, hit a seagull in the head, and it came crashing to the earth, dead on the infield dirt. It was horrible.

"But that's what you get,'' pitcher Charlie Hough said, "for not wearing a helmet.


In spring training 1985, the Rangers introduced pitcher Mitch Williams, who had been acquired in the Rule V draft from the Padres. Williams threw so hard and was so unbelievably wild that no one wanted to hit against him. As he warmed up for his first live batting practice that spring, he threw one pitch that missed the cage entirely. The ball hit a tire on the side of the batting cage. At that point, veterans Buddy Bell and Larry Parrish announced that they would not be hitting against Williams, who would say later that day, "That's OK. I didn't want to kill any of my teammates on my first day of spring training.''

[Read the whole thing]
Mickey Rivers was the StRangers' center fielder in the early-to-mid 80s.
Nicknamed "Mick the Quick", I assume for his running abilities
as opposed to his mental capabilities.

My Comments:
I know the movie "Major League" features the Cleveland Indians as the story's protagonists, but I would swear that it's really about the Texas StRangers circa 1980-1985 (except, of course, that the StRangers never actually won their division during that time period - they didn't make their first playoff appearance until 1996).

Previous Pro Ecclesia posts on this subject:
Oh Yeah! Texas Rangers Moving On to the ALCS

The Feel-Good Sports Story of the Year

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