Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Card #36: Texas Rangers Team Leaders

Who Can It Be Now?
It's Al Oliver and George "Doc" Medich on the Texas Rangers Team Leaders card.  Since this is a team checklist card, this post will not be about Al and Doc but rather, it will be about the Texas Rangers in 1982.

Putting it charitably, the Texas Rangers in 1982 were a bad baseball team.  They started the season off decently, though -- after 10 games, their record stood at 6-4 and included a three-game sweep of the eventual American League Champion Milwaukee Brewers in Milwaukee. It was all downhill from there.  The Rangers then proceeded to lose 12 in a row and 15 of their next 16 to plunge into the depths of the AL West.  After that losing streak of 16 terrible games, which ended on May 10 with a loss to the Detroit Tigers, the team never had a record better than 10 games below .500.

The Rangers finished with a 64-98 record -- a .395 winning percentage -- and were 29 games behind the division winning California Angels.  The only thing that kept the Rangers from finishing last was the fact that the Minnesota Twins were even worse, with a 60-102 record.  But, at least the Twins had a youth-laden roster with guys like Tim Laudner, Kent Hrbek, Lenny Faedo, Gary Gaetti, and Tom Brunansky all playing regularly and all being under the age of 24.  The Rangers had 13 players aged 30 or over, including two -- Jim Sundberg and Buddy Bell (the team's only All-Star) -- that played over 130 games.

A major part of the Rangers problem in 1982 was hitting.  As a team, the Rangers finished 12th in the AL in home runs, 13th in batting average, and dead last in OBP and SLG (and, of course, in OPS, since that is simply adding OBP and SLG together).  

When a team loses 98 games, though, it is a team effort to be that bad.  The Rangers pitching staff finished 12th in the American League in ERA, 13th in most hits allowed, 5th in home runs allowed, 5th in walks issued, and 13th in strikeouts.  Their team WHIP (walks plus hits divided by innings pitched) was 1.423.  

What's more is that neither Oliver nor Medich -- the "Team Leaders" from the previous season -- made it to the end of the 1982 season with the Rangers.  Oliver was traded near the end of spring training to the Montreal Expos for Dave Hostetler and Larry Parrish.  Medich was sold to the Milwaukee Brewers in August of 1982.

Don't You Want Me?
Not only was 1982 a bad season for the Rangers, it was also a bad season for their manager, the Gerbil -- Don Zimmer.  Zimmer had been hired by the Rangers for the 1981 season after the Red Sox fired him near the end of their disappointing 1980 season.  The Rangers played extremely well in the first half of 1981, finishing 33-22 and coming in second for the half.  The team finished 24-26 in the second half, a disappointing third.  

I'm not going to blame Don Zimmer for the 1982 Rangers' woes, because statistical analysis shows that managers tend to have very little impact on the day-to-day results a team gains. In addition, it's not like the team suddenly started winning after he was fired -- they went 38-58 with him (a .396 winning percentage) and 26-40 (a .394 winning percentage) without him when the late Darrell Johnson took over.

The story of Zimmer's firing is an interesting one, however.  Zimmer was officially fired on July 28 after the third game in a three-game series against Milwaukee.  Then-majority owner Eddie Chiles had informed Zimmer at the beginning of that series that Zimmer was going to be fired.  Chiles then asked Zimmer to manage through Wednesday.  Despite this fact, Chiles denied through Tuesday night of that week that Zimmer would be fired.

It got more bizarre than that.  Chiles claimed that "Zimmer was not fired because of the Rangers' pitiful play but because of 'something personal' that Chiles refused to explain." Later in the article, Chiles said, "Don didn't do anything wrong.  He's my friend, and I hope I'm his friend."  

Even more interestingly is this tidbit hidden in the third column. Basically, Zimmer claimed to be the victim of sabermetrics:
Zimmer said a confidential report on his managerial abilities, prepared by team statistician Craig Wright, was a key to his downfall but Chiles said otherwise.  "It had nothing whatsoever to do with my decision," he said.  "I haven't even read it fully."
When Zimmer was asked if he understood his firing, he said, "No.  Hell, no.  He (Chiles) says he understands, but I don't."

Totally Gnarly
Before the 1982 season, the Rangers hired Lou Tice, a motivational speaker from the Seattle-based Pacific Institute, to come in to speak to the team.  The story mentions that Tice was not a psychiatrist, but rather came in:
to establish clearly in [the Rangers'] minds what they can accomplish personally and collectively.  The purpose is to show them that, regardless of their physical skills, their performance can suffer mental letdowns.  They must learn to block from their minds outside distractions and obstacles to reaching their full potential.
Either the Rangers were really bad at blocking outside distractions, or their full potential was pretty awful.

As an aside, Tice was in his early years as a motivational speaker and guru.  He went on later to serve as a mentor and advisor to coaches such as Pete Carroll and Steve Sarkisian before he passed away in 2012 at the age of 76. 

A Few Minutes with Tony L.
I don't think that I saw the Rangers play any games against my Milwaukee Brewers in person in 1982, so I can't say that I remember anything specific about this team.  The Rangers had winning records against just two teams -- the terrible Twins and the nearly-as-bad-as-the-Rangers Oakland Athletics -- finishing 8-5 against each.

So, with this being our first team leaders card, I'll close this out by some counting and listing -- counting and listing former and future Brewers who are on the team checklist and, in addition, who actually played for the team in 1982 if they are not on the checklist, and then, finishing it off with identifying the Hall of Famers on the team.

Former Brewers On the Checklist:
Not a single one.  Tom Poquette grew up in Wisconsin, though.

Former Brewers Who Played in 1982 for the Rangers:
Pitcher Dan Boitano appeared ineffectively in 19 games for the 1982 Rangers.  He appeared in 16 games total between the 1979 and 1980 seasons for Milwaukee.  He was lit up like a Roman candle in 1980, though -- an 8.15 ERA.  

Future Brewers on the Checklist:
I guess one could foretell how bad the future might be for Milwaukee by the number of players on this team that showed up later at County Stadium:

Danny Darwin (1985-1986)
John Henry Johnson (1986-1987)
Jim Kern (1984-1985)
Doc Medich (1982-1983)
Jim Sundberg (1984)

Future Brewers Appearing but Not on the Checklist
Paul Mirabella (1987-1990)

Future Hall of Famers on the Checklist
Ferguson Jenkins.  He spent 1974-1975 in Arlington, left for Boston, then came back in 1978 until 1981.  He left the Rangers as a free agent for the 1982 season, signing with the Cubs.

Future Hall of Famers Appearing but Not on the Checklist
Not a single one.  

The only ones who might have even a remote argument for induction in Cooperstown are Buddy Bell -- who was discussed briefly in the Darrell Evans post -- and, even further away, Tom Henke, who appeared in 8 games in 1982 with the Rangers and got 1.2% of the vote in 2001 from the BBWAA.  


  1. The Zimmer firing due to Sabmetrics was interesting.

    1. In either a Bill James or a Rob Neyer book, one of those guys referenced the fact that Craig Wright was really the beginning of the sabermetric movement inside baseball. That by itself could be another blog post.

  2. The school district where I teach did a lot of Lou Tice stuff several years ago. I remember a lot of "21 Keys" training.

    1. Matthew -- was it something that was helpful to your faculty?