T.R.’s Memoirs: Adrian Beltre on verge of joining 10 other Rangers in Hall
(AP photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Editor’s note: Adrian Beltre is expected to be elected to the Hall of Fame on Tuesday. He will be the 11th person who wore the Rangers uniform to be elected. That doesn’t count Ted Williams, who was elected before his one season managing the Rangers in 1972. T.R. Sullivan, who spent 32 years on the Rangers beat, looks back at the 10 former Rangers in the Hall of Fame.
Ferguson Jenkins (1991)
Jenkins won 20 games in six straight seasons from 1967 to 1972 for the Cubs. When he slipped to 14-16 in 1973 while dealing with knee and shoulder injuries, the Cubs traded him to the Rangers for infielders Bill Madlock and Vic Harris. He was considered on the downside of his career.
Jenkins then had the greatest season ever by a Rangers pitcher in 1974, going 25-12 with a 2.82 ERA. His 325 innings pitched is a club record. His 29 complete games are now unfathomable in baseball. When he slipped to 17-18 with a 3.93 ERA in 1975 (this time with 22 complete games), the Rangers traded him to the Red Sox. In exchange, they received outfielder Juan Beniquez and pitchers Steve Barr and Craig Skok.
Beniquez won a Gold Glove as the Rangers’ center fielder in 1977, but the two pitchers weren’t much help.
The Red Sox, who had gone to the World Series in 1975, had high hopes for Jenkins, viewing him as their staff ace on an offensive-laden team. But Jenkins did not fulfill those hopes. He won just 22 games over two years and did not have a good relationship with manager Don Zimmer.
Jenkins declared Zimmer knew nothing about pitching or pitchers, saying, “He’s a lifetime .230 hitter who has been beaned three times.” Jenkins, Bill “Spaceman” Lee and a few others formed the Loyal Order of Buffalo Heads in honor of Zimmer.
After two seasons with the Red Sox, Jenkins was traded back to the Rangers for pitcher John Poloni. Jenkins spent four more seasons with the Rangers, the last with Zimmer as his manager. That reunion didn’t go too well either.
Gaylord Perry (1991)
Famous for throwing the spitball, Perry was the first Rangers pitcher who had won a Cy Young Award, before and after he pitched for the Rangers. He won the Cy Young for the Indians in 1972 and was a 21-game winner for them in 1974.
The following year, the Indians hired Frank Robinson as the first Black manager in baseball history. Perry was from North Carolina, and there was some question about how the two would get along. A bigger issue for Perry was wanting to be paid more than Robinson.
Either way, the relationship soured quickly, and Perry was soon on his way out of Cleveland, much to his delight. According to Perry, “The only good thing about Cleveland is you didn’t have to make a road trip there.”
Perry was 36 on June 13, 1975, when he was traded to the Rangers for pitchers Jim Bibby, Rick Waits and Jackie Brown, plus $100,000. Perry pitched well in Texas at an advanced age in his career, He won 12 games the rest of that season and 15 more in both 1976 and 1977. Then, the Rangers gave him away to the Padres for reliever Dave Tomlin and $125,000 on Jan. 25, 1978. Two months later, the Rangers sold Tomlin to the Reds.
The Rangers went 87-75 in 1978 and finished five games behind the Royals in the American League West. Obviously they could have used Perry, who won 21 games and a Cy Young Award for the Padres. Perry lasted two years in San Diego, went back to the Rangers in 1980 but didn’t last a full season before getting shipped to the Yankees in August.
From 1974 to 1980, under owner Brad Corbett, the Rangers pulled off one blockbuster trade after another involving some of the biggest names in baseball, but it was the classic case of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
Nellie Fox (1997)
Fox is a mere footnote in the history of the Rangers, but an intriguing one, nonetheless. Fox had a 19-year career in the big leagues as a 12-time All-Star second baseman who won three Gold Gloves and was the 1959 A.L. MVP while leading the White Sox to a pennant.
After he retired in 1965, he accepted a job to be a coach with the Washington Senators in 1968 under his old buddy Jim Lemon. He stayed in that job when Ted Williams took over in 1969 and was on staff in 1972 when the Senators moved to Texas.
Williams grew tired of managing and stepped down after one year in Texas. Williams recommended Fox replace him, but owner Bob Short went with Whitey Herzog instead. The Rangers offered Fox a job as a minor-league manager, but he turned them down and went home to Pennsylvania to operate his bowling alley. He opened it in 1956 during his playing days with the White Sox.
There was talk of him managing the White Sox, but Fox passed away in 1975 due to lymphoma cancer. He was 47. Fox was on the BBWAA ballot for 15 years, missing election to the Hall of Fame by two votes in his final year of eligibility. He was elected by the Veteran’s Committee in 1997.
When the announcement was made, his widow said they put out a glass of whiskey and a bowl of Goldfish crackers in his honor. His favorite snack. Nellie Fox Bowl and Sports Shop is still in operation in Chalmersburg, Pa.. on the Molly Pitcher Highway.
Nolan Ryan (1999)
Ryan represented the end of a long lull for the Rangers. After the excess spending and trades under Corbett, the Rangers were much more frugal under owner Eddie Chiles in the 1980s. That was especially true during that decade’s big oil slump in Texas, putting Chiles’ personal fortune in dire straits.
Signing Ryan in the winter of 1988 took a significant leap of financial faith for Chiles and club president Mike Stone. It was Stone who really pushed general manager Tom Grieve to make the deal.
Ryan was planning just one more season before retiring. Instead, he stayed for five, pitching two no-hitters, earning his 300th win and recording his 5,000th strikeout. He also scored a TKO over Robin Ventura. Fifteen years after retiring, Ryan returned to the Rangers as club president.
Rich Gossage (2008)
“Goose” was one of the most dominating relievers in baseball from 1975 to1987, mainly with the Yankees and Padres, as an overpowering right-hander who could throw heat for two or three innings an outing. Gossage was never limited to one inning, a fact he was more than happy to point out when the whole baseball world was lauding the greatness of Mariano Rivera.
Gossage was never afraid to speak his mind. But by January of 1991, he appeared done. Gossage spent the 1990 season in Japan and was hoping – begging – for a chance to come to spring training with somebody.
He contacted Rangers pitching coach Tom House, who had been an instructor in the Padres organization during Gossage’s time in San Diego. Gossage beseeched House to vouch for him with the Rangers, promising he would be on his best behavior. Gossage even promised to do his drinking in his hotel room.
The Rangers signed Gossage to a minor-league contract, and he made the 1991 team out of spring training. He and Ryan became big pals, and, for a while, Gossage was a good addition. Through 28 games, he had a 3.14 ERA, a .202 opponents batting average and 6.9 strikeouts per nine innings.
But he got overused and went on the disabled list in June with a sore shoulder. He returned in July but was ineffective, and manager Bobby Valentine forgot about him. Gossage fumed at the treatment and finally blew up at Valentine in an Oakland hotel bar. Valentine walked away without letting it get physical.
“It’s a personality thing,” Gossage said, citing a lack of respect from his manager. “He doesn’t know how to handle pitchers, and he doesn’t know how to handle people.”
Gossage also left Texas with no love for his future fellow Hall of Famer. Gossage didn’t like Ryan getting preferred treatment, especially not having to travel with the team when he was on the disabled list.
“Valentine let Ryan keep his own schedule and pretty much do his own thing,” Gossage said. “Which I felt was detrimental to team unity. Nolan traveled with us on the road part-time, but he sometimes stayed at home. And he never spent much time on the bench, pulling for his teammates as he should have. Ryan always seemed to be back up in the clubhouse, working out or doing whatever he did.”
Whitey Herzog (2010)
Billy Martin Jr., son of the late Rangers manager who is a longtime player agent, is a friend of mine. We enjoyed a nice working relationship while I was on the Rangers beat and invariably hooked up at the winter meetings.
But he gets mad at me when I say …
Firing Whitey Herzog during the 1973 season was the absolute worst mistake the Rangers ever made. Bar none.
It has nothing to do with Martin’s father, who replaced Herzog and deserves to be in the Hall of Fame as well. He did a tremendous job in 1974 before getting fired the next season. But Martin was the ultimate quick fix.
Herzog had been the Mets farm director when he was hired as a rookie manager after the 1972 season. Herzog had a long-term plan to build the Rangers through young players, an approach that would later serve him well with the Royals and the Cardinals. Among other things, he had no interest in using No. 1 draft pick David Clyde as a gate attraction rather than developing him properly in the minor leagues.
But Short was short of money and needed star power. When the Tigers fired Martin on Sept. 2, 1973, Short immediately dumped Herzog and hired Martin seven days later.
“I’ve long considered Billy the best and most exciting manager in baseball,” Short said. “I’ve even made that statement in front of my previous managers. There are 11 other American League club owners who should be very unhappy Martin is in Texas.”
Bert Blyleven (2011)
Blyleven won 148 games over the decade of the 1970s, 11th-most by a major-league pitcher. During that stretch – Blyleven’s first 10 seasons in the big leagues – he averaged a record of 15-13 with a 2.88 ERA, 262 innings and 208 strikeouts per season.
Blyleven won 123 games in the 1980s, the sixth-most in the decade. Overall, Blyleven pitched 22 seasons in the big leagues, retiring with 287 wins. He also had 3,701 strikeouts, which currently ranks fifth all time. His 60 shutouts rank him ninth. He was a two-time All-Star, won 20 games once and only four times did he finish in the top 10 in Cy Young voting. He never won the award.
Blyleven went on the Hall of Fame ballot in 1998 and received 17.5 percent of the vote. The next year that went down to 14.1 percent. In short, he was never viewed as one of the elite pitchers in the game.
Blyleven is in the Hall of Fame and is considered one of the best pitchers of all time. What changed? Consider his JAWS score.
JAWS is a ranking system developed by Jay Jaffe, an astute baseball analyst. It stands for Jaffe Wins Above Replacement scores. It is used by Baseball-Reference, which is the best baseball statistical site on the internet.
JAWS ranks Blyleven as the 15th best pitcher in history. He is ahead of Perry, Jenkins, Ryan and every other pitcher to ever take the mound for the Rangers. Of course, he only spent 1 1/2 with the Rangers, being acquired from the Twins on June 1, 1976, and traded to the Pirates in a complicated four-team deal on Dec. 1, 1978.
That same JAWS scores rank Jim “Catfish” Hunter as the 184th-best pitcher of all time. Hunter was an eight-time All-Star, a five-time 20-game winner and the 1974 Cy Young winner. He pitched on five World Series-winning teams, three in Oakland and two with the Yankees.
During their playing careers, nobody ever thought Blyleven was in Hunter’s class as a pitcher.
I asked Steve Busby if anybody ever thought Blyleven was as good as Hunter during their playing days.
“Absolutely not,” Busby said. “No way.”
So, what happened?
Blyleven benefitted from the 21st-century trend in baseball to look beyond the traditional statistical categories and take a deeper dive into the strengths and weaknesses of a pitcher/player. As the years rolled by, Blyleven gained more support for the Hall of Fame.
Truth be told, I was a late arrival. For many years I did not see Blyleven as a Hall of Famer but was finally won over by some convincing arguments from people whose opinion I respect. In 2011, on his 14th year on the ballot, Blyleven was elected to the Hall of Fame.
He deserves to be there. But it is absolutely ridiculous to not view Hunter as one of the best pitchers of his time, if not all time.
Ivan Rodriguez (2017)
JAWS has Ivan Rodriguez as the third best catcher of all-time behind Johnny Bench and Gary Carter. Rodriguez is ranked No. 1 defensively.
Every year, Hall of Famers are invited to the induction ceremonies in Cooperstown and welcome their new members. They have autograph signings all over town, ride in a red-carpet parade and sit on the podium during the ceremonies. They go to dinner together, play golf and embellish old stories.
Some players don’t like going back. Ryan and Carl Yastrzemski rarely attend. Others show up almost every year.
My guess is Pudge will be there every year, health permitting. He loves it as much as he loved playing baseball.
Vladimir Guerrero (2018)
During the decade of the 2000s, the Rangers tried to navigate through difficult financial circumstances by signing or trading for veteran offensive players. All of them were nothing more than either a quick fix or placeholder as the club went through rebuilding.
That list includes Carl Everett, Ruben Sierra, Sandy Alomar Jr,. Richard Hidalgo, Brian Jordan, Carlos Lee, Kenny Lofton, Omar Vizquel, Sammy Sosa, Milton Bradley and Andruw Jones, among others.
The Rangers’ approach finally paid off in 2010 when they signed Guerrero. The Rangers had a strong core of young talent – Michael Young, Ian Kinsler, Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Elvis Andrus, David Murphy – and manager Ron Washington wanted a veteran bat for the middle of the order.
Guerrero, in the twilight of a great career, was the answer at designated hitter. He started 145 games for the Rangers and always in the cleanup spot. He hit .300 with 29 home runs and 115 RBIs as the Rangers went to the World Series for the first time in club history. The Rangers let him go after that season when they signed Beltre to play third and use Young a lot at DH.
Harold Baines (2019)
The Rangers used to have quarterly meetings when George W. Bush and Rusty Rose owned the team in 1989-98. They had 20-30 partners who would show up and get a report on what was happening with the team.
Grieve would speak, give the partners an update and then take questions. One partner almost always made the same request, saying …
“Tom, can you go over your thinking again about trading Sammy Sosa and Wilson Alvarez for Harold Baines?”
Grieve would then patiently go through it all over again.
Grieve’s finest moment as general manager came at the 1988 winter meetings, when he signed Ryan and traded for second baseman Julio Franco and first baseman Rafael Palmeiro. After two sixth-place finishes with losing records, the Rangers were contending again in 1989. On July 1, they were 44-35 and 3 1/2 games out of first place.
The Rangers, with a farm system bursting with prospects, wanted a veteran hitter in the middle of the lineup behind Franco and Sierra. Palmeiro was far from the player he would later become – his slash that year was .275/.354/.374 with just eight home runs – and Pete Incaviglia was better lower in the lineup.
Baines was the target. The White Sox were in last place going into July and were ready to rebuild. Baines was a nine-year veteran and four-time All-Star making $1.2 million in 1989 and $1.1 million in 1990 before becoming eligible for free agency. A right fielder by trade, Baines had been dealing with bad knees and it was becoming increasingly clear his future was at DH.
White Sox GM Larry Himes looked at the Rangers’ farm system and drooled. He wanted Sosa and Double A outfielder Juan Gonzalez. Grieve said no way. He would not give up either one for Baines. At one point that summer, Sosa came to the big leagues and was in Texas from June 16 to July 19. He was 20 and played in 25 games, hitting .238 with one home run and three RBIs. His slugging percentage was .310.
Another pitcher high on the White Sox’s list was left-hander Wilson Alvarez, who was 19 and impressing everybody at Double A Tulsa. In seven games for the Drillers, he had a 2.06 ERA and 1.17 WHIP.
The two teams talked all summer, but Grieve wasn’t budging. But I specifically remember asking Valentine what Sosa’s best year would be offensively. Sosa had speed and the defensive ability to play center but was still unknown offensively.
Said Valentine, “Probably .280 with 20 homers and 80 RBIs.”
Valentine said nothing about Sosa being able to hit 60-plus home runs in a season.
On July 24, the Rangers called up Alvarez and had him start against the Blue Jays, who would win the AL East that year. Alvarez faced five batters. Junior Felix singled and then Tony Fernandez and Kelly Gruber hit back-to-back home runs. Alvarez then walked George Bell and Fred McGriff and was pulled from the game.
Himes wasn’t deterred. He still had Alvarez on his list.
Finally Grieve blinked. The deal came down on July 29: Sosa, Alvarez and veteran shortstop Scott Fletcher to Chicago for Baines and infielder Fred Manrique.
Grieve later told me he regretted the deal almost from the beginning.
But how the hell was he supposed to know that an over-inflated Sosa would develop into a record-breaking slugger who hit 609 career home runs. Three times he hit over 60 in one season. Initially, Alvarez was considered the bigger loss. He won 15 games for the White Sox in 1993, the year the Rangers finished in second place. Alvarez could have been the difference-maker that year.
Baines was definitely not a difference-maker for the Rangers. Following the trade, he played in 50 games and slashed .285/.333/.390 with three home runs and 16 RBIs. Manrique was supposed to be a utility player but slashed .288/.318/.382 with two home runs and 22 RBIs in the same stretch.
Truth be told, neither player liked being in Texas. That winter, Manrique was arrested one night for DWI. A few days later, Grieve called him to offer his support and asked if there was anything he could do.
“Yeah,” Manrique said. “Get me out of [Texas].”
The Rangers did so the following spring when they traded him to the Twins.
Baines, quiet almost to the point of being sullen, went into 1990 eligible for free agency after the season. His presence didn’t help. The Rangers started out 21-32 and were 15 games out on June 6. On Aug. 29, the Rangers traded Baines to the Athletics for pitchers Scott Chiamparino and Joe Bitker.
Chiamparino, 23, was a starter with real chance to make up for the loss of Alvarez. He was 1-2 with a 2.63 ERA in six starts for the Rangers in September but then blew out his elbow and was never a factor. He ended up having a long and successful career working for agent Scott Boras.
The DH kept Baines around much longer than anybody expected. He was the ultimate mercenary, a hired bat who went from one team to another, three times being traded to contenders in the middle of a season. He finally retired in 2001 with 2,866 hits.
It was thought that not getting 3,000 hits would keep Baines out of the Hall of Fame. He never received more than 6.1 percent of the BBWAA vote and only spent five years on the ballot. He was selected by the Veterans Committee in 2019.
I shook his hand and congratulated him at the winter meetings. It was the only time I ever saw him smile while I was talking to him.