T.R.’s Memoirs: Meet the most maddening group in Rangers history — their closers (Part II)
(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Editor’s note: T.R. Sullivan covered the Texas Rangers over 32 years for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and MLB.com and is sharing his “memoirs” with this newsletter.
In this three-part installment, Sullivan reviews the Rangers’ 50-year history of trying to find a closer, the ninth-inning reliever entrusted with getting the final three outs of a game. This is Part II starring Jeff Russell, Tom Henke and John Wetteland.
Third baseman Buddy Bell had a good run with the Rangers: six Gold Gloves, four All-Star games and three-time club Player of the Year. But, midway through the 1985 season, it was clear Bell’s time in Texas was coming to an end.
The Rangers were rebuilding and wanted to bring infielder Steve Buechele to the big leagues, Bell was 33, tired of losing and wanted to renegotiate his contact. He and new manager Bobby Valentine also weren’t particularly enamored with each other.
The Reds were interested. Bell was from Cincinnati, where his father, Gus, had played nine years with the Reds. A deal came down July 19 with the Rangers getting outfielder Duane Walker and pitcher Jeff Russell.
Fireman of the Year
Russell was a hard-throwing right-hander who lost 18 games in 1984. But the Rangers thought there was enough talent there to be a productive big-league pitcher either as a starter or a reliever. He did both from 1985-87, going a combined 13-12 with a 4.89 ERA and a 1.57 WHIP.
Then, in 1988, Russell became an All-Star after going 8-2 with a 3.16 ERA in 10 starts and 10 relief appearances in the first half. After the All-Star break, he was 2-7 with a 4.42 ERA.
Then, the Rangers traded closer Mitch Williams to the Cubs in a 10-player deal that brought Rafael Palmeiro to Texas. The Rangers were left without a closer until Russell asked for the job.
Valentine gave him the chance, and Russell was outstanding.