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Texas to tear it up

Much-maligned Rangers owner looks to make changes

Posted: Thursday September 7, 2006 12:17PM; Updated: Thursday September 7, 2006 1:01PM
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Buck Showalter's managing style can grate on everybody, not just umpires.
Buck Showalter's managing style can grate on everybody, not just umpires.
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

A reader e-mailed me recently regarding their amazement that Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks could possibly have gathered enough money to buy a baseball team. Admittedly, that thought has occurred to me as well. Knowing what we know about Hicks as an owner, it's a wonder to some of us he's not standing in downtown Dallas with a tin cup in his hand.

The reality is that he has to be a world-class businessman (he made his fortune as an investment banker). And yet, as the leader of the Rangers, he is the cliché of an awful owner, a wrong call around every corner.

Hicks appears to be going through most of the usual phases that bad owners go through. First there was the spend-like-crazy phase, when he committed $252 million to Alex Rodriguez, then $65 million to Chan Ho Park. That phase lasted a long while considering he spent $60 million on Kevin Millwood five years after A-Rod. Rodriguez is an all-time great, and the two pitchers are fine. It's just that these contracts are out of whack. And think about this: Until he signed Millwood last winter, the most Hicks was spending on a player was the $9 million he was still paying Rodriguez to play for the Yankees.

Now Hicks is apparently ready to transition into the starting-over phase or the give-away-the-reins phase, or both. Someone familiar with the situation recently told me that the Rangers are planning to "blow things up," referring to a roster overhaul. I believe that because I'd heard that manager Buck Showalter wasn't so high on several of his young players and I know that Showalter likes to find new homes for players and people he no longer wants around.

When Showalter and Rodriguez became sworn enemies, A-Rod wrongly took a couple of hits for that. But Showalter has a history of not getting along with players, and now it's becoming apparent Showalter doesn't like several of Texas' young talents. Or they don't like him. Or maybe it's mutual. This is what happens with Showalter. He wears on players, or they wear on him. This is how, despite being about the best-prepared manager in baseball, Showalter has finished first or second in Sports Illustrated's player poll for "worst" manager the last two years.

In an interview with Dallas radio station KTCK on Tuesday, Hicks spoke openly about upcoming changes. He said he couldn't be sure whether Showalter wears on players with his micromanaging, suffocating (my adjectives) style. And yet, Hicks sounded ready to act against the players. Rather than take the easier route and fire Showalter (and incidentally, the Yankees and the Diamondbacks both won World Series titles the year after they canned Showalter), Hicks is somehow convinced it'll be better to excise the players, which means the very every-day nucleus they used to brag about.

"Buck has a unique style that works," Hicks said in the radio interview. "But coaches in any sport with that style run the course with certain players. But we might want to change players rather than change managers."

They've already begun, excising three players who are believed to have run afoul of Showalter for one reason or another: Alfonso Soriano, Kevin Mench and Laynce Nix. It's pretty obvious by now that they've already applied a price tag to Hank Blalock's backside, and it won't stop there. Mark Teixeira may be next. A few days ago we reported that the Rangers already have offered Teixeira to his hometown Orioles for Miguel Tejada and Eric Bedard. While Baltimore is probably willing to do either one or the other, they wouldn't do both. Even so, maybe there's still a deal to be made there.

Showalter is bright, and he's come close to winning before, but he thinks he's the smartest guy in any room. Plus, he's willing to work overtime to win the game of office politics and promote his unyielding way. Sometimes his way means advocating the excising of those who don't subscribe to his theories from the (very) old school. Perhaps the worst example came when Showalter got rid of p.r. man extraordinaire John Blake, presumably because Blake was too honest. Now he's apparently targeting others with higher profiles. That's the plan now. That's until Hicks moves on to his next losing phase, anyway.