Alas, the same cannot be said of the RANGERS, otherwise known as the Strangers for their complete unfamiliarity with winning. Putting aside last year, they've never finished fewer than five games out of first place in their 23-year history. New general manager Doug Melvin's task to end that run will begin without power hitter Juan Gonzalez, who is sidelined indefinitely with a herniated disk, and manager Johnny Oates, who was granted a two-week leave of absence to be with his ailing wife.
"I do feel good about our pitching and defense." Melvin says. "We've got three guys who should give us 200 innings." That would be Kevin Gross, Kenny Rogers and Bob Tewksbury, who did so in 1993 for three different clubs.
Tewksbury, who spent the last six seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, led the National League in winning percentage in 1992 and won 17 games in 1993 before ringing up a 5.32 ERA last year. "I think what happened was I had a little bit of a letdown," he says. "I mean, this soft-throwing righthander from a town with one blinking yellow light [ Concord, N.H.], who's not even supposed to be in the major leagues, goes to the All-Star Game and then wins 17 games. It was everything I ever dreamed of. I think I just got stagnant. Plus, with the strike, it wasn't fun. It was more like work."
He says he might have quit had the strike lasted much longer—"The fan in me is still angry at everything about it," he says—but he began recharging his battery on April 8 when he signed to play with an American League team for the first time since the New York Yankees traded him eight years ago. "New team, new league," he says. "Change is what I needed. I'm having a blast."
Change is the constant companion of Lee Smith, who in the past five years has toured with the Boston Red Sox, Cardinals. Yankees and Baltimore Orioles, after starting his career with the Chicago Cubs. This spring, when he showed up for his first day with his latest club, the California ANGELS, he found Indians at Tempe ( Ariz.) Diablo Stadium. The Angels' field was covered with tepees for a Native American gathering. "I'm sort of getting used to moving around," says Smith, who hadn't heard that the Angel training site had been temporarily moved to nearby Mesa. "I've been so many places that there's always some old teammates who are my new teammates."
Smith, 37, has been around so long he played with Bobby Bonds on the Cubs. Still, he led the majors with 33 saves last season for the Orioles. California's problem will be finding ways to keep Smith busy. The Angels tied Seattle for the fewest save opportunities in baseball last year (32). Smith had 39 opportunities by himself.
While he may have lost a bit off his fastball, Smith retains his impeccable control and commanding presence. That includes his trademark trudge from the bullpen to the pitching mound, performed with all the haste of a pallbearer. "That's just the way I walk." he says. "I walk that way going through malls. That's my personality. Besides, think of all the money I've made for all these teams just walking in. Oh, man. They have all that time to sell more advertisements on TV and more hot dogs and beers in the stands."