The opening of the Dallas Cowboys' training camp each July signals the end of serious local interest in the Texas Rangers. Some Cowboy preseason scrimmages have gotten better TV ratings in Dallas- Fort Worth this summer than Ranger regular-season games, and a Cowboy exhibition game attracted more viewers than the 1995 All-Star Game played at The Ballpark in Arlington. "I don't get it," says Ranger righthander Bob Tewksbury, who is spending his first season with Texas. "The Cowboys only play on Sundays. Why can't the fans follow us the rest of the week?"
Because they don't trust the Rangers, Bob, that's why. Too many of them know the hilarious history of the club. Remember, in 1977 Texas had four managers in six days. A year later reliever Roger Moret went into a catatonic state, standing in the middle of the clubhouse in his underwear, holding his shower shoes, for about 30 minutes; after he snapped out of it, he slapped general manager Eddie Robinson across the face. And don't forget manager Doug Rader, who, during a golf outing in '83, playfully took a shotgun out of his bag and blasted a golf ball that one of his coaches had hit into his group.
More recently this has been a team with a lot of style but very little substance. It was a star-studded band of power hitters ( Jose Canseco, Julio Franco, Rafael Palmeiro, Ruben Sierra) and strikeout pitchers ( Nolan Ryan, Mitch Williams, Bobby Witt) who could bludgeon an opponent and at the same time make four errors, walk 12 batters and run the bases like blind men.
The bottom line was that Texas had never come close to playing a postseason game in its 23-year history. The only year it didn't finish at least five games out of first was 1994, when, despite a 52-62 record, the Rangers were leading the American League West at the time the players went on strike and the postseason was canceled.
So during the off-season Texas did what it does best: fired its general manager, gave its manager the boot, turned its roster inside out and got a new religion—more substance, less style. Now the Rangers have mostly fundamentally sound players and veterans who have been associated with winning. This team can bunt, steal bases, throw strikes and make routine plays look routine.
Instead of playing like the wild bunch, the Rangers this year have the look of a wild card. At week's end they may have been 7� games behind the California Angels in the American League West, but in the more hotly contested race for the wild card, they were hanging on to a half-game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers.
Texas's new resilience was in evidence last Saturday night in a 10-3 victory over the Kansas City Royals. After the Rangers lost the first two games of the series—their first back-to-back defeats in a month—they stormed back against Royal ace Kevin Appier, scoring eight runs in the first three innings without a home run. Seven Texas players got hits and six drove in runs during that outburst.
But this team had showed early on that it could handle adversity. Texas started the year without new manager Johnny Oates, who took a 16-day leave of absence to attend to his ailing wife. Injuries decimated the lineup: Three of the Rangers' best players—outfielder Juan Gonzalez (back, shoulder), first baseman Will Clark (elbow) and third baseman Dean Palmer (torn biceps, out for the year)—started together only three times all year. Then, following the All-Star break, there was the 10-game losing streak that cost Texas seven games in the standings.
Tewksbury, who himself spent nearly five weeks on the disabled list with a rib-cage injury, got the win on Saturday night in his first start since rejoining the team and said, "We don't have the most talent in the world—just enough to win—but we have as much character as any team in baseball."
The transformation of the Rangers began last October when they hired Oriole farm director Doug Melvin as their new general manager. His first move was to fire manager Kevin Kennedy and hire Oates, who had been canned by the Orioles a month earlier despite a .544 winning percentage over three seasons. Kennedy, who could wind up as Manager of the Year for the job he has done with the Boston Red Sox this year, was 138-138 in two seasons in Texas, but several Ranger players say he was too strident after losses yet not enough of a disciplinarian.