Playing at Arlington Stadium, an enlarged minor league facility, was another misfortune. The austere little bowl, which could hold 35,000 if people were stuffed in like anchovies in a can, had all the charm of a sprint car track in Dry Branch, Ga. But overcrowding was seldom a problem: The Rangers drew 662,974 that first year. The stadium's design, meanwhile, maximized the thermal excesses of the cruel Texas summer. Most of the fans who sat through the games avoided heat stroke and dehydration by consuming enormous quantities of Lone Star beer.
"That season the home clubhouse was located underneath the centerfield bleachers," recalls Tom Grieve, whose 28-year tenure as player, club executive and, now, TV analyst has spanned the life of the Rangers. "So after every home game we would trudge to center, where our loyal fans, all 10 of them, would be out there waving little banners and yelling, 'Hang in there! Hang in there!' We were all proud to be on a major league roster, but it was obvious that this was not a major league setting."
Rangers manager Ted Williams quit at the end of that 1972 death march. In the Texas vernacular, "He jist threw his tools in the air and walked off the job." In truth, Williams's departure had less to do with the Rangers' record than with his inability to pursue his destiny as the Great American Angler in North Texas. The fishing hole nearest to Williams's house in Arlington was a reservoir known locally as Lake White Trash, where the tarpon seldom bit.
My first regular exposure to the Rangers came in their second season, when I covered the team for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
During spring training the Rangers and their entourage resided, as the Senators had, in the Surf Rider hotel in Pompano Beach, where the rooms had the rich aroma of Sun Coast mildew and an ample representation of palmetto bugs, a genetically superior breed of cockroaches that can be trained to haul lumber.
Each morning the Rangers eagerly evacuated the Surf Rider to "head over to the yard"—the little stadium in Pompano. Like the home park in Texas, the Pompano stadium offered none of the elements that baseball purists associate with the so-called green cathedrals of the sport. Once inside the chain-link fence that surrounded the Pompano ballpark, a visitor had the feeling of being at a retail mart where he or she might purchase a used tire rim or a crank shaft. In the players' dressing area, lockers were separated by chicken wire. Overall, the Pompano stadium had the look of a minimum-security prison. An adjoining field used only for infield practice was dubbed Iwo Jima by he players.
Short had hired Whitey Herzog, the New York Mets' farm director, to replace Williams as the Texas skipper. Herzog, whose playing career had epitomized that of the journeyman big leaguer, was bright and brash. He was fond of noting that he was the only player in history to have hit into an "all-Cuban triple play: Camilo Pascual to Jose Valdivielso to Julio Becquer."
In the Mets' front office Herzog had produced and directed stars such as Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Jon Matlack. After sizing up his Rangers staff, Herzog said, "Most of these guys maintain the arm strength of a worn-out rubber band."
As a sportswriter used to the mundane and insincere public utterances of college football coaches, I found Herzog's fearlessness about telling the truth to be unsettling. Each afternoon Herzog, usually clad in a bath towel, would prop his feet on his desk and meet the press. After the fourth day of workouts he announced, "We're just a couple of players away from being a contender: Sandy Koufax and Babe Ruth."
During the off-season Short had desperately tried to acquire players with marquee value. He wound up trading what little bullpen talent he had to the Atlanta Braves for outfielder Rico Carty and to the Oakland As for first baseman Mike Epstein. Carty, who had won a batting title in 1970 and displayed good power with the Braves, looked like damaged goods to Herzog. "The team doctor said that he's seen better knees on a camel," he said. Epstein, a former Senator, had experienced the sweet sensation of emancipation during the 1971 season when Short traded him to Oakland, where he played on a championship team. Now he was back in Short's corral. In Pompano, though Epstein tried not to show his disappointment, he had the demeanor of a man who had been shipped to Devil's Island for a crime he did not commit.