In conversations with the beat writers, Herzog sometimes bragged about players in an effort to boost ticket sales. On other occasions, particularly late at night in the bar at the Surf Rider, he seemed to be warning the fans of the ugly play that was sure to come during the season. He was like somebody on the blazing Hindenburg yelling to the captain to turn on the NO SMOKING sign. "Our defense is pretty substandard," Herzog told me one night. "But with our pitching it really doesn't matter. And if Rich Billings is our catcher again this year, we're in a world of trouble."
When reporters passed along that assessment to Billings the next day, the catcher pondered Herzog's remarks and said, "Obviously he's seen me play."
Once the 1973 season started, Herzog's worst fears were realized. By mid-May the Rangers were 11-18, and their play had deteriorated from mediocre to frequently macabre. Some players anesthetized themselves on charter flights with healthy portions of Tennessee skull popper. Meanwhile, Herzog made wholesale personnel changes. By the second week in June he had replaced the entire starting rotation. The manager also granted Epstein a pardon by trading him and his .188 batting average to the California Angels. Carty wasn't hitting much better and was waived after appearing in 86 games.
In Arlington Stadium an alarming number of empty seats made it appear as if a typhoid epidemic were raging. Endless promotions—Rangers Key Chain Night, Rangers Calendar Night, Bat Night, Ball Night, T-shirt Night, even Panty Hose Night—failed to generate much response. In the press box I cornered Short and said, "What next? Insane Relative Night?"
Short, a Minneapolis native who favored sport coats that looked as if they had been fashioned from the drapes at the Surf Rider, puffed up and said, "Got a better idea?"
I didn't, but Short did. With the top pick in the June draft, he implemented a plan to attract publicity and fans. According to most major league scouts, lefthanded pitcher David Clyde of Westchester High in Houston was the plum of the draft, and in some reports he was rated as the second coming of Herb Score. Short not only drafted Clyde but also bypassed a minor league assignment and had the 18-year-old make his first professional start in Arlington against the Minnesota Twins. That would sell tickets. Sell an ocean of beer. Generate national headlines. Win new fans if the kid came out of the escapade alive.
Herzog was doubtful. "What we have to remember, and what David will soon find out, is that in the major leagues he won't be pitching against a bunch of zit-faced 130-pounders who strike out on his high fastball," the manager said one week before Clyde's debut. But realizing that, as he said, his "next check from Short might not clear the bank" if the Rangers didn't find a way to get the turnstiles moving, Herzog endorsed the scheme.
When Clyde walked to the mound on June 27, Arlington Stadium, jammed to the brim for the first time, looked like the banks of the Ganges on a holy day. Apprehension set in quickly when Clyde walked the Twins' Jerry Terrell and Rod Carew to start the game. But plate umpire Ron Luciano established a compassionate strike zone, and Clyde whiffed Bobby Darwin, George Mitterwald and Joe Lis in succession to retire the side. You would have thought Lindbergh had just landed in Paris.
Clyde pitched five innings, yielding two runs, one hit and seven walks. He also struck out eight and got the win. "Why did you yank Clyde after five?" a reporter asked Herzog. "Was he out of gas?"
"Nah," Herzog said. "I sent David out to the rightfield stands to heal some cripples. He's starting here again five nights from now, ya know."