Within a month Bradford G. Corbett, owner of a Fort Worth-based company that manufactured plastic pipe, and a group of partners bought the Rangers for $10 million. Short turned a small profit on his investment and retained a 10% interest in the team. Judging by Corbett's responses to questions at the press conference announcing the sale (Reporter: "Mr. Corbett, has the American League officially approved this sale?" Corbett, shrugging: "Uh, well, we haven't had time to look into that yet"), it appeared that nobody was sure who owned what and that the new owners hadn't the vaguest notion of how to operate a baseball franchise.
But most of that confusion was ignored when the Rangers unexpectedly charged out of the starting gate. Righthander Ferguson Jenkins, a nine-year veteran of the National League whom Texas had acquired in an off-season trade with the Chicago Cubs, hypnotized American League batters in winning five of his first six decisions. Making command decisions in the dugout, Martin rolled hot dice game after game. In early May, Texas was in first place in the American League West.
The Rangers dogged the defending world champion As well into September but finished five games out. Texas had its first winning season (84-76) and drew 1,193,902 fans, nearly doubling its attendance of the year before. What's more, the Rangers nearly swept the American League's individual awards: Martin was Manager of the Year, Jenkins was Comeback Player of the Year and a close second to Oakland's Catfish Hunter for the Cy Young Award, outfielder Jeff Burroughs was MVP, and first baseman Mike Hargrove was Rookie of the Year.
Despite what would happen later during Martin's five stints as New York Yankees manager under George Steinbrenner, the mystique of combativeness that enveloped this maestro of the sucker punch reached its zenith in Texas. During the '74 season Corbett gave Martin a membership in Fort Worth's hotsy-totsy Shady Oaks Country Club, and there, as legend has it, Martin and his lifelong party associate, Mickey Mantle, created a stir by running over Ben Hogan in a golf cart. Before long Martin was persona non grata at Shady Oaks. When I visited him in his office early in the '75 season to ask him about his pitching rotation, he waved an envelope containing a bar tab from the club. "How in the hell do they expect me to go over there and pay that bill," he said, laughing, "when I'm no longer welcome on the premises?"
The euphoria of '74 didn't carry far into the next season, as it became evident early on that the Rangers could not measure up to expectations. Martin's brawling spilled from the saloons into the team's clubhouse, and the manager nearly duked it out with outfielder Willie Davis after one game. Corbett fired Martin in July, and Texas spent a relatively uneventful couple of seasons under Frank Lucchesi.
The 1976 team laid the foundation for what would become a Texas baseball tradition: being at or near the top of the standings until the All-Star break, then collapsing like a cardboard suitcase. As Burroughs summed it up, "It went from 'Wow, this might be the year' to 'Gee, were we overexposed or what?' All in less than two weeks." Burroughs, whose stats fell off measurably in the two seasons following his MVP year, was traded to the Braves after the season.
In spring training in 1977, the Rangers returned to the territorial waters of baseball absurdity. Lucchesi, who was grooming Maury Wills's son, Bump, for the second baseman's job, complained to reporters about the attitude of Wills's competition, Lenny Randle. Before an exhibition game a few days later, Randle approached Lucchesi, who was still in street clothes near home plate, and, without warning, beat the manager senseless. Randle was traded to the Mets, and after the Rangers got off to a 31-31 start, Lucchesi was fired.
Corbett hired Eddie Stanky, who proved to be the most prudent of the many Texas skippers. Stanky managed one game—a 10-8 win over the Twins—and quit the next morning because, he said, he was "lonesome and homesick." He had hopped a plane to Alabama before anybody realized he was gone. Third base coach Connie Ryan served as interim manager for six games until Baltimore Orioles third base coach Billy Hunter was hired—the Rangers' fourth manager in seven days.
In 1978 Rangers pitcher Roger Moret also had to leave during the season, but he did so in unique fashion. Before a home game Moret fell into a trancelike state, standing in his underwear in front of his locker, with an arm extended rigidly in front of him, holding a shower shoe. When summoned to view the spectacle, Hunter said, "Good god. I need a lefthanded starter, not some goddam statue." Paramedics were summoned to deal with the catatonic southpaw.
Because Corbett's plastic-pipe company was suffering heavy losses (which some analysts pinned on his preoccupation with running the baseball team), the owner was forced to sell the Rangers in 1980. A propensity for making bad trades had earned Corbett the moniker Chuckles the Clown in the local media. Toward the end of his tenure he stood in his private chamber alongside the press box looking forlorn as fans below him chanted, "Jump, Brad, jump!"