The team became the property of Eddie Chiles, a Fort Worth oilman who remains unappreciated as one of the most eccentric owners in major league history. As head of the Western Company of North America, Chiles became famous in Texas for his TV commercials, in which an actress reminded the viewing audience, "If yew don't have an awl well, git one!" Chiles further immortalized himself by narrating ultra-conservative radio commercials in which he bewailed big government to the accompaniment of a drum roll.
When what was supposed to have been a solid Rangers team hit the skids early in 1982, Chiles fired general manager Eddie Robinson and assumed a hands-on role in baseball operations. He decided that the players, like his sales reps at the Western Company, should set monthly personal productivity quotas. While one of Chiles's consultants looked on, each player would sit in the office of manager Don Zimmer and tell the skipper how he planned to "hit .320, with four or five doubles, a dozen RBIs and maybe a couple of f——dingers" over the upcoming fortnight. Finally Zimmer couldn't stand it anymore, and after the consultant left he shredded the players' "expectations" files with his bare hands.
When Texas fell 20 games under .500, Chiles fired Zimmer but asked him to stay on a few days until a replacement could be found. That turned out to be Darrell Johnson, who didn't fare much better than Zimmer had and was released after the season.
The 1983 season began with a marketing campaign fashioned around postgame concerts. Doug Rader, a former Houston Astros third baseman and a nonconformist, was appointed the 12th Rangers manager in 12 seasons. On the first pitch to the first batter in the first game of the exhibition season, umpire Jerry Neudecker called a ball. Rader thought the pitch had been a strike. Loud enough for every fan in Pompano stadium to hear, Rader shouted, "Am I going to have to put up with this s—-all year?" One pitch into his Rangers managerial career, Rader was kicked out of the game.
As a wardrobe innovation the '83 Rangers wore bright red jerseys for Sunday home games. Rader referred to his team as "the running blood clots." While the postgame concerts did attract some extra fans to Arlington Stadium, Rader expressed concerns about the Chiles regime and its commitment to baseball. Perhaps that was because before a game against the Boston Red Sox, Rader was startled to see an unfamiliar little man in the Texas dugout. He introduced himself to Rader: "Hi. Ah'm Conway Twitty."
In May 1985 Rader was fired, and Bobby Valentine moved into his office. With Valentine came pitching coach Tom House, whose claim to fame was that in 1974, as a pitcher for the Braves, he had caught Hank Aaron's 715th home run in the Atlanta bullpen. House, who was studying for a doctorate in psychology, pioneered bold coaching concepts in a sport that fears innovation. He insisted that his pitchers heave footballs to each other before games. The passing motion that produces a tight spiral, House said, was ideal for perfecting a pitcher's mechanics.
"Opposing teams couldn't believe what they were seeing," said Rangers TV announcer Mark Holtz. "Neither could the fans when the team was on the road. People realized that Texas was supposed to be a football-crazy state, but this was carrying things too far." When pitchers began punting the balls and infielders started returning the kicks, stiff-arming imaginary tacklers, it was blasphemy to baseball fundamentalists.
House gave the job his best shot. But in 1986, when Texas knuckleballer Charlie Hough broke the little finger of his pitching hand while shaking hands with an old friend at the Laughing Fish Pub in Pompano Beach, even House admitted that no law of physics or rule of logic could be applied to the strange universe of the Rangers.
It was perhaps fitting that Mideast oil sheikhs might have supplied the impetus for a change in the team's destiny. When the price of a barrel of crude skidded to $15 dollars, Chiles's company faced bankruptcy. He jettisoned his baseball team, and a new ownership group took over and finally brought stability to a franchise that appeared to be in need of intensive therapy.
Current team president Tom Schieffer, an Arlington lawyer and brother of CBS News correspondent Bob Schieffer, recalls that the negotiations with Chiles in 1988 "were not hurt by the fact that our group was represented by a man whose Republican father had just been elected president of the United States."