What George W. Bush, now the governor of Texas, contributed to the franchise in terms of credibility paled in comparison with the effect of an off-season free-agent signing by general manager Tom Grieve. Living legend Nolan Ryan, who wanted to be closer to his home in Alvin, Texas, signed on with the Rangers for the 1989 season. But these were still the Rangers, and even the spectacle of Ryan dressed in a Texas uniform could not prevent the team's Marx Brothers antics. In the clubhouse outfielder Bob Brower entertained his teammates with pregame shows in which his pet snake—"I don't know if it's a python or a boa constrictor," one Ranger said. "It's the big one, whichever it is"—devoured live rats. Not to be outdone, infielder Julio Franco once brought his tiger cub to a game on a leash.
On the field there was slapstick as usual. In May 1993, in Cleveland, Jose Canseco accomplished a Rangers first when he let a fly ball bounce off the top of his head and over the rightfield fence for a home run. On that same road trip Rangers manager Kevin Kennedy gave in to Canseco's badgering and allowed his slugger to pitch in a game that the Red Sox had put out of reach at Fenway Park. During his mound stint Canseco blew out his right elbow and was lost for the season.
Nevertheless, there were indications that the Rangers' life beneath the Big Top as a warmup act for the tap-dancing hyenas might be coming to a close. In his five seasons as a Ranger, Ryan won his 300th game, threw his sixth and seventh no-hitters and established a major league career strikeout record that will outlive cable TV.
Now Rangers manager Johnny Oates sits in the dugout of the dazzling Ballpark in Arlington and presides over a premier act. All season the 1996 Rangers have thrown strikes and socked homers. They have run the bases and played the field like the Gashouse Gang. After this success there's little doubt that Texas will draw close to three million paying customers in 1997.
Still, I can't help but remember sitting in Arlington Stadium before a game in the August twilight in 1973, when if was hotter than First Baptist hell, and chatting with Rangers third baseman Jim Fregosi while 1,900 fans found their seats on Ranger Cigarette Lighter Night. Fregosi told me that he was hard at work writing his baseball autobiography, the working title of which was, The Bases Were Loaded and So Was I.
Arlington Stadium lies buried beneath a parking lot, and with it lies a baseball mind-set that Fregosi hoped to describe in his book. It is with a feeling more of disbelief than of regret that I concede that those days have vanished forever.