It was the position of Texas Highway Patrolman G. E. Fort during a lonely early-morning dialogue on a shoulder of the Fort Worth Turnpike last Saturday that the visiting motorist was in clear, perhaps willful, violation of the state laws governing speeding.
The patrolman, a tall, smiling, nearly unctuous public servant, was expostulating on the fuel crisis, highway safety, the mounting traffic toll and related matters when the visitor, the very model of obsequiousness, interjected the plea that he had, only minutes before, departed a 14-inning, four-hour and 18-minute baseball game between the Texas Rangers and the Chicago White Sox and was, therefore, in uncharacteristic haste to retire for the evening. If he was exceeding the speed limit, he explained respectfully, it was only out of exhaustion, ignorance of the law and—playing the local angle—grief over the Rangers' tragic 8-7 loss.
Patrolman Fort, obviously moved, set aside his note pad, leaned against the rented yellow Maverick and inquired almost plaintively, "Say, just what is wrong with the Rangers lately? Here we were goin' great guns, then all of a sudden...."
The visitor escaped with a written warning, exonerated on grounds of "extenuating circumstances."
The point here is not so much that the law was just and charitable but that citizens of the so-called Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, even those zealously pursuing alleged wrongdoers, seem now to care what happens to the Texas Rangers. The Texas Rangers? Losers of 105 games in 1973? The financially wobbly, publicly ignored and conceivably transient Texas Rangers?
Yes indeed, for the Rangers in their current manifestation bear about as much resemblance to last year's harlequins as their feisty manager, Billy Martin, does to Guru Maharaj Ji. And Metroplexites have responded to the rejuvenated Rangers by attending at a rate of close to 16,000 per game, best in the American League. Through the weekend, attendance was some 100,000 ahead of last year.
Martin, who managed the team for only the last month of the 1973 season after being dismissed by Detroit, is himself a new face. Typically, he has surrounded himself with some old ones—Ferguson Jenkins, Cesar Tovar, Leo Cardenas—that are new to Ranger followers, who had become accustomed to seeing beardless striplings represent them on the ball field. Martin prefers a comfortable mixture of veteran and young players, and Jenkins, particularly, has proved a good mixer. In fact, he is acclaimed by his juniors as the savior of a prodigal pitching staff.
"Before Fergy," says 23-year-old Rightfielder Jeff Burroughs, as if the BF were a BC, "it used to get boring in the field. Our pitchers would walk so many hitters and get behind so many others, you'd lose your concentration. Fergy is always around the plate, so you have to be alert."
" Ferguson Jenkins is the greatest pitcher I've ever played behind," says 25-year-old Shortstop Toby Harrah reverentially.
More important to the long-term stability of the operation is the team's new ownership. Even when the Texas Rangers were the Washington Senators, their purportedly impecunious proprietor, Bob Short, had sought to unload them. When several potential sales were aborted for one reason or another, Short packed up after the 1971 season and, in defiance of those purists who insisted the national pastime must remain in the nation's capital, moved to Texas. By his own estimate, Short is about as popular in Washington today as you know who.