There was a time, as Texas Manager Billy Hunter recalled last week, when baseball owners were seen but generally not heard. They made a token appearance in spring training to welcome back the veterans, introduce themselves to the rookies and wish everybody a good season. That was it. Then they vanished into the boardroom.
"The George Steinbrenners and Ray Krocs have changed all that," said Hunter. "It doesn't seem to matter whether they're involved in shipping or hamburgers. If those kind of people don't like the way their ball club is performing, they're going to let the manager and the players know what they think."
Although he referred specifically only to Steinbrenner and Kroc, it is not likely that Hunter had forgotten about his own owner. Hardly. Six nights earlier Brad Corbett had kicked open the door of the Rangers' clubhouse, following a 2-1 loss to Milwaukee, and harangued Hunter, his coaching staff and all 25 players on their various shortcomings.
"It's incredible to me that this team—with all its talent—has scored 153 runs less than Kansas City," he shrieked, ignoring the fact that the number was actually 63. "We've got to start playing with some pride. We're going to have a winner here in Texas—if not this year, then next, though I haven't written off this year. It's certainly not because you guys aren't well paid. I'll go broke if I have to. I'll fire till I'm dry."
Nobody would call Brad Corbett chintzy, what with the high-priced free agents—Bert Campaneris, Doyle Alexander, Richie Zisk, Doc Medich and Mike Jorgensen—he has brought to Arlington in the past two years. Not to mention the salaries that he is paying to stars obtained in trades, like Jon Matlack, Al Oliver and Bobby Bonds. So far, however, all the Rangers have to show for Corbett's wheeling and dealing and spending is a second-place finish last season and a lot of high hopes for a strong finish this year.
The 2-1 loss to the Brewers was the fifth defeat of what was to become an eight-game losing streak for Texas, something the Rangers could ill afford since it came at a time when the division-leading Royals were in the midst of a 10-game winning streak. The Milwaukee loss was particularly galling to Corbett because it came in the 10th inning when Campaneris booted a grounder at short and Bump Wills dropped a pop-up behind second. Corbett waited until the final out, which reduced Texas' record to 46-48, 6� games behind Kansas City. Then, with several belts under his belt, he headed for the Ranger clubhouse.
"At first he didn't say anything," says First Baseman Mike Hargrove. "But he was breathing mighty heavy."
"I didn't think anything of him coming down," says Oliver. "I know Brad is a leaper. The only thing I care about is the fact that we don't intimidate opponents the way those Pittsburgh Pirate teams I played on did. The Rangers have got the bats. We just haven't shown it out on the grass."
"You have to remember," says Hunter, "that most of our guys haven't been together very long and, believe it or not, playing together as a team is just as important in baseball as it is in, say, football. But when Brad says, 'Let's do it,' he means right now."
Corbett's outburst was hardly uncharacteristic. On July 4 last year he broke into tears following a 1-0 loss and said, "I'm selling this team because it's killing me. They're dogs on the field and they're dogs off the field." But Corbett did not sell his Rangers, though his problem then was the same as it is now: lots of stars but too many egos, lots of hitting but too many slumps, big thrills and big disappointments. In other words, feast and famine.