Now that you've finally gingerly struggled back out of bed after the events of December 31st, 2008 into January 1st, 2009 (you do remember what happened last night, don't you?), please allow me to be the first to wish you a very prosperous and healthy New Year. I'll go ahead and fess up: my head still hurts. Not exactly Nate-Newton-Just-Sat-On-My-Head kind of hurt, but more like There's-A-Grandfather-Clock-Directly-Next-To-My-Head type of hurting. But I'll survive -- I have the MLB Network to get me through.
If you're just now getting into this running series I've been doing pretty much all off-season long, then welcome. I might do you the benefit of recapping everything one of these days before pitchers and catchers report, but until then feel free to scroll on back and check out the archives to see what you've missed.
We've made our way around the infield, and now we're moving on to the outfielders. We start in left field, where I think you'll be pleased with this little trip down memory way:
5. Tom Grieve (1972-1977) - I honestly struggled trying to find a suitable pick to be the fifth-best left fielder in Rangers history. I still might be struggling with this selection. I thought about inserting George Wright, but after two pretty good years he basically fell off the face of the earth, so that ruled him out. I also threw around the names of Kevin Mench, Bill Sample, and even Juan Gonzalez (he played more right field than left for the Rangers, so he'll be with us a little later on) which would take some reorganization on my part, but I instead decided to go with TAG.
Why, you ask? His on-field accolades certainly weren't anything to write home about; his best year in Texas came in 1976 when he piled up 20 homers, 81 runs batted in, and hit .255 in 149 games. But Grieve, known to some as "Mr. Ranger," is one of the better-known personalities to have ever donned a Rangers uniform -- even if it isn't necessarily for his accolades on the field. Therefore, he sneaks onto the list. Let the barrage of insults commence.
4. Gary Ward (1984-1986) - I might as well just close my laptop, take out the battery, open the window and toss it out onto the street below if I didn't mention Gary Ward's epic mutton chops and afro. If I'm ever named manager of a fictional baseball team (and I am all the time) Rollie Fingers is my ace, and Gary Ward is definitely my starting left fielder. Eddie Gaedel would probably be my bat boy.
The Rangers acquired Ward from the Twins in December of 1983 in a pretty fair swap, sending two sturdy and serviceable pitchers in Mike Smithson and John Butcher to the Twin Cities in return. The afroed one was impressive on some really bad Rangers clubs in '84 and '85, and started out 1986 equally as good. Unfortunately for him, a youngster by the name of Ruben Sierra was primed to claim an outfield spot, leaving Ward, who was 32 at the time, as one of the odd men out. He headed elsewhere at the conclusion of the season, playing in New York for the next three seasons before moving on to Detroit to close out his career.
3. Pete Incaviglia (1986-1990) - If a ballplayer who happens to be a former Ranger happens to have a rule written after him in the official rulebook of Major League Baseball, odds are pretty good he's going to end up on a list like this. Such is the case with Pete Incaviglia, and the "Pete Incaviglia Rule", or Rule 3(b)(7), which states that a team cannot trade a drafted player until he has been under contract to the club for at least one year (if you will remember, the Montreal Expos originally drafted and signed Inky, but due to the amount of money he and his agent were asking for, immediately dealt him away).
Inky's other notable claim to fame came during his first spring training as a Ranger. Fresh off destroying plenty of college records, Incaviglia arrived in camp amidst a wash of excitement and fervor and put on a show for the assembled media during batting practice. At one point, he hit a ball so hard that it sailed straight through the outfield wall.
Inky had a solid, yet at times unspectacular career. He possessed a lot of power, but also possessed the power to strike out -- a lot, a whopping 788 times over 2,449 at-bats as a Ranger (which, according to my sloppy math, equals a strikeout approximately every 3.1 at-bats). He was a great player, but his inability to consistently make contact was what kept him from reaching that upper plateau in the major leagues.
2. Al Oliver (1978-1981) - Last time, I made mention of the December 8th, 1977 four-team trade, probably one of the most confusing and convoluted trades in club history. It turned out to be a pretty good one for the Rangers, however, because it brought the Rangers and Al Oliver together.
Oliver played a substantial amount of time in center field as a Pirate, and could flexibly fit into both corner outfield positions, but found himself spending most of the time in left field as a member of the Rangers.
Wearing the famous number zero on his back, "Scoop" played in all of Texas's 163 games in 1980, reaching career highs in hits, doubles, and RBI while batting .319 -- good for eighth in the American League. On August 17th at Tiger Stadium, he established an American League record with 21 total bases in a doubleheader (four home runs, a double and a triple).
I'm not one to open up the can of worms on who ought to be in the Hall of Fame, but Oliver collected more than 2,700 hits and a .303 lifetime batting average, not to mention over 500 doubles and 1,300 RBI -- all while playing most of his career in neutral or pitchers' parks from 1968-85 (along with Arlington Stadium, you have Three Rivers Stadium, the old Olympic Stadium in Montreal, Candlestick Park, Veterans Stadium in Philly, and swims through Exhibition Stadium in Toronto and Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles). Those are some pretty compelling numbers if you ask me.
1. Rusty Greer (1994-2002) - Much in the same sense of Tom Grieve being a household name in Texas Rangers lore, ask any Tom, Dick, or Harry for their list of favorite players and it will probably include the name of Russell Thurman Clyde Greer. The key to his game was his possession of something that set him apart from seemingly everybody else in the clubhouse: grit. He didn't own an overpowering amount of athletic ability, but just as you would wring a wet towel to get every last drop of water out of it, Greer poured every ounce of talent he had into his game to help his club win. I know I'm not alone in saying I'd love to see a job on the big league coaching staff come his way in the future.
Honorable Mention: George Wright (1982-1986), Kevin Mench (2002-2006)
5. Shane Spencer (2003) - At the time, it seemed innocent. Shane Spencer and Ricardo Rodriguez were acquired from the Indians for Ryan Ludwick. The Rangers were able to milk some serviceable pitching out of Rodriguez over the 2004 and 2005 seasons. But what stings is watching Ludwick, who was released after a couple of seasons with the Indians, finally start to come into his own in 2007 before turning into a world-beater in 2008. What did Shane Spencer do for the Rangers? The answer is not much. A dependable bench player with the Yankees and Indians, Spencer clunked into the Rangers outfield, hitting just .227 over the last half of the season before leaving the club in the off-season.
4. Joe Lovitto (1972-1975) - Lovitto hit .300 as a minor leaguer the season before he was called up. However, his best major league mark was .224 in his rookie year during the 1972 season. His career was plagued with nagging injuries to his right arm and shoulder, so yeah, that didn't help.
3. Monty Fariss (1991-1992) - Another in a line of many bad draft picks by the Rangers, Fariss was grabbed up by the Rangers with the sixth-overall pick of the 1988 amateur draft. But he ended up being nothing more than a decent AAAA player, that horrible middle ground where you're probably better than most Triple-A guys but just don't have the talent to face and succeed against big league pitching. Still, there were some bright spots: he was good at drawing walks, and in 1992 Fariss had a .311 on-base percentage, higher than that of Dickie Thon and Pudge Rodriguez. He also was a pretty good fielder, committing zero errors in 87 chances. But he finished his major league career with a .217 lifetime batting average which, as you know, is not really good.
2. Brad Wilkerson (2006-2007) - If you really want to send the internet community that reads about and follows the Rangers into a tizzy, mention Brad Wilkerson.
Wilkerson struggled with a sore shoulder immediately upon joining the Rangers, and his time as a leadoff hitter came to an abrupt halt after just eight games. One season in Texas wasn't enough for many to view the deal with the Nationals as a complete and utter wash, but Wilkerson was back for more in 2007 and so were his injuries. I'll never forget an at-bat he had against Jonathan Papelbon in early 2007; Wilkerson looked more overmatched at the plate than he had at any other point as a Ranger. Nothing about his time in Texas was pretty.
1. Lee Mazzilli (1982) - I could have probably been okay with a tie for first on this part of the list, because as bad as the Brad Wilkerson deal might have been, the Lee Mazzilli trade (which sent Ron Darling and Walt Terrell to the Mets on April 1st, 1982) might have been just as wretched.
The deal to acquire Mazzilli immediately started to go bad when he was informed he would be switching to left field. Stuck out there, he looked lost, and labeled his new spot in the field an "idiot's position." For awhile, he displayed flashes of the talent the Rangers coveted as spring training came to an end, and it gave the Rangers hope that they had found a suitable replacement. But he never got on track in the regular season and looked hopelessly futile at the plate. Four short months after he'd arrived in Texas, he was traded to the Yankees for Bucky Dent during a series in New York.
Darling and Terrell both went on to have successful careers in the majors.
After three seasons with the Mets, Terrell joined the Detroit Tigers following their championship season of 1984. He was a sturdy starter, winning at least 10 games six times in his 11-year career. Darling struggled with control problems at times, but was also one of the better fielding pitchers in the major leagues, winning a Gold Glove wth the Mets with 1989. After his 13th and final season in 1995, Darling finished with a 136-116 won-lost record including 1,590 strikeouts and a 3.87 ERA.
Dishonorable Mention: John Cangelosi (1992)
Next time, it's on to center field.