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100 Things Rangers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die
By Rusty Burson
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2012 Rusty Burson
All rights reserved.
Salute Tom Vandergriff Whenever Possible
Any list that documents, celebrates, or otherwise pays homage to the history of the Texas Rangers would be woefully incomplete and erroneously deficient without Tommy Joe Vandergriff's name on top of it.
The Rangers would have never relocated from Washington, D.C., and settled in Arlington without Vandergriff's tireless efforts. For that matter, Arlington wouldn't be Arlington — at least not as it is known today — without the leadership and vision of Vandergriff, who died December 30, 2010, at the age of 84.
Vandergriff not only brought big-time baseball to North Texas; he also played major roles in attracting Six Flags Over Texas and a General Motors assembly plant to the city, where he served as mayor for 26 years. His name is synonymous with Arlington's development as a major sports market and with its expansion as one of the 50 most populous cities in the country.
So, younger Rangers fans — and those who boarded the bandwagon following the 2010 and '11 runs to the World Series — could conceivably consider purchasing a vehicle from one of the five Vandergriff automotive dealerships in Arlington as a tribute to the late city ambassador.
Not a bad idea, but, quite frankly, that's probably not necessary. Simply saluting his statue in Vandergriff Plaza at the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington is probably sufficient. After all, the Arlington dealerships that bear the family's name are now operated under the umbrella of the largest privately owned automobile-dealer company in the country. Besides, Tom Vandergriff never really possessed a great deal of passion for selling cars.
It was Tom's grandfather, a blacksmith named J.T. Vandergriff, who first entered the auto industry in 1912 by repairing "horseless carriages." And it was Tom's father, W.T. (Hooker) Vandergriff, who first opened his Chevrolet dealership on the corner of Division and Center Streets in Arlington in 1937 and later added a Buick dealership in town.
Dutifully, Tom Vandergriff returned to Arlington after earning his bachelor's degree at the University of Southern California in 1947 and working in radio in Chicago and Southern California. He briefly worked in his father's dealerships in the late 1940s. But automotive sales never drove Tom. He had bigger visions in mind.
In 1950, for example, he received a tip that General Motors was looking to build a new assembly plant in the middle of the country. But he didn't think GM would take a phone call from the 24-year-old president of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce. He then decided to run for mayor in 1951 ... and won. At the time of his election, Arlington had a population of less than 8,000, but a record number of voters (999) cast their ballots for Vandergriff.
Shortly thereafter, General Motors took a phone call from Mayor Vandergriff. He then secured an agreement for the state to build a road, now State Highway 360, to lead to the new assembly plant. The $33 million facility opened in 1953.
Successes like that one, along with the $6 million bond issue he pushed through to form Lake Arlington in 1957, raised Vandergriff's confidence to pursue a personal passion: luring big-league baseball to town.
On October 7, 1959, Arlington voters approved a $9.5 million bond issue to build a stadium, and construction on the original 10,000-seat Turnpike Stadium began in September 1964. But the major league vision was still a long way from coming to fruition. Numerous roadblocks were constantly thrown in Vandergriff's path in the 13 years he actively pursued a team.
Vandergriff was once tossed from a cab because the driver in Washington, D.C., learned who he was and that he intended to meet with Senators majority owner Bob Short to discuss relocation to Texas. Judge Roy Hofheinz, owner of the Houston Astros, also attempted to block the move of a second team to Texas. Even President Richard Nixon once tried to stop the move.
While Vandergriff visited with Short in Washington, D.C., Nixon allegedly sent his son-in-law to Short's offices to encourage the Senators' owner to stay in the nation's capital. During the brief meeting between Short and Nixon's son-in-law, Vandergriff hid in an office closet.
Persistence paid off when, on September 20, 1971, Short received approval from American League owners to move the franchise from Washington, D.C., to Arlington for the 1972 season.
"Simply put, he may have been the greatest man I've ever known," former Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Jim Reeves wrote on ESPNDallas.com on the day Vandergriff died. "Without Vandergriff, it's hard to conceive what Arlington would be today. There would no General Motors or Six Flags. The Texas Rangers would never have left the nation's capital for a little-known 'hyphen' between Dallas and Fort Worth. And without the Rangers, it's pretty safe to say that the Dallas Cowboys wouldn't have given the city a second glance. Vandergriff made it all happen, sometimes seemingly almost single-handedly.
"He lived long enough to see his beloved Rangers clinch a World Series berth against the hated New York Yankees, and those who saw him there — he watched every home game of the ALDS and American League Championship Series from the city of Arlington's suite at The Ballpark — say the smile never left his face."
Fittingly, the Rangers presented the first American League championship rings in franchise history to the Vandergriff family on March 31, 2011, at the welcome home luncheon — two days before the Texas players, coaches, and support staff received their rings. The Rangers also honored Vandergriff throughout the 2011 season with his picture prominently displayed on the outfield wall in left field.CHAPTER 2
Bringing Nolan Ryan (the Player) to Arlington
In American history, December 7 is a day that will live in infamy. In Texas Rangers history, it's commemorated far more joyfully.
Exactly 47 years after the Japanese sent shockwaves around the globe by bombing Pearl Harbor — the event that triggered the United States' official involvement in World War II — the Rangers dropped a bombshell of their own in an effort to finally join the World Series foray. On December 7, 1988, the Rangers announced the free-agent signing of pitcher and native Texan Nolan Ryan. The headlines from that announcement didn't jolt the globe, but they rocked the baseball world.
Because of the continuing impact Ryan has had on the organization as a player, fan attraction, president, and CEO, that December day in '88 could be considered the most momentous in Rangers history.
"Huge," said Tom Grieve, the Rangers' general manager when Ryan signed with Texas. "Nolan brought credibility to our franchise. With Nolan Ryan in a Rangers uniform, the Rangers had arrived as a respected major league franchise. It boosted our exposure in Texas and across the country. The five years he spent as a player for us were invaluable."
While Ryan may have been the most important personnel acquisition in Rangers history, the signing of the strikeout king came as at least somewhat of a surprise nationally because no one initially expected him to leave the Houston Astros, where he'd spent nine exceptional years and was particularly close to his family's hometown in Alvin.
But in what was probably the most regrettable decision in his career as the owner of the Astros, the late John McMullen decided that, at 41, Ryan was too old to earn the millions it would take to re-sign him. Astros fans were livid; Rangers officials leapt into action.
The Rangers weren't necessarily desperate for frontline pitching. Although Texas endured a dreadful '88 season, it was not the pitching staff's fault. Texas' 1988 pitching staff allowed the fewest hits in the American League. But the offense was as stagnant as the Rangers' annual payroll — at $6.5 million, one of the lowest in the majors.
In the fall of '88, Grieve and team president Mike Stone developed plans to upgrade the team's talent and then appealed to majority owner Eddie Chiles and Texas' chief minority owner, Edward Gaylord, for a $4 million increase in the payroll to $10.5 million.
Chiles, who'd owned the Rangers since 1980 and had been looking to sell them, agreed. "If that's what you need, you got it," Chiles said.
Grieve first made a couple of major trades at the winter meetings in Atlanta, bringing Rafael Palmeiro, who finished second in the National League in hitting (.307) in 1988, and starting pitcher Jamie Moyer from the Cubs. He then dealt with the Cleveland Indians for second baseman Julio Franco, a .309 hitter over the previous three seasons.
Those two trades made the Rangers better. But when it also became clear that Ryan was available, Grieve went for the biggest move. At least four other teams were also interested in signing Ryan, including the Angels, where he'd starred from 1972 to 1979.
Grieve says 40 percent of the additional budget went toward signing Ryan to a guaranteed $2 million contract for the 1989 season — with an option for an additional year. That instantly made him the highest-paid player in franchise history, and he was worth every penny.
Ryan was an ideal complement to the Rangers' young starters — Bobby Witt, 25, and Kevin Brown, 24, and Moyer, 26. He was also an intriguing contrast to knuckleballer Charlie Hough. Thanks primarily to Ryan, attendance jumped from 1,885,166 in 1988 to 2,101,700 the following year. It was the first time in club history the team drew more than 2 million fans.
"When we signed Nolan Ryan, people said, 'The Rangers are making a public relations statement, they're just trying to sell tickets,'" Grieve told T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com years later. "The reality of the situation is that John Young, our major league scout, said Nolan Ryan was one of the five best pitchers in the National League and could be one of the five best pitchers in the American League. Young said, 'Sign him, put him in the rotation, and we'll be a better team.' That came true, given the way he pitched that first year."
Ryan was 16–10 with a 3.20 ERA in 1989, setting a Rangers record with 301 strikeouts and taking no-hitters into the ninth inning twice.
During his five years with the Rangers, Ryan threw two no-hitters, won his 300th game, and struck out his 5,000th batter. By 1993, Ryan's last year, the Rangers drew slightly more than 2.4 million fans. Undoubtedly, Ryan's five-year tenure in Arlington was a significant factor in the Rangers being able to generate enough public funding for the new Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
And it wasn't just the Rangers and their fans that benefited from having Ryan in Arlington. He thoroughly enjoyed his tenure with Texas. Even though he spent only five of his 27 total major league seasons with Texas, Ryan wore a Rangers hat into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999.
"Those five years I spent with the Rangers were probably the most enjoyable of my career because of the way the fans embraced my family and I," Ryan said. "They really made us welcome."
Two Rangers on the Cover of Sports Illustrated
Throughout their history, the Rangers have rarely been considered newsworthy on a national level. As such, the franchise (dating back to the first year in Washington) had been featured on the cover of the nation's most popular sports-related magazine, Sports Illustrated, only nine times in its first 51 years (1961–2011).
In comparison, Michael Jordan had appeared on 60 Sports Illustrated covers by 2011, while the Dallas Cowboys had made it onto the SI cover 68 times (including regional editions) by the start of 2011 football training camps.
Hopefully, the Rangers are on track to becoming more of a national name under the direction of an ownership team fronted by the legendary Nolan Ryan. That alone should help the Rangers land on the cover of SI more frequently in the years ahead, as Ryan already leads the franchise in cover appearances.
Ryan first appeared on the cover of the magazine in a Rangers uniform on the May 1, 1989, edition, accompanying a headline that read: "TEXAS HEAT: The Amazing Nolan Ryan Leads the Red-Hot Rangers."
Ryan was again the cover feature on the April 15, 1991, baseball edition. The headline: "MIRACLE MAN: Ageless Nolan Ryan Launches His 25th Season." Less than a month later, Ryan was again on the cover, although Roger Clemens was the main feature. But in the top corner of the May 13 edition was a small picture of Ryan next to this headline: "UNHITTABLE: Nolan Ryan's Magnificent Seventh."
Technically, the first person in franchise history to ever appear on the cover of SI was Ted Williams, on the March 17, 1969, edition next to the headline that read: "Ted Williams Tackles His Problems."
The first person in a Rangers uniform on the cover of SI was manager Billy Martin on June 2, 1975. The cover read: "BASEBALL'S FIERY GENIUS." Inside the magazine, in an article written by Frank Deford, Martin, then in his second season with the Rangers, said: "It's been a truthful relationship here with everybody. I have a real foundation here. I think I'll stay here for the rest of my career."
Not quite. He was replaced 95 games into the 1975 season.
The first Rangers player on the SI cover was Bump Wills in March 1977. A little more than 20 years later, Pudge Rodriguez appeared in August 1997, and Josh Hamilton made it onto a June 2008 cover. In the run to the 2011 World Series, Nelson Cruz was an SI cover boy on October 24, which also included a front-cover teaser prediction of who would win the Fall Classic.
SI went with Texas in six. So, the noted SI cover jinx has officially worked against the Rangers.
Rangers catcher Yorvit Torrealba and Cardinals outfielder Jon Jay were featured on the October 31, 2011, cover under the headline: "Heart and Soul: A great World Series unfolds."
That's it as far as featured covers go, but Billy Martin was photographed for a May 1985 cover at Arlington Stadium ... as a Yankees skipper. And the SI cover jinx worked to the Rangers' advantage at the start of the 2010 playoffs, when Tampa Bay's David Price appeared on the cover of the October 11, 2010, edition. Price lost both games he pitched in that series.CHAPTER 3
Bringing Nolan Ryan (the Executive) Back to Arlington
When documenting the Rangers' typically tainted and sometimes torturous past or detailing some of the more dreadful and damaging decisions in club history, Dallas–Fort Worth media members and fans often toss Tom Hicks' name onto the grill for a full-scale barbecuing.
Hicks has been roasted, broiled, and burned for years by Rangers followers for everything from the signing of Alex Rodriguez in 2000 to the ballclub's bankruptcy woes a decade later. In 2009 Sports Illustrated ranked Hicks as the second-worst owner in baseball (ahead of only Baltimore's Peter Angelos).
While Hicks certainly earned much of the criticism that has followed him, it should be noted that he also was instrumental in one of the most positive decisions in team history. In February 2008 Hicks returned respectability to the Rangers and infused the entire organization with optimism by hiring Nolan Ryan as team president. Ryan, then 61, became the first Hall of Fame player to be named as president of a major league franchise since Christy Mathewson in 1925 with the Boston Braves.
It was a home run move for the Rangers, as Ryan proved to be so much more than a mere figurehead. He's been a mentor, a teacher, and a tone-setter, instilling toughness and increasing expectations throughout the clubhouse and the farm system. By 2010 Ryan's leadership had also proven to be instrumental in taking the Rangers all the way to the World Series. He had also become part of the team's ownership group and had added the title of CEO.
In other words, Hicks deserves a little credit for bringing Ryan back to the fold. If Hicks hadn't made the move in '08, Ryan probably would have eventually landed with the Astros.
Excerpted from 100 Things Rangers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die by Rusty Burson. Copyright © 2012 Rusty Burson. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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