Shall we write the sporting obituary for the Texas Rangers?
It would seem that a team that had lost two straight World Series, getting trounced in the first one, then losing the second in the most horrific, heartbreaking fashion fathomable, would be written off as having a snowball's chance in a Texas July of getting back to the big dance in the foreseeable future. It would be well within reason to banish a team that came within one strike of winning the World Series, not once, but twice, then blew the lead (in the same game, no less!), to that seething netherworld of disappoinment inhabited by such chronic underachievers as the Buffalo Bills and Chicago Cubs.
But the Rangers' fall was not all that amazing to Texas Ranger fans, or at least us old folks who have followed the team since the days of the baseball in a ten gallon hat when the likes of Jim Sundberg, Mike Hargrove, Fergie Jenkins, and Jeff Burroughs played in an ugly aluminum atrocity that sat out on the plains next to Six Flags and not much else, just begging to be struck by lightning every time one of those notorious green-skied spring storms roared through the Dee Eff Dubya Metroplex. Until recently, the Rangers did not even belong in the same inferno as the Bills and the Cubs. They were in a place that made perdition seem like Highland Park, having never won a playoff game until last year, their 38th year of existence- their 49th if you count their days as the Washington Senators.
I watched the bottom of the ninth of this year's World Series Game six, a game that will forever live in infamy in the hearts of baseball fans across the Lone Star State. The Rangers were up by two runs. Fireball tossing Neftali Feliz, one of the best closers in the Majors, the second coming of Mariano Rivera, was on the mound. An objective observer would conclude that Texas had it wrapped-up and put the champagne on ice, which some stadium workers, being reasonable persons, actually did. But we old Texas Rangers fans knew better. The fact that we were still Texas Rangers fans was proof enough of our absent reason. We were asking ourselves "How are the Rangers gonna screw this up?" In true Rangers form, they did just that, giving up two runs in the inning which tied the game. Somehow, a limping Nelson Cruz was still in the game in right field and could not get to a fly ball that a healthy player would have happily plucked out of the air for the final out, a championship trophy, and a big parade through Fort Worth's Stockyards.
Off to extra innings we went.
When the Rangers went ahead again by two runs in the 10th on Josh Hamilton's homer, we asked ourselves once more, with a feeling of bitterness, "How are they gonna blow it this time?" How they did it was not really as important as the fact that they did. If I had not been wiser, I would have cried when David Freese's home run sailed over the center field wall for the Cardinals' winning run in the bottom of the 11th. I'm sure lots of kids across North Texas broke out in tears at that moment. If only they had my battle scars. After the game 6 collapse, there was no way I could watch game 7. I would have cried, and there's no crying in baseball.
Game 7 really wasn't a game, but, as I read on the interwebs, a clinic in poor pitching by the Rangers. Just when it counts......
So the Rangers blew it. Should old Texas Rangers fans just give up all hope and be resigned to the fact that they'll never see their team win a World Series before they go to meet Johnny Oates in that great dugout in the sky?
My answer to that is a resounding "No!", and here is why, which I shall give you in fable form:
There once was this great American statesman and politician, though most of the lefties who come to this site would disagree with that observation, and sometimes, I do so myself, who went to a little college in his hometown and played football for his school's team which was known as the fighting Poets. The team had a coach. Wilson was his name, and Wilson was part Native American and knew a thing or two about mental toughness and giving everything you've got for a cause. The politician learned a lot from the old coach, as well as his dad who ran the general store in their little town as the politico was growing up.
So the guy goes off to law school, and then he fights in a big war where he won a lot of money playing poker in the Navy. When he gets back to his hometown, he gets pulled into politics by the citizens of the town. He doesn't really want to do it, but he sees it as a chance to serve the people. He really wants to serve because he believes it is a man's highest calling to give himself to something bigger. He's in it for the little guy.
He had success.
He is elected to the House Representatives, then the Senate. He then gets picked as the running mate for well-loved War Hero who is running for President. He gets into a scandal while running for VP, and is almost kicked off the ticket. However, he goes on TV and talks about a dog. People love it. He stays on the ticket, more popular than ever. Our politician is a rising star. He is on a path to greatness. He'll surely be President one day.
Then, when the old War Hero was done in office, our guy is nominated by his party to run for President against a very young and dashing man from a wealthy family. The wealthy young man is everything our guy isn't. Our guy, always in it for the little folks, prides himself on being a regular guy in an old cloth coat with a regular wife who also likes to wear plain cloth coats. He hates glamorous people. He has always disliked and resented them. He resented them so much that, in college, he started a campus organization for plain people, the name of which can be translated into English as "right angle." Now that's pride in being square. That is the kind of straight shooter, common guy he is. He wants the little guys without charisma to have their own group and a seat at the table of power.
So he goes up against the glamorous guy, and loses by a very small margin, less than one-tenth of one percent of the popular vote.
He's dejected, but he gets right back on that horse.
Two years later, he goes back to his home state and runs for governor. Again, he is the square against the glamour king. The press is all over him like a pack of hounds because he is not a member of the charming, moneyed elite like his opponent. He loses again.
Just like the Rangers, he'd now lost two in a row.
Many observers, even our good politician himself, deemed his career over. If there was one upshot, the press would not have him to kick around anymore.
He and Ron Washington sure have a lot in common right now.
Despondent, the guy travels, goes back into law, but still has the itch for politics and keeps in close contact with his political allies. Just six years after losing his home state's governship, he gets tossed back into Presidential politics and wins his party's nomination. The other party is divided over a controversial war. They had held the Presidency for 8 years, and the people were tired of them. Our guy, the same guy whose political career was supposedly finished only 6 years earlier, was elected President. Four years later, he won again, and then, just a couple of years later... well, I won't go into that..
This is where the Rangers will be. They are that right angle team, the team for squares. Unlike their neighbors, the Cowboys, they aren't glamorous. They are the team of the average working-class North Texan- the plumbers, the GM factory workers, the oil field workers, the guys that fix your car.
They'll disappear for a few years, sure, but they'll be back- thin, tan, rested, and ready to go, the Richard Nixons of the baseball world. The national media elites on both coasts will hate them and deride them for not being a fashionable team like the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, or Giants. Yes, there is a lot of media and fan noise for those teams, but the great silent majority will never back those teams, and they'll cheer like mad for Texas Rangers, breaking their silence, because the Rangers are just like them.
In the meantime, old Rangers fans, stay healthy, stay out of frictional forces, and never ever give up on Nolan Ryan. Remember Nixon. Don't overreact to this crushing loss. Don't go calling for management's or players' heads. As an old Astros fan once said, "Stay the course." These guys are winners. They just haven't figured out how to win the big one yet. They will, soon.
Other teams cannot humilate the Texas Rangers. Only the Texas Rangers can do that.
A thousand points of light.
And, oh yes, Happy Halloween!!!
I owe the title of this post to Gary Wills.
Other references: Nixon himself and Rick Pearlstein.
May GHWB eat many more hot dogs hehind home plate at Minute Maid Park!