Thursday, September 3, 2009
The Texas Rangers are fighting desperately to get their name added to the list of this season's postseason participants. They remain just a few games back in both the divisional and wild card races. In doing so, they are also trying to erase their name from another much less prestigious list, that one being, "Major league teams that have never won a playoff series." Out of 30 big league franchises, a grand total of two qualify for this infamous distinction: the Washington Nationals (previously the Montreal Expos) and the aforementioned Rangers (previously the Washington Senators from 1961-1971). It's not easy to play baseball for nearly 50 years without once emerging victorious in a playoff series. But the Texas Rangers have done it, and managed to almost fly under the radar in the process. Futility on this level is usually associated with perennial losers like the Detroit Lions and Los Angeles Clippers. But the Rangers can go bummer-to-bummer with any of those squads. They just don't want you to notice.
Until the last couple of years, the Rangers didn't have to feel so bad. They were one of four teams not to win a playoff series. They could find some comfort in knowing that the Expos/Nationals, Colorado Rockies, and Tampa Bay Devil Rays were all living the same nightmare. But then a funny thing happened. The expansion teams stopped acting like expansion teams. The Rockies caught fire down the stretch in 2007 and squeaked their way into the dance with an epic one-game playoff win over the Padres. They followed that up with consecutive sweeps in the NL playoffs and they could officially wipe their name from the list of playoff losers.
(Interesting note about that playoff run. They played three series that postseason, and each one of them resulted in a sweep. They broomed the Phillies and D'Backs, and then were goose-egged by the Red Sox in the World Series. Can anybody name one single moment from that Rocks-Sox series?? That whole postseason was quite possibly the least dramatic in baseball history.)
Then last year, the Rays made their first appearance in October and took out a pair of Sox; first White, then Red, on their way to the Fall Classic. The "Playoff Failures" list had now been cut in half.
The Expos/Nationals combo lack of success is well known. For years, their small-market franchise served as a feeder system for the rest of the major leagues. The one season that they looked to have a lock on a playoff berth and possibly much more, the strike of '94 occurred, washing those dreams away in one fell swoop. Even with their recent switch to D.C., the franchise remains woefully inept and things do not look to be changing anytime soon. For God's sake, they just signed Livan Hernandez for like the 15th time in their short history. But for some reason, when the topic of the truly lame franchises in professional sports gets raised, the Rangers manage to get off Scot-free. Not with the High Socks Legend.
They've been around since 1961 (8 years before the Expos). In those 49 seasons, they have not once eclipsed the 95-win mark, but have managed a whopping six campaigns with 100+ losses. Everybody knows the Rangers usually have pitching issues, but would it be too much to ask for them to have even one Cy Young award winner in their entire history? Apparently it is, because they have not. Heck, you could probably make the argument that the best "Texas Ranger" of all-time was Chuck Norris' "Walker" character from the ill-fated USA police drama. At gunpoint, I guess you could call the late 90's their "Glory Years," but that's a bit of a stretch. They did make the playoffs three times (the only appearances in their history), but ran into the eventual champion Yankees each time. The funny thing is that the boys from Texas actually won that very first playoff game back in 1996; they then proceeded to drop their next nine without breaking a sweat.
Those playoff series would always pan out the same way. The Rangers would trot out some mook like Aaron Sele, Rick Helling, or a 45-year old John Burkett. The Yankees would counter with borderline Hall-of-Famers like David Cone and Andy Pettitte. Juan Gonzalez and Pudge Rodriguez would go a combined 2 for 22, and before you realized the series even started, the teams would be shaking hands and saying their good-byes. Heck, in the '98 series, the Rangers managed a total of one run on thirteen hits for the entire three-game set. Those are totals normally reserved for nine innings of play...not 27.
Which brings us back to the here and now. Ron Washington's Texas Rangers continue to hum along, sitting at 75-58, just a couple games removed from one of those four precious American League playoff spots. The Yankees have one. The Tigers, in all likelihood, have another. The other two will most likely come from the Rangers, Angels, and Red Sox. But really, what good would it do for the Rangers to take one of those spots? They have been playing baseball for close to 50 years, and not once have they made even the slightest of peeps on the game's grandest stage. People can talk all they want about moribund outfits like the LA Clippers and the Detroit Lions. They can talk about their poor ownership, shoddy management, and comedic on-field performance. But at least both of those not-so-storied franchises can still lay claim to a postseason advancement at some point in their history. The Rangers are still waiting for such an experience. Might this be that year?
They have an All-Star 2nd baseman, Ian Kinsler, who has adopted that 'late 90's Rangers' slugging mentality (29 home runs, .254 BA). They have a semi-anonymous powerhouse in right field, Nelson Cruz, who in his first real chance to be an everyday player, is on his way to a 35 HR season. And their longtime Achilles heel, the pitching staff, has finally started to scratch the surface of respectability. Old warhorse Kevin Millwood keeps squeezing quality starts out of that worn right arm. Relative unknown Scott Feldman has been the rotation's biggest surprise. The 6'5 Jewish right hander from Hawaii (you don't see those walking around every day) has racked up a sparkling 14-4 record after winning a total of seven games in his first four big league seasons. So maybe this is finally their time.
This club has been suiting up and playing ball in D.C. and Arlington since 1961. And in that time, they have won one playoff game and zero playoff series. It's time we stop ignoring the elephant in the room and start associating this franchise's brutal history with the other perennial losers in sports that are constantly subjected to jokes and punchlines at their own expense. The Rangers have the opportunity to go out in the next month and grab one of those remaining playoff spots. But if they get there, I wouldn't expect a very long stay. Their first round opponent would be none other than the New York Yankees, menacing postseason nemesis from yesteryear. As for me? I'll be busy clearing out the space right between "Cubs" and "Washington Generals" in our "Longtime Losers Wall of Shame." These guys need a home, and something tells me they won't be finding it in this year's playoffs. You hid for a while, fellas...but the jig is up. You are losers, and it's time the world knows it.
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