I never recovered from 2011. I came to terms with it, after a fashion, but I wouldn’t call it closure. Yes, it’s just sports, but our lives would be different had Texas prevailed.
Some time in early 2012, one of the D/FW sports-radio hosts decided that re-listening to Eric Nadel’s call of that play would serve as an exorcism. Maybe so for him, but for me the call merely reopened a poorly stitched wound. I’ve never watched highlights of that Series. Any time a clip would appear on the tv, I would avert my eyes.
Worse still was something I’d mentioned to my wife, that Texas could be better in 2012 and not even reach the World Series, given the vagaries of playoff baseball. That fear became manifest, as the Rangers were indeed better for much of 2012, until they weren’t.
The Rangers weren’t quite done, at least in the regular season, winning two more division titles and even leading the AL in wins in 2016. That edition was essentially a .500 club with incredible one-run luck, but still, 95 wins! Texas even began 2019 with a record of 46-36 and were tied for the wild card at the end of June.
Then, the window slammed shut. Texas began what would become the worst 500-game stretch in franchise history, 204-296, which extended into May of this year. 1 There’s nothing magical about 500 games – it’s three full seasons plus two weeks – but it’s a long time. This period was the worst lengthy spell in franchise history, surpassing the dreaded 1982-1985.
Six months later, the Rangers are champions.
I’ve seen grumbling (mainly from an extremely online subset of Astros fans) about how Texas simply purchased a winner, an affront to the noble, process-oriented methodologies of other clubs. 2 Whatever. The Rangers had a process, too. They just compressed each step into the shortest time possible.
My podcast mates and I stressed for years that Texas would never construct a postseason-worthy squad with the farm alone. Sure, given that I write about the minor leaguers and you read about them, a squad stocked with homegrown talent is arguably more enjoyable. But at the same time, I have no delusions about team-building. Prospects are a means, not an end. Few reach their ceilings. Some are blocked. As such, their value to an organization is often maximized by trades. Holding onto them out of some warped sense of propriety is malfeasance.
This championship club is as genuine as any other. There’s more than one way to build a winner, and that’s very much a good thing. Ownership, management, coaches and players all pulled together and pointed the ship in the right direction, and their hard work paid off in the best way possible. (And Jon Daniels deserves plenty of credit, too.)
There’s something about being a fan. I guess, in a more cynical frame of mind, you could call it hypocrisy, but I prefer duality.
On the one hand, I’m careful to avoid the word “we” when writing about the Rangers. I’ve never worked for them. I can take zero credit for what they’ve accomplished. If I decide to ignore them, they’ll roll on, unimpeded and carefree. There’s no “we.” Plus, sometimes baseball dares you to pay attention. Work stoppages. An increasingly fractured and unnavigable collection of media rights-holders, but no end to blackouts. Eradication of a quarter of the minor leagues, with potentially more to come. The ever-obtuse Rob Manfred. I could go on.
On the other hand: No. We are the Rangers. You and me.
When Josh Sborz caught the corner for that final strike, I barely moved. 3 I just watched while listening to Eric Nadel’s call. 4 55 years of fandom distilled to an instant. A wave of emotions. Memories of attending games with my father as an official member of the Dr. Pepper Junior Rangers Kids Club, evenings at the ballpark after my work shift at Six Flags, get-togethers I organized in the late 90s and early 2000, Newberg Report nights. Happiness that my wife, who accompanied me to so many playoff games in 2010-2011, was with me. Happiness that a cat she and I named Ranger in 2010 lived long enough to claim “his” title. Sadness that my father couldn’t be here. 5
Maybe your parents took you to games as a kid. Maybe you went with friends, with partners, with your kids. Maybe you’ve never set foot in Texas and latched on for other reasons. However you got here, you have a lifetime of memories, some good, some bad, all building up to last night. The “Texas Rangers” are the shared experience. If you’ve been watching, waiting, hurting, you’ve got as much of a claim on that trophy as anyone.
The championship belongs to us. And it’s ours to enjoy for the rest of our lives.
Thanks for reading.
Ranger and me during Game 4
1 I know that sounds weird. How could any portion of 2023 belong to a “worst-ever” stretch since the Rangers started so well? The explanation is 2023 with a solid 22-14 record, but in the 36 games before the worst-ever 500, they were slightly better: 23-13.
2 Texas’s payroll is $14 million higher than Houston’s. That’s a 6% difference. I tend to think fan bases around baseball are pretty much the same – mostly fine, a few jerks and trolls – but a small but vocal portion of Houston supporters fans are very tightly wound.
3 Admittedly, I spent most of the previous few innings pacing the living room in advance of what was shaping to be an unimaginably tense 9th (or extras!). Once Texas broke open the top of the 9th, I could finally just sit.
4 Not that we need to rank deservedness, but does anyone deserve this more than Nadel?
5 You can forestall Death with a game of chess, but asking him to wait until a Texas Rangers championship is a bridge too far.