Mon Oct 25 12:21pm EDT
The Texas Rangers franchise goes back to the 1961 expansion Washington Senators, and has played in Texas since 1972. But after two indifferent decades in which the team never finished higher than second, the franchise's fortunes turned forever in the late '80s: First, George W. Bush purchased a share of the team in 1989, and then, Jose Canseco joined the club in 1992. Their appearances marked the start of a new generation of stars who brought the club to its first playoff appearances, then fell under the cloud of steroid suspicion.
With the franchise on the brink of its first World Series appearance, we took a look at the greatest Texas Rangers in team history, and they split along these two eras: The wilderness of the '70s and '80s, and the inflated '90s and '00s.
A couple of notes: With a few more great seasons, Josh Hamilton(notes) is poised to join this list. And should Cliff Lee(notes) lead the team to a World Series title and spurn the Yankees in free agency to stay in Arlington, many Rangers fans might move to include him on this list immediately. Finally, all the italicized stats below are totals for their time in a Rangers uniform, not career numbers.
10. Rafael Palmeiro, 1B (1989-1993, 1999-2003) .290/.378/.519, 321 HR, 1,039 RBIs, 2x All-Star
After more than 3,000 hits and 500 homers, this man has come to be defined by six little words: "I have never used steroids. Period." Like his teammate Juan Gonzalez, his stunning numbers have been overshadowed by others, but his longevity and productivity stood out even in an inflated era. A first baseman at a time when that was one of the deepest positions in baseball, he only made four total All-Star games, but he received MVP votes during 10 seasons, and even won three Gold Gloves. He's emblematic of his era, but he was still one of the best players around.
9. Toby Harrah, SS/3B/2B (1972-1978, 1985-1986) .259/.361/.398, 122 HR, 546 RBIs, 3x All-Star
Toby Harrah's back-of-the-baseball-card stats don't look very impressive any more, but he was a versatile infielder who had good range at short, pop with the bat, stole bases, and drew a ton of walks. He led the league in walks in 1977 with 109, ahead of Ken Singleton and the Human Rain Delay, Mike Hargrove. That's him on the right, celebrating his induction into the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame.
8. Kenny Rogers(notes), SP (1989-1995, 2000-2001, 2004-2005) 133-96, 4.16 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 3x All-Star
Kenny Rogers made three different tours of duty in a Ranger uniform, coming within six victories of tying Hough's franchise record for wins and pitching the only perfect game in team history in 1994. The weird thing about Rogers is that despite pitching more than half his career in Texas, he never once made the playoffs there. However, in the eight years that he played elsewhere, he pitched for five different teams and made the playoffs four different times. Was he a mercenary or just unlucky in the Lone Star State? Only the Gambler knows for sure.
7. Buddy Bell, 3B (1979-1985, 1989) .293/.351/.431, 87 HR, 499 RBIs, 4x All-Star
As part of the three-generation Bell baseball dynasty, Buddy Bell is the son of Gus Bell and the father of David Bell. He's almost certainly the best baseball player in the family. All of Buddy's best years were in Texas: his six straight Gold Gloves, his three consecutive and four total All-Star appearances, and all five of the seasons for which he received MVP votes. He was acquired for Harrah in a challenge trade: The Rangers and Indians swapped their starting third basemen straight up.
6. Charlie Hough, SP (1980-1990) 139-123, 3.68 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 1x All-Star
Charlie Hough wasn't just the best 46-year-old pitcher since Nolan Ryan, he was the winningest pitcher in the history of the franchise, a knuckleballing ancient who debuted in 1970 and managed to hang around long enough to be the first opening-day pitcher for the Florida Marlins in 1993. He was mostly a relief pitcher until he came to Texas at 33, but over the next decade he was one of the most durable starters in the majors, winning double-digit games for each of the next nine years.
5. Michael Young(notes), SS/3B/2B (2000-2010) .300/.347/.448, 158 HR, 811 RBIs, 6x All-Star
Michael Young is the Rangers' equivalent of Carl Crawford(notes), the man who weathered all the years in the cellar, the circus surrounding Tom Hicks' crazy contract for Alex Rodriguez(notes), moving across the field wherever the team needed him and hitting .300 nearly every year. After playing second and short in the minors, he moved to second base to accommodate Rodriguez, then moved back to shortstop when Rodriguez was traded to the Yankees, and then moved to third base to accommodate defensive whiz Elvis Andrus(notes). A good hitter and a good citizen, he deserves this Fall Classic trip more than any other Ranger.
4. Juan Gonzalez, OF (1989-1999, 2002-2003) .293/.342/.565, 374 HR, 1,180 RBIs, 2x All-Star, 2x AL MVP (1996, 1998)
Forget about the way his career ended — 186 games played in four years from 2002-2005, while he collected nearly $30 million from the Rangers, Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians — and remember when Juan Gone was the most devastating hitter in the league, hitting 43 homers as a 22-year-old and 46 as a 23-year-old, then winning two MVP awards in three years. Injuries and the cloud of Mitchell Report-fueled PED suspicions robbed him of the Hall of Fame hopes that once seemed inevitable, but he was about as good a hitter in the 1990s as could be found in baseball.
3. Alex Rodriguez, SS (2001-2003) .305/.395/.615, 156 HR, 395 RBIs, 3x All-Star, AL MVP (2003)
You know all about this guy. But lost in the controversy over the cartoonishly large contract was this: For the three years he was in Texas, he really was the best player in the American League, and the second-best player in baseball to Barry Bonds. Since then, of course, he moved to the hot corner and won two more MVP awards in the Bronx, maintaining his status as one of the top players in the league. But he was never better on the field and in the batter's box than he was in Texas.
2. Nolan Ryan, SP (1989-1993) 51-39, 3.43 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 1x All-Star
For his longevity and win total, this spot might have gone to Ferguson Jenkins, who has the fourth-most wins in franchise history, but really, there's no way to keep the Ryan Express off the list, especially after saving the team from bankruptcy and helping lead it to its first World Series. As a player, Nolan didn't come to the Rangers till he was 42, but he still had two no-hitters and nearly a thousand strikeouts left in his golden arm. He led the majors with 301 strikeouts his first year in Texas, finishing fifth in the Cy Young race. In his last season, he provided one of the most cited moments in team history, pummeling Chicago White Sox third baseman Robin Ventura when he charged the mound and unwisely challenged the old man. We'll never see another quite like him. But at least we'll get to enjoy all his reaction shots during the World Series.
1. Ivan Rodriguez(notes), C (1991-2002, 2009) .304/.341/.488, 217 HR, 842 RBIs, 10x All-Star, AL MVP (1999)
It's awfully hard to unpack this list because of the complications of the steroid era, but Ivan Rodriguez is almost certainly one of the best two catchers of all time, second only to Johnny Bench. When he came up from the minors, he was a 19-year-old with a cannon arm and a weak bat; within a few years, however, he had become one of the more dangerous hitters in the league. He has the all-time record for most games caught, and his two-year contract with the Washington Nationals ensures that he'll extend that record next year.
Coming on Tuesday: The 10 best San Francisco Giants in team history.