ARLINGTON, Texas – Bud Selig saved them once, a $40 million act of preservation/charity the Texas Rangers used to finance Cliff Lee(notes), a World Series appearance and, it says here, a one-way rail ticket for Tom Hicks.
Mike Maddux, the pitching coach for the Rangers (and therefore the guy whose job became a lot easier every fifth day), subsequently nominated Selig for team MVP, and not because Selig drove in only one fewer run in the series than Vladimir Guerrero(notes).
For all the creative scheming and courageous moves by the Rangers’ front office, for all the guidance by the relentlessly upbeat field manager, for all the hard play by a hungry and opportunistic roster, without Lee the Rangers were the Cincinnati Reds: Good enough to win a mediocre division, not quite good enough to do anything with it.
So Selig basically cut a check. By softening the blow of Rangers bankruptcy, smoothing the transition of the Greenberg-Ryan group and without regard to under-their-breath griping by other owners, he’d done Club Metroplex one very merciful solid. He’d made them October relevant.
Selig grinned warily at Maddux’s observation, knowing the same appraisal might be repeated – in less flattering light – in a place such as Tampa Bay.
“I want to thank him for that,” Selig said. “I did at the time what I would do today.”
Dear old Uncle Bud won’t save them again. His sugar-daddying days in Texas are over. (He’s saving up for the Dodgers.)
When the gate opens on the big horse’s free agency, the Rangers are on their own.
That’s OK, though. For these Rangers are past the time of bailouts. The baseball operations department had outgrown the owner long ago, it having turned his knack for fiscal mismanagement into a sustainable model of baseball competency. Over time, GM Jon Daniels and assistant Thad Levine – along with team president Nolan Ryan – had endeavored to acquire and develop pitching and up-the-middle talent, then crept up on the American League when that arrived, and in the finest days in the organization’s history beat back the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees.
Say what you will about a World Series that few seemed to watch, but the San Francisco Giants and Rangers deserved to be there. They were smarter than everyone else. They were daring. They played better. And, yes, they were lucky. When Pat Burrell(notes), Cody Ross(notes), Aubrey Huff(notes), Andres Torres(notes) and Edgar Renteria(notes) help drive the Giants through October, and Barry Zito(notes), Pablo Sandoval(notes) and Aaron Rowand(notes) don’t, that’s lucky. When your owner goes belly up in the middle of your pennant race and the commissioner floats you the scratch for Cliff Lee, that’s lucky.
But, you know, Jack Zduriencik, who a few months earlier was believed to be rewriting the book on ballclub building with the Seattle Mariners, could have cared less about Chapter 11. The reason he dealt Lee to the Rangers was the prospects. The Rangers (in his estimation) offered better players. And the reason the Rangers had those players was the model, born years before. And the reason Cliff Lee is important to the Rangers but not vital, is that same model.
In the hours after Game 5, the San Francisco Giants were rolling up on San Francisco City Hall, having cruised the gantlet of confetti and adulation and smoke wisps left over from the Monday night street fires. The Rangers were at their ballpark, forcing smiles with the locals in Lot J.
Maybe that’s sad symbolism for the folks who took a few minutes from their Wade Phillips effigy-quilting to wave goodbye to the 2010 Rangers, to their Vladdy (whose $9 million option for 2011 was declined Wednesday), and perhaps to their ace. It shouldn’t be. Hell, it’s easy to watch bad ballplayers go.
Members of the new ownership group took turns in recent weeks promising a commitment to signing Lee, but that and $100 million will barely get you into the room. The Rangers might have reached the World Series by galloping across Yankee soil, but this is a whole new season, and in this one they aren’t even in the Yankees’ league.
One of the new owners – Bob Simpson – told the Forth Worth paper, “We’re going to go after Cliff Lee hard. And we have the financial firepower to do that.”
A couple days later, Ryan promised, “We're not going to take the attitude this offseason because we got to the World Series that we don't have to be as diligent about what we're going to do this offseason. We have to, I think, even be more aggressive and try to fill any hole that we potentially may have that we think that we're vulnerable at.”
The fact is, if Lee is hunting CC Sabathia(notes) money and the Yankees are willing to look past his age (32) and what that might mean for the rest of its aging roster, the Rangers will lose. That’s a shame, of course. Maybe Lee has grown fond of Arlington, just as it has fallen for him, and he chooses familiarity over a few extra dollars.
It’s great that there’s still some hope for that, which in itself is progress for the Rangers. Besides, at a time when being a football town means a 1-6 record and a lame-duck coach, it’s not such a bad thing to be across from the big football stadium, honoring a really good baseball season, and just standing around in Lot J.
- Bud Selig
- Cliff Lee