The Redemption Rangers

October 15

How are the Texas Rangers Team Redemption? Let me count the ways …

Last spring, manager Ron Washington’s job was ssemingly in peril as a Sports Illustrated story publicized his positive cocaine test and admitted cocaine use. He described it as a “moment of weakness” but went to his employers to fully disclose an incident that should have remained confidential. The Rangers stuck by “Wash,” one of the best-liked and most-respected people in the game. Now, he has the Rangers in the ALCS ( Game 1 vs. the Yankees tonight ) after leading them to their first-ever postseason series triumph.

For a couple of years, Josh Hamilton wasn’t even in baseball. He was suspended multiple times for drug violations, blew all of his 1998 signing bonus money on drugs and booze, and entered rehab several times. Now he’s a cautionary tale about wasted talent — and an uplifting story on how someone can turn their life around. He’s a candidate for American League MVP, and his teammates celebrated with him after the ALDS win in Florida — not with champagne, but ginger ale.

Three years ago, Game 2 starter Colby Lewis was released by the Kansas City Royals. The KANSAS CITY ROYALS, I tell you. In 2003 he had probably the worst year ever by a pitcher with a winning record: 10-9 with a 7.30 ERA, 23 home runs and 70 walks in 127 innings. Opponents trampled each other getting to the bat rack. Lewis played two years in Japan, where he was a star, then returned to the American League this year to have his finest season.

Bengie Molina was on his last legs with the Giants, and those legs didn’t carry him anywhere rapidly. Hell, I thought he was near the end. The Giants traded him to the Rangers to make room for rookie Buster Posey and won the NL West, but Bengie got over too. He didn’t make anyone forget Johnny Bench, but he did make them forget Taylor Teaguarden and Matt Treanor. His low OBP doesn’t hurt so much in Texas because he’s down in the batting order on a team with a stacked lineup, but he batted .357 in the ALDS with a home run.

Vladimir Guerrero was coming off his worst year in the majors with the Angels. Baseball Prospectus wrote that he still had value as a Designated Hitter but to bank on the old Bad Vlad at this point would be “foolhardy.” All he did was bat .300 and knock in 115 runs, his best year since 2007.

Nelson Cruz has been in four organizations, including the Athletics. My God, the A’s once traded him for Keith Ginter. KEITH GINTER, I tell you. A late bloomer, he made the All-Star team last year for the Rangers at age 28 as an injury replacement for Torii Hunter and finished second in the Home Run Derby. This year Cruz batted .318 with 22 home runs in an injury-plagued campaign.

Jeff Francoeur has the words “Joshua 1:9” written on his left hand batting glove. It’s a Bible verse which encourages one to be “strong and courageous. Do not be terrified, do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” Francouer certainly hits without fear: he’s one of the most aggressive hitters in baseball, driving in 100 runs in two different seasons with the Braves. But he was hacking his way out of the game when the Mets traded him to the Rangers. He hit .340 down the stretch and is a big part of the Rangers’ postseason plans. It seems like he’s been around forever but he’s only 26.

Cliff Lee started the year with the Mariners and was named to the All-Star Team. The Mariners would go on to lose 100 games but along the way dealt Lee to Texas, where he struck out 11 Tuesday in Florida to vault the Rangers into the ALCS. That’s nothing compared to his family comeback story: Lee’s son Jaxon was diagnosed with leukemia at four months old and was given only a 30 percent chance to live. Jaxon is now 9 and in remission.

Last year owner Tom Hicks reportedly borrowed money to make payroll, as the Rangers’ debt — mostly in back salary — soared past $500 million. The list of creditors was led by none other than Alex Rodriguez, who was still owed $24 million on his Rangers contract. The same ARod who will play for the Yankees against the Rangers in the ALCS this weekend.

The Rangers filed for bankruptcy this spring and were sold at auction to a group led by Nolan Ryan and Chuck Greenberg. Ryan, the Hall of Fame pitcher, was in the stands at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg Tuesday as the Rangers beat the Rays to clinch a spot in the ALCS.

The most compelling sidebar for the Yankees heading into this weekend ? ARod, Mark Teixeira and their combined $455 million in contracts ( more than the Gross Domestic Product of a dozen nations, including Tonga ) return to Texas.

Maybe nobody is wearing a white hat here, but I know which team is worth rooting for.

One Response to “The Redemption Rangers”

  1. Greg Olzack Says:

    Ray, just as long Benjie doesn’t make anyone forget Jack Teagarden.

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