30-year Flashback: One of the Greatest Rangers Minor League Teams of All Time
They were only the 3rd of what would be 28 Rangers affiliates in Oklahoma City. But the 1985 Oklahoma City 89ers were special.
First, the pure numbers:
Against the American Association, one of the two top Triple-A leagues in the nation, these 89ers went 79-63 in a powerful Western division that included some of the components of a future Cincinnati Reds World Series champion (the Denver Zephyr’s Eric Davis). They led the league in pitching (ERA) and tied for first in fielding percentage, and finished 3rd in hitting (based on OPS). They faced and bettered managers such as Gene LaMont, Felipe Alou, and Jim Fregosi, all of which would lead big league teams to the playoffs and, in Fregosi’s case, the World Series.
They only come up short in the “greatest Rangers minor league team of all time” rankings because they lost to Louisville in the playoffs. That Louisville team featured, among others, Curt Ford and Tom Pagnozzi, who would each later play for the Cardinals and the former of whom led the league, in the Cardinals mold, with 45 steals. In total, 30 of the 41 Louisville Redbirds that defeated OKC had or eventually would go on to play in the major leagues.
By comparison, the 89ers have nothing of which to be ashamed. Consider their record, as noted, then factor in that of 31 of 41 Oklahoma City players did or would play in the bigs. That includes names familiar to all Rangers fans. They included Geno Petralli, Steve Beuchele, George Wright, Jose Guzman, Jeff Russell and Oddibe McDowell.
There were former stars grasping for more of the show, such as former Expos great Ellis Valentine, who put up solid numbers and showed what was still a cannon in right before personal demons completely drug him down:
In case you don’t remember what Ellis Valentine WAS, consider that no one less than Hall of Famers Gary Carter and Andre Dawson called his arm the best he’d ever seen. Here’s a summary of his greatness from Fox Sports.
Future Ranger fan favorite Steve Beuchele had a great season, finishing second on the team with 165 total bases, a .297/.362/.471/.834 slash (BA/OBP/SLG/OPS). He hammered 20 doubles, seven triples, and nine homers, drove in a team-high 64 runs, and had a 2.83 Range Factor per Game (putouts + assists per game) with a .983 fielding percentage at third and more double plays turned (11) than errors (7).
Among players who took advantage of the power alleys in OKC but never made a great major league splash, the excitement factor never got higher than Bob Brower. Consider this: the man had this slash line: .249/.332/.393/.725. He slugged BELOW .400 and led the team in total bases. How did he do that? Speed. Pure speed. Despite only 111 hits, he had 13 doubles and five homers, but 18 triples. Yes, 18! Most men with twice as many hits PRAY for 18 triples. On top of that, he stole 33 bases. His 175 total bases led the team and have to be considered as impressive given that, by sabermetric measures, he was a poor leading hitter. But if you were WATCHING an 89er game in 1985, you waited for three players to come to the plate. One was Brower. One was Valentine. The third in a moment, but like any great lineup, we’ll build the suspense.
So what about moundsmen? Well, as we noted, this team was not devoid. Jeff Russell was a 23-year-old starter in 1985, going 7-4 with a 4.06 ERA and 94 strikeouts in 18 starts; he even threw a complete-game shutout. Bob Sebra threw nearly 100 MLB games, but few with Texas; most of his time was with Montreal and Philadelphia. He managed 10-6 with a 3.83 ERA in 106 innings, including two complete games. That record was significant for one reason: it made him valuable enough to be included as a key piece in the trade for the Montreal Expos’ first pick in the 1985 draft: Pete Incaviglia.
Jose Guzman was the lead hurler, giving a glimpse of his 1986 emergence and his cog-steady work for Texas through the early 90’s. He went 10-5 with a team-leading starter’s 3.13 ERA, 4 CG, 1 shutout, and even a save. He went on to start 159 games for Texas from 1986 to 1992 as the team’s workhorse, going 66-62 with a 3.90 ERA at a time with 3.90 was at least as good as average, and good enough to win with some struggling Rangers squads.
Then, there was Oddibe.
To appreciate Oddibe McDowell, in OKC and Texas, you have to know what he was coming out of college. That is, a pure phenom.
Oddibe was an All-American outfielder for the Sun Devils from 1983 to 1984. He was a career .380 hitter with 30 home runs and 31 doubles. In 1984, he hit .405 with 23 home runs, a performance that earned him the Golden Spikes Award. That same year McDowell was named Player of the Year by both Collegiate Baseball and Baseball America. He also was an Olympian in 1984, hitting a two-run homer in the semifinal game, and was the first Sun Devil to have his number retired.
This version of Oddibe put up the following numbers at OKC across 1/4 of a season:
To hit .400 across 125 at bats at ANY level is incredible. Oddibe did it in what is the equivalent of the Japanese major leagues. (Although he did over a 125-at-bat span, Ichiro never did that in a full nine seasons in the JPBL.
He would end up starring with Texas in 1985, including 4th in the Rookie of the Year standings, supplementing a .239 batting average with a .304 OBP, 18 homers, 14 doubles, five triples, and 25 steals in 111 games.
Was this ’85 Oklahoma City ‘89ers team the best of all time? No. But we’ll find out who was next time.