By Dan Allsup
I have a theory. Derek Holland’s success last year was tied to his goofiness. Some say he needs to settle down if he wants to take his game to the next level. I don’t believe that is the best course of action for him.
Consider this: Was Derek doing any impressions in 2010? Did he do regular radio segments where he impersonated Arnold Schwarzenegger? And do you recall the 2010 World Series where Derek faced 3 batters, got none out, and walked all three on 13 pitches?
After that World Series meltdown by Derek some questioned his ability to stay calm and relax on the mound. Derek answered those questions with impersonations, a mockery of a mustache, and non-stop goofy conduct.
Before 2011, tense-Derek had amassed a -.8 WAR, in 195.2 innings of work. In last year’s 198 innings, goofy-Derek posted a 2.7 WAR, and at times displayed brilliance on the mound.
We all have defense mechanisms for pressure. Some bite their nails, some cry, and others hyperventilate. Derek Holland morphs into Harry Caray while under pressure.
I’m sure Derek was quirky before the 2011 season. I’m just stating I don’t recall any of this outward bizarre behavior prior to the 2011 season. And my last memory of him before the 2011 was him imploding on the ‘biggest stage in baseball’.
360 days later, Holland pitched the game of his life in Game 4 of the 2011 World Series. Furthermore, on that same ‘biggest stage in baseball’ Derek was asked and agreed to do the play-by-play for the World Series, in his Harry Caray voice. That is a stunning transformation, a caterpillar to a (social) butterfly perhaps.
Another theory I have, is that Derek Holland watched and studied "Bull Durham" before the 2011 season. Here are a few quotes I'm sure he's incorporated into his mental approach.
“If you win 20 in the show, you can let the fungus grow back and the press'll think you're colorful. Until you win 20 in the show, however, it means you are a slob.”
If Derek did his first ever interview in his Harry Caray voice, everyone would’ve called him a joke. If he had his mustache from day one (I might be able to see it by now) and people would’ve called him a slob. Derek hasn’t won 20, but he has earned his keep, and he is not a slob, he is colorful.
“You just got lesson number one: don't think; it can only hurt the ball club.”
Derek said this about his on-the-field emotions: “The big thing with me, I think, is just working on controlling my emotions and not letting my adrenaline get the best of me.” He added, “You’ve got to try to control your emotions the best you can.” Clearly, Derek resorts to humor to channel his adrenaline. Derek no longer is a thinker on the mound; he is as relaxed as a comedian on-stage.
Laloosh: How come you don't like me?
Crash: Because you don't respect yourself, which is your problem. But you don't respect the game, and that's my problem. You got a gift.
Derek’s shtick does tend to grate on people. That’s understandable, we want all our baseball players to act, talk and play the same way. And Derek definitely doesn’t conform to that preset model. Some might want Derek to ‘respect’ the game more and harness his gift. But ironically, that’s how he does harness his gift.
“You be cocky and arrogant, even when you're getting beat. That's the secret. You gotta play this game with fear and arrogance.”
While I don’t think Derek comes off as cocky, he has evidently mastered the fear side of baseball. If a man sports the facial hair that he does in front of thousands, that man knows no fear.
“I told him that a player on a streak has to respect the streak.”
We all know you have to respect the streak. If he posts a similar season to last year, with similar antics then it’s a success. Why mess with success and a streak to appease the opinions of fans? I don’t expect him to change, but one can only know how he will handle baseball after he shaves his ‘stache off, for his impending wedding in June.
Annie Savoy: “The world is made for people who aren't cursed with self awareness.”
Derek is self-aware, he has just learned how to block it all out. To makes jokes you have to be self-aware, to know what people laugh at. He knows he’s goofy and he doesn’t care, as long as he’s productive, he can be goofiest player in “The Show”.
And always remember, “Candlesticks always make a nice gift”
And Derek, “The rose goes in the front, big guy.”
Dan Allsup is a Staff Writer for ShutDownInning. You can email him at Dan.Allsup@shutdowninning.com or reach him on Twitter @SDIDan.
by James Holland
When the Los Angeles Angels announced that they had signed Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson during the offseason, many Angels’ fans rejoiced and were ready for the World Series parade in 2012. Now I say many because I know that there are some educated fans in California who know that the addition of two players doesn’t guarantee success when you take a closer look at the numbers.
Many pundits will say that yes, Pujols and Wilson solidify it. The Angels have the better starting rotation and Albert’s bat will help score more runs.
But do the Angels really have the better starting staff? Spout out names like Dan Haren, Jered Weaver and Ervin Santana, and add C.J. Wilson then it sure does seem like it. But one look at the stats and you’ll find that the Rangers had the better starting rotation last season. The ERA of the main five starters (Wilson, Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison and Alexi Ogando) was a combined 3.63 with a 1.241 WHIP. The Angels starting rotation had a combined 3.76 ERA against a 1.272 WHIP. With Wilson added to the staff, and the losses of Joel Piñeiro and Tyler Chatwood, Bill James has projected the Angels to repeat their 3.76 ERA.
Unfortunately, Bill James projected Neftali Feliz as a closer and has yet to release projections on Yu Darvish so I turned to ZiPS (Feliz) and Fangraphs (Darvish) to complete the projected ERA of the Texas Rangers starters in 2012 and it adds up to a combined 3.61. So Texas comes out on top once again.
And when you look at the bullpen there is no doubt that the Texas Rangers back end with Alexi Ogando, Mike Adams, and Joe Nathan is better than the combo of LaTroy Hawkins, Scott Downs and Jordan Walden, especially if Nathan returns to all-star form.
Now what about the offense? Last year the Angels outscored their opponents 667-633 which is a +34 run differential. The Rangers ran over the competition by an 855-677 margin. That’s a +178 run difference and 188 more total runs than the Angels. Pujols scored 115 runs last year. That’s still not enough. When you take into account that Bobby Abreu is practically running on fumes, Torii Hunter has seen his average and on-base percentage decline the past three seasons and Vernon Wells needs the mother of all comebacks, it’s clear that they are not as complete offensively as Texas.
Both teams have questions to address as well. When will Mike Trout and Leonys Martin become permanent fixtures for each team? What more can be done to strengthen the respective bullpens? Is Yu Darvish going to live up to the hype? Will C.J. Wilson be okay with being a number three or four starter?
Only time will tell. And the 2012 season is still extremely young. But for now, the cards are stacked in the favor of the Texas Rangers.
I would like to thank the geniuses at baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.com for all of the wonderful statistics.
James Holland is a Staff Writer for ShutDownInning. Email him at James.Holland@shutdowninning.com or reach him on Twitter @MLBJamesHolland.
by Chris Kautz
The start of spring training is supposed to be a joyous time. It's supposed to be a time when hope springs eternal and we all look toward the endless possibilities for the upcoming season. Unfortunately, it's not any of those things for me this year. That is the fault of one man - Josh Hamilton.
For the record, I'm not mad at Hamilton for falling off the wagon. Although I have no personal experience with addiction, I understand that relapses happen. What I'm mad at him for is talking so much.
He held a press conference after the incident. I may not agree with this, but I can understand it. He wanted to show that he wasn't going to go into hiding. He wanted to show that he was going to be a man and admit that he made a mistake. In that press conference, Josh also mentioned pictures that may be released later. It made sense for him to get ahead of the curve on that.
Fast forward to his arrival in Surprise, AZ for spring training. The first thing he did wasn't dazzle crowds with batting practice homers or shag fly balls, it was more talking. He talked about how he didn't owe the Rangers any kind of discount. He talked about how they knew what they were getting into when they acquired him in 2008. He talked about how he'd love a contract, but that it was "out of his hands".
This was met with negativity from fans and media alike, so Josh did some more talking. He talked about how he would give the Rangers the first crack at signing him, and how he meant no disrespect by his comments the previous day.
All this rambling, pot stirring, and drama isn't new. Think back to last season when Josh broke his shoulder sliding head first into home in Detroit. In his first interview about the incident, he pretty much threw third base coach Dave Anderson under the bus for sending him.
Josh Hamilton has baseball talents that only come along once in a generation. He's incredible to watch in the field and with the bat. He continuously amazes me with the things he can do on the field. He has an awareness on the field, at the plate, and on the base paths that is second to none. Unfortunately, that awareness disappears when he has a microphone in front of him.
When Josh speaks, he seems to make things worse for himself. I don't think he's a bad guy with bad intent; he just doesn't have the gift of gab. He comes off as defensive, self conscious, and arrogant. His goal when speaking should be to ease fears, temper concerns, and instill confidence, but he usually ends up doing just the opposite.
It's with great admiration I say to Josh - shut up and play.
Chris Kautz is a Staff Writer for ShutDownInning. Email him at Chris.Kautz@shutdowninning.com or reach him on Twitter @SDIChris.
By the Shutdown Inning staffIt’s never easy to become a Major League Baseball player. Even for myself, as a Caucasian male born into middle-class America, given a myriad of opportunities for training and coaching, I was told from a young age that the odds of making it to the major leagues is slim. It certainly is not any easier for a young ballplayer from Cuba, regardless of his level of talent. This was no less true for Leonys Martin.
Even the very capability to hope to achieve that dream did not come naturally to Martin. It was not until he played for the Cuban national team in the 2009 World Baseball Classic at PETCO Park in San Diego that his eyes were opened to the dream of playing in the MLB. Now, he finds himself as a member of the back-to-back American League champion Texas Rangers with a chance to make the Opening Day roster in the premium position of center field.
Photo credit to mlbblogsridersinsider.wordpress.com
Beyond his incredible background, Leonys Martin brings a valuable skill set to the Texas Rangers. He is 6’2”, 190 pounds, and will be age 24 at the start of the 2012 season. According to Mike Daly, director of international scouting for the Rangers, "We feel like he's a plus defender in center field. He can throw, he can run and he's a line drive-type hitter with a knowledge of the strike zone. He can put the ball in the gap. We feel like he can hit, get on base and really defend in center field.” Martin’s potential is to be this franchise’s leadoff hitter and center fielder for years to come. He features the speed, glove, and arm necessary to roam the spacious center field at the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. He displays the plate discipline to get on base at an effective rate that is desirable from a leadoff hitter. His ability to make contact may be his most questionable tool, but he possesses enough power to be a threat to reach extra bases.
Martin fits the profile of prospects that the Rangers have thrived on pursuing in recent years as they have built the foundation of this championship-caliber team from the ground up – athletic, skilled, middle-of-the-field impact players. As with most Cuban players, it may take some time for him to develop and achieve his potential. The Rangers are doing their part to fast-track Martin’s readiness for the big leagues, even making special efforts to give him one-on-one coaching with Gary Pettis to solidify his baserunning and defensive skills.
It may be unrealistic to see him starting 2012 as the Rangers center fielder. In an interview with the Ben & Skin show on ESPN Dallas radio, Jon Daniels himself said “Leonys is going to have to prove to us in Spring Training that he’s ready.” The more likely scenario in 2012 is for Martin to start the year in AAA, and put some more stateside at-bats under his belt to complete his preparation, with the intention of joining the big-league roster during the season.
The Rangers took a calculated risk in signing Martin to a 5-year deal worth $15.5 million, and he has only continued to move closer to being a contributing at the big league level since that time. Even if he is not yet ready to make an instant impact in Arlington, that would be news to Martin. As he said - "In Spring Training, I will show them that what they did for me was not in vain," he said. "The investment and the time was worth it. We will get another chance for a World Series, and I'll show them I am worth it and that everything was worth it."
For Martin, “everything” means enduring a life growing up in Cuba, defecting from his country leaving his 2-year old daughter behind, and chasing a dream that always seemed out of reach. And now, he is poised to make the last steps that will vindicate it all.
Image courtesy of Sports illustrated
by Peter Ellwood
I don’t know much about Gary Carter firsthand. He played his last baseball game when I was 5 years old, and I was just entering a state of baseball consciousness. The MLB Network didn’t exist back then, and so the Montreal Expos or the New York Mets weren’t on my radar until a few years after Carter had retired. Carter passed away at the age of 57 last week, after being diagnosed with four brain tumors last May. He fought the tumors as best he could, but the cancerous bodies were too much in the end.
Carter’s death did not significantly impact me personally when I heard the news. I knew he was a great player, a hall of famer, and was a fan favorite during his playing days. Yet, the only image I could conjure up of Carter’s playing time was the highlights I have seen of when he singled and subsequently dashed across the plate during the Mets infamous Game 6 rally in the 1986 World Series against the Red Sox. Beyond that, all I could say is that I recognize his name, hair, and smile.
However, having read and heard numerous memorials to Carter’s life and playing career over the last few days, I can say that I wish I had the opportunity to watch him play, and see his attitude and approach to the game, fans, and life.
Originally nicknamed “Kid” as a jest at his energetic approach to even the most mundane tasks, Carter is now affectionately known as the “Kid” who kept alive the spirit of the game, even while ascending to the peak of competition and achievement in his profession. He played his career on and off the field in the manner that we tend to use as the standard (whether realistically or not) for professional athletes. He played the game hard and with enthusiasm, providing those who saw him play with a picture of a combination of ability, hustle, and a joy for the game. Off the field he always stopped to interact with the fans of the game, especially the youth. There are many accounts of when the team bus would be delayed because Carter was refusing to stop signing autographs for kids.
The death of Gary Carter is a sobering event. It is a reminder that there are few athletes in our lifetime who are able to live up to the incredibly high standards that are placed on them, unjustifiably in most cases. At the same time, his death gives us the opportunity to pause, reflect, and perhaps garner some inspiration for our own lives. What an honor it would be to be remembered in the same manner that Carter has been – cherished by his family, respected for his career accomplishments, and admired for his character.
Peter Ellwood is a staff writer for ShutDownInning. You can email him at Peter.Ellwood@shutdowninning.com or reach him on Twitter @peter_ellwood
by Dan Allsup
The Rangers are growing accustomed to winning. It seems they are on the cusp of taking the next inevitable step as a franchise, to ‘favorites’.
Worthless preseason polls will be found in periodicals near you soon, likely tabbing the Rangers as World Series favorites. It’s hard to argue with though; they are the team most poised to crash the Fall Classic. But c’mon, three straight trips to the World Series, that’s a lot to ask for, but it is also the inevitable hope of all Rangers fans to win the ring.
Its one thing to be in the driver’s seat of the four passenger AL West division, but you would need a cargo license to drive all 30 teams to the finale. From the moment Yu Darvish sets foot on Surprise soil, to the last out in October, the Rangers will be the story of all baseball.
Even in the last two years of American League dominance, the Rangers have been an afterthought. With two straight World Series trips, and the addition of a Japanese rock star, it’s time for the Rangers to step onto the center stage.
This is the time when people will look back and say “I loved those Rangers of the 10s”. This is the time when the Rangers become the team that nomadic baseball fans gravitate toward. This is the time the Rangers become a global team. This is a time when the Rangers “T” could replace the ever en vogue “NY” caps.
The Rangers could capitalize on the paramount season ahead of them, or they could revert back into the crowd of normalcy. If the Rangers finish this year celebrating, then they could potentially ride the wave of true success for upcoming decades.
All eyes are on Texas this year, if they can win the World Series, meeting expectations, then it’s an incredible accomplishment. Fans and media always set the bar of expectations so high that whenever someone reaches the bar or exceeds it, they become legendary.
For example, Ken Griffey Jr. has a place in every baseball fan’s heart because he met and crushed the expectations placed on him at age 17. He only needed 129 minor league games, and was an All-Star at age 20. He is a no-doubt Hall-of-Famer, even though after age 30 he was very injury-prone.
And on the flip side, first overall pick of the 2004 draft, Matt Bush, hasn’t even made it to the majors yet. His career to this point is an unequivocal disappointment compared to his expectations.
It is unavoidable and it is human nature to align our expectations with potential. And no team has more potential to win the 2012 World Series than the Texas Rangers. It’s sad because an excellent and memorable season may be washed away in the sorrows of unmet expectations.
The wild expectations and hope pinned to the 2012 season will all be placed on Yu Darvish. And this, I think, is brilliant. Put all the pressure pent up of over two years of near finishes upon a foreigner who doesn’t speak the native language. This way he will likely only get easy questions from his Japanese brethren. It’s even possible he will face less public exposure in America than he did in Japan, where he was the sports icon.
Of all the assets Darvish brings to the table, I believe his media savvy will prove to be invaluable this season. Darvish is said to thrive on pressure, and seek the limelight. Coincidently that’s exactly what the Rangers need; for him to serve as a buffer from the media scrutiny the Rangers success has developed.
Looking backward, Yu will ease our pain. He makes you forget of yesterday, he makes you hope for tomorrow. Gone are the visions of Nelson Cruz and David Freese. They are replaced by hopes of Darvish dominating the American League.
With the way the Rangers season ended, it was important to put that season to bed. Fortunately it was sublime timing, when the 25 year old preeminent pitcher from Japan was made available. What better way to turn the page than to spend $117 million on a stud starting pitcher, in his mid-20s.
There’s a myriad of concerns surrounding the Rangers’ best hitter, Josh Hamilton. Yu will ease that pain too. Darvish is now the headliner, and Josh has become an opening act. He is no longer the main attraction at the Ballpark.
Hamilton’s impending free agency and off the field issues might have been a hot topic in other years, but once the season starts, it will become all Darvish, all the time.
The Rangers might not expect Darvish to be the #1 starter this year, but I believe the Rangers will expect dividends from their investment in the clubhouse, and off the field immediately.
There’s no telling what the 2012 season holds for the Rangers; but regardless it will be remembered as the “Year of Yu”, and I think that’s best for everyone.
Dan Allsup is a staff writer for ShutDowninning. You can email him at Dan.Allsup@shutdowninning.com. Or reach him on Twitter @SDIDan.
Image courtesy of Sports Illustrated
by Peter Ellwood
Baseball, more than any other sport, produces an incredible amount of statistical data that we are able to analyze and study. This data helps us to quantify how effective a player or team is, and gives us some perspective to their relative performance to the league average, league leaders, or historical records. With 25 active players on each team, 30 teams in the league, and 162 games in a season, these statistics are necessary if we are to come to any sort of objective conclusion about a player’s value.
Baseball statistics are fact. Unless one is being purposefully dishonest, when MLB statistics are quoted you can be certain that they are true. This is important, because personal prejudice and belief is weeded out when we look at statistics. If fan A really likes player A, but fan B thinks he is terrible, but fan A and fan B view the same set of statistical data, they should be able to come to the same conclusion (if they are able to think rationally).
The point at which this system can be flawed is when individuals attempt to reverse the proper order of things. Instead of using statistics and facts as the basis for our beliefs, it can be easy to begin with what we believe to be true, and then seeking out only those statistics that support the belief. This leads us to isolate certain components of the data, and prevents us from viewing all of the available statistics that would tell the whole story. This does a disservice to those viewing the results, in that it shows only part of the story, and is not an accurate depiction of a player’s performance, or of an expectation of their future results.
For instance, if I believe the Cliff Lee was a great pitcher in 2011, I may choose to only show you his performance in the months of June, August, and September. Those would look like this:
119.2 IP, 12-1, 0.68 ERA, 0.81 WHIP
These kinds of numbers would clearly show that Cliff Lee is one of the greatest pitchers in baseball. However, if I thought Cliff Lee was a disappointment last year, and wanted to prove it statistically, I may only show you his performance in April, May, and July:
112.3 IP, 5-7, 4.25 ERA, 1.31 WHIP
Are either of these statistical sub-segments an appropriate method for analyzing the 2011 season for Cliff Lee? Overall, Lee finished with this line:
232.2 IP, 17-8, 2.40 ERA, 1.03 WHIP
This is an outstanding year, but you can see how if I pick and choose certain time frames of Lee’s year, I could build an argument that either he was one of the best pitchers in 2011, or one of the most overpaid pitchers.
This is part of the reason why I am rarely swept up in the hot new player who comes into the league completely on fire, especially when it is unexpected. This is going on right now with Jeremy Lin in the NBA. It happened earlier in 2011 with Sam Fuld. It happened a few years ago with Jay Bruce. These young players entered their leagues and appeared to be dominant game-changers for a moment in time. Then, apparently they seem to drop off drastically and disappear. In reality, all that is happening is that they are regressing to the mean (average). The initial 2-3 week sample is not broad enough to assume that those players will be able to maintain that high level of performance, and it is unfair to place that expectation on them.
This is why it is so important for teams to research players beyond the numbers. Scouting will always have a place in the game, because it is rare for there to be a large enough sample of data available to make meaningful projections of a player’s potential. Any such projections will have significant risk of inaccuracy. Quality scouting and player development will allow teams to have a more complete understanding of what to expect from a player. Placing more confidence in a player’s tools and skills than in his numbers makes it easier for a team to endure brief slumps, or disappointing debuts. However, it is worth noting that scouting practices have a history of producing unrealistic projections as well due to separate issues like human error and personal bias. The best solution, which is employed by most teams today and will likely continue to in the future, is to implement an appropriate blend of using statistical analysis and scouting information.
When you evaluate a particular player’s value, be certain that you tell the whole story, and watch out for when others try to divert your attention from all of the information in order to paint only the picture that supports their original belief. Above all, keep in mind that the front offices of all 30 MLB clubs have more information available to them than you do, and are composed of incredibly smart and talented individuals. As much fun as it is to play armchair GM, it would be a greater benefit to have confidence in the front office of our team and pay attention to what their information is telling them on certain players. We are given two ears and one mouth; in all things it is important to use them proportionately.
Peter Ellwood is a staff writer for ShutDownInning. You can email him at Peter.Ellwood@shutdowninning.com or reach him on Twitter @peter_ellwood
Photo credit to Scott Lucas/MiLB.com
By the Shutdown Inning staff
It’s December of 2010 and starting pitcher Neil Ramirez is just happy to be healthy. He has just completed his first fully healthy season.
In fact, he is thankful. After being drafted out of high school in 2007 the youngster was eager to put in the work to keep his body trained. He spent that entire off season in Surprise, Arizona. In his mind, he already had his offseason. He was ready to get to work.
Ramirez was working to put his first two minor league seasons far into his rearview mirror. He appeared in 31 games (starting 27 of them) but only amassed a 4-8 record and allowed almost as many walks (82) as hits (83).
Needless to say, command was an issue.
For the 2010 season, Ramirez was back with Hickory. Being with the same team certainly didn't yield the same results. Ramirez started 26 games and went 10-8. More important than his record that year was the fact that he seemed to settle down and find some command. Despite pitching more than twice as many innings as he did in 2009, he actually walked fewer batters (41 in 2009 to 37 in 2010). He also struck out 142 batters in 140 innings.
Things are promising for the youngster. He spends his whole offseason in Arizona, eager to gain any sort of competitive advantage. 2011 saw Ramirez start out with High A Myrtle Beach, but he only appeared in one game. He was then sent to AAA Round Rock and initially skipped AA entirely, although injuries would force him to start 6 games for AA Frisco later in the season. While with the Express, Ramirez started 18 games and went 4-3. His walk rate went back up, issuing 37 free passes in 74 innings. He also continued to strike hitters out, sending 91 back to the dugout disappointed.
When breaking down Ramirez, it is easy to see upside and downside. The youngster’s ceiling is impressive though, has a fastball in the low 90s with an occasional dalliance with the mid 90s. Although it seems to lack significant movement, he is able to
throw it to both sides of the plate with good command. The curve is probably Ramirez's best pitch. It has enormous break, and about 15-17 mph drop off from his fastball. The best thing about his curve, however, is that he can consistently throw it for strikes. That means hitters can't just sit back and wait for a fastball.
There are certainly things to be worked on. His change up lacks command and he throws it infrequently. He needs to work to generate more power from the lower body (the Nolan Ryan staple) but he is only 22, with lots of room to develop. He has shown the tools to do just that, the reason he is near the top of the list.
Realistically, Ramirez is a middle of the rotation starter, but the Rangers know that nothing is more valuable than pitching depth. If he can keep his walk rate down, improve the change up, and stay healthy; he should be a very reliable big leaguer.
ETAA (Estimated Time of Arrival in Arlington): Expect to see Ramirez to put together an impressive 2012 in AAA. If he can keep his health, and earn that invite to spring training, we could see him in Ranger red and blue in 2013.
Today we celebrate the greatness of Mike Napoli
Photo credit to Getty Images
By Chris Kautz
Why are you a fan of the Texas Rangers? Really, think about that for a minute. The easy answer is that they're your local team. It's an obvious choice to gravitate to the team that you can easily watch in person and whose every game is televised in your area. Look a little deeper, though. If you've been a fan of the team for any length of time, you've watched some years of pretty bad baseball.
Many people are becoming Ranger fans due to the recent success. There's nothing at all wrong with that. Some call new fans bandwagon jumpers, but that is only true if they leave when the success does. There is another group of people that will become lifelong Ranger fans. They will remember Beltre, Kinsler, and Andrus the same way I remember Rodriguez (Pudge, not Alex), Gonzalez, and Greer. It's easy to become a fan of a successful team on the rise (even if they haven't quite reached the summit yet).
I'll argue, though, that the growth of Ranger fandom began before they were winning pennants. If I were to trace it back to a single moment, it would be the 2008 home run derby. That was the contest in which Josh Hamilton wowed the crowd at old Yankee Stadium. That was the contest in which Hamilton had the crowd of Yankee freaking Stadium chanting his name.
I still remember where I was that night. My wife and I went to eat at a nearby restaurant and sat in the bar (which we never do) because it was the first available table. They had the derby on TV. We were done with our meal halfway through Hamilton's turn in the first round, but I made her stay there and watch the rest of the derby. Everybody at that restaurant within eyeshot of the TV was riveted. That was the night that I re-dedicated myself to baseball.
I've been a Ranger fan since I was a wee tot. I used to look forward to the nights that my parents would take me to games at old Arlington Stadium, not just for the game, but also because it meant I got to stay up past my 9:00 bed time. I will admit, though, that I became slightly disenfranchised when the whole steroid thing came to a head. I still kept up with the team, but not with the same fervor I had before (and have since Hambone hit all those dingers).
Since that day, I've grown quite attached to the current crop of Rangers. The real question is, do I like the team because of the players that comprise it, or do I like the players because of the uniforms they wear?
I think my whole dynamic with sports loyalty can be defined using two players as examples. The first player I'll address is Ian Kinsler. Kinsler is a guy with incredible skills. He turns plays that you don't think are possible. He makes the incredible look routine. He also has terrible body language and is somewhat surly with the media. What personality he does show is often perceived as unpleasant. About the only sign of enjoyment he ever shows on the field is his post-win handshake with Elvis Andrus, or when he celebrates a walk-off home run. If Kinsler were on any other team, I would absolutely, undoubtedly hate him.
On the other side of the coin is David Murphy. Murphy is a statistically average major league player. He's a solid backup outfielder that is serviceable against right handed pitching, but certainly nothing spectacular. He also always appears to give everything he can for the team, is engaging in interviews, and is almost universally beloved. If Murphy played for any other team, I probably would have no opinion of him at all. If I even knew his name, I would never think of him until he came up to bat in a pinch hit situation against Mike Adams.
The fact remains that Kinsler and Murphy are Rangers...so I love them. I cheer for their success in every at bat and every ball that is hit their direction. I'll have their backs when they make boneheaded plays, and jump to my feet when they knock one out of the park.
Kinsler and Muphy are just the two extreme ends of the spectrum. If Hamilton played for the Yankees, I'd likely laugh at his recent relapse like I did at Miguel Cabrera's DWI arrest. If Derek Holland was a Twin, I'd probably find him as annoying as I do Brian Wilson. Even if I disagree with how these players live their lives off the field, as soon as they put that Rangers uniform on and charge out of the first-base dugout in Arlington, I’m sold-out rooting for them to reach their greatest potential for success.
In the end, what I've really decided is that Jerry Seinfeld is right, we're all just rooting for clothes. The guys in Ranger jerseys are my friends and the guys in the opposing team's jerseys are my enemies. Should one of them change sides mid-game, so would my opinion of them. Sports fans are no different than members of street gangs; we're loyal to those that wear our colors. As long as we don't get violent with it, I find nothing wrong with that.
Chris Kautz is a Staff Writer for SDI.You can email Chris at Chris.Kautz@shutdowninning.com or Tweet him @SDIChris