Arlington’s All-Timers: The On-Deck and Current Crop of Texas Rangers Hall of Famers
Cooperstown is Olympus, and every sport needs an Olympus – shrouded yet spotlighted, more mystic, more exclusive than the heights of Everest or the depths of Challenger Deep. To earn a place there is to be undoubtedly great, unassailably legendary. As my last column here noted, it’s a place of growing complexity, but it’s still the most exclusive Hall of Fame in major American sports, and the blueprint for all to come after.
But all that majesty and exclusivity can leave the air mighty thin. Resin, and old cigars never will waft its halls. The only dirt is in the exhibits. Pine tar is confined to George Brett’s bat. For something more down to earth, yet ethereal in its own way, you need something between the white lines of the ballpark and the hallowed ground in upstate New York.
You need a team Hall of Fame.
The team Hall of Fame is a place of memories that make you laugh and cry more than drop your jaw. Greatness is not a requirement; endearment typically is. Indelible moments help, but day-in and day-out showing up can get you in just as well as a pair of MVP awards. I always like to look to the Cincinnati Reds as an example – as baseball’s oldest professional franchise, they do this history thing fairly well. With a Hall of Fame bursting at the seams, Cooperstown key-holders like Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan rub elbows with the likes of Dan Driessen and Ron Oester. Neither of those latter names would sniff the Plaque Room west of Albany without a ticket, but for a decade each, they were household names and solid contributors to teams that defined childhoods, barroom friendships, pennant winners and dry seasons, alike. They are everything a team Hall of Fame should be: good enough to be remembered, but perhaps not always so good that some kid couldn’t one day see his or herself playing alongside them, if genetics, hard work, and every break of the game came their way.
In 2003, the Rangers righted a wrong that felt as old as Julio Franco and finally instituted a Texas Rangers Hall of Fame.
The initial class was perfect. Team legends and icons of years both lean and serene: Nolan Ryan, Charlie Hough, Jim Sundberg, and Johnny Oates. One was a legitimate Cooperstown resident, two others franchise icons of their position and age, and the last a beloved, and sadly posthumous, manager of the best teams in club history up to that time. Over the years, a dozen more men have joined that initial class of four, including the man who brought the team to Arlington (Tom Vandergriff), the voice of the Rangers (Eric Nadel), and The Franchise (Tom Grieve).
My question today is simple, but not short: who, among recent or current Rangers, deserves a spot in the Rangers Hall of Fame. Let me quickly throw in one name that’s merely a matter of time: Michael Young. At multiple positions for more than a decade, the franchise leader in hits WAS the Rangers. He should go in as soon as this season, and is the ultimate example of a team Hall of Famer – he has the team records, he was the face of the franchise for a decade, and while he’ll probably fall short of Cooperstown, he’s more than worthy as the Texas version of Jeter, anchoring the downs and ultimately ups of a star-crossed franchise throughout the first decade-plus of the millennium.
The best part of lists like this is the debate, so feel free to make your case on anyone I leave off, or school me on anyone I overrate. I take no offense, and the fun is in the remembering.
First, let’s consider old-timers – in as much as the 1970s and early 80‘s can constitute old times, considering I just barely made it under the wire to be a child of the 70s (and as the decade should tell you, I’m not considering the Senators of 1961 through 1971, otherwise we’d have Frank Howard and Dick Bosman on this list, at the very least). My list of Rangers from the lean years is admittedly lean, but only because the team has done a great job of recognizing early heroes. My additions, in chronological order, and NOT exhaustive:
Yes, his tenure was admittedly short – 4 seasons from 1978 to 1981 – but the man lived up to his reputation as being able to “fall out of bed on Christmas Morning and hit a line drive.” He’s still the all-time Rangers leader in career batting average (.319) across 2,263 plate appearances. He was twice an All-Star and finished Top 20 in MVP 3 times in 4 seasons in Texas. In 1980, he played in a franchise-record 163 games. He’s much more a Pittsburgh icon than a Rangers legend, but he was one of the first All-Stars the Rangers traded for to live up to every expectation (along with Fergie Jenkins) and while team Hall of Fame members tend to be rewarded for longevity over bottled lightning, his glory years in Texas deserve recognition during some of the Rangers’ lean seasons.
The Rangers best power hitter between Jeff Burroughs and Ruben Sierra, Parrish was a 20-30 homer a year guy when that meant something at the fly-ball killer that was the first iteration of Arlington Stadium. Part of Parrish’s appeal, to me, was that he WAS a Designated Hitter, and a productive one (by traditional stats, largely) at a time before the likes of Edgar Martinez and David Ortiz. He struck out far more than he walked and by any sabermetrics, he was a below-average player, but over 7 seasons he hit 149 home runs for a team that had previously lacked any consistent player as a power hitter. For sheer moments, his three grand slams in one week in 1982 (July 4, 7 and 12) tied a major league record. As any fan of the early-to-mid 80s Rangers will attest, there were few reasons to watch that team. Other than every 5th day that Charlie Hough pitched, Larry Parrish was one of the better reasons. For getting fans through long, hot summers of losing alone, that ought to be enough. The grand slams streak and 1987 All-Star showing are icing.
Were it not for August 1, 2005 and his positive steroid test, Raffy would be perhaps the easiest Rangers Hall of Famer of all. Consider the numbers alone:
He’s second in career WAR and first in offensive WAR. Despite a .290 average, his walks put him 5th in on-base percentage, 5th in slugging and (not for nothing) 5th in on-base plus slugging (OPS). He’s second to Mike Young in games played, at bats, and runs, and third behind Mike and Pudge in hits. He’s third in total bases and doubles, and even without speed, his 25 triples rank him 9th. Finally, in the flashy stats, he’s second to Juan Gonzalez in both home runs and RBIs. Basically, the best all-around player in Rangers history – remember, he won a gold glove playing primarily at a DH. So despite the steroid test hanging over him, I’d hang his name on that wall.
And after seeing a young Raffy line doubles to left, singles to center, and homers to right, well before I suspect steroids came into play, I’ll stand by that. He and Arod are similarly guilty but situationally distinct.
Julio Franco –
If ever a non-legendary player deserved a statue, it was Julio Franco and his hovering-cobra batting stance. Had he hit .250 looking like that, it would have deserved remembrance. The fact that he won a batting title (.341 in 1991, the same year he was the first Ranger to win All-Star Game MVP) and hit .307 over five seasons while playing an offensively weak position (2B) says a lot. Advanced metrics aren’t going to help Jules case; he was a below-average defender for all but one season in Texas, with limited range. But he made three all-star teams and won three silver slugger awards from 1989 to 1991. And let’s face it: it all comes down to that stance and swing, and the production he got out of it. Some players are immortal for the images in your mind. Nolan Ryan is forever kicking his knee to his cap bill before blowing a fastball past a helpless hitter. Rusty Greer is suspended in mid-air saving Kenny Rogers perfect game in 1994. And Julio Franco is coiled at the plate, waiting to send another double into right-center field. That, some solid traditional stats, and a magical 1991 alone are enough to make him a Rangers legend in my eyes.
This one was tough. First, let’s get the negative stuff out of the way: he was no fun to play behind. As surly and moody as a copperhead, the man didn’t endear himself to teammates, fans, or media members. But just as Ty Cobb said, “Baseball is no pink tea.” For a more borderline player, given his surly reputation, I might leave him off. But if Kenny Rogers can deck a cameraman and live forever in bronze, I’ll give Kevin the benefit of the doubt that, every fifth day, he came to win. And the numbers back him up. That actually surprised me, because I only really recalled his breakout 1992, 21-win season. But from his rookie year in 1989 (with a cup of coffee in ’88) until his departure after the 1994 strike-shortened season, Brown went 78-64 for decidedly worse teams, with a not-unreasonable 3.81 ERA for the late-80s and early 90s Arlington Stadium. He finished 6th in Rookie of the Year voting in 1989 and 6th in Cy Young balloting in ’92, and completed an impressive 40 of 186 starts in a Rangers uniform (good for 4th all-time in franchise history). That last number gave him and impressive number of innings pitched as a Ranger (good for 4th all time in franchise history as of 2015) and his 17.8 WAR also ranks 4th, with 78 wins putting him 5th. All surly behavior aside, that many Top 5 finishes pushes him just over the top.
The greatest second baseman in franchise history, and arguably the top player at his position in the AL during his time in Texas. Ian ranks 4th in career WAR for the Rangers 35.1, just behind Buddy Bell and ahead of Sundberg and Toby Harrah, despite considerably fewer innings played than either of the latter two. He ranks 5th in team history in runs scored and 9th in hits, 7th in total bases and doubles, and tied for 8th in home runs with Alex Rodriguez, even when factoring in the Senators seasons of Frank Howard. He’s 2nd all-time behind Elvis Andrus in stolen bases, and sixth all time in extra-base hits. Combining that with above-average defense (+50 Runs Saved) and 3 all-star teams, and it’s simply a matter of when he retires, and whether he returns for a Texas swan song, before Kins takes his rightful place in the Rangers Hall of Fame.
I’m sure I’ve left off some of your favorites among former players – but if I hadn’t, what would be the fun in that? Now let’s get to the real main event – current Rangers who are destined for a place in bronze at The Ballpark.
At the plate, in the field, and in the clubhouse, he’s top of the charts. The greatest all-around third baseman not named Mike Schmidt. Six seasons so far in Texas, and it feels like he’s played here 20. The definition of “beloved player”. First ballot to Cooperstown, first ballot in Arlington. The guy wore a colostomy bag just so he could play in a spring training game for crying out loud. And I’m biased, but when it comes to Belts, aren’t we all? Enough said.
Elvis Andrus –
Forget Game 5 of the Toronto series. One inning does not undo a career. Elvis and Beltre ought to go in as a duo; such is the intrinsic nature of their relationship, and the joy with which they play. While Elvis’s defense has worn with age, that sometimes makes us forget how good he was in the pennant winning 2010 and 2011 seasons. His stats those years padded his defensive WAR enough to rank him fifth all-time as a Ranger (albeit with 8, but tied with Kinsler). For most of his career, the worst you could say about Elvis’ defense was that he was average; how that horrible Game 5 will impact that perception remains to be seen, but the fact is, he’s the third-best all-around shortstop in Rangers history, behind Alex Rodriguez’s truncated stay and the underrated numbers of Toby Harrah’s time in Texas.
With considerable time left in Texas, barring a trade, Elvis already ranks 10th in games played and at-bats as a Ranger. His sub-par last two seasons have dropped his numbers considerably, but he still sports a .270 career average and is the Rangers all-time stolen base leader, at 217. He’s tied for third all-time as a Ranger with 30 career triples, and is 9th in runs scored. Truth be told, Elvis will be an accumulator. As he finishes out his monster contract, he’ll climb the Rangers all-time lists, and our memory of him may be as an average shortstop who was overpaid to slightly under-perform. But that would be a shame, because that would discount the 2010-2011 Elvis who helped drive a team to back-to-back pennants, and the indescribably child-like joy of his teaming with Beltre, and finally, his late-season streak to help push the greatest overachieving team in Rangers history (the 2015 squad) to a Division title. Those moments and memories are what should push Elvis into the Rangers’ bronzed pantheon.
I feel like he should be here for the 2008 Home Run Derby alone, but he’s done so much more. Had things only turned out slightly differently, his home run in the top of the 10th of Game 6 in the 2011 World Series would have brought a World Series Banner to Arlington. That is the stuff of legends. As it stands, other than Alex Rodriguez – whose numbers and admitted steroid use keep him out of my candidate list, unlike Palmeiro, who I believe was a Rangers Hall of Famer without them – Josh Hamilton is the most productive hitter in Rangers history; he’s won one MVP, finished Top 7 twice more, and has been a 5-time All Star (including the epic Home Run Derby performance at Yankees Stadium in 2008, seen here. Here are his key stats for his seasons in Texas:
Where does that rank him all time? The answer, in general, is fairly high on many fronts. Interestingly, he’s not in the Top 10 in WAR, but that’s not surprising given the limited seasons he’s played, some of which were injury-plagued. 2996 plate appearances will not get you enough WAR to rank with the likes of Ivan Rodriguez, Rafael Palmeiro, or Michael Young, given their long tenures. But that’s about where the limitations end. He ranks 9th in career average, with a surprisingly high .302. For a high-strikeout hitter, that indicates just how hard the man makes contact WHEN he makes contact. He’s third behind ARod and Juan Gonzalez in slugging percentage, third behind those same two in OPS, and just outside the top 10 in HR and RBI, despite far fewer plate appearances than any of the other leaders with the exception of ARod.
In terms of indelible moments, there are countless walkoff hits, the HR Derby bonanza, and what should have been the greatest Rangers moment in history, the go-ahead homer in the 10th inning of Game 6. That’s a hall of famer, even if he never plays another game as a Ranger.
The ace; the stopper – no one compares to Yu. With all due apologies to the aged but still great Nolan Ryan circa 1989 and Cliff Lee in 2010’s stretch drive, Yu Darvish has proven himself as the greatest ace in Rangers history, despite a relatively short career. With his work ethic and focus, he’s as good a bet as anyone to recover in top form this season from Tommy John surgery, buoyed by the most consistent and deceptive release point and pitch arsenal in Rangers history. Pitching has never been the Rangers strength; I hope I’m not just breaking this news to you. For every Fergie Jenkins, there were three Brian Bohanons. Paucity does make Darvish brighter, then, in comparison, but he stands out even when compared to the best in his league when healthy.
I predict, if we can sign him long-term once his contract is up – in Jon Daniels we must trust – he will finish his career as the greatest pitcher in Rangers history. He’s already on a good road. Consider that in 545 innings – far fewer than any of the other Top 10 – he ranks 9th in pitching WAR, with 12.8. He is second in career ERA (3.27), trailing only Gaylord Perry by .01 runs but separated by a wide gulf in terms of eras in which they pitched. He’s second in career win percentage (to the surprising Aaron Sele) and 4th in WHIP behind three true Hall of Famers (Ryan, Jenkins, and Perry). He’s second to Nolan, too, in hits per 9 innings pitched, and incredibly, ranks 1st by more than a strikeout an inning (11.22) ahead of Ryan.
By ratios alone, he’s the greatest Rangers pitcher in history. All he needs is time in uniform to cement his title. And like all Hall of Famers, he brings signature moments. For Darvish, it’s his near perfect game against the Astros on Opening Day of 2013, wherein he posted a Game Score of 96; by comparison, Nolan Ryan’s 7th no-hitter scored a 101, and Kenny Rogers 1994 perfect game scored a 95.
With any luck, more Rangers Hall of Famers will emerge, either through fulfillment of potential (see Gallo, Joey) or indelible moments in a World Series run.
Until then, every time a new name and visage is cast in bronze, bask in the memories of greatness baked to perfection under the Texas sun.