Promise Unfulfilled

arlington

One of the saddest Rangers stories I know anything about was what happened to George Wright.

In 1982, Wright was supposed to finally be the home-grown, long-term answer for the Rangers in center field. A raw but legitimate four-tool player when the Rangers drafted him out of high school in Oklahoma City, Wright spent five years in the minors and, after a great spring in Pompano Beach, was deemed ready for the show.

The writers who covered spring training that year came back to Arlington calling the 5′-11″, 180-pound switch-hitter a “phee-nom” – short for “phenomenon” – the old-school term for a can’t-miss youngster.

In truth, Wright wouldn’t have to do much to improve on what the Rangers had seen. A steady run of wanna-be’s and has-beens had patrolled center ever since the team moved to Arlington in 1972.

Cesar “Pepe” Tovar, for example. Pepe didn’t mind being hit by a pitch – led the league in 1974 – but he didn’t want to be hit by one of his rather inept Rangers outfield mates  while chasing fly balls, so he used a referee’s whistle to warn other players away. You could hear the frantic tweeting all the way up in the old Arlington Stadium press box.

Photo of George Wright

Photo of George Wright

In 1975, Dodgers’ cast-off Willie Davis once got so bored during a game that he actually sat down on the outfield grass, facing away from the action. Manager Billy Martin had to go convince Willie to stand up and try to pay attention.

The ever-unhappy Joe Lovitto and Mickey Rivers (my son’s favorite player, at the time) also were among those who took brief turns at the position – but Wright was supposed to put all that to an end.

He was in the opening-day lineup April 10, 1982, batting lead-off against the Indians. He went 3-for-4 with a home run and 3 RBI – a debut unmatched until Joey Gallo’s arrival on June 2 of this year. In fact, that may be the first time most of today’s Rangers fans had ever heard Wright’s name.

He went on to have a decent rookie season, slashing .264/.305/.377/.682, but his performance got lost in the media furor over the bizarre firing of Don Zimmer (a story for another day).

His 1983 season, though, was even better. Wright hit lead-off and played center in almost every game. He had 681 plate appearances, slashed .276/.321/.424/.745 for 3.2 bWAR, third-best on the team. He even got some votes for American League MVP. In addition, the game had become more fun as the team achieved a 13-win improvement over the previous season, under new manager Doug Rader.

But somehow, Rader and Wright never really got on the same page. Rader once told a group of writers after a game that he thought Wright – then playing the best center field the team had seen – wasn’t really suited to the position. When asked what Rader meant, Wright responded, “I don’t know. He hasn’t talked to me.” It was a harbinger.

In 1984, Rader decided to split Wright’s playing time among center field, right field and designated hitter. Wright was bumped out of the leadoff slot, shuffled anywhere from third to ninth in the lineup and eventually was sent down to the minors for a month. His confidence obviously shaken, Wright slashed .243/.273/.384/.657, a significant step backwards. His injury-marred 1985 season was even worse, and so was the team’s record, leading to Rader’s dismissal. Then, halfway through the 1986 campaign, the Rangers apparently gave up on their former phee-nom, sending Wright to Montreal in a “conditional” trade that brought no return.

Wright’s last major-league appearance was in October of that year, against the Phillies. He was 27 years old. He spent some time in the minor leagues, Japan and Mexico, then retired after the 1997 season. He lives in Arlington.

Joe Stroop
I was a sports reporter in DFW throughout the 70s and 80s. I'm a former member of BBWAA and shared the Arlington Stadium press box with all the big boys. I'm here to remind you of the past. I own a Nokona.

7 comments

  • The comment about Willie Davis getting BORED and sitting down in the OF was not entirely true — The incident was the last game 3-Dog ever played for Texas and the reason he sat down in the OF was because He had been thrown at by the opposing teams pitcher, I believe it was the Yankees — So like a True Dodgers star from their Championship teams of 1963-1965-1966 he expected his Rangers teammate who happened to be Fergie Jenkins to throw at a Yankee player out of respect but Fergie refused and Dumby Billy Martin would not let him anyway — Willie feeling like the Rangers were being disloyal sat down in CF for a whole inning — and was traded 3 days later — Is what Willie Davis did the right thing to do ? Well maybe not but it was better than what Jenkins and Martin didn’t do — disloyal bums !

    • Thanks for that info, Rob. I appreciate your memory work, which is better than mine. Hard to believe that Billy Martin would NOT want his pitchers to retaliate, huh?

  • You look like my dad.

  • I enjoyed this piece very much. These type of articles will be a true compliment to the already excellent work put out by SDI. Congratulations, Aaron, on your first SDI article.

  • This is a really great piece Aaron. What happened that allowed Wright and Rader to be on different pages? Why did Wright never recover after Rader was fired?

    • Here’s my opinion: Wright was getting by almost purely on talent those first two years, since the Rangers were not then investing heavily in skills development for their prospects (or much of anything else). When Rader started undercutting him with the media, I think it got inside his head. Baseball was all he knew, and now his boss was saying publicly that he wasn’t “good enough,”

      For Rader, I’m sure it was an attempt at motivation, but it backfired with the introverted Wright. It shook his confidence badly, he became hesitant in the box and in the field and spent a good portion of 1984 on the bench, cutting into his development. Then he lost nearly half of the 1985 season to injury. It was sad to watch.

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