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.
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.
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.