So long, D.C., Hello Anthill
The Texas Rangers came to be when Washington Senators owner Robert E. Short received, after several years of trying, permission to move his franchise to Dallas-Fort Worth.
Short, who owned a trucking company and had been the Democratic National Committee treasurer, had bought a majority interest in the team (outbidding Bob Hope) at the 1968 winter meetings. It was an expansion franchise that had been awarded to Washington in 1961, after the original Senators escaped to Minnesota to become the Twins.
By any on-field measure, Washington’s expansion team was far from successful. In their 11 years of existence, the “new” Senators finished above .500 just once, and ranked either last or next-to-last in attendance for seven of those 11 years.
Short used these numbers to persuade the other owners that the team needed to move to a more supportive area – Texas. The move was officially announced in September of 1971, and the Washington fans began to crank up their resentment.
Their view was neatly summed up by Timothy Dwyer, a Washington Post writer:
(The team was leaving) “… not for Chicago or New York or Los Angeles, but for Arlington, a dinky, nowhere town between Dallas and Fort Worth with all the big-league stature of an anthill.”
For the last game of that season – Sept. 30, 1971, vs. the Yankees – Senators fans were grumpy and unruly from the first pitch. Some were carrying dolls dangling from string tied around their necks and had the name “Short” painted on them.
Some hung banners, a few of the more printable reading “Short Stinks” and “We’ve been sold Short.”
As the game went on, the fans grew rowdier. Dozens of them climbed on top of the dugouts, turned toward the pressbox and screamed for Short to show his face. He was actually home in Minnesota – good decision, all things considered.
By the ninth inning, everyone was deeply concerned about what might happen. Manager Ted Williams put lefty Joe Grzenda on the mound and told him, “When you get two outs, stall a little bit to give the bullpens time to clear out.”
Sure enough, as the inning began fans started running onto the field. Security was able to keep them at bay for a while, and the team announced that they would forfeit the game if the fans didn’t behave.
All to no avail. Before Grzenda could log the final out – with the Senators holding a 7-5 lead – it was as if a dam had burst. People came pouring onto the field, running the bases, sliding into home, ripping up sod, stealing second base (literally) and even pilfering light bulbs from the scoreboard.
They also chased after the players, who ran for the safety of their locker rooms, but three of the fans jumped onto the back of slugger Frank Howard before he could reach the door. He wasn’t injured.
Of course, the game was forfeited, the season was over, and major league baseball scurried out of Washington only to arrive the next year at a dinky, nowhere anthill that welcomed them with open arms.
Williams and Grzenda made that trip to Arlington, along with a few more names old-time Rangers fans might recall – Howard, pitchers Dick Bosman and Pete Broberg, infielders Dave Nelson and Toby Harrah, and a young outfielder named Tom Grieve, who had been the team’s first-round draft choice in 1966.
Owner Short came, too, much to the delight of several surly occupants of the Arlington Stadium press box. Finally, in 1974, Short sold the team to an equally interesting character, oilfield pipe salesman Brad Corbett. But that’s a story for another day.
Frankly, given how rocky the Rangers’ early years in Arlington were, the final game of the 1971 season seems a fitting send-off, don’t you think?