THE MADNESS CONTINUES – 1974-1975
In case my previous throwback pieces haven’t made it clear, the first 24 years of the Texas Rangers’ existence featured poor ownership, bad management and sorry baseball. It’s a wonder the team had any true fans at all.
We’ve talked about year one, which was horrible, and year 2, which was worse (except for David Clyde). Prior to year three, the 1974 season, owner Bob Short sold the team to a Fort Worth pipe manufacturer, Bradford Gary “Brad” Corbett, a native New Yorker and an open-handed, friendly guy with a huge ego, who the media (i.e., Randy Galloway) dubbed “Chuckles the Clown.”
Corbett said he actually wanted to spend his spare change buying Universal Studios, but was talked out of it by his wife, Gunhilde. “Gunnie said I knew nothing about the movie business, so I used my money to buy a baseball club instead,” Corbett recalled.
We’ve also talked about Corbett’s first year, with Billy Martin as manager, Ferguson Jenkins as staff ace and MVP Jeff Burroughs leading the hit parade, hauling the team to its best finish ever. Relevance, at last!
But even then, Corbett had demonstrated his flair for flash over substance, at the cost of future success. For example, his acquisition of Jenkins – a truly good addition – cost him Bill Madlock, who would go on to win the National League batting championship four times.
Then, in 1974, Corbett raised the ante with some mind-boggling off-season deals. He traded away young pitchers Pete Broberg (who would not amount to much) and Don Stanhouse (who would, with the Orioles), to gain aging outfielder Willie Davis (of center-field sit-down strike fame) and lefty Clyde “Skeeter” Wright, who had lost 20 games the prior season. The point: both Davis and Wright were headliners, having played for the Dodgers and Yankees, respectively, and might have some audience appeal. Like Short, Corbett was desperate to drive fans to dusty, outdated Arlington Stadium.
Then, during the season, Corbett sent three more young players – infielder Larry Brown and pitchers Rick Waits and the owner of Texas’ only no-hitter, Jim Bibby – to Cleveland for another headliner, 36-year-old spitballer Gaylord Perry. This nearly complete pitching overhaul proved disastrous and, in July, the Rangers stood at 44-51. In addition, manager Martin was constantly criticizing his owner, via the media – almost challenging Corbett to fire him. Predictable outcome: owner Corbett fired employee Martin. As it turns out, this could well have been Martin’s plan all along – he became the manager of the Yankees before the season ended.
Corbett chose Martin’s third-base-coach, Frank Lucchesi, to be the manager. Lucchesi’s only prior managerial experience had been leading the 1970-72 Phillies to a dismal 166-233 record. The Rangers finished that season 79-83, third in the division. And next year was even worse. Not only did Lucchesi suffer a terrible beating at the hands of his own player, Corbett sent pitchers Jenkins, Wright and Bill “Froggy” Hands away, for minimal return. Perry was a year older. And no one else stepped up to the challenge.
At the trade deadline, Corbett sent a passel of promising youngsters – third baseman Mike Cubbage, shortstop Roy Smalley and pitchers Jim Gideon and Bill Singer, plus $250,000 – to the Minnesota Twins for aging curve-baller Bert Blyleven, who finished the year 9-11.
That team never meshed, and finished ten games below .500. The one bright spot was catcher Jim Sundberg, who won the first of his six Gold Glove awards and went on to be the most popular player in franchise history until Pudge Rodriguez.