By C. Robert Dimitri | Miscellaneous | October 27, 2010 |
By C. Robert Dimitri | Miscellaneous | October 27, 2010 |
At the beginning of these Major League Baseball playoffs, I read somewhere that if you wanted to see a World Series that included the two teams representing the longest suffering franchises, then the San Francisco Giants and the Texas Rangers were your teams of choice. The Yankees are gluttons for titles. The Phillies won only two years ago. The Braves won it in 1995, and the Reds won it in 1990. The Twins recently were the victims of domination by the Yankees in the playoffs, but they have two championships to their credit from 1987 and 1991. The Tampa Bay Rays have never won the World Series, but they have only been in existence for fifteen years, and they did win the American League two years ago.
So for those of you who enjoy “spreading the wealth,” as President Obama might say, this is the World Series for you. The Giants have taken several trips to the World Series, although most of those came in the first half of the twentieth century as the New York Giants. Their last victory was 56 years ago against the Cleveland Indians (a franchise and city that are no slouch either in craving said wealth), a four-game sweep in 1954 that came a few years before their move to San Francisco in 1958. Since that move to the west coast, the Giants appeared in the World Series only three additional times: a seven-game loss to the Yankees in 1962, a sweep by the Oakland Athletics in the 1989 event (marred by the tragic earthquake at the Series midpoint), and most recently another seven-game loss to the Anaheim Angels at the powerful paws of the Angels’ rally monkey. (I hesitated and asked myself when typing that last sentence: does a monkey have a paw or a hand? Then I remembered the story “The Monkey’s Paw” and concluded that my phrasing was acceptable.)
The Rangers began as the expansion Washington Senators in 1961, replacing the previous Washington Senators franchise that had relocated to Minnesota and become the Twins. They moved to Texas in 1971, and in their entire team history they never once qualified for the American League Championship Series, much less the World Series. Three playoff appearances in 1996, 1998, and 1999, saw rapid defeats to the eventual champion New York Yankees in each instance.
Thus, with that prelude of so many seasons ended without the sport’s ultimate glory, we arrive at the 2010 World Series. The title will be earned by one of these two teams, each with its own fan base eager to finally celebrate, and each having defeated the favored teams in the playoffs in their respective leagues. Game one will be played tonight.
My devotion to the Texas Rangers began in the summer of 1989. My interest in baseball started later than my interest in basketball or football, but I remember watching many televised games with my father on summer nights and quickly finding its appeal.
Those early years were the Nolan Ryan era in Texas; Ryan, already a veteran of Major League Baseball for over twenty years, joined the Rangers at age 42 and played for another five seasons. My dad and I saw Ryan’s 297th win against the Red Sox in person, which would be the first of many Major League Baseball games I attended, as treks down to Arlington Stadium became an annual ritual. While with the Rangers, Ryan won his three hundredth game, racked up career strikeouts 5000 through 5714, and pitched his historic sixth and seventh career no-hitters.
My dad frequently did not stay awake for the ends of those games, particularly those played on the road against the Rangers’ AL West opponents. That sixth no-hitter in 1990 was played against the Athletics in Oakland. I myself watched the conclusion of that game in bed and excitedly dashed down the hall to my dad’s bedroom to verify that he had not fallen asleep in front of the television once again. (He had.)
Nolan Ryan is now co-owner and team president of the Texas Rangers, and in my opinion that - on a team brimming with gratifying stories - might be the most satisfying. Playoff appearances were rare in Ryan’s lengthy career, and his only World Series appearance occurred way back in 1969, when he helped the “Miracle Mets” to the title. Now he has returned to baseball’s greatest stage.
The most visible story on the Rangers this season has been that of Josh Hamilton. Outfielder Hamilton began his career in Major League Baseball as one of its most promising prospects, before drug and alcohol addiction sent him to the brink of professional and personal destruction. He has bounced back to the status of AL batting champion and ALCS Most Valuable Player. The Rangers’ playoff celebrations thus far have included ginger ale in lieu of the traditional champagne out of respect for Hamilton’s condition. That is the sort of redemptive tale sports sometimes offers us that not even the most jaded person could resist.
Nine-time All-Star Vladimir Guerrero has had a long and successful career in the majors since 1996 with the Expos and Angels before joining the Rangers in 2010 as a designated hitter. This will be his first World Series. Between 2004 and 2006, he was particularly irksome to the Rangers while with the Angels, as he put together a 44-game hitting streak exclusively against the Rangers.
Pitching ace Cliff Lee joined the Rangers in a trade with the Seattle Mariners about halfway through this season. Lee dominated in the 2009 playoffs while with the Phillies, although ultimately it was a losing effort against the Yankees, despite the fact that Lee won the two World Series games that he started. In the 2010 playoffs, Lee has exhibited an even higher level of excellence, and he will start game one against similarly impressive Giants ace Tim Lincecum.
Perhaps the most interesting story on the Rangers team, at least from a baseball trivia perspective, is catcher Bengie Molina. Molina played for the Giants for the past few seasons and was instrumental in the development of the Giants pitching staff before being traded to the Rangers in June of this season. As a result of playing so many games for both teams that are in the Series this year, Molina will actually earn a World Series ring regardless of which team wins. Thirty-six-year-old Molina already has a World Series championship, however; he earned it in 2002 while playing for the Angels against the Giants.
Discussing and watching sports have always been my easiest means for bonding with my father. I am certain that particular father-son dynamic — making the default discourse the commiseration over how our teams stink or the enjoyment of their occasional successes — is not too rare in our culture. That lack of uniqueness does not make it any less resonant or valuable to me. If one were to psychoanalyze me, I imagine that tie might be the first and most critical factor in my sports fandom. When the Rangers finished off the Yankees in the ALCS, my dad sent a couple emails that night to his progeny; the second message made a point of describing his celebratory drink of choice. That put a smile on my face, and I am left amazed by how these trivial contests can be so emotionally gratifying. I hope the Rangers win the World Series for him.
Of course, somewhere there is a guy who is about my age. He was a kid not that different from me, but he grew up near San Francisco. His story of following baseball is much like mine. He might have been pushed away from baseball by the steroids flap just as I was for much of this decade. He has a dad too, who sends him weekly emails cynically assessing the state of the teams they follow. They have experienced a long wait as well. Fundamentally we are no different, but our diametrically opposed emotions will hinge in opposite directions with each game’s result.
We cannot both win.
C. Robert Dimitri is nothing more than your average American sports fan that has spent far too many hours in front of the television and has absolutely no further credentials. He reserves the right to change any opinions expressed here; unlike the practice of bandwagon sports loyalty, there is virtue in shifting a position when given new information.