Ten wackiest characters in Texas Rangers history

Posted Sunday, May. 06, 2012  comments  Print Reprints
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In 40 years of covering Rangers baseball, the things that stand out most aren't necessarily the Nolan Ryan no-hitters, the dramatic comebacks or even those first forays into postseason play back in the mid-to-late '90s. The best memories are associated with the incredible array of engaging personalities, people who made this franchise special.

They were people who made us laugh, people who broke our hearts, people who, at times, even made us cringe, mostly because we had no idea what they might do next.

These were people we came to love, or hate, or even both at the same time. They were in the owner's suite, in the dugout, on the field, intense, goofy, funny, emotional and, most of all, interesting. They were people we couldn't get enough of, even when the baseball was bad. Like an especially violent car accident, we couldn't take our eyes off them.

For a franchise that is just four decades old, the Rangers have had more than their share of the weird and the strange.

After all this is the organization that tragically saw a player physically attack and maul a manager; the franchise that endured a pitcher locked into a catatonic trance in the clubhouse for five hours while a game went on outside; the team that once had a player swear about a manager, "He may be Hitler, but he's not going to make a lampshade out of me!"

This is the franchise that once had an owner lock down the stadium with armed guards while the players underwent psychological testing inside; the organization that practically incited a riot when ticket takers were caught scarfing down fans' confiscated fried chicken; the first major league franchise, God bless its soul, to introduce ballpark nachos and the Dot Race.

This is the franchise, by the way, that once saw a local sports hack (ahem) dance on the ledge outside the press box during a postgame Beach Boys concert. In his defense, the music was absolutely intoxicating.

This is the franchise of edgy Billy Martin and Julio Franco, who would bring his pet leopards to Arlington Stadium on a leash; of Roger Moret standing like a statue and the quirky John Lowenstein whispering, "Try to ignore him." It's the franchise of chain-smoking-while-he-jogged Charlie Hough, of mustachioed Sparky Lyle of Bronx Zoo fame and football-throwing pitching coach Tom House.

And most of those guys can't even make the list of the team's craziest characters.

It has been wacky, it has been fun and just because the Rangers' franchise has suddenly become legitimate, with back-to-back World Series appearances, is no reason to forget the delightful -- and occasionally frightening -- personalities we've seen pass through our baseball-loving lives.

Here then, in no particular order (really, how do you rate crazy?) are the 10 Wackiest Characters in Rangers History. Feel free to make up your own list if you disagree.

Mickey Rivers (1979-84)

Of all the lovable characters to put on a Rangers' uniform, none were more fun-loving than "The Mick."

Rivers almost comically moved around with molasses-like slowness -- a real life "Old Man River" -- except when he was on the base paths ...and then he turned into liquid lightning.

Mickey loved to joke with teammates, media, whoever might be around, and called almost everyone, "Ol' Mailbox Head."

As easygoing as Mick was, he could also be incredibly intense and, when he got angry... it was time to be someplace else. Like the time in New York when three Yankees fans accosted Mick in the lobby of the Rangers' team hotel. By the time hotel security could gain control of the situation, all three interlopers were down and bleeding.

Those incidents were rare, however. More typical was the time Mickey invited a young Rangers clubhouse attendant to go on "cruise" with him during a road trip. Turned out the clubhouse kid was the only white person on the boat ...and he had the time of his life.

Dock Ellis (1977-79)

Notorious for wearing pink hair curlers in the clubhouse after games and claiming to have pitched a no-hitter on LSD while with the Pirates, Ellis was profane, in-your-face and afraid of no one, especially not his managers, or anyone else in authority for that matter.

So in 1978 when old-school Rangers manager Billy Hunter banned players from the team's hotel bar on road trips -- Hunter planned to do his own drinking there and wanted to avoid interacting with players under those circumstances -- Ellis attempted to foment a players' revolt, hence his infamous "Hitler" quote on the bus ride to the team hotel one night.

There are those who are convinced that the sight of Ellis in his pink hair curlers was what drove Eddie Stanky to quit after just one game as Ranger manager in 1977.

Willie Davis (1975)

The center fielder on the Dodgers' teams of the '60s, Willie Davis was moving into his own trance-like existence by the time he arrived in Texas in 1975.

Willie brought his two huge Dobermans to spring training with him at Pompano Beach in '75, much to the chagrin of the maids at The Surf Rider Hotel.

They were also startled to hear eerie sounds emanating from Davis' room one day and opened the door to find him in a yoga position on the floor in the center of his room, chanting.

Billy Martin wasn't amused during that '75 season when a bored Davis decided to sit down in center field during the middle of a game. Martin had to walk out and coax Davis back onto his feet.

Jim Kern (1979-81)

A personal favorite, Kern epitomized the outlandish craziness of bullpen pitchers, who generally find themselves with too much time on their hands while waiting for the bullpen phone to ring.

Kern, also known as "Emu" because of his gangly physique, was clearly intelligent, often quoting from Confucius or Aquinas, but in a "nutty professor" kind of way.

He enjoyed wearing an Amish-style hat, which went well with his bushy beard and no-mustache look.

He was the best closer in the American League in 1979 and it was during that run when the goofy Kern snatched a book out of a sports writer's hand on a team plane flight, then ate the last four pages so the writer wouldn't know how it ended.

Brad Corbett (1974-80)

Even some of the Rangers' owners have been interesting characters, perhaps none more than Bradford G. Corbett. He built a plastic pipe company from the ground up and then realized his dream of owning a major league baseball team when he put together a group of Fort Worth and Dallas business people to buy the Rangers from Bob Short, giving the franchise local ownership. Corbett was spontaneous, emotional and a bigger-than-life character who once made a trade with Yankees general manager Gabe Paul while both were standing at the urinal of a famous Fort Worth restaurant. Corbett wanted to win badly and was emotionally devastated anytime the Rangers played poorly.

It was that roller coaster of emotion that caused Corbett to once say of his players, "They're dogs, on and off the field," and threaten to sell the team, "to a bunch of Arabs."

Eddie Chiles (1980-89)

Fittingly, Corbett instead eventually sold the Rangers to Fort Worth oil field implement maverick Eddie Chiles, already a character in his own right even before becoming a baseball owner. It was Chiles, heavily in favor of smaller and less intrusive government, who signed onto his radio commentaries growling, "I'm Eddie Chiles and I'm mad as hell." Bumper stickers sprang up everywhere reading, "I'm Mad, Too, Eddie."

Chiles seemed perpetually surprised to find himself as majority owner of a baseball team and was never really comfortable in that role. It was Chiles who put armed guards at Arlington Stadium on an off-day while the team's manager, coaches and players spent the day doing personal goal-setting.

Chiles' most infamous episode, however, came when he flew to New York during the 1981 player strike, walked into commissioner Bowie Kuhn's office and threatened to fire him if he didn't end the strike.

An indignant Kuhn promptly ordered Chiles out of his office.

Ted Williams (1972)

The Rangers' original skipper, "The Splendid Splinter" had lost much of his verve by the time the transplanted Washington Senators arrived in Texas in 1972. Still, Williams was one of a kind.

Longtime Rangers clubhouse manager Joe Macko remembers the time Williams hit a poor drive on the first tee during a golf outing at Las Colinas, angrily tried to slam his driver into the cart, missed and hit his own leg instead.

The club cut Williams' leg badly below the knee, but Ted was too angry to acknowledge the injury and insisted on playing the round with blood sloshing in his socks and leaving bloody footsteps on every green behind him.

Williams loved to retire to Gaylen's Barbecue on North Collins after games, where the owner would open up and he and Ted would throw lures at the lunker bass in the restaurant's big fish tank.

John Ellis (1976-81)

Arguably the toughest player ever to put on a Rangers uniform, Ellis earned that distinction the hard way when he broke and dislocated his ankle sliding into second base at Fenway Park early during the '76 season.

Carted off the field on a stretcher, Ellis laughingly kept pointing at his mangled leg while teammates turned away to retch.

At the hospital Ellis ordered the doctor to set the leg without waiting for anesthesia, causing Corbett, who was there with him, to stagger into the corridor to throw up.

Later in his Rangers career, Ellis wandered into the top floor bistro of the team's Detroit hotel wearing a trench coat, which prompted a couple of drunks at the bar to call him "Columbo." Ellis calmly KOed each of them with one punch. As legend has it, he then reached over their sprawled bodies to down their drinks, then headed out to friendlier surroundings.

Mitch Williams (1986-88)

Like Kern, Williams possessed that flaky craziness that only relief pitchers, especially left-handed ones, seem to have.

Mitch was young and talented but when he arrived at spring training with the Rangers in 1986, he had no idea where the baseball was going. The Rangers' left-handed hitters refused to take batting practice against him.

After watching Williams plunk several of his hitters during a game, crusty Baltimore manager Earl Weaver was beside himself.

"That guy's more dangerous than cigarette smoking," said Weaver, a two-pack-a-day smoker himself at the time.

Williams harnessed his control just enough, let his hair grow long and became "The Wild Thing."

Doug Rader (1983-85)

Ah, yes, saving the best/worst for last. There's an argument to be made that Billy Martin should be on this list but even Billy the Kid takes a back seat to Rader, who brought brute strength, intimidation and more than just a touch of craziness to the manager's office in Arlington.

Rader was a force of nature unto himself, a man who once said he should have been born a Tahitian warlord (and many of us around the Rangers during his three-year reign of terror would certainly vote for that).

A bored Rader, as the story goes, once walked out onto the beach one night during a Baseball Winter Meetings in Hawaii, put on facemask and fins and swam at least several hundred yards, if not miles, out into the Pacific. When he returned, dripping wet, he walked straight through the lobby of the hotel, still wearing his mask and fins.

Rader was smart but emotional, with a fiery temper seething just below the surface. He once met then-White Sox manager Tony La Russa at home plate during the middle of a game and threatened to break his back. Another time after a loss, he ripped off his shirt in the Texas clubhouse and challenged any Rangers player to fight him.

After a particularly tough loss in Kansas City one night, three Texas reporters who traveled with the Rangers timidly filed into Rader's office for the requisite postgame interview session. When someone finally mustered the courage to ask the first question, Rader exploded, hurling one of his cleats against the door and then sweeping his street clothes off the rack beside him and into the air.

His dress pants settled, waist down, over the head of the writer sitting in front of the manager's desk. Terrified, it was several long seconds before the writer carefully removed the pants from his head, folded them neatly, and placed them on the desk.

Even Rader, furious as he was, would say later that he had a hard time keeping a straight face.

E-mail former Star-Telegram columnist Jim Reeves at revo30@yahoo.com.

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