Never ever quit.
I get the 2015 Texas Rangers’ message — and marketing pitch. I really do.
The new manager’s personal story is one of courage and dedication. Jeff Banister didn’t quit, even after bone cancer almost caused him to lose his leg in high school. And he didn’t quit in junior college, even after a home plate collision left him paralyzed for 10 days.
But surrender, frankly, wasn’t the problem with the 95-loss, multi-disabled-listed Rangers. They finished the season on a 13-3 run with an interim manager and a patchwork lineup, and Adam Rosales was still sprinting around the bases on home runs as if the team was in a pennant chase.
Because of all the injuries, the Rangers used a major league record 64 players in 2014. Yet, in the first weekend of this spring training, a respected national baseball correspondent posed the question, “Has any team in recent memory crumbled as quickly — and as surprisingly — as Texas?”
Crumbled? Is that a new medical term?
It’s been curious, to say the least, to see how the Rangers’ current situation has been portrayed by some as an inevitable collapse of a house of cards. Doesn’t a note from the doctor matter anymore?
Key players fall victim to injuries all the time in sports, and their teams’ fates are lamented. Lose two dozen players to season-ending injuries, though, and the Rangers franchise is in alleged disarray.
The Curse of Nolan. The Kinsler/Fielder trade. All that foolishness.
The diminished public expectations have not been lost on general manager Jon Daniels and his people. But it’s not as if they’ve been handing out “No Respect” T-shirts.
“To be honest, we’ve kind of embraced the lack of external expectations,” Daniels said. “For me, this has actually been a very fun camp. We’ve seen a lot of people in new positions. We’ve seen a lot of energy. People who struggled to get on the field last year with injuries are excited to be out there.
“And we have a new manager, especially someone like Banny with his energy.”
As national baseball writers passed through the Rangers’ camp this spring, some expressed surprise that there wasn’t more chatter about making amends for the 2014 season — no comeback banners.
“For me, it was just like there wasn’t a World Series hangover,” Daniels said. “People were worried after 2010 how we were going to handle it. Same thing after the World Series in 2011.
“I didn’t think those fears were real. 2010? We got right back to the Series. 2011? For 5 1/2 months we were the best team in the game.
“The challenge is what’s in front of you. I don’t think the players think about what happened the year before.”
A team on the mend is always going to be viewed with caution, especially when that team loses its ace Japanese right-hander to Tommy John surgery before the season even begins. But Daniels is right about the bounce that he saw around camp.
“For the most part, April, May and June will be the first time that we see these guys play together,” Daniels said. “This team has not played together yet. That’s why I think it’s important that we give them a chance and see where we are.”
Prominent among those returning from injuries will be Prince Fielder, Shin-Soo Choo, Derek Holland, Tanner Scheppers and Mitch Moreland, who’s been handed the designated hitter job.
Young players can also become better players. A trimmer, more committed Elvis Andrus, an older Rougned Odor and a maturing Leonys Martin could all well have big years for Banister’s first club.
And if the American League playoff chase is still within sight on July 1, then the Rangers can think about making some of the moves they deliberately avoided over the winter.
“I don’t want to just brush off the first half of the season,” Daniels said. “Hopefully we won’t need 64 this time, but we’re going to need more than 25. And it’s fair to evaluate where that second push is going to come from.”
The second push, if needed, could come from a talented class of prospects — Joey Gallo, Jorge Alfaro and Chi Chi Gonzalez, among them — that is one year closer to Arlington.
Quit? That won’t be the problem for the Rangers this season.
The challenge is what’s being written and said about them.
And rebuilding that so-called “crumbled” house.
Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697