Joey Gallo doing bad things to baseballs at Rangers camp
One of the most respected men to ever observe and cover baseball says the identity of the Texas Rangers comes down to two guys, and chances are great you will flub both guesses.
Long time Sports Illustrated baseball man Tom Verducci stopped at Rangers’ camp on Saturday morning before their first spring training game of the season. The Royals defeated the Rangers but ... the score was only 9-1. Some positives to build on.
As a respected national observer of all things Major League Baseball, I wanted to know what an outsider believes the identity of this team is currently.
“I would say it’s to be determined,” Verducci said. “To me, something like that will be aligned with the timing of the new ballpark, and to be sure they field a competitive team when it opens.
“To me, it will be determined by Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo.”
Not Elvis Andrus. Not Rougned Odor.
“It’s not like I don’t like a player like Odor,” Verducci said, “it’s just that the ceiling for (Mazara and Gallo) is higher.”
The Rangers, today, have no identity.
Most teams don’t.
Now, when they won?
“They were mashers,” Verducci said. “They wore you down with offense. Now, part of it is the ballpark they play in. Teams like that, Cincinnati is in the same boat, it’s just hard to really build a pitching staff.”
The truth is the Rangers have no real culture.
Most teams don’t.
One long time baseball man told me he thinks only about five clubs have a genuine “culture” where the player immediately embraces it the moment he puts on the uniform. The Red Sox. The Yankees. Maybe the Cubs, now. The Dodgers. The Athletics.
The winning face the Rangers has built has been, slowly, and painfully deconstructed. Now, they look like another team rebuilding, just praying that their younger players develop into real players.
BUILDING THE IDENTITY
The spring season began on Saturday, and there is less than zero evidence to suggest our Texas Rangers will do more than anything other than push for sixth place in a division that features but five teams.
The pitching is put together from a collection of Tommy John’s finest, and the bullpen may only be marginally better than last season when it was over worked, and not good.
If Jose Leclerc can pitch every inning, however, this team would be set.
Since this team is not going to contend, the priority for new manager Chris Woodward is to change, or define, what it is to be a Texas Ranger.
“We set the tone today on how we will play the rest of the year,” Woodward said on Saturday. “The attitude of the team is what I am looking for. Are we doing what we set out to do?”
As much as this clubhouse begins with Andrus, who could have had no better mentor than the recently retired Adrian Beltre, a team’s identity is typically anchored around their highest-end players, and producers.
Those players establish the identity, and culture of a team to a degree, that all other players follow like ducks trailing their momma across the street.
Look across baseball and you see it, and have for years, if the team is good, chances are their best, highest paid player is a pro and the others follow their leader.
There are exceptions; when the Rangers were contending 10 years ago, their best player was Josh Hamilton. He did not have the personality to lead a clubhouse. Infielder Michael Young did; he was an All-Star caliber player with a record, and guys respected him.
The San Francisco Giants with Barry Bonds were Barry Bonds; he was the brand, and the identity, of the franchise. He also was not any kind of leader; other veterans established the way to be a pro, and it worked.
A HOME GROWN IDENTITY
Few teams in baseball can establish an identity with a credit card via free agency. The best ones all build it.
Young guys who develop, have a few adults in the clubhouse to look up to follow, and then they set a standard in behavior, preparation and production.
“I pretty much think it has to be from home grown guys; those guys build a culture,” Verducci said. “I know I’m going back a ways but when you think of an identity of a team, I think of Kirby Puckett with the Twins, or Paul Molitor and Robin Yount with the Brewers. Those are All-Star players who produce, and they play hard and they prepare.”
Mazara and Gallo are perfectly logical choices to be the ones to build this team’s identity; Mazara is 23, and looks like he’s top tier potential.
“It’s pretty cool to be thought like that,” Mazara said. “It makes me proud. It motivates me.”
Gallo, 25, is the question. No one questions the talent, but the identity of a franchise can’t be from a guy who barely bats over .200.
At present, the Rangers have no genuine identity. They are hoping a guy like Mazara, and a few others, build it.