Monday, May 03, 2004

The Texas Rangers are 16-9 and in first place in the AL West after sweeping the seemingly unstoppable Boston Red Sox. It's hard to believe that is the truth. The Rangers have had Ivan Rodriguez and never won. They had Juan Gonzalez and never won. They had Rafael Palmeiro and never won. They had Alex Rodriguez and never won. But after watching the Rangers finish the sweep of the Red Sox, this team seems to have something really good going.

And how can you not give credit to Buck Showalter for the turnaround? Showalter has a track record of taking struggling teams and making them better. Showalter took over a bad Yankee team in the early 90's and was on the way to 100 wins in 1994 before the strike shortened the season. The Yankees struggled the following season and came in second and Showalter was gone. Joe Torre came to manage New York the following season and the Yankees won it all.

Showalter then was hired as the first manager of the new Arizona Diamondbacks in 1998. But he didn't start his job in 1998. Showalter helped set up that franchise and he did it well. The first year of their existance, the Diamondbacks lost 97 games. The following season, Showalter took them to a 100 win season. What an accomplishment for the second year in a franchise history.

Again, as did the Yankees, the Diamondbacks struggled after their 100 win season and they only won 85 the following year and came in third. Showalter was fired. The following year, just as in New York, the Diamondbacks won it all.

How much of those championships for the Yankees and Diamondbacks were because Showalter was no longer the manager? How much was because he had set them up so well? The Fan truly believes that Showalter is the biggest single factor as to why those two champions came to be.

Championship teams are usually very good fundamental teams who take care of the small details, play the game correctly and win close games. Showalter has sometimes been criticized as too tough. That's funny, because that's the same thing Bill Parcells is praised about. And is it any coincidence that both Parcells and Showalter have such good track records in turning bad teams around?

And now look at the job Showalter has done with the Rangers. The Rangers have been terrible for a long time. Despite the superstars they have had on their team, they have been terrible. Showalter came on board last year and they lost 91 games. But he did something fantastic. He introduced six or seven really good young players to the majors and played them, not just in mop up games. They played regularly.

Blalock was slated to be a star and his playing time was expected. You can say the same thing about Teixeira. But Showalter played Nix and Young and Mench and R.A. Dickey. That experience is paying of this year as that core of players is leading the team to better times. And Soriano, who showed a stubborn side to being coached on the Yankees, looks like a better player this year at the plate and in the field. You have to give that credit to Showalter.

The 2004 Texas Rangers are fun to watch and you can see the buzz in the crowds that are starting to build at their games. And the Rangers are for real. They pound the ball. They throw strikes and they field very well. Let's hope that Showalter's history doesn't repeat itself and that they win it all this year so Showalter doesn't have to get fired and leave the genesis of another great team to someone else who will take his team to the next level.