Tuesday, February 15, 2011
The defending American League champion Texas Rangers (first time I've ever typed that--looks and feels weird) are entering this new season with a new set of higher expectations--or at least that's what I'm told. Have we forgotten that these are the Rangers?
Are we sure that just because they made it to the World Series last season that everyone expects them to win the World Series this season? Have we forgotten that these are the Rangers?
Are we actually expected to believe that Rangers fans have raised the bar so high that 2011 is a championship-or-bust season? Have we forgotten that these are the Rangers?
As a lifelong Rangers fan, and card-carrying Dr. Pepper Junior Ranger circa 1976, I feel like I speak for Texas fans everywhere when I say that the bar most certainly has NOT been raised. If a Rangers fan is going into this season thinking that the only thing that will satisfy is a World Series championship, then that person is a fake Rangers fan. If a Cowboys fan feels that way, OK. The Cowboys have won 5 titles in the last 40 years--even though the last 15 years have produced more comedy than crowns, there is a history of success and high expectations. If a Mavs fan feels that way, OK. The Mavs have no titles, but at least they win a lot in the regular season and make the playoffs every year--the next step is to win a ring. But the Rangers?
Anyone who thinks this year's Rangers squad will be judged by whether or not they win a championship doesn't understand Rangers history. Yes, Nolan Ryan and Ron Washington will say all the right things--they'll say their goal is to win the World Series (like most presidents, GM's and managers say this time of year). But I think most Rangers fans who don't work for the team and who have followed the club for a while will just be happy with fielding a good team again. Just compete. Since coming to town in 1972, the Rangers have had only 17 winning seasons--17, in 39 years! With that track record, how could any Rangers fan suddenly feel like it's their time to win a title? As Rangers fans, we should be frightened that the baseball gods will realize that last fall was a mistake, and yank the rug out from under us this year as payback.
(Let's be honest about how we all felt last year watching the Rangers in the World Series--it was like being at a party you weren't invited to and you spent the entire time hoping the host didn't realize that you shouldn't be there drinking his free beer. Am I wrong?)
These Rangers will be shooting for their third straight winning season. Do you know how many other times they've done that in franchise history? Twice. 1977-79, and 1989-91. That's it. And, they've never had four straight winning seasons. Why can't we allow the Rangers to walk before they run?
I'm not sure who is raising the bar, but it's not me. It's also not the national media, many of whom are picking the Angels and A's to finish ahead of Texas in the AL West. (By the way, what an advantage for the AL West teams to only have to compete against three other teams to win the division--isn't that unfair? How do clubs in the six-team NL Central feel when they look at the AL West? Only AL West teams start each season with an equal 25% chance to win their division and get into the playoffs--no other teams can say that. Why is there not more outrage over this? Not that I'm complaining, since it helps my team. I just find it fascinating that nobody talks about this) It's also not the Rangers peer group--Lance Berkman said a couple of weeks ago that he thought the Rangers would be just an average team this season. And you get the feeling that, following the Cliff Lee departure, Berkman isn't the only major leaguer who feels that way.
For me, this season will be a success if the Rangers simply battle for the AL West crown until the end--win or lose. Just compete. Just play good, exciting baseball. The euphoria of watching my team play in the World Series last fall has not worn off. It may carry me for a decade before I expect anything more from them. I've experienced way too much losing, way too much bad baseball, and way too much disappointment to be disappointed if this year's Rangers don't win it all.
My battle cry for the '11 Rangers is not "World Series or bust." It's "At least be above average and don't go back to sucking." And that's about as high as I want to raise the bar.