Manager Doug Rader was giving special instruction to two young in-fielders last month at the Ranger camp in Pompano Beach, Fla. A four-time Gold Glove third baseman in the early 1970s, Rader showed the players how to position their gloves between their legs. Nothing surprising there, except that the two prospects were 10-year-olds, long shots even on a team as woeful as the Rangers.
Not to worry, though; the kids were Rader's son, Matthew, and a friend. But if Texas fans looked askance, small wonder. The Rangers were horrid (64-98) last year. And, after all, this is the team that once trotted out 18-year-old Pitcher David Clyde.
"Everything fell apart from stem to stern," says Rader, the man chosen by new General Manager Joe Klein to make Texas shipshape again.
What kind of team does Klein foresee? "A team reflects its manager," he says. Does that mean it's going to be made up of a bunch of pranksters named Rooster with pencils sticking through the front of their caps, just like Rader?
Not likely. In three years as a Triple A manager Rader earned a reputation for getting the most out of modest talent, an ability that will be put to a severe test in Texas. Besides, he promises that the days he greeted houseguests in the buff are behind him.
So, too, is one of Texas' biggest problems. "We haven't improved one ERA or one batting average yet," Klein says, "but we have improved the attitude." What can be improved on the field? "Everything," says Catcher Jim Sundberg. "We can hit a lot better. We can pitch a lot better."
"We plan to have as many pitchers as possible in the starting rotation who have 'plus' pitches," Klein says. "Danny Darwin has a plus pitch with his fastball. Charlie Hough has a plus pitch with his knuckle-ball." From there the pluses turn quickly to minuses. "Our real vulnerability is our bullpen," Rader says. "We don't have depth, and we really don't have a stopper."
Rader does have some stoppers on the field, though. Third Baseman Buddy Bell has earned four Gold Gloves—and batted .304—in his four years with Texas. Sundberg has won six Gold Gloves.
Though no one will mistake First Baseman Dave Hostetler for a Gold Glove, someday someone may want to gild his bat. As a rookie in 1982, Hoss set a club record for homers in a month with 10 in June, but then did not hit another in the last 46 games. This spring he seemed to have his long-ball swing back, hitting a homer over the 25-foot centerfield wall at Miami Stadium, the first time a major-leaguer has done that in 10 years.
"If you don't see him for the next three weeks," Rader said in mid-March, "it's because we packed him on ice, and we're not going to thaw him out until the season opens on April 4. You know, cryogenics." The rest of the team may not come out of the deep freeze at all.
Texas offended hardly anyone last I year. The Rangers' woeful attack included such league worsts as 3.6 runs a game, .359 slugging and 17 scoreless games. Texas was particularly inept against righthanded pitchers, losing 77 of 127. Rookie First Baseman Dave (Hoss) Hostetler struck out 113 times in 113 games and batted .232 but hit 22 homers—many of them Texas-sized.