Now that free-agent righthander John Wetteland is in the fold,
the 1997 Rangers will feature not only one of the finest closers
in baseball but also a kinder, gentler bullpen. Wetteland brings
to Texas his unique code of bullpen etiquette. A sampling of his
Bullpen members must applaud all positive plays by their team's
offense (i.e., home runs, stolen bases, sacrifice bunts).
Before fetching a cup of water for himself, a bullpen member
must ask the others if they, too, are thirsty.
No bullpen shenanigans after the fifth inning or when the team
The punishment for violating any of Wetteland's rules is a
dousing with water or something similarly juvenile. "It's just
my way of trying to keep guys loose in the bullpen," says the
30-year-old Wetteland. "I don't want anybody sitting around
thinking, Uh-oh, if that phone rings, what if it's for me?"
Wetteland has a rule that he reserves for himself: Do not
surrender a lead in the ninth inning. He adhered to it virtually
every time out last season, when he saved 43 games in 47
opportunities for the Yankees and set a major league record with
saves in 24 straight appearances. Then in the postseason he was
7 for 7, including saves in all four World Series victories--a
feat that earned him the Series MVP award. In the opening round
of the American League playoffs, Texas was the victim of
Wetteland's dominance. He pitched in all three New York
victories, had two saves and struck out third baseman Dean
Palmer for the final out of the Rangers' season.
Texas fans are keenly aware that Wetteland was afforded those
opportunities only after the Rangers' bullpen blew leads in all
three games--a disturbing trend that had spilled over from the
regular season, when the relievers blew 17 save chances. No
wonder that when Texas general manager Doug Melvin signed
Wetteland to a four-year, $23 million deal on Dec. 16, he
referred to his new closer as "the final piece of the puzzle."
The following day the Rangers sold more season-ticket packages
than any day in their history.
The arrival of Wetteland spells relief in many ways for manager
Johnny Oates. "He takes the decision-making out of my hands,"
Oates says. "Last year if we were up 2-1 going into the ninth
inning and my starter had struck out the last three guys, I had
a difficult choice. This year in that situation Wetteland will
always pitch the ninth inning for us." Adds Texas starter John
Burkett, "John gives us the confidence that if we can win the
first eight innings, we'll win the game 99 percent of the time."
The addition of Wetteland to a team that already has an
experienced rotation and a powerful lineup gives the Rangers a
solid shot to repeat as West Division champs and perhaps reach
the World Series for the first time. "Winning the championship
last season was like a wild ride at the amusement park,"
Wetteland says. "When it ends you say to yourself, Wow, that was
a blast. Can I try that again?"
The Rangers hope he'll make it a rule.
B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY PETER READ MILLER JOHN WETTELAND The Final Piece of the Puzzle
2B Mark McLemore
Will lead off full time after going 14 for 38 in top spot in 1996
C Ivan Rodriguez
47 doubles last season, a major league record for catchers
LF Rusty Greer
Seven game-winning hits in Texas's final at bat last two years
RF Juan Gonzalez
American League MVP should return in May from thumb injury
1B Will Clark
72 RBIs last year fewest since rookie season of '86
3B Dean Palmer
107 RBIs despite hitting .213 with runners in scoring position
DH Mickey Tettleton
Has averaged 105 walks a year this decade
CF Damon Buford
Has never had more than 145 at bats in a big league season
SS Benji Gil
Coming off back surgery that limited him to five games in '96
Ace Ken Hill
Three shutouts tied for most in the majors last season
Closer John Wetteland
Held batters to a .179 average with runners in scoring position
Juan Gonzalez has hit more homers (214) than anyone else in
Rangers history, but the franchise leader is Frank Howard, who
hit 237 from 1965 to '71 when the club played in Washington and
nine after the team moved to Texas in '72. Still, Gonzalez is
the leader in home run rate (one every 14.6 at bats) for players
hitting at least 25. That ranks him ahead of Jose Canseco
(16.3), Bobby Bonds (16.4), Mickey Tettleton (16.4) and Howard
STAT FACTS BY ELIAS SPORTS BUREAU