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2 Texas Rangers The meat of the order has been beefed up, but it's hard to be bullish on Texas pitching

Rusty Greer stood in the Texas Rangers' spring training
clubhouse and glanced at a row of empty lockers. Above the
stalls, the nameplates glowed as if in neon: PALMEIRO, GONZALEZ,
RODRIGUEZ. Greer could only smile as he turned his eyes toward
the 1999 season.

Greer has been called the best active major leaguer who hasn't
played in an All-Star Game, but as he looked around the room,
Greer couldn't help but feel he already had been selected for
something special. He hit third for the Rangers last season and
hopes to hold down the same spot for the defending American
League West champions this year. If there's a better place to
hit in all of baseball, Greer hasn't heard about it. "Our
four-five-six guys are as good as any in baseball," he says.
"Me? I'm just one of the guys who's supposed to get on base for
the big guns."

As everyone in baseball knows by now, Greer has blossomed into
so much more than that, but still he's perfectly content to
remain in the shadows of the Rangers' sexier sluggers. "I like
sneaking up on people," says Greer. That's not as easy as it
used to be for Texas's Opie Taylor look-alike. Last season he
hit .306, his third straight season over .300. He also knocked
in 108 runs and scored 107, many of them courtesy of Juan
Gonzalez, cleanup man extraordinaire. Defensively, no one in the
American League played a better leftfield than Greer.

Gonzalez, who won his second MVP in the last three seasons,
drove in 157 runs, the most for an American Leaguer since 1949.
Last year he was followed in the order by first baseman Will
Clark, but the Rangers upgraded the position in the off-season,
signing free-agent Palmeiro to a five-year, $45 million deal.
With the Orioles last season Palmeiro hit 43 homers, drove in
121 runs and won his second Gold Glove. (For Texas, Clark hit 23
homers and drove in 102 runs.) Cozy Camden Yards may have helped
Palmeiro put up his numbers, but the hitter-friendly Ballpark in
Arlington is unlikely to slow him down. In 79 career at bats at
the Rangers' five-year-old stadium, he has hit .341 with nine
homers and 22 RBIs. The 34-year-old Palmeiro missed most of
spring training after surgery on his right knee but is expected
back in the lineup by mid-April.

Palmeiro will likely be followed in the order by peerless
catcher Ivan (Pudge) Rodriguez, the seven-time All-Star who's
coming off his best season. Along with winning the Gold Glove
for the seventh straight year (a streak that'll be challenged
now that four-time National League Gold Glover Charles Johnson
is with the Orioles), Rodriguez had career highs in average,
homers and RBIs. Says Texas manager Johnny Oates, "This is the
most talent I've ever had on a ball club."

When spring training began, Greer was happy to still be a part
of it. In the off-season his name was mentioned as part of a
possible blockbuster trade with Toronto for Roger Clemens. The
Blue Jays wanted him, but the Rangers didn't want to give him
up. When Clemens landed in New York at the start of spring
training, Greer could finally take a breath and appreciate the
compliment both clubs had paid him. "Just to be mentioned in a
trade with Roger Clemens is flattering," says Greer.

Unsuccessful in their attempt to trade for Clemens, sign Randy
Johnson as a free agent or retain Todd Stottlemyre (who departed
for the Diamondbacks), the Rangers are left with largely the
same pitching core they had last season, when the staff produced
a 4.99 ERA, third worst in the American League. The 28-year-old
Rick Helling will be the ace. Last season was the first time
Helling won more than five games in the big leagues, going 20-7
with a 4.41 ERA. Aaron Sele, free-agent signee Mark Clark, John
Burkett and Esteban Loaiza round out a rotation that's deep if
not dazzling. The Texas bullpen is also deep, and it has
something the starting staff lacks--a star. Closer John
Wetteland held opponents to a .203 batting average and saved 42
games last season. Says Clark, "You can win without a legitimate
No. 1 starter like Clemens or Greg Maddux because of this
defense. And you know this offense is going to score runs."

In the infield the Rangers have an experienced group of veterans
who don't like to come out of the lineup. "That's one thing
we've got: durable guys," says Oates. Third baseman Todd Zeile
was traded twice last season and still logged 158 games, and
sure-handed shortstop Royce Clayton, re-signed as a free agent
after coming to Texas in a trade from the Cardinals last July,
has never been on the disabled list. "And don't forget to
include me in that group," says second baseman Mark McLemore,
the 10-year veteran who has had his share of injuries in his
career. "I'm healthy now, and I'm going to contribute. We've got
a better ball club now than we did when we won the division last

Of course, this time the Rangers would like to do more than just
win the division. Last year, after outlasting the Angels for the
American League West title, Texas was unceremoniously swatted
out of the playoffs by the Yankees in three straight games. "We
thought we were prepared, but we just ran into one of the best
teams in history," says Greer. "We've got to put all the
elements together on a consistent basis, which is what the
Yankees do."

The Rangers aren't the Yankees yet, but they're getting closer.


COLOR PHOTO: TOM DIPACE With Palmeiro providing power and protection behind him, two-time MVP Gonzalez could shatter the lofty numbers he put up last year.


By the Numbers

1998 Team Statistics (AL rank)
1998 record: 88-74 (first in AL West)

HOME RUNS 201 (6)
OPP. BATTING AVG. .285 (14)
ERA 4.99 (12)
FIELDING PCT. .980 (9)

Backstop with a Bat

Only four major leaguers in history have hit .300 and caught at
least 100 games in four consecutive seasons: Bill Dickey
(1929-34, 1936-39), Mike Piazza (1993-98), Ivan Rodriguez
(1995-98) and Hank Severeid (1921-24). In fact, only seven
players have had more than a total of four such seasons
(consecutive or otherwise); four of the seven are in the Hall of

No. of .300
Catcher, Team(s)* Seasons Years Career BA

Bill Dickey, Yankees[**] 10 1929-34, '36-39 .313
Mickey Cochrane,
Athletics-Tigers[**] 8 1925, '27, '29-31, '33-35 .320
Mike Piazza,
Dodgers-Marlins-Mets 6 1993-98 .333
Ted Simmons, Cardinals 6 1971-73, '75, '77, '80 .285
Gabby Hartnett, Cubs[**] 5 1928, '30, '35-37 .297
Ernie Lombardi, Reds[**] 5 1932, '34, '36, '38, '40 .306
Thurman Munson, Yankees 5 1970, '73, '75-77 .292

*Team(s) for which player hit .300 and caught 100 games in a

[**]Hall of Famer

Next Up...

A funny thing happened to Tim Crabtree last season, his seventh
in professional baseball. He learned how to pitch. Crabtree, the
Rangers' 29-year-old righthanded setup man, has no trouble
explaining why: He had a good teacher. After spending six years
in the Blue Jays' organization, Crabtree came to Texas in a
spring training deal last year and began to study every move
closer John Wetteland made. "Just being around Wetteland made me
a smarter and tougher pitcher," says Crabtree, who had a 1.20
ERA in his final 10 appearances. "I learned that it's just me
and the hitter, one-on-one. Nothing tricky. Like John, I throw
hard, and I learned to challenge hitters."

Projected Roster With 1998 Statistics

Manager: Johnny Oates (fifth season with Texas)


CF Tom Goodwin L-R 125 .290 2 33 38
2B Mark McLemore S-R 185 .247 5 53 12
LF Rusty Greer L 45 .306 16 108 2
RF Juan Gonzalez R 7 .318 45 157 2
1B Rafael Palmeiro[1] L 33 .296 43 121 11
C Ivan Rodriguez R 39 .321 21 91 9
DH Lee Stevens L 181 .265 20 59 0
3B Todd Zeile* R 143 .271 19 94 4
SS Royce Clayton* R 229 .251 9 53 24


IF Scott Sheldon(R)[#] R 222 .256 29 96 2
OF Roberto Kelly R 255 .323 16 46 0
IF Luis Alicea S-R 275 .274 6 33 4
C Gregg Zaun[1] S-R 428 .188 5 29 5


RH Rick Helling 36 20 7 6.6 1.33 4.41
RH Aaron Sele 46 19 11 6.4 1.52 4.23
RH Mark Clark[1] 90 9 14 6.5 1.33 4.84
RH John Burkett 111 9 13 6.1 1.42 5.68
RH Esteban Loaiza* 135 9 11 5.7 1.47 5.16


RH John Wetteland 20 3 1 42 0.98 2.03
RH Tim Crabtree 178 6 1 0 1.42 3.59
RH Danny Patterson 208 2 5 2 1.37 4.45
LH Eric Gunderson 253 0 3 0 1.58 5.19
RH Jeff Zimmerman (R)[##] 305 3 1 9 0.92 1.29
RH Mike Morgan*[1] 287 4 3 0 1.47 4.18

[1]New acquisition (R) Rookie B- T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning

PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 154) *Combined
AL and NL stats [#]Triple A stats [##]Double A stats