A Contending Season For The 1993 Texas Rangers

The 1993 Texas Rangers were the heirs to a franchise history that was something less than stellar. Since they relocated from Washington in 1972, the Rangers had never reached postseason play. Even allowing the more stringent standards of the era, Texas had just two seasons where they finished with one of the top four records in the American League. 1993 saw progress. The Rangers played winning baseball and hung in the AL West race well into September.

Good young bats were the key to Texas’ success. Juan Gonzalez played left field and rang up a dazzling stat line of .368 on-base percentage/.632 slugging percentage. Gonzalez slugged 46 homers, drove in 118 runs, scored 105 more and finished fourth in the American League’s MVP voting.

Rafael Palmeiro was prolific at first base. His stat line was .371/.554 and included 37 homers, 105 RBI and 124 runs scored. Across the diamond at third, Dean Palmer popped 33 home runs. Julio Franco, now 34-years-old, but still with over a decade of baseball in front of him, posted a .360/.438 stat line.

The lineup was top-heavy. A 21-year-old catcher named Ivan Rodriguez would eventually surpass all of the names above, but his offensive output was still a little low this year. Even so, those run producers carried this Ranger team to the third in the American League in runs scored.

Pitching wasn’t quite as good, but was still a respectable sixth in the 14-team American League for staff ERA. Kevin Brown was the ace of the staff, winning 15 games with a 3.59 ERA. Kenny Rogers went to the post 33 times, won 16 times and finished with an ERA of 4.10. Roger Park’s 26 starts resulted in a 3.41 ERA. Tom Henke, signed from the defending World Series champion Toronto Blue Jays as a free agent, took over the closer’s role and saved 40 games with a 2.91 ERA.

Depth was a problem. There was no support for Henke in the pen and the back of the rotation was spotty. Although 46-year-old Nolan Ryan was still taking the ball regularly and would be in the middle of one of this season’s most memorable moments.

Texas spent April on a roller-coaster, first winning 8 of 11, then losing 8 of 11, all against teams from the AL East. May was both different and the same. The opponents were rivals from the AL West. The flow of play was a little more stable. But it still came out about even. By Memorial Day, the Rangers were sitting on a record of 24-24.

1993 was the final year of a 25-year baseball alignment that had each league split into just two divisions, an East and a West, and allowed for only the first-place finisher to reach the playoffs. Texas was joined in the AL West by the division’s current members—Angels, A’s and Mariners. There was also the Chicago White Sox, Kansas City Royals and Minnesota Twins, soon to be realigned into the newly created Central Division for 1994.

At the Memorial Day turn, the divison’s top five teams were all backed within four games. The two teams bringing up the rear were the Twins and A’s, who had combined to win the last six AL West titles, mixing in a combined five American League pennants and three World Series championships. The time for new leadership in this division was at hand.

Texas had a chance to get some separation in an early June schedule against the AL West. They got it—but in the wrong direction. The Rangers lost eight of ten, fell to 31-39 and were 6 ½ games off the pace. But they found their footing and closed the first half strong, going into the All-Star break with a three-game sweep of Toronto and scoring 25 runs in the process.

The record was only 44-43, but no one in the AL West was distinguishing themselves. The race was even tighter than it had been on Memorial Day, with the top five teams now within two games of each other.

It was the White Sox that started to get some footing following the All-Star break. The Rangers had slipped 6 ½ games out by the time Chicago came to Texas for a four-game series in early August. The Rangers needed to stop the bleeding.

Monday’s opener saw Gonzalez homer and help build an 8-3 lead after seven. The bullpen blew the lead. The Rangers came to bat in the ninth in an 8-8 tie. Two walks and a wild pitch later they had a crazy walkoff win.

Charlie Leibrandt was one of the veterans who tried unsuccessfully to hold down the back end of the rotation. Leibrandt was rocked off the mound by the second inning on Tuesday in an 11-6 loss. That set up Wednesday’s fireworks.

Ryan pitched well and delivered a 5-2 win. The result was important enough. What lives on in history is a showdown with Robin Ventura. The White Sox third baseman made the mistake of charging the mound. Ryan put him in a headlock and, to be kind, let’s just say it didn’t end well for Ventura.

And the series didn’t end well for the frontrunning White Sox. In Thursday’s finale, Texas reserve outfielder Donald Harris had two hits and scored twice from the leadoff spot. Rodriguez drove in four runs. Brown worked into the eighth inning, the Rangers won 7-1 and they were within 4 ½ games of the lead.

Texas continued to play reasonably good baseball the balance of the month, going 16-12 up through Labor Day weekend. In the first half of the season that would have been enough to keep pace. But Chicago got off the mat and started to look like a real pennant-contender.

The Rangers’ 71-65 record heading into the stretch drive had them seven games behind the division leader and running neck-and-neck with Kansas City for second.

Texas heated up and won six of seven against a contending Yankees team and the Twins. The Rangers closed the margin in the AL West to 3 ½ games, moved firmly into second place and still had a head-to-head series with the White Sox ahead.

But the momentum crested. Over nine games against mediocre competition in the Angels, Indians and Mariners, Texas lost five of nine. They were six games back with ten to play when they visited the South Side of Chicago.

A sweep was needed and even that would only give the Rangers a longshot chance. They led Friday night’s opener 4-2 in the ninth before a bullpen failure produced a crushing 5-4 loss. The pennant race was all but over.

But the Rangers still closed out the season with a final record of 86-76. It was the fourth-best record in the American League—which is to say, a playoff season by the more lenient standards of today. That wasn’t something the baseball fans of the north part of the Lone Star state saw very often.

Moreover, it set up what would be a nice new era in the newly realigned AL West. Playing in the smaller division, Texas was in first place (albeit at 52-62) when a players’ strike ended the 1994 season. In the latter part of the decade, the Rangers captured three division titles and put baseball on the map in their football-crazed home region.