We all have water cooler talk. You know, that daily banter with co-workers and friends about what’s going on in the world. For my group (affectionately known as “Lunch Club”) it usually revolves around sports.
Well when the dog days of summer hit, the topics tend to turn to sports lists (like it did yesterday). We started talking about the Rangers and if the team would lose 100 games this season. We’ve been spoiled over the last five years or so with our baseball team, sometimes forgetting that things haven’t always been rosy with this franchise.
One good friend mentioned that Monday night marked the 21st anniversary of one memorable moment in Rangers history — the Nolan Ryan-Robin Ventura “Don’t mess with Texas” game when Ventura (regrettably) charged the mound on Ryan and was rewarded with a headlock and a few uppercuts from the Express (with some serious noogies as well).
It begged the question – where does that rank on the Rangers’ all-time memorable moments? Then my buddy threw out this caveat to our discussion – among moments prior to 2010. Hmmm. At first I said maybe the top 25. Then I remembered this was the Rangers we were talking about. After some discussion, I ranked it somewhere near the top-10 on my list, but not top-five.
So what are the greatest moments in Texas Rangers history prior to the back-to-back World Series appearances? I’ll take a stab.
No. 5: April 1, 1994 – The first game at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Then-Arlington Mayor Richard Greene was a key figure in getting the organization a new ballpark. When asked if he could pick one moment from the overall process that he will always remember, Greene said looking around at the sellout crowd from 1994 Opening Day will always stay with him. “I had been in the ballpark many times as it was being built but this was the first time I had seen it with the stands full,” he said. “That is what is more satisfying for me. Even today, when I look around at the great crowds we draw, that is what makes me most proud.” But it started with that first game in front of the first of many sellout crowds. There’s a reason it is called “The Temple” by many.
No. 4: May 1, 1991 – Nolan Ryan throws seventh career no-hitter. This is the only one on my list that I actually had the honor of attending. It was a spur of the moment thing – a buddy of mine suggested we head out to Arlington Stadium and sit in the bleachers (which were only $4 back then and general admission). We didn’t even know that Ryan was pitching. By the sixth inning or so, word had gotten out that Ryan was in business (again) and we were shoulder-to-shoulder throughout the park. Gary Pettis made the play of the game in the sixth inning with a running catch of a Manny Lee soft fly ball to short center. The post-game celebration felt like a playoff win. History can do that. To put it in perspective — no other player in baseball history has more than four no-hitters. Ryan threw his last one at the age of 44 years, three months and one day.
No. 3: October 1, 1996 – First playoff game in team history. Of course it was against the Yankees in New York. The Rangers actually won the game, 6-2, but it was all downhill after that. No matter; it was quite the milestone for a team that hadn’t sniffed the postseason in 23 seasons in Texas. You can’t get to the World Series until you make the playoffs. We just didn’t know it would be 14 years later.
No. 2: Aug. 22, 1989 – Nolan Ryan reaches 5,000 strikeouts. No pitcher had ever reached the 5,000 plateau in strikeouts. He was 42 years old, needed just six Ks in the game to reach the milestone. Rickey Henderson led off the top of the fifth inning with Ryan sitting on 4,999. Henderson worked the count full and then fouled off two pitches before swinging and missing. After the game, Henderson told the New York Times, “It was an honor to be the 5,000th. As Davey Lopes says, ‘If he ain’t struck you out, you ain’t nobody.’”
No. 1: July 28, 1995 – Kenny Rogers throws a perfect game. They simply don’t happen very often. Rogers pitched just the 12th perfect game in modern Major League history, the first by a left-hander. Rogers claims he did not think about a perfect game until the last inning (sure, he didn’t). Either way, it almost ended right there. Rookie outfielder Rusty Greer saved the day with a diving catch of a Rex Hudler liner that sliced to right-center. Rogers used 98 pitches and struck out eight, going to a three-ball count seven times (including four consecutive batters over the sixth and seventh innings). Not that he was thinking about it.
Yes, you can tell it’s still summer. Next week we might discuss who are the best power forwards to ever play for the Mavericks. Between 1980-1983. (psst – Jay Vincent).