Retired numbers: Texas Rangers

Five local heroes have been honored, but where will they find the sixth?

The Texas Rangers don’t have a particularly high profile.

That’s partly because of their name. Clubs tied to states evoke vague geographic links, almost as if they were floating in space. The Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies aren’t closely associated in the public mind with Phoenix or Denver. Nor do the Rangers seem tightly connected to Dallas-Fort Worth.

Lack of success is also a problem. The Rangers, who were born in 1961 as the Washington Senators, have never won a World Series. They’ve earned only two American League pennants in 60 seasons.

And the absence of stars has been a curse. Only eight Hall of Famers have played for the Rangers, most for short periods. Vladimir Guerrero spent a single season in Texas, Harold Baines lasted 153 games, and Rich Gossage pitched a total of 40 innings.

All of these factors have made it difficult for the franchise to develop a rich history, thereby restricting its supply of local heroes. And that’s our topic on this, the 21st stop in my club-by-club review of retired numbers.

The Rangers have honored only five of their former players and managers. That ties them with the Los Angeles Angels for the fewest retired numbers among any club that’s at least six decades old.

The big difference is that the Angels have obvious candidates for future honors — Albert Pujols and Mike Trout come immediately to mind — while the situation is much different in Texas. It wouldn’t be fair to say that the Rangers’ cupboard is totally bare, but it certainly comes close.

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Rangers’ numbers already retired

Let’s take at look at the five honorees — four players and one manager — who have already had their numbers retired in Dallas-Fort Worth:

No. 7 Ivan Rodriguez won 10 Gold Gloves during his 13 seasons as a catcher for the Rangers (1991-2002, 2009), but it was his prowess as a hitter that cinched his admission to the Hall of Fame. Rodriguez batted .304 overall for Texas, four times exceeding .320. He won the American League’s 1999 Most Valuable Player Award, and he ranks first in club history for wins above replacement (50.0) and second for hits (1,747).

Nobody played more games for the Rangers than No. 10 Michael Young, who appeared in 1,823 contests in a Texas uniform (2000-2012). He’s also the franchise’s all-time leader in runs scored (1,085) and hits (2,230). Young was named to seven All-Star squads as a shortstop, third baseman, and second baseman.

No. 26 Johnny Oates managed the Rangers for seven seasons (1995-2001). His overall record of 506-476 included the team’s first three divisional titles in 1996, 1998, and 1999, though the club quickly exited the postseason all three years. His uniform was retired in 2005, a few months after he was killed by an aggressive brain tumor.

No. 29 Adrian Beltre spent the final eight seasons of his 21-year career in Texas (2011-2018), where he ranked in the top 10 among votegetters for the American League MVP Award on five different occasions. He also won three Gold Gloves as a third baseman. His 41.1 WAR ranks third in franchise history.

No. 34 Nolan Ryan spent only five of his 27 seasons in Texas (1989-1993), where he notched the final 51 victories of his career total of 324. The Hall of Fame pitcher led the American League in strikeouts during his first two seasons with the Rangers, even though he was in his 40s. His rate of 10.1 strikeouts per nine innings is second in the club’s overall standings.

Rangers’ candidates for retired numbers

Here are seven possibilities for future retirement ceremonies in Texas, listed in numerical order.

No. 5 Ian Kinsler ranks fifth on Texas’s all-time list for wins above replacement (35.0). He qualified for three All-Star teams as a second baseman during his eight seasons with the Rangers (2006-2013). Kinsler is second in club history for stolen bases (172), sixth for runs (748), and eighth for doubles (249).

No. 19 Juan Gonzalez crushed a franchise-leading 372 home runs in his 13 seasons with the Rangers (1989-1999, 2002-2003). The outfielder won a pair of AL Most Valuable Player Awards in 1996 and 1998, launching 47 and 45 homers in those seasons. Gonzalez also ranks as the team’s all-time leader in extra-base hits (713) and runs batted in (1,180).

No. 25 Buddy Bell (1979-1985, 1989) is fourth in team history with 36.3 WAR. He won six Gold Gloves and made four All-Star teams as a Texas third baseman. He also batted a solid .293 for the Rangers, peaking at .329 in 1980.

Take a quick glance at the stats for No. 25 Rafael Palmeiro, and you’ll assume (wrongly) that he has already been inducted into the Hall of Fame. The first baseman blasted 569 homers, including 321 during his 10 years with the Rangers (1989-1993, 1999-2003). He ranks second in Texas history for runs (958), third for games (1,573), and fourth for hits (1,692), but all of these accomplishments are overshadowed by a positive test for steroids in 2005.

No. 31 Fergie Jenkins is the only Hall of Famer on this list of candidates. He is known primarily as a longtime pitching ace for the Cubs, though he also spent six seasons in Texas (1974-1975, 1978-1981). Jenkins led the American League in wins (25) and complete games (29) during his first season with the Rangers. His overall record for Texas was 93-72.

The franchise spent its first 11 years in Washington, so why not honor a representative of that distant era? No. 33 Frank Howard (1965-1972) ranks third in franchise history with 246 home runs. He paced the league with 44 homers in 1968 and again with 44 in 1970, also leading the league in the latter year with 126 runs batted.

Mastery of the knuckleball allowed No. 49 Charlie Hough to pitch in the big leagues for 25 years, including 11 in Texas (1980-1990). The Rangers converted him from a reliever to a starter, and Hough responded with seven consecutive seasons of 14 victories or more. His total of 139 wins is the most in the club’s history.

The outlook

The S-word — steroids — hovers over the Rangers’ selection process.

Palmeiro always denied being involved with performance-enhancing drugs. “I have never used steroids, period,” he said in congressional testimony a few months prior to his positive test. He claimed that a tainted vitamin supplement was the cause of his subsequent problems.

Hall of Fame voters didn’t believe him, and the Rangers have shown no eagerness to retire his number.

Gonzalez has the same problem. Circumstantial evidence linked him with steroids, though he was consistent in his denials. “I never used any of that stuff,” he said.

Yet his hopes for Cooperstown were doomed, and there seems little likelihood that the Rangers will hold a retirement ceremony for him.

That leaves five candidates with lesser statistics.

Howard is associated with the club’s Washington years. He played only 95 games in Texas in 1972 before being sold to the Tigers. Fans in Dallas-Fort Worth feel no connection to him, so there’s no real chance of his jersey being retired.

Kinsler, Bell, and Hough put up nice numbers in Texas, though nothing exceptional. There seems to be no compelling case to honor them anytime soon.

That leaves Jenkins, who is an outside possibility, to be sure. But he’s the rarest of players, a certified Hall of Famer who spent considerable time in a Rangers uniform. He deserves serious consideration on that point alone.

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