Rangers take unique route to World Series

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The Rangers have earned their first trip to the World Series. And they didn’t do it with mirrors, either. They defeated the team with the American League’s best record during the ALDS and last year’s World Series champions in the ALCS. Without question, they were the best hitting team in the American League during the playoffs and the best pitching team. They are exactly where they belong.

We’ll have plenty of time to talk about what happens next, but let’s not forget where this team — and this franchise — came from.

What better place to start than with the redemption story of Game 6 starter Colby Lewis. He was originally drafted by the Rangers as a supplemental first-round pick in 1999, but shoulder surgery derailed his first stint with the team. Lewis eventually headed to Japan in 2008 after posting a 6.71 ERA over his first 72 games (34 starts) in the majors. Finally healthy, he found himself back on the radar of major league general managers while pitching with the Hiroshima Carp. Despite being courted by several teams, Lewis eventually returned to Texas on a two-year, $5 million contract. 11 years after he was originally drafted, the 31-year-old right-hander posted a 3.72 ERA during the regular season and pitched the Rangers to the World Series in Game 6 on Friday night. It’s almost too good to be true.

We’re all familiar with the story of Josh Hamilton by now, so I don’t need to rehash it all here. Rangers general manager Jon Daniels took a real leap of faith when he acquired the talented-but-troubled outfielder from the Reds in exchange for Edinson Volquez and Daniel Herrera in December of 2007. There have been some bumps along the way — Hamilton relapsed in early 2009 and has struggled to stay healthy at times — but we’re seeing why Tampa Bay selected him with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1999 draft. He was just named the ALCS MVP and could be adding some more hardware later this fall.

Rangers manager Ron Washington has had to battle some demons of his own since testing positive for cocaine last summer. When the story was first made public back in March, there was a real danger that Washington could have lost the team, but instead they have rallied around him. Nobody will ever mistake Washington for a tactical genius — see his bullpen usage during the ALCS — but his players have done nothing but praise his attitude and leadership skills during this postseason run.

Keep in mind that just a few months ago, the future of the franchise was still very much in limbo. Hamstrung from any additional spending by major league baseball, general manager Jon Daniels was somehow able to swoop in and acquire Cliff Lee from the Mariners when everybody thought he was going to the Yankees. One trade single-handedly moved the Rangers from a legitimate contender to an elite postseason force. The eventual sale of the franchise to a group led by Chuck Greenberg and team president Nolan Ryan put an exclamation point on the Rangers’ first division title since 1999.

There was something symbolic about Alex Rodriguez making the final out in Game 6 on Friday night, but I didn’t take it as poetic justice or revenge. Instead, I saw it as the official act of waving goodbye to a previous era. Finally breaking ties with a past regime that believed in buying success rather than banking on the strength of individual will and the concept of team.

Max Scherzer will not be ready for Opening Day

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Ten days ago Nationals ace Max Scherzer said he’d be ready for the start of the regular season. “I’m gonna do it,” Scherzer said.

[Ron Howard from “Arrested Development” voice] — No, he’s not:

Nationals manager Dusty Baker said that Max Scherzer is not on track to be the team’s opening day starter, and will most likely open the season as the third pitcher in the rotation.

He’s still projected to make it to the opening rotation, taking the hill, most likely, on Thursday April 6 against the Marlins. At least if the schedule doesn’t slip any more.

Scherzer, as you probably know, has a stress fracture in the knuckle of his right ring finger, which has messed with his preparation and has caused him to alter his grip a bit. As of now Stephen Strasburg will get the Opening Day nod.

Theo Epstein named The World’s Greatest Leader

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Fortune Magazine has put out a list of The World’s Greatest Leaders. Not the greatest business leaders, not the greatest leaders in a given industry, but the Greatest Leaders, full stop. The greatest according to Fortune: The Cubs’ Theo Epstein.

For some context, Pope Francis was third. Angela Merkel was 10th. Lebron James was the next greatest sports leader, ranked 11th. Take Fortune’s methodology with a grain of salt, however, given that it has John McCain above Merkel — what, exactly, does he lead now? — and Samantha Bee in the top 20.

So what makes Theo the world’s best leader according to Fortune?

The Cubs owe their success to a five-year rebuilding program that featured a concatenation of different leadership styles. The team thrived under the affable patience of owner Tom Ricketts, and, later, under the innovative eccentricity of manager Joe Maddon. But most important of all was the evolution of the club’s president for baseball operations, Theo Epstein, the wunderkind executive who realized he would need to grow as a leader in order to replicate in Chicago the success he’d had with the Boston Red Sox.

I don’t want to take anything away from what Theo has done — he’s a Hall of Fame executive already in my view — but I feel like maybe one needs to adjust for the fact that this is a baseball team we’re talking about. They’re the whole world to us and their brands are nationally and even world famous, but as an organization, sports teams are rather small. There are guys who run reasonably-sized HVAC companies with more employees than a baseball team and they don’t get the benefit of an antitrust exemption and a rule which allows them to get their pick of the best new employees if they had a bad year the year before.

Really, not trying to throw shade here, just thinking that being the spiritual father for 1.2 billion Catholics or running a foundation that serves 55 million needy children — like the woman who comes in at number 14 — is a bit of a tougher trick.

But this will make a great framed magazine article on Theo’s wall in Wrigley Field.