Houston and Arlington: A Tale of Two (Texas) Cities
By Larry Manch
Fans in Houston and Arlington can certainly identify with the opening paragraph of Charles Dickens’ classic A Tale of Two Cities.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”
During the seasons 2009-2013, if you asked fans of both teams who was having more fun, the answer was obvious.
In Arlington, the home of the Rangers, it was the best of times – competitive, exciting, winning baseball was played there daily. In Houston, the opposite was happening; they were losing in record numbers – the worst of times.
Former Astros owner, Drayton McLane
The Rangers averaged 91 wins a season from 2009-2013, and twice were American League Champions (2010 and 2011). Although they lost both World Series, it appeared they would remain competitive for years to come.
Over the same time span, the Astros averaged 62 wins; the worst seasons in team history, losing an average of 100 games per season from 2009-2013. For Houston, there seemed no relief in sight with the team expected to continue the losing ways.
The Rangers have had financial problems in recent years, going through bankruptcy and resale, but they were highly competitive on the field. They developed players from the minors as well as signing the occasional free agent and acquiring key players via trade. The Rangers also had part owner, CEO, and President Nolan Ryan. Working with General Manager Jon Daniels, they assembled a winning team with a winning attitude and the potential to stay that way for years.
The Astros spent 18 years under the ownership of Drayton McLane, and appeared financially healthy. McLane sold the team to Jim Crane in 2011, and even before the sale was finalized and approved by MLB, the payroll was slashed and the top talent shipped off to other teams for prospects. Team ownership claimed they were rebuilding; did that mean they figured out a way to slash costs, field a sub-par team, and still make money? For the Astros, a culture of losing hung over Minute Maid Park.
The major difference seemed to be in the philosophy of how each team was run. For the Rangers, Nolan Ryan, former player and Hall of Fame pitcher, brought his winning attitude with him. Having a man like Ryan in charge, a proven winner in everything he ever did, carried a lot of weight. From the positive attitudes in the clubhouse and front office, to the way pitchers were handled, effective game strategies; everything pointed to winning.
Crane and his management team knew the Astros would lose many games in the near future, and their message was that rebuilding was merely a minor setback in terms of fielding a winning team some day. They all showed up to play, yet the entire organization was like a rudderless ghost ship; management and coaches unable to figure out how to find a formula to win games, and unknown players with questionable talent.
Jul 27, 2014; Cooperstown, NY, USA; Hall of Fame player Nolan Ryan responds to being introduced during the class of 2014 national baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony at National Baseball Hall of Fame. Mandatory Credit: Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports
While the Rangers continued to play exciting, winning baseball, the Astros fell to last place. Astros fans had a hard time remembering winning; the past few years have been disappointing. It’s been a long, painful skid from the World Series season of 2005 to the bottom. Astros fans didn’t even know most of the guys on the field, while Ranger fans had something to cheer for in virtually every game.
And then it all began to change again.
Nolan Ryan left his post with the Rangers, and it was almost immediately obvious that he took his winning formula with him. The magic was gone, along with Ryan. The Rangers lost several players and did not have legitimate stars to take their places, despite the fact it seemed they had prepared for it. The team fell to last place in 2014; at 67-95, their worst season in 39 years (1973), behind the former NL doormat, the Astros.
Houston experienced a bit of a resurgence, climbing to a 70-92 record in 2014. Players acquired via trades in 2011 restocked the farm system and began to pay off, bringing hope to long-suffering fans.
On the other hand, up in Arlington, the Rangers appear bound to occupy their spot on the bottom. They lost the key players that powered the team to two World Series appearances, yet they don’t have quality replacements capable of bringing the team out of the cellar.
For now, at least, the teams representing the Tale of Two (Texas) Cities have switched places. The Astros have real hope of returning to the best of times, while the Rangers are headed for a new worst.