The Rangers have already gone further than any team in the franchise's 50-year history. And they now find themselves just one victory away from finally bringing a World Series to the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex as they lead the Yankees three games to one in the American League Championship Series.
Until this season, the Rangers had only had one sustained run of success, which came when they won three AL West titles in a four-year span from 1996-99. However, each of those seasons ended with losses to the Yankees in the American League Division Series.
So, in most regards, this has been the greatest of seasons for a franchise that began as the second incarnation of the Washington Senators before relocating to Arlington, Texas in 1972 as an expansion franchise. There are many reasons for the franchise's turnaround, including Jon Daniels' outstanding work as general manager. However, nearly everyone associated with the franchise, points to February 6, 2008 as one of the biggest turning points for the franchise as that was the day former owner Tom Hicks brought Hall of Fame pitcher and Texas icon Nolan Ryan back to the organization as club president.
Ryan had been doing some work as a special assistant in the Astros' organization and also owned the Class AAA Round Rock Express in the Pacific Coast League. However, he wanted something more meaningful, and he didn't think twice when Hicks called.
"Going in as a Ranger into the Hall of Fame and my previous association with the organization as a player, I thought the second half of my career it would be unique and fun to be involved with an organization, to help set the direction of the organization," Ryan said. "It came at a time in my life where I could do that and it wouldn't affect anything that I was doing, and so it appealed to me. The fact that the club was struggling at the time, I felt like it was probably a good time to come in and get involved with it."
The Rangers had finished under .500 in seven of the previous eight seasons before Ryan arrived. While the organization needed a lot of work, Ryan began his job in observation mode.
"I spent the whole first year evaluating what we do, how we do it, what our talent level was, and what I felt like that we needed to do," Ryan said. "I felt like the biggest issue that I saw was to address our pitching situation. We were overusing our bullpen early because our starters weren't going long enough to pitch us into the later innings, and so I felt like that was the first thing that we needed to address."
The Rangers were 12thin the AL in runs allowed the year before Ryan took over in 2007, giving up 5.21 a game. That figure rose to 5.56 in 2008, putting them last in the league. However, the Rangers have finished fourth each of the last two seasons, shaving their average to 4.57 last year and 4.24 in 2010.
Not surprisingly, the Rangers' record got better each season, going from 75-87 in 2007 to 79-83 in 2008 to 87-75 in 2009 and finally to 90-72 this season.
"I'd like to think that we built an attitude about pitching that wasn't here: That you can pitch in this ballpark, and you can keep the ball in the yard," Ryan said. "I can't say I take credit for it, because (pitching coach) Mike Maddux works with these guys every day and he stresses throwing strikes, getting ahead in the count, and keeping the ball down. He and I are on the same page with that attitude and that message. So I think that we put some people in place here that feel the same way about pitching that I do."
Ryan is also proud of the way the Rangers now view themselves as both an organization and a team. He was particularly impressed with the way they bounced back from blowing a 5-0 lead to lose 6-5 to the Yankees in Game One of the ALCS by winning the next three games.
"This organization has reached the point where the players truly believe that they are good players and that they can win and there's not a reason they can't win," Ryan said. "Every time you think that the backs were against the wall and it looked like the wheels were going to come off of it, they did it themselves. They found it within themselves to come back and turn things around and I'm really proud of that and the maturity I've seen develop in this ballclub."
What has Ryan most excited is that the Rangers' success this season might not be a one-shot deal. They also have one of the best farm systems in the game.
"I think we are positioned to have a run of success," he said. "I can't say that I have the feeling that we will, because I know how hard it is to maintain that from year to year. Obviously, you can't predict injuries or free agency or anything of that nature. So I think as an organization, we have positioned ourselves to try to continue doing what we are doing and that's feeding the major-league club from within our organization, and then fill in needs that we have outside the organization. The main focus is the development side of our organization, and we are going to continue that. We would like to think that we have some young talent in the system that we project will come in at some point in time and be part of a winning effort."
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel makes no bones about his managing style. He is a hitting guy through and through.
Thus, Manuel leaves most of the pitching side of the game to pitching coach Rich Dubee. Manuel was the same way in his other major-league manager stint with the Indians from 2000-02, when he relied heavily on pitching coach Dick Pole.
"I feel like for any of my coaches that you've got to turn the area over and let them work in it," Manuel said. "At first, it was different with Rich. But over the course of what seems like every year, he's earned my trust 100 percent. He communicates real well with the pitchers. I leave that alone."
Manuel has never gone to the bullpen to watch a pitcher's between-starts throwing session since taking over as the Phillies' manager. It’s not that he isn't interested in his pitchers, he just feels like he can only get in the way of Dubee doing his job.
"When I was in Cleveland, I'd always go down to the bullpen, stand there with the pitching coach and watch the guy pitch and all of a sudden there are pitchers coming over and asking me questions," Manuel said. "I find it very important to let that like the pitching coach handle the pitching, get involved. So he's going to answer all the questions about mechanics and things and pitches and how to pitch people and just the general information and everything about it."
Manuel also remembers back to his days as a hitting coach with the Indians and how he would take umbrage if anyone interfered with him.
"I would fight you if you think you're going to come in, say something in my area, because I'm working with these players and I'm getting to the ballpark early and I'm throwing (batting practice)," Manuel said. "I'm not boasting and bragging about it, but I will tell you this: I threw more than 10 minutes a day. I used to throw batting practice anywhere from one hour to four hours. And when I managed in the minor leagues, when we'd go on the road, my teams used to hit all the time. We'd get to the ballpark like 10 in the morning, if we could get to the field or to the cage. My pitching coach and I would go either in the cage or out on the field and throw regularly to our hitters and we would practice all the time. And in hitting, that was my area. If I'm going to get fired, if somebody don't do the job then I'll take the blame for it. But at the same time, don't ever come over in my area. Let me fire myself."
Dubee certainly isn't in danger of getting fired anytime soon. The Phillies were fourth in league in runs allowed with an average of 3.95 a game this season while winning their fourth consecutive National League East title.
"Rich Dubee has dedication in the things he does for us," Manuel said. "He's a tremendous organizer. Not only that, he's a great communicator with our pitchers. He does a tremendous job. You couldn't have a better pitching coach."
Giants shortstop Edgar Renteria, who lost playing time to Jose Uribe as the season went on, said late in the season that he is considering retirement. Giants manager Bruce Bochy said he has discussed the situation with Renteria, who had a .261 TAv this season, but declined to go into particulars.
"It's been a tough year for him with the injuries," Bochy said. "But I will say, through all those, he's worked hard to get back to helping us."
Bochy, though, did give a hint at which way Renteria is leaning, saying "I will say he wants to go out winning and that's the type of player he is. He's got a ring. He's done something we all would dream of doing and that's get a base hit to win the World Series. I know having been there, he'd like to get there again."
Renteria, of course, is best known for his game-winning single in the bottom of the 11thinning of Game 7 of the 1997 World Series for the Marlins against the Indians. The 34-year-old is in his 15thmajor-league season.
If the Giants beat the Phillies in the National League Championship Series, Renteria would be appearing in his third World Series. He played for the Cardinals in the 2004 Fall Classic when they lost to the Red Sox.
Tony La Russa did not seem like a man ready to retire in the final days of the season. He was in an upbeat mood even though his club had lost control of the NL Central and ceded the division title to the Reds, so it seemed rather odd that La Russa did not commit to returning to the Cardinals when the season ended. In fact, it took 17 days before La Russa agreed to a one-year contract with a mutual option for 2012.
The slowness in getting a deal done led to speculation in St. Louis that La Russa was not comfortable with the situation. If has been an open secret that La Russa, the third-winningest manager in history behind Connie Mack and John McGraw, has not had the same strong relationship with GM John Mozeliak that he did with previous GM Walt Jocketty.
However, Mozeliak said it was never a case of La Russa not wanting to return for a 16thseason. Instead, La Russa was wondering if he was still connecting with the players, especially after the Cardinals lost 27 of their last 48 games.
"The exercise, as always, was did he feel he was reaching the club?" Mozeliak said. "Once he felt that was happening, he just really wanted to make sure that ownership, front office, and his staff were aligned in the direction he wanted to go."
Mozeliak also said there was never a case of ownership wanting to change managers.
"Fifteen years is a long time for anybody, but when you consider what Tony has done for this organization, he certainly deserves the right to come back here," Mozeliak said. "It was something we were hopeful we could work out. I do think he wanted to understand he had the support not only of ownership and the front office, but also of the players."
MLB Rumors & Rumblings: Yankees third base coach Rob Thomson is emerging as the favorite to become the next Blue Jays' manager, though Indians first base coach Sandy Alomar Jr. reportedly made a strong impression in his interview and some in the organization are in the corner of Blue Jays third base coach Brian Butterfield … The Pirates seem to be leaning toward hiring current Royals bench coach and former Blue Jays manager John Gibbons as their next manager … The Rockies are pushing hard to re-sign left-hander Jorge De La Rosa before he becomes a free agent five days after the World Series ends … Highly regarded right-hander Yu Darvish of the Nippon Ham Fighters in Nippon Professional Baseball will not be posted this winter as many have speculated.