Kirk Bohls, Commentary
ARLINGTON — When Brian Wilson blew that high fastball by the Rangers’ Nellie Cruz for the final out of the World Series, we knew at last who was the best team in all of baseball.
And it wasn’t the free-spending, constantly-winning Yankees or the pitching-stacked Phillies. Wasn’t the athletic Tampa Bay Rays or those debilitating Red Sox. Nor was it the feel-good story of Bobby Cox and his Atlanta Braves.
It was the scrappy, team-first, few-stars San Francisco Giants with a thong-wearing first baseman, a weed-smoking ace, an aging shortstop in the twilight of his career, a pudgy infielder with a knack for the clutch hit, and one of the most likable managers in baseball.
The Giants, of course, were the big winners as they showed in just five games. But hardly the only winners.
Baseball won because, in some jaded eyes, the Yankees did not, and two fresh faces with exciting teams showed up on television screens in late October even if the NFL does give major league baseball its version of helmet-to-helmet hits in the ratings.
The Rangers won with a breakthrough season and the promise of long-term stability and success.
The Royals, Nationals, Pirates and every other small-market franchise won because they’re given hope that maybe they, too, can reach the game’s pinnacle with a payroll approaching the Rangers’ $68 million total, at least until Zack Greinke, Adam Dunn and whomever Pittsburgh might have who’s good leave for other high-dollar teams.
The game won with budding, young stars like the Rangers’ 22-year-old whiz kid at shortstop, Elvis Andrus, 21-year-old rookie closer Neftali Feliz and slugging first baseman Mitch Moreland, a midseason call-up who powered a three-run home run for Texas’ only win in the World Series, as well as the Giants’ ace-to-be Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey, the next Joe Mauer.
Free agent Cliff Lee won despite two uncharacteristic losses in the Series and a questionable, selfish decision to pitch to eventual MVP Edgar Renteria. And he’ll keep winning since teams like the Yankees, Rangers and others figure to line up at his doorstep to offer blank checks.
Rangers manager Ron Washington won, putting behind him an early-season scandal and earning his playoff stripes by believing in his team and creating a loose mindset that played well with the local fans.
Fans in the Metroplex were won over by a Rangers team that hustled and ran and provided the local fan base with an historic season. They remained at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington long after the game’s final out on Monday, cheered both the victorious Giants as well as their vanquished Rangers and generally emerged as a classy group.
The city of Arlington won with an expanded profile and an economic impact of at least $1.3 million for the city, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
The Rangers were clearly the second-best winners after reaching the playoffs with a club mired in bankruptcy court, a manager asking forgiveness for his cocaine binge, a slugger coming off substance abuse problems, an iconic third baseman who played longer than Methuselah without a World Series appearance and an unflappable, almost unbeatable ace on the brink of financial breakthrough.
Not only did they qualify for the postseason, they won the admittedly watered-down AL West in a runaway, then made the biggest trade in club history by landing Lee in mid-July and winning two playoff series for the first time ever to reach their first World Series.
Sure, it didn’t work out so well once the Rangers got there. Hey, Texas teams are now a morose 1-8 in their two World Series appearances, thank you very much, Houston Astros.
But the Rangers now have solid ownership in place, a management team headed by highly regarded Nolan Ryan and majority owner Chuck Greenberg and a rising star of a general manager in Jon Daniels and a fairly intact roster that should include MVP candidate Josh Hamilton and a couple of really good pitchers.
Ryan told me before the Series that the club probably has to upgrade at catcher and make hard decisions on how much to offer Lee and whether or not to bring back 35-year-old Vladimir Guerrero.
“Catcher’s a big unknown,” said Ryan, who is not likely to bring back Benjie Molina. “(I) really don’t know about Cliff. We did not have any negotiations with him, so I’m not sure what he has in mind.”
Lee said after the game that he wants to explore free agency for the first time, but isn’t ruling any destination out.
“I know I enjoyed it here, and I’m not ruling out the possibility of coming back,” Lee said. “I’ve got to play it out and see how it goes. I know this was a great group of guys and a lot of fun, and I would love to be a part of it next year.”
So there’s little doubt he’ll be the biggest winner this side of the Giants’ roster.
But mostly baseball won.