And Ode to Arlington Stadium

2 09 2015

Recently on Twitter, a photo was making the rounds. It was the old home of the Texas Rangers, known as Arlington Stadium, and it was a toilet of a place to watch a game. But the photo showed the great Charlie Hough in mid-pitch (of course it is a knuckleball) to a batter that the scoreboard shows to be Gorman Thomas.

(Click photos for enlarged images.)

Hough_Rangers

This had to be a classic duel, right? The vodka/beer swilling, chain-smoking Hough against the team known as Harvey’s Wallbangers because of their manager’s name and their slugging lineup that featured Thomas, Ben Oglive, Cecil Cooper, Robin Yount, and Paul Molitor,

But I saw the photo and all I could think of were my memories of that park. Stadium. Field. Whatever. There were troughs in the restrooms to pee in, so to dress it up as something that it could never be would be disingenuous, but it was still a fountain of memories for me that I saw in person.  To wit, in no particular order:

  • Bo vs. Nolan

Bo Jackson was – by far – the best athlete I have ever seen in person.  I would say the same if the one time I saw him play baseball in person he went 0 for 4 with one strikeout, 2 fly outs, and a ground out to shortstop. Instead, I got to see something special. My mom and I were sitting in the seats right behind home plate in the most upper of decks. Nolan Ryan was pitching for the Rangers and Bo hit a one hopper right up the middle.  After the one hop the ball hit Nolan right in the mouth. Nolan picked up the ball and threw Bo out at first base, Of course, Nolan’s lip was gushing blood but he kept pitching.  I have no idea what happened in the other Nolan/Bo match ups that night. And it really doesn’t matter.

nolan bo

  • The Grand Illusion

Larry Parrish hit 256 homers over a 15 year career, and in 1982 he only had 17 (in 128 games).  But for one week that season, he managed something with the long ball that has only been done one other time in the history of baseball.  Over the span of 7 days, Parrish hit 3 grand slams.

I was at the July 10 game against the Tigers when he hit a four bagger in the first inning against Milt Wilcox.  It was the first game of a doubleheader.  It was also bat night, and this is when actual bats were handed out at the gates as opposed to the coupons they went to years later. The noise 42,000 people can make while pounding bats into aluminum bleachers is pretty amazing.

By the way, as of this writing, this year’s Rangers team has played 131 games and has hit zero grand slams.  Baseball will make you scratch your head.  (For posterity:  Earlier this year, Leonys Martin hit a ball in a Houston that was headed over the wall before George Springer leaped and caught it for an out.  The bases were loaded at the time.)

  • Substitute

Major league baseball in the 1980s had a plethora of great mustaches, and one of them was owned by Bill Stein.  The mustache helped him play 14 years while accruing a pedestrian 751 hits.  But there was one thing he did exceptionally well and that was pinch hit.

Of those 751 hits, an astounding 6% (48) were pinch hits. And on Memorial Day of 1981, I was at Arlington Stadium for perhaps his most memorable.  On that day, the Rangers rallied to score 2 runs in the bottom of the ninth to beat the Twins, and the winning run scored on Stein’s hit as he came off the bench.  (The winning rally also involved some all time Ranger favorites of mine: Mickey Rivers, Buddy Bell, and Al Oliver.)

So what is the big deal about that hit?  It’s was Stein’s 7th consecutive pinch hit, setting an American League record.  It was 1981 and I was a huge Rangers fan.  I had to find glory where I could.  And did I mention his mustache?

Stein had this quote after the game: ”It is an amazing streak. In fact, I was amazed after the third one. I was never a very good pinch-hitter. That just shows you how crazy this game can be.”  (i.e. That’s the way baseball go.)

One final note about this feat.  It happened during a 15 game hitting streak for Stein.  So in 7 of those games during the streak, Stein was only promised one at bat to keep the streak alive.  Amazing.

bill stein

  • The Boxer

On June 23, 1983 the Rangers defeated the hated Angels 9-1 to move within 1/2 game of first place.  The season ending up going completely south and the team ended up trading that day’s starting pitcher (Rick Honeycutt) while he was leading the American League in ERA.

But I was at this game, and while I recall that the power went out sometime during the later innings, what I really remember is what happened in the bottom of the first inning.  It was the one and only time I got to see an actual baseball brawl in person.

Wayne Tolleson (who was baseball’s Eric Sogard before Eric Sogard was baseball’s Eric Sogard) was on second base and the Angels pitcher tried to pick him off with Bobby Grich covering the bag.  Tolleson went in safely, though hard, and Grich later asserted that an elbow was also thrown by the Rangers’ diminutive second baseman.  So the pickoff play was called again.

On the second attempt, Grich made no attempt to catch the ball.  His only objective was Tolleson and the brawl was on as the throw sailed into centerfield.  Grich, who was a slugging (no pun intended) second baseman when that was a rare commodity, had size and strength on Tolleson, but I don’t think there was a clear winner in the bout.  Grich even said as much in his post game comments. (“He got his licks in and I got mine.”)

For 13 year old me, that game represented hope.  Of course, that hope was not realized until 13 years later when my team finally made the playoffs, but a seed in my mind was germinated that day when little Wayne Tolleson stood his ground.

Tolleson

I have many more memories of old Arlington Stadium (Dave Winfield breaking up a potential Nolan Ryan no-hitter in the 8th inning, Mickey Rivers casually tossing my mom a baseball. getting my picture taken with Bobby Bonds, winning a used Dave Schmidt glove on Fan Appreciation Night), but the ones extrapolated on above will outlive all others.

Maybe one of these days I’ll spend 1100+ words on my favorite memories of The Temple (the current park), but that will have to wait because I plan on making many more trips there before deciding on the best.

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