Games are supposed to be fun after all. And baseball is just a game.
That’s an easy concept in theory, of course, but when you’re a major league baseball team struggling at an historic rate such as the 2021 Texas Rangers, “fun” is hard to come by.
The Rangers lost their 12th consecutive game on Sunday as the Houston Astros completed a three-game sweep with a 3-1 win at Minute Maid Park.
It’s tied for the second-longest losing streak in Rangers history with the 1982 team. It’s a stretch of futility that Rangers Hall of Fame radio broadcaster Eric Nadel remembers vividly.
Ask him about the 10-game losing streak in 1995? That’s just a blur. But ‘82? Nadel can still tell you how the Rangers twice blew double plays that would have ended the streak. And on both of those plays, the Texas second basemen — Doug Flynn and Bill Stein — got injured.
The ‘82 streak, which is the second-longest in club history to the 15-game losing streak in 1972, still stands out to Nadel because the Rangers were supposed to contend that season. Instead, manager Don Zimmer was fired on July 28 and the team lost 98 games, fourth most in Rangers history.
“When that losing streak was over we were done,” said Nadel, who has been calling Rangers games since 1979. “It wasn’t like now when a million teams make the playoffs. By the middle of May they were done.”
Rangers’ historically rough stretch
The current Rangers (35-65) are flirting with a 100-loss season. Sunday’s loss dropped Texas to 30 games below .500 by Game No. 100 for the third time in franchise history (including the Senators days). The club was 30 games under within its first 100 games in 1963 and 1973.
The last time the Rangers won was July 9. Before Sunday, the last time they led at any point in a game was in the second inning against the Athletics on July 10. They’ve been outscored 80-20 in the 12-game stretch.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, a team is considered to have the lead at any point in an inning even if the inning has not yet been completed. The Rangers led 2-0 entering the second inning that day and had been tied or trailed ever since — a span of 99 innings — before Eli White’s home run in the fifth inning Sunday. It came moments after Brock Holt and Chris Woodward were ejected for arguing a called strike three. That gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead.
The only other team in the modern era to have as many as 10 losses without ever leading was the 1977 Atlanta Braves. Four teams have had longer stretches of innings without a lead, including the 1916 Pirates and 1932 Red Sox (both at 103 innings), the 1963 Colt 45s (102 innings), and the 1910 White Sox (100 innings). The Rangers’ 99 consecutive innings is now fifth all-time.
The Astros, however, quickly regained the lead in the bottom of the fifth, which puts Elias’ parameters for a lead in question. Most baseball observers would assume a team would need to lead a game after an inning is complete for it to be considered an actual lead. But we digress.
Woodward maintains steady demeanor
It’s the second time Woodward has been ejected this season. Despite the rough stretch, he has kept a positive, if frustrated, disposition with his team and the media. Perhaps the ejection over what appeared to be a blown call on replay was a moment of steam being released.
Rangers third-base coach Tony Beasley, who was an assistant for the Pirates from 2008-10 when they averaged nearly a 100 losses a season, has been impressed with Woodward’s mentality during the stretch.
“He hasn’t panicked. He’s been honest. The things he’s told you guys (the media), he’s told the players,” Beasley said. “I feel like he’s held himself together well. I’m sure he’s had sleepless nights but he’s done a good job of not showing that to the players.”
Despite the slog of an extended losing streak, Beasley said remaining positive as a coach, especially for a younger team such as the Rangers, is vital.
“It’s challenging when you have a lot of guys who haven’t experienced a lot of failure and a lot of experience at this level,” he said. “Maybe they’ve struggled in the minors, but it’s another level when you struggle in the major leagues and everything is magnified and wins are what is important and the fan base is counting on you. The games are not going to be canceled and nobody is going to feel sorry for you. So you have to find a way to show up and get it done.”
Losing streak calls for ‘diversionary tactics’
That goes for the Rangers’ radio team, including Nadel, Matt Hicks and Jared Sandler. Losing isn’t exactly fun to call.
“It’s interesting from a human interest standpoint, but as someone talking to Rangers fans it makes it more difficult,” Nadel said. “I’m just trying to keep it light. I’m writing in my scorebook in red letters every night, ‘keep it light.’ You don’t want to focus on the negative stats — there’s a million of them — you could give them all game. We’re trying to be lighthearted, we’re trying to use what Mark Holtz used to call diversionary tactics when a game gets one-sided.”
Sandler, who also hosts the team’s pregame and postgame shows on KRLD/105.3 “The Fan,” helps Nadel and Hicks keep it interesting with little-known facts and statistics, and a pop culture reference here and there.
“The difficulty isn’t based on the success of the team because the game and the trends I notice point me in the right direction,” Sandler said. “Erik and Matt both enjoy these and we’ve noticed based on feedback that the listeners do as well.”
For example, during Friday’s game the trio discussed Cleveland announcing its new mascot, the Guardians. That led to a tangent on the film “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
“Jared is great at finding quirky information. He comes up with stuff every single day for us,” Nadel said. That conversation included wondering why actor Tom Hanks narrated the Guardians’ introduction video.
“We had a really good time with it,” he said. By the way, Hanks’ acting career got started in Cleveland, as their in-game discussion revealed.