This post is not about football.
The Cowboys are such
a polarizing, hot-button topic that any time I mention them, I get buried in
email responses. That’s never my intent,
any more than writing about my kids or my much-maligned taste in music is, but
it is what it is, and I’m sure this post won’t be very well received, even
though it’s really about the Texas Rangers.
I’m a diehard
Cowboys fan. My first love was baseball,
at least as a participant, but my interest in sports as a fan was born with the
Cowboys on TV (which in the mid-’70s was probably a more frequent occurrence
than getting a televised Rangers game, as hard as that might be to comprehend
today) and any number of family friends to spend an entire Sunday with. The game as the centerpiece. Too much food before, during, and after. Street football at halftime. Culture shock as I saw emotional boundaries crossed
by adults who normally didn’t behave that way.
All of it was super-cool.
Football isn’t as
near to my core as baseball is, as you might have gathered, but it’s a pretty
big deal to me.
And what the Cowboys
gave me yesterday – and I’ve gotten this far with the football talk because I figure,
since the Cowboys are who they are, that most of you probably either revel in
this or commiserate – was one extra realization why I love my baseball
Among the things I tweeted during yesterday’s football game
was: “What’s worse as diehard fan than knowing at fundamental level that your
team chronically underachieves (whether on field or off)?” Seriously.
We all know exactly why Dallas isn’t as good as all the blathering
pre-season build-up, and we know with just as much conviction that it won’t be
And yet another reason that to see what this baseball team
has done over the last four seasons, choosing growing pains and building the
right way as the only truly correct big-picture marketing plan, playing with a
chip on its shoulder rather than a bar and grill talk show for every player,
proving the naysayers wrong instead of right, is so rewarding.
It’s September 20, and the Rangers’ magic number is
six. The Cowboys’ is 14, on the wrong
end. Some call it the tragic number.
This sort of reminds me, in a way, of how the Rangers’ brief
run of franchise relevance coincided with one of the darkest periods in Cowboys
history. Dallas, coming off its three Lombardi
trophies in four years when the Rangers kicked off their run of three division
titles in four years, was not only bad but painful to watch over that 1996-99 span,
averaging 8.5 wins and 7.5 losses under Barry Switzer and Chan Gailey with a
roster that should have been better.
Texas had a real chance to put a bigger dent in the market
share over the three years after that.
While Dave Campo led Dallas to three straight five-win seasons, the
Rangers finished in last place in the West those same years, despite having the
best player in the world the final two of those.
If only the Rangers had built around Alex Rodriguez the way
they should have.
Texas signed Rodriguez in December 2000, five months after
the club had traded for Michael Young and six months before Mark Teixeira fell
to the Rangers with the fifth pick in the 2001 draft. But the farm system was middle of the pack, a
tremendous swarm of journeymen and once-were’s were signed to play regular
roles, Travis Hafner and Ryan Ludwick got no real chance here, and you don’t
want to peek at the 2000, 2001, or 2002 Baseball
Reference pages to see what the pitching staffs looked like those years.
Rodriguez and Teixeira spent one season (2003) together
before Rodriguez asked what he was in this for, and what should have been the emergence
of a perennial contender was instead a failed bit.
Then there’s Young, who was here before A-Rod arrived and who
the veteran took under his wing but who still was presumably one of the “24
kids” Rodriguez couldn’t bear to play alongside one more day.
Young has now played 1,496 big league games without so much
as a playoff appearance, second in baseball only to Randy Winn’s
The thing is, Winn has bounced around for five big league teams
and has rarely been much more than part of anyone’s supporting cast. It’s different with Young. When Texas clinches its first playoff berth in
11 years, probably sometime this week, I’m going to be happiest for me. Next to that, I’ll be happiest for Young.
My wife the rehabilitation counseling psychologist took the
doctor’s side yesterday when Jason Witten was on the delivering end of a
one-sided, heated argument about his fitness to get back on the field, and while
I’m cool with that, I loved the fire he showed.
There aren’t enough Witten’s on that football team.
It wasn’t until January 2010 that Jason Witten had a playoff
win in his career, which, regardless of whether the team deserved it over his
eight seasons, was far too long for that player. Witten is the Cowboys’ Young, whose own place
on that bad list behind Randy Winn will be erased in a couple weeks.
The baseball team’s magic number didn’t move on Sunday, but
it’s just a matter of time before that hourglass is emptied, leaving the sole
focus on getting Josh Hamilton and Frankie Francisco back in action and in
rhythm, sorting out a small handful of unsettled spots on the playoff roster, and
generally finding a way to take some general sense of momentum onto the plane
that heads east for some of the baseball these guys all play for, and that we’ve
all been waiting for, for years.
It sure beats waiting, for years, for the one thing from my
football team that I’m reasonably sure I’m never going to see, and that would
be far more upsetting if it weren’t for the baseball team which, for plenty of
reasons, I feel so much better about investing in emotionally.
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(c) Jamey Newberg