The Rangers’ Five Greatest Pitchers
Kevin Brown (1986, 1988-94)
Nolan Ryan may have had all the no-hitters, Charlie Hough the colorful knuckleball and Kenny Rogers the perfect game, but the wiry and fiery Brown was the ace stalwart with the Rangers in their emerging years as a borderline contender in the late 1980s and early 1990s in advance of, truly, his best years (to say nothing of his best paydays) performing as a star ace in the National League for Florida, San Diego and Los Angeles through the early 2000s.
An intense individual never to be confused for as the life of the party, Brown came equipped with what Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci labeled as a power sinkerball; few hitters made solid contact off him, as he gave up few home runs and created lots of ground ball opportunities for Rangers infielders to turn into double plays.
In his first full year with the Rangers in 1989, Brown produced a sharp 12-9 mark with a 3.35 earned run average; after slightly regressing from 1990-91, he reached his Texas pinnacle in 1992 by leading the American League (and setting career highs) with 21 victories (against 11 losses) and 265.2 innings to go with a sturdy 3.32 ERA, helping him to land him starting duty for the AL in that year’s All-Star Game. Despite a drop in his record to 15-12 in 1993, he still established personal bests with 12 complete games and three shutouts.
The Rangers decided not to resign Brown after he suffered through an off-year in the strike-shortened 1994 campaign with a 7-9 and 4.82 ERA; he moved onto Baltimore where he had a fair 1995 season—then blossomed into peak form in the NL, winning two NL ERA titles.
Ferguson Jenkins (1974-75, 1978-81)
After failing to win 20 games for the first time in six years, Jenkins was traded from the Chicago Cubs to Texas for Bill Madlock in a trade that worked well for both teams; Madlock became a perennial batting champ for the Cubs, while Jenkins enjoyed a monster workhorse effort in 1974, the first of several outstanding years for the future Hall of Famer.
In his Rangers debut, Jenkins set career highs with 25 wins (against 12 losses) and 328.1 innings pitched; his 29 complete games were one shy of another personal mark. For his performance, Jenkins earned Comeback Player of the Year honors, finished second in the AL Cy Young Award vote behind Oakland’s Catfish Hunter (whom he tied with for the AL lead in wins), and helped the Rangers secure only their second winning campaign in franchise history dating back to 1961. His follow-up campaign was just as laborious but nowhere as effective, winning 17 games—but losing 18 with a mediocre 3.93 ERA.
Let go by Texas after 1975, Jenkins had two nondescript seasons with Boston—then returned to the Rangers where he enjoyed a second fabulous debut, producing an 18-8 record and 3.04 ERA. He would remain with the Rangers through 1981, winning a total of 93 games with 17 shutouts, the latter figure still the most in team history. Jenkins’ second Texas tenure was marred, however, by the embarrassment of being one of the first major leaguers busted for recreational drugs when customs agents in Toronto found numerous narcotics in Jenkins’ suitcase late in August 1980; commissioner Bowie Kuhn suspended Jenkins for the final month-plus of the season, but after three weeks an arbitrator overturned the decision.
A good hitter, Jenkins was allowed by then-Rangers manager Billy Martin to hit in his final start of the 1974 season, the second year in which the designated hitter was in effect within the AL; he collected a hit in two trips, scoring the first of two runs that would help him defeat Minnesota, 2-1. It was the last hit by an AL pitcher until another Ranger, Mike Jeffcoat, doubled 17 years later.
Kenny Rogers (1989-95, 2000-02, 2004-05)
The left-handed Rogers experienced three separate stays with the Rangers that made up 12 of his 20 years of major league duty, with results that were mostly upbeat—even if his memory of the times sometimes was not.
During his first (and longest) stay with the Rangers, Rogers was at first a reliable reliever and sometimes closer—saving a career-high 15 games in 1990 and appearing in an AL-high 81 games. He became a starter in 1993 and immediately flourished—winning 16 games—and in 1994, he became only the 12th player in modern big league history to throw a perfect game, shutting down the California Angels just two weeks before the crippling players’ strike shut down the season. Because the work stoppage continued into 1995 and cut the schedule to 144 games, Rogers missed out on a chance to win 20 games—finishing the year instead at 17-7 with a 3.38 ERA. He spent the next five years with both New York teams and the A’s, returning to Texas in 2000—winning a total of 31 more games over three inconsistent years before being let go again.
After spending the 2003 season with Minnesota, Rogers returned for his third and final stint that resulted in 32 more wins over two seasons—but not without controversy. Angry with the local media in June of 2005 over reports of a contract squabble, Rogers stopped talking to reporters—then roughed up two videographers who dared to film him during pregame warmups, sending one to the hospital and earning a 20-game suspension that was overturned, again by an arbitrator, after 13 games.
Rogers considerably helped his pitching game with his defense. He won four Gold Gloves at his position with the Rangers, and was exceptional at holding onto baserunners; of those who tried to steal off him, only 40% succeeded—and 93 others were picked off before they ever had the chance, the second highest total in major league history.
John Wetteland (1997-2000)
Fresh off his MVP effort of saving all four victories for the New York Yankees in their 1996 World Series triumph over Atlanta, Wetteland continued to mute ninth-inning rallies for the next four years with the Rangers, ultimately becoming the team’s all-time leader with 150 saves. (Few tears were shed in New York with his departure to Texas; Mariano Rivera took over as the Yankee closer.)
Wetteland was at his best for the Rangers during his first year with them, despite racking up the fewest saves (31) of his Texas tenure—but he produced a sparkling 1.94 ERA and opponents could only hit .182 against him, a career-best figure. In 1998-99, Wetteland helped the Rangers make it into the postseason—saving 42 and 43 games, respectively—but there was little he could do in the playoffs because his team could never hand him a lead to save, losing all six games while being outscored 23-2 by the Yankees and Rivera.
By 2000, Wetteland was still racking up saves, but his fastball was in decline following elbow surgery and he was far less of a mystery to opposing hitters who once feared his velocity. Rather than bounce around from team to team and likely struggle to regain his form, Wetteland retired at the age of 34.
Charlie Hough (1980-90)
Whether they were good or bad, the Rangers during the 1980s could always count on the gruff-looking Hough and his knuckleball to rack up 15-plus wins and three-point-something ERAs, as he continuously befuddled hitters—and often his catchers—with the unpredictable pitch.
Before arriving in Texas, the Honolulu native spent ten years with the Dodgers, almost entirely as a reliever; after doing some spot start duty over his first few years with the Rangers, Hough was given a permanent role in the rotation in 1982 and would start a run that would ultimately make him, then as now, the all-time franchise leader in wins and complete games—but he is also first in wild pitches, hit batsmen and headaches for his catchers who tried in vain to snare his randomly placed knucklers.
Because of the knuckler’s lack of wear and tear on his pitching arm, Hough put together numbers that belonged to an earlier generation. In 1986, he was the last major leaguer to date to throw 13 innings in a game. A year later, he started 40 games and amassed 285.1 innings, two figures that have since not been surpassed; three times during that season, he struck out ten or more batters—the only three times he ever hit double figures. More work meant more angst for catcher Gino Petralli, who was charged with a major league-record 35 passed balls (in 63 games, no less) with six in a single game, another record.
Hough pitched with the Rangers through the age of 42—and still threw for another four seasons afterward, including the first two for the expansion Florida Marlins.
Texas Rangers Team History: Year-by year records, statistics and an oral history of the Rangers, decade by decade.
The Rangers' Five Greatest Hitters: A list of the five greatest hitters based on their productivity and efficiency.
The Rangers' Five Greatest Games: A list of five memorable games and other notable personal achievements that have defined the Rangers' history.
How did This Great Game determine the list of the Rangers' five greatest hitters? Find out here.
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