The Rangers’ Five Greatest Hitters
Alex Rodriguez (2001-03)
Before the 2001 season, Texas owner Tom Hicks made a move to put the Rangers at the forefront of the major league landscape by signing the all-world Rodriguez to a phenomenal ten-year, $252 million contract that surpassed—in fact, doubled—the previous record deal of guaranteed wages, given to basketball’s Kevin Garnett. And while Hicks would soon prove to be in way over his head, he certainly got his money’s worth from Rodriguez—who powered his way to his most prodigious collection of numbers while wearing the Rangers jersey.
In his first year with Texas, Rodriguez hit .318 and launched 52 home runs, the most ever hit by an American League shortstop; a year later, he surpassed that, nailing 57 over the fence—and setting an all-time AL mark for right-handed hitters by collecting 109 over a two-year period. In 2003, his output was lowered to 47 jacks but still led the league for a third straight year and secured his first AL MVP award; his second homer of that season gave him 300 for his career, making him the youngest major leaguer, at age 27, to reach that milestone. After just three years in Texas—averaging 52 homers, 132 runs batted in, 127 runs scored and a .305 average—Rodriguez had more than made his claim as the league’s premier superstar.
As awesome as Rodriguez was in Arlington, his annual $25 million salary put a huge strain on the Rangers, who lacked the financial muscle of the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox to build a contending team around him. In Rodriguez’s first three years at Texas, the Rangers finished 73-89, 72-90 and 71-91—turning upside down Rodriguez’s own belief that he became a Ranger to win; during this same stretch, divisional rivals in Seattle (Rodriguez’s former home) and Oakland, preaching far more fiscal sanity, each averaged 100 wins per season.
Hicks spent the entire 2003-04 offseason trying to unload Rodriguez; the Red Sox initially agreed to a deal, but the players’ union vetoed the move as it objected to Rodriguez’s approval of a reduction in salary. Soon after, the Yankees came forward and acquired him for second baseman Alfonso Soriano—but only on the condition that the Rangers pay $67 million of the remaining $179 million left on the contract.
Further staining his legacy with the Rangers, Rodriguez was discovered to be taking steroids in 2003, per a reported leak of the “anonymous” list of players who tested positive; he later confessed that the report was true.
Josh Hamilton (2008-12, 2015)
Selected as the number one pick in the 1999 draft by Tampa Bay, the left-handed hitting Hamilton was expected to ascend quickly through the minors and into a starring role with the Devil Rays—but instead, he descended deep into the abyss of alcohol and drug abuse, leading to a three-year absence from the game as he struggled to escape his lost world. In 2006 he finally did, swearing off the booze and drugs, finding God and returning to baseball with a stellar half-season with Cincinnati—before the Reds traded him to the Rangers, where he achieved the stardom long earlier expected of him.
In his first year with Texas, Hamilton hit .304 with 32 home runs and an AL-high 130 RBIs; two years later, he took AL MVP honors with a major league-leading .359 average, 32 homers and 100 RBIs—and clocked four homers in the Rangers’ ALCS triumph over the Yankees, sending Texas to its first-ever World Series. Out of respect for Hamilton’s cold turkey status, the Rangers celebrated not with champagne but with ginger ale.
An All-Star in each of his first five years with the Rangers, the popular Hamilton was aggressive in all facets of the game, leading to numerous stays on the disabled list. More painful than any of those injuries, however, was the moment in July 2011 when, while lobbing a runaway foul ball to a fan seated behind the outfield wall in Arlington, Hamilton watched in horror as the fan—a 39-year-old firefighter—fell over the railing and plunged 20 feet to his death behind the wall while his son watched. A distraught Hamilton continuously went to great lengths (as did the Rangers) to look after the wellbeing of the surviving members of the family.
In 2012, Hamilton fired out to a sensational start highlighted by a four-homer performance (a franchise first) at Baltimore on May 8, adding a double to end the evening with an AL-record 18 total bases. A relatively dismal second half, punctuated by defensive lapses and attempts to shake off other, more benign addictions (such as chewing tobacco and caffeine), led to public criticism from Texas co-owner Nolan Ryan—who didn’t seem to mind when Hamilton signed a free agent deal for 2013 with divisional rival Los Angeles of Anaheim.
The turbulence for Hamilton only got worse in Southern California, as he badly underperformed for the Angels, got hurt often and, worse, fell off the wagon during the winter of 2015—leading an angry Angels brass to give him back to the Rangers, even as they would continue to pay the bulk of his voluminous salary. The second go-around at Arlington for Hamilton was brief and exposed him as a player whose MVP-level talent had long since abandoned him.
Juan Gonzalez (1989-99, 2002-03)
The tall, muscular slugger who lifted himself from the slums of Puerto Rico gained the nickname Juan Gone for his home run powers, but he also harbored an insatiable knack for knocking in runs.
Gonzalez first blasted upon the scene in 1992 when he smashed an AL-leading 43 homers; a year later, he led the league again with 46 and gained national exposure by winning the Home Run Derby in Baltimore, nearly destroying Oriole Park at Camden Yards in the process. More alarmingly for opposing pitchers, Gonzalez jumped his batting average over the .300 mark for the first time, signaling a sign of things to come.
From 1996-99, Gonzalez hit his peak—hitting .314 with an average of 43 homers and 140 RBIs per season. He won two MVPs during this stretch (in 1996 and 1998) and developed into a RBI machine, essentially averaging one per game. In 1998, he became only the second player, after Hank Greenberg in 1935, to reach 100 RBIs before the All-Star Break. The Rangers reached the postseason thrice during Gonzalez’s reign but badly bombed each time, all in spite of his efforts; in the 1996 ALDS against the Yankees, he smacked five homers and knocked in nine runs in just four games.
The Rangers, fearful they would lose Gonzalez to free agency without compensation after 2000, traded him following the 1999 season to Detroit—where he had a terrible one-year existence failing to adapt to the distant fences at the new Comerica Park; he was offered a $140 million deal to stay with the Tigers, but he refused to talk unless they moved the fences in. They didn’t, and Gonzalez was gone, signing a one-year deal with Cleveland where he thrived anew, before returning to the Rangers in 2002 for two more years, remaining productive—but not healthy, succumbing to injury each season before the end of July.
The all-time franchise leader with 372 homers and 1,180 RBIs, Gonzalez has, like Rodriguez, been forced to face the music in regards to steroid accusations; he has denied claims of performance enhancement usage despite being ratted out by ex-teammate Jose Canseco in his book Juiced, to say nothing of a 2001 incident in which Canadian authorities in Toronto seized a bag of steroids linked to Gonzalez and his trainer—one Angel Presinal, who also counted Rodriguez as one of his clients. He has remained a recluse in Puerto Rico, even refusing the Rangers’ invitation to show up for his own team Hall-of-Fame ceremony.
Frank Howard (1965-72)
A massive power hitter at 6’7”, 255 pounds, “Hondo” came to Washington (before the franchise moved to Texas) in 1965 after seven difficult years trying to conquer pitching-friendly Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, and bucked the trend of oppressive pitching during the late 1960s by producing punishing numbers.
An All-American at Ohio State in both baseball and basketball, Howard became a welcomed personification of Harmon Killebrew among D.C. baseball fans five years after they lost Killer and the rest of the original Senators to Minnesota. But unlike Killebrew, Howard was hardly an all-or-nothing talent; though never a .300 hitter, his batting averages were good enough to make the top 10 on occasion in an American League being eaten alive by strong pitching.
In 1968, Howard defied the deep dearth of offense that would help define the “Year of the Pitcher” and hit .274 with an AL-high 44 homers and 106 RBIs; perhaps no major leaguer in history was as hot as Howard in mid-May of that year when he hit 10 homers over 20 at-bats in six games. He launched 48 more homers a year later (hitting .296), losing out to Killebrew on another home run title by one—then led again in 1969 with 44 more. By then Howard had commanded respect from pitchers who walked him an AL-high 132 times, a measure of patience also preached from his new manager, Ted Williams.
In 1971, Howard’s herculean power began to fade, a decline accelerated a year later with the team’s move to Texas and the more difficult reaches of Arlington Stadium—leading to a midseason trade to Detroit, where he never could revive his career.
Rafael Palmeiro (1989-93, 1999-2003)
The Rangers basically saw two versions of the Havana native: The early Palmeiro who wielded modest power and thrived on high batting averages, and the latter Palmeiro who was more about the home run—and hit quite a few of them.
Dealt from the Chicago Cubs before 1989, the slick-fielding, left-handed-hitting first baseman developed into a dependable asset within the Rangers lineup, hitting .319 with a league-leading 191 hits in 1990 and, a year later, becoming one of three Texas players (along with Ruben Sierra and Julio Franco) with at least 200. Gradually, his home run count advanced as well, from eight in his first year with the Rangers to 37 in 1993, before he became a free agent. Palmeiro had hoped to resign with the Rangers, but talks broke down and Texas brought in Will Clark to replace him—sending Palmeiro on an ill-directed rant in which he castigated Clark (an ex-teammate at Mississippi State) as a “lowlife” for having the gall to take his spot.
Palmeiro spent the next five years in Baltimore—putting up prodigious numbers for the Orioles—then smoked the peace pipe with the Rangers by returning for 1999. His first year back in Texas added up to, undoubtedly, his best year in the majors—setting personal bests with a .324 average, 47 home runs and 148 RBIs; he even snagged a Gold Glove for his work at first base, though he rarely played there, DH-ing most of the time. For the next four years, Palmeiro kept the sting in his swing (averaging nearly 40 bombs a year) and showed more patience with over 100 walks a season, but his batting averages began to sag, suggesting that age and a predilection for the long ball were influencing his numbers.
Once chuckled at for being a pitchman for Viagra, Palmeiro was accused of a different kind of performance enhancement when ex-teammate Jose Canseco implicated him for steroid use (as he did with Juan Gonzalez) in the book Juiced. Palmeiro defiantly denied using such drugs at the eventful 2005 Congressional hearings on steroids in baseball—then, months later, he was one of the first players suspended with a positive test. (Palmeiro to this day insists he was clean and that the positive result was a mistake.) Despite an arresting career resume that includes 3,020 hits and 569 homers, skepticism abounds over whether Palmeiro achieved such numbers without synthetic assistance—a question thus far reflected in Hall of Fame voters’ reluctance to elect him into Cooperstown.
Texas Rangers Team History A decade-by-decade history of the Rangers, the ballparks they’ve played in, and the four people who are on the franchise’s Mount Rushmore.
The Rangers’ Five Greatest Pitchers A list of the five greatest pitchers based on their productivity and efficiency.
The Rangers’ Five Most Memorable Games A list of five memorable games and other notable personal achievements that have defined the Rangers’ history.