SINCE THEIR INCEPTION 52 years ago, the Texas Rangers have allowed more runs than every team in Major League Baseball. Of the two dozen teams around since 1972, they have yielded the most baserunners, booked the fewest quality starts and allowed the most inherited runners to score. The Rangers have lived an ignominious, championship-free existence precisely because they cannot figure out how to successfully execute one of the game's three core tenets: throwing the ball.
There is nothing about Texas that makes it particularly inhospitable to the starting pitcher -- nothing beyond a combination of mismanagement, injuries and bad luck. It says plenty that this ineptitude includes a period during which Nolan Ryan, pitching demigod and the patron saint of Texas arms, was helping run the team. It is the Rangers' curse with no hint of accompanying blessing. If Nolan couldn't do it, who can?
Chris Young hopes he is the answer to that question. The Rangers general manager is himself an anomaly: one of just two former major league players running a baseball-operations department. He carved out a 13-year big league career as a one-of-a-kind: the enormous finesse pitcher. At 6-foot-10, Young subsisted not on his frame and power but on guile and intellect, conjuring an 85-mph fastball into a swing-and-miss tool.
Because he forged a career making something out of nothing, perhaps Young is the perfect person to shepherd the Rangers as they try yet again to put together a respectable pitching staff. Considering where the Rangers found themselves at the end of last season -- with arguably the worst starting rotation in baseball -- doing so this offseason seemed less the task of a magician and more that of a miracle worker.
Over the winter, Young went on a more than quarter-billion-dollar spending spree, bringing in Jacob deGrom, Nathan Eovaldi and Andrew Heaney after re-signing Martín Perez. He hired manager Bruce Bochy, who won three championships with the San Francisco Giants on the strength of their pitching, and summoned Mike Maddux, a pitching coach who has turned around staffs in three previous stops. Then he asked an old teammate to serve as a special instructor during spring training.
Few can call upon Greg Maddux -- Hall of Fame right-hander, universally respected pitching mind and younger brother of Mike -- to spend his mornings lending wisdom to the next generation. But few in the game possess Young's gravitas, which is how Maddux wound up meandering through the Rangers' spring clubhouse, players gawking rather unsubtly.
"Greg Maddux was my idol," Rangers right-hander Dane Dunning said. "I watched him, and I used to watch Nolan go out every fifth day, and that's always what I tried for. But I think the game has changed now to the point where every single inning, pitch, every game is played with so much intent -- everything's max effort the whole time. You put your body through so much stress. And pitching just isn't the same."