by Patrick Despain
This weekend, I was fortunate to catch up with Mike Rhyner, the host of The Hardline on SportsRadio 1310 AM/96.7 FM, The Ticket. As many of you know Mike is a tremendous source of knowledge about the great game and the goings-on at The Temple. Mike once again agreed to take my questions on the Rangers and give us insightful answers into what he thinks the team will do, plus so much more. You can find Mike (The Old Grey Wolf), co-host Corby Davidson (The Snake) and producer Danny Balis (The Knox City Knocker) on The Ticket, weekdays from 3-7 p.m. (Central).
Ballpark Banter: We all have an affinity for “The Old School Brother” (Ron Washington), but what do you like most about Jeff Banister?
Mike Rhyner: I feel a little differently about this now than in the past, simply because our understanding of this is shaped by anecdotal data, and that’s it–we’re not there. We have no idea what goes on in the room when he’s in there with the players after a great win or a soul-crushing loss or when something really good or really bad has happened. That’s when a manager makes his bones and we’re left to take the word of others. We hear about a guy being a players’ manager or a leader or this or that, but do we really know what that entails? I don’t. I’ve not seen it and I probably never will. With all that being said, here are a few things I believe to be true about Jeff:
A) He strikes a unique balance where the players know he’s with them and they believe in him, but they also know they better not buck back too hard or too far. They like him but they also know he’s not to be trifled with. That’s a great place for a manager to be and most of the good ones who don’t have push-button jobs find a way to get there.
B) He apparently did a tremendous job of getting the team through the drudgery of spring training. We heard a lot about ways he came up with, to keep guys focused, into it, motivated, engaged, interacting with each other, having fun and in general not just getting it over with. That’s hard to do.
C) I’m looking forward to seeing what happens now that he has coaches of his own choosing, not a bunch of tenured guys who he inherited who probably had a lot more cred in the game than him.
Ballpark Banter: If something were to happen where the Rangers needed a Minor Leaguer for a month to fill a gap, who would that be? Mazara, Gallo, Brinson, etc.?
Mike Rhyner: Let’s deal just with the 3 mentioned; obviously, if they need a C or a SS or a 2B, that’s another matter entirely. How to proceed among those 3 will make for a most interesting conundrum if and when it happens. I think you can take Brinson out of the conversation for now, even though I love him. I am kind of thinking Mazara has many strong supporters and I highly anticipate seeing him here. Gallo may be at the top of the list, but here’s the thing about that; I wonder just how strong the sentiment inside the organization is to trade him while they can still sell high. He had a good spring; his stock is probably not as high as it was before he came up last year, but also not as low as it was when he was sent down, and it may never be this high again, especially if he comes up and flaws have not been meaningfully corrected. This is an issue where they must take into account not only what they need at the time and who can best provide it, but the down-the-road of it. I would not like seeing them trade Gallo but more and more I come to see that that might be the play and this might be the time.
Ballpark Banter: How surprised were you with the success of 2015?
Mike Rhyner: I couldn’t have been more shocked. Two, maybe three months into the season I had this thing written off. But they kept the thing together and pulled off an unprecedented in-season turnaround; they learned how to win together, how to grind through these games, how to play with edge. It’s definitely one of my top 5 and maybe top 3 favorite Ranger seasons ever.
Ballpark Banter: If Darvish comes back and is strong by August, what do you think the Rangers chances are for the division and beyond.
Mike Rhyner: I think this team is going to win the World Series this year, right here, right now. I don’t know what else to say beyond that.
Ballpark Banter: One of the best sayings about baseball, which was coined by you, is about the bullpen. “All you know going into the season with your bullpen is that you have a collection of dudes.” That being said, how do you see the bullpen shaping up with the guys they have down there?
Mike Rhyner: The guys they have were great last year and if those guys perform as they did then, their bullpen will be a strength and maybe the team strength. But what happens if when the first time Diekman goes out there he throws hard but can’t command it and that persists? What happens if the power sinker of Dyson is not as hard and/or doesn’t do as much as it did last year? What if Tolleson can’t find a couple MPH that he had last year? We didn’t hear about any of these things in spring training and we have to think they won’t be an issue, but in my time watching this game I have seen things like this suddenly appear when the season starts A drop off in performance by the bullpen as a whole could derail this season faster than anything.
Ballpark Banter: If you can shed payroll by trading a player like Choo, Fielder, Andrus and it doesn’t cost you much, who is that player?
Mike Rhyner: Those are 3 big contracts and I’d love to be out from under any, or all of them, but none will be easy to move, especially now. If some other team contends and has a very specialized need, I can see them maybe being desperate enough to take on Prince or Elvis, but the Rangers will still probably have to pay for a big chunk of that and I can’t imagine the return being that great. Shin-Soo (Choo) would probably be the easiest to deal, as he’s a versatile offensive player who can help a team in a number of ways, but if this scenario presents itself, this season has probably gone bad, and as is, the chemistry on the team seems to be outstanding. I’d think long and hard before messing with it. Another part of this scenario may pertain to what’s going on down below–is somebody making a strong enough play down there to where they just can’t deny that the team would be better with them in the lineup and they absolutely must be accommodated? That’s a problem, but not a bad one.
Ballpark Banter: I recently looked at Jon Daniels’ ability to find value on the scrap heap, what do you think is his best strength?
Mike Rhyner: I loved that piece you wrote on that. People lose sight of the fact that Jon has done something like that ever since being here, even when the team was lousy and no one was playing attention. My favorite attribute of his, is that he seems to look at a player and he asks “OK, what can this guy do? What’s good about his game? What do I like? What might work here?” Anybody can look at a player and see deficiencies, see that he can’t command his changeup down and away, or an outfielder has clumsy footwork on balls hit right at him, or has a hole in his swing on anything tight. Everybody’s got those and for some reason it seems like a lot of baseball people get hung up on those. Jon doesn’t, he sees them but he seems to keep a very open mind as he evaluates guys and collects as much information as he can get his hands on. There’s an upside/downside with every player and Jon is thoughtful and deliberate. In his position, as General Manager, you must be that way.
Ballpark Banter: When the Rangers play the Blue Jays for the first time this season, how long do you think it takes for Jose Bautista to wear one? Or does he?
Mike Rhyner: I can see this going either way. The Rangers might choose the “that was then, this is now” path and let him have his moment. After all, the guy did hit a big HR, and if that bothers you, then get him out. I don’t think a little more of that in baseball is harmful in the least, especially when you’re at home in a huge situation and you come up with a huge play. They might let it ride until he does something this year that warrants response, but maybe not. It would garner big favor with the fans if they let him know they’ve not forgotten right up top, and this team has more than enough edge to attend to this in such a way.
Ballpark Banter: Do you have a breakout player this year?
Mike Rhyner: Rougned (Odor). It all comes together for him this year. I bet he gets some MVP buzz. He may not be a big enough name to win it without eye-popping stats and I don’t know if he’ll ever be a stats guy. By the end of this season, people will know and understand that this is a guy you can win with. He’s an upper-tier player.
Ballpark Banter: Who is the one player that the Rangers have to have perform in 2016 to be successful?
Mike Rhyner: There are many. As good as I think this club is going to be, there’s not much margin for error. They need guys to do about what they did last year, across the board, and we’ve not even mentioned injuries in this exercise yet, which could totally derail the season of the Rangers and every other team. For me, I don’t know if he’s got it in him, but I sure would love seeing Elvis have the kind of year which we all thought would be routine when he first arrived. I’d love to see Prince have a power resurgence and hit 40-45 home runs, but I’d like the year from Elvis more than that. For Derek Holland to regain his earlier career form wouldn’t be a bad thing, either.
Ballpark Banter: Everytime we do an interview, we talk about Mitch Moreland. He’s exceed our expectations when healthy. Does he do that one more time?
Mike Rhyner: I think he does. I think the journey of him discovering exactly what he is as a hitter is ongoing and not completed as of yet. This may be his last year here, according to those in the know and if that’s the case, I’d like to see him put up a year that makes them re-think him or at least gives them pause.
Ballpark Banter: If you had the absolute choice, who is the next person to go into the Texas Rangers Hall-of-Fame?
Mike Rhyner: Gotta be fast-tracking Michael Young in there, don’t we? I’d love to see Al Oliver get in. He was here for the minimum of 4 years and his lowest batting average was .304 with an OPS of .759. In the other 3 years he had OPS of well over .800
Ballpark Banter: I’m not sure I’ve ever asked you this question, and I’m sorry for that. Who is your favorite Ranger of all-time?
Mike Rhyner: So many. So very many. I loved Nolan, of course, I loved Rusty (Greer), Al (Oliver), Sunny (Jim Sundberg), Buddy (Bell), Bert Blyleven in his short time here, Larry Parrish, Mickey Rivers, Dock Ellis, Will the Thrill (Clark), Mickey Tettleton, John Burkett, Ruben (Sierra), Juando (Juan Gonzalez), on through those of more recent years. I could go on and on with this one, and profuse apologies to those not mentioned. But the guy who takes it all for me is Pudge (Ivan Rodriguez). I just hope those who were following this team when he arrived and did so until he left know and understand what we saw. He’s the best there’s ever been at the most difficult position to play in all of sports, and we saw him as he learned it on the fly, as he learned the culture of this great land of ours, as he learned how to be a major league player, a team leader, an All-Star. And just think of how many times you saw him do something that left you shaking your head in awe, think of the times he left you saying “Man!! How’d he do that?” and then think of the times you saw him do something you’d never seen before and haven’t seen since. There’ll never be another like him.
Ballpark Banter: What was it like back in the day with you boys in the auxiliary press box at old Arlington Stadium?
Mike Rhyner: Another one that I could go on and on about, and I still don’t know if I can adequately and accurately put across what it was really like. It was a truly electric time that I wouldn’t take anything for today. The seeds of what we would make into The Ticket were planted and took root there, both on the air and off (and I know that many who have been through there or are there today have no understanding of just how it could’ve been that important. Believe me when I tell you–you’d have had to have been there). At the time we had no idea. We would just gang up out there for the games and have fun amongst ourselves, making each other laugh, talking baseball and whatever else came up. We weren’t trying to bother anybody, we were just watching the game and amusing ourselves. After a point, people around us started to react, and I started to notice the reactions of those around us. Some hated us and wished we’d shut the hell up; others moved closer so they could hear and maybe even get in on the reindeer games themselves. How they reacted was not the story, though. The story is that they were reacting. I’d never seen that in a press box before. Then again, I’d also not been around a bunch of guys quite like that in a press box, either. I began to believe there was something very useful in play here, but I was nowhere near smart enough to know what it was, and there was no immediate avenue for it anyway. That would all come a bit later.
Ballpark Banter: We always get excellent Rangers coverage from The Ticket, but what can expect this year? Anything new?
Mike Rhyner: There are 162 of these things and they all count. The day-to-day is the thing, and as we cover the season, that’s the way I prefer to approach it. Maybe we’ll come up with something new, maybe not, but the team will be grinding. We’ll be grinding too.