Back before the invention of free agency in the 1970s, MLB players were not allowed to move from one team to another with the ease that they enjoy today. Popular players were on the same team throughout their career as long as they stayed productive.
As the 1980s rolled in, fans got to see many good players playing for several different teams, as they bounced around from one team to another.
Let’s grab a random year and a couple of random MLB teams and look to see who the hometown fans were able to cheer for
The year I picked was 1985. The teams I randomly picked were the Texas Rangers and the Pittsburgh Pirates. Yikes … I just picked two teams that lost 99 and 104 games, respectively, but we are going to roll with it anyway.
A 99-loss team isn’t going to have any real gems for free agents, but taking a look through the roster we see a couple of guys who made a name for themselves out west and had a stop here in Arlington.
Burt Hooten: Hooten started out with the Chicago Cubs in the early 1970s but he was more well known for playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers and those great three World Series teams in 1977, 1978, and again in 1981 against the New York Yankees. Interesting stat: He was 1-1 in two starts in all three World Series. He was also well known for giving up the first of three home runs hit by Reggie Jackson in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series.
Hooten did have a respectable career, including 18 wins in 1975 and 19 more in 1978 where he was runner-up in the National League Cy Young voting (our old friend Gaylord Perry won that year). By 1985, he was a shell of himself and it would be his last year in the big leagues. In Texas, he was 5-8 with a 5.23 ERA as he bounced from the rotation to the bullpen. His last game was in relief in a 12-1 loss. That’s not a good way to go out.
Frank Tanana: Tanana was a young fireballer in California where, alongside the great Nolan Ryan, had a lefty-righty punch that was the best in the league. His 1975-1977 seasons was a showcase of that as he had 269, 261, and 205 strikeouts in those years. In 1977, he captured the ERA title with a stellar 2.54.
Alas, the injury bug caught him and almost ended his career before it really took off. Texas really was a great place for him as he learned how not to blow people away with his fastball, but outthink them with good control and spotting his pitches. He resurrected his career there and went on to pitch until 1993, which was the end of a 21-year career. I remember him in the more junk pitch era and he was a very crafty lefty. He was a real asset to Texas and afterward, the Tigers.
1985 was a horrendous year for the Pirates, but we have one bright spot and it almost mirrors the before mentioned Frank Tanana’s career.
Rick Reuschel: Reuschel was an inning-eating machine in the 1970s with the Chicago Cubs but, like Tanana, injuries derailed his career. In 1985, he didn’t even start his first game with the Pirates until May 21. After that, he was the lone bright spot in a very dismal team. He won 14 games over 26 starts and brought home two pieces of hardware: a Gold Glove and the National League ERA title with a remarkable 2.27 ERA! He went on to post four more years for 200-plus innings, including one in San Francisco as a 40-year-old. Even though the Pirates were bad, Reuchel was able to bring back some of that old magic and continue his pitching until 1991.
Sixto Lezcano: One of my all-time favorite names, Lezcano was a right fielder who possessed a great arm. He had some good years in Milwaukee, including a 28-homer, 101-RBI season in 1979 and an Opening Day game-winning grand slam in 1980.
1985 was not kind to Lezcano. He never found his groove and was sharing time in right and left Field with the likes of George Hendrick, Steve Kemp, Joe Orsulak, and even Lee Mazilli. He batted only .207 before hanging it up. His last game was as a pinch hitter, flying out to right against Sid Fernandez.