#38 -- The Greatest Rangers of All Time

One would think that a player who has a rule named after him would have to be pretty damn good.

But that's not always the case, as is shown by the player who checks in at #38 on the list of all-time Rangers.

He's a guy who came in with a lot of hype, but who ended up having a solid career, not a spectacular one, although he did play on some playoff teams (after leaving Texas, natch) and made it to the World Series.

He is Pete Incaviglia, Inky, the 38th greatest Ranger of all time.

Pete Incaviglia, coming out of college, was a beast.  No other way to describe it.  He hit 100 homers in his three years at Oklahoma State, including 48 (with an 1140 slugging percentage) in his junior season.  Incaviglia still holds the NCAA Division I single season records for homers, RBIs, slugging percentage, and total bases, along with the career record for home runs.  

Inky also held his abilities in high regard.  A junior-eligible draftee in 1985, he had no interest in signing with a team that wanted to send him to ride the busses in the minors for a few years.  As the career collegiate home run leader, Inky felt he was ready for the majors right away, and saw no point in wasting his time toiling away in the bushes.

Incaviglia fell to #8 overall in the 1985 draft, which was pretty star-studded in the first round, with B.J. Surhoff, Will Clark, Bobby Witt, Barry Larkin, and Barry Bonds going ahead of him, and Rafael Palmeiro, Walt Weiss, Gregg Jefferies, and Joe Magrane among those who were selected behind.  The Expos, at #8, dug in their heels...they already had Tim Raines and Andre Dawson in the outfield, and they weren't about to let some brash kid from Oklahoma State tell them where he was going to be assigned.  Confident that Incaviglia would cave, they bided their time, refusing to agree to allow him to skip the minor leagues altogether.

Inky held his ground as well, however, and as winter approached, it became clear that neither side was going to blink.  But it also appeared that the parties were stuck...draftees couldn't be traded, so unless someone caved, Montreal was going to see its first rounder re-enter the draft, and Incaviglia was going to lose a year of professional ball (along with some leverage if he was drafted as a senior).

In stepped the Texas Rangers, with their youthful G.M.-manager tandem of Tom Grieve and Bobby Valentine.  Grieve and Valentine were planning to go young - very young - in the 1986 season, and were more than willing to roll the dice on giving the talented Incaviglia a major league deal and making him their Opening Day left fielder for the 1986 season.  The whole team was going to be going through growing pains anyway...what harm could there be in letting Incaviglia dive into the deep end and go through his at the major league level?

The Rangers and Expos agreed to a deal that would send pitcher Bob Sebra and infielder Jim Anderson to Montreal, and the Expos negotiated a deal with Incaviglia on the Rangers' behalf.  Presto, the "no trading draftees" rule was gotten around, Incaviglia and the Rangers got what they wanted, and the Expos salvaged something from the situation.  MLB soon thereafter passed a rule prohibiting players from being traded for at least one year after they sign their first pro contract, closing a loophole and birthing the "Pete Incaviglia Rule."  And the republic, somehow, survived.

Opening Day, 1986, saw Inky hitting cleanup for the new-look Rangers and playing right field.  He struck out in his first pro at bat, against Blue Jay starter Dave Steib (a truly great pitcher, and one who has been largely forgotten), but managed to double off of Steib in the 5th for his first professional hit, and then score on a Larry Parrish home run, as the Rangers won, 6-3.

    Still, it was a slow start for Incaviglia...that double was his only hit in his first 16 at bats, not getting another until he collected his first professional homer in game 4 of the season, a 2 run 8th inning bomb off of Tippy Martinez that drew the Rangers to within one and set up a come-from-behind victory in the bottom of the 9th.  He then went 1 for his next 15, posting a .094/.118/.250 line in his first 8 games and not recording another homer until game 9, when he took Baltimore's Bruce Havens deep for his second pro homer.  Inky's intro to the pro game was rocky, as he posted a .159/.239/.349 line in April.  And his offensive game was all-or-nothing...he didn't get his first pro single until his 53rd professional plate appearance, when he again victimized Dave Steib.

    There were rumblings about whether the young outfielder might need some time in the minors after all...but those rumblings were silenced when Incaviglia exploded in May, displaying the power that led to all those records at OSU, and putting up a .356/.404/.678 line for the month.  That pace was unsustainable, of course, and he cooled down the rest of the way, although he did hit 9 homers in September and had his first two multi-homer games of his career that month.  

    Inky ended the season with a .250/.320/.463 line, and his 30 homers tied Jeff Burroughs' team record for homers in a season by a Ranger.  Normally, such a performance would get a player rookie of the year consideration, but 1986 was an incredible season for rookies...Jose Canseco and Wally Joyner were 1-2 in the A.L. voting, with Mark Eichhorn finishing 3rd, and Ruben Sierra, Danny Tartabull, and Cory Snyder in the "others receiving votes."  Among the A.L. rookies who didn't get any votes, along with Inky, were fellow Rangers Bobby Witt, Mitch Williams and Eddie Correa.  The N.L.'s rookie crew was even more impressive...Todd Worrell, Rob Thompson, and Kevin Mitchell finished 1-2-3, but Clark, Bonds, Larkin, and John Kruk also received votes, and notables Bobby Bonilla, Kal Daniels, and Doug Drabek didn't get any votes.

    Incaviglia's rookie season was one of promise, and along with Oddibe McDowell and Ruben Sierra, Rangers fans were dreaming of a dominant outfield, one similar to Toronto's trio of George Bell, Lloyd Moseby, and Jesse Barfield, that would lead Texas to greatness.

    But Inky's rookie season was a high water mark...Incaviglia's career highs in games, ABs, homers, and walks were all set that season, and he had his second-highest RBI and run scored totals in 1986.

    1987 saw Inky start on a hot streak, putting up a 1052 OPS in April with 8 homers, but the Rangers were horrible out of the gate, going 1-10 in their first 11 games and putting them 6 ½ games back of first place in the A.L. West before they even recorded their second win.  Inky improved his averages on the year, with his .271/.332/.497 line showing improvement from the previous year, but he missed time late in the year with injuries, and a Ranger team that fought for a division title the previous year never spent a day above .500 in 1987.

    1988 was another season of frustration for the Rangers and Incaviglia...it seemed early on that this would be Inky's breakout year, as he put up a .261/.336/.504 line in the first half, but he struggled in the second half and missed virtually all of September once again with injuries.  

    1989 and 1990 were continuing regressions for Incaviglia, as the Rangers saw less and less of the dominant slugger they thought they had in Inky.  Incaviglia went .236/.293/.453 in 1989 in 133 games, and while he was able to stay in the lineup again in 1990, his bat disappointed once again, posting a .233/.302/.420 line on an 83 win team that finished in 3rd place in the West, 20 games out of the lead.  The guy who was hitting cleanup for the Rangers in his first pro season was, just 4 years later, relegated towards the lower parts of the lineup, starting just 6 games in the 4 hole.  

    1990 ended up being Inky's final season as a Ranger.  A favorite of fellow Italian Bobby Valentine for much of his time in Texas, Inky fell out of favor with the mercurial Bobby V. late in 1990, and Incaviglia ended up getting released late in spring training in 1991, a cost saving move (since an arbitration-eligible player released prior to Opening Day only receives 20% of his salary).  The Rangers ended up with Jack Daugherty as their 1991 Opening Day left fielder, rather than Incaviglia, although Kevin Reimer and Juan Gonzalez ended up getting the bulk of the playing time out there that season.

    Inky was picked up by the Detroit Tigers for the 1991 season, but ended up performing even worse in Motown, putting up a 643 OPS on the season.  After bouncing back with a solid 1992 campaign in Houston, he was a starter on for the Phillies in 1993 and 1994, and played an instrumental role on the 1993 Phillie team that lost to the Blue Jays in the World Series.  

    Following the 1994 strike, Inky didn't appear in the majors in 1995, but returned to Philadelphia for the 1996 season.  Inky and Todd Zeile were dealt to Baltimore late in the season, and Incaviglia ended up getting with another chance at a World Series ring, before Jeffrey Meier reached out and took a fly ball away from Tony Tarasco and helped send the Yanks to the first of their World Series appearances in the Jeter Era.

    Inky hung around for a couple of more seasons, splitting time with the Orioles and Yankees in 1997, and with the Tigers and Astros in 1998, and getting one more postseason shot with the Astros in '98 (before the Padres and Kevin Brown shut them down).  Inky signed with the Arizona D-Backs after the 1998 season, but never appeared for them, making his NLDS appearance as a pinch hitter against Trevor Hoffman his final appearance in the majors.  Fittingly, for a player who whiffed 1277 times in 4233 major league ABs, Inky struck out swinging to end the game.

    Inky wasn't a great player, but he was a good player, a guy who put in 8 major league seasons as a solid corner outfielder and retired with a .270 EQA.  His inability to consistently make contact was what kept him from achieving greatness...Inky hit .352 when he made contact, but striking out in over 30% of his at bats held him back.

    Still, he had his best seasons with the Rangers, five years of solid performance on some entertaining, if enigmatic, Rangers teams in the late-80s.  And that's good enough to be the 38th greatest Ranger of all time.

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