#35 -- The Greatest Rangers of All Time

The #35 player on the list of the greatest Texas Rangers players of all time is a player not many folks here likely ever saw play in Texas.  A slugging outfielder, this player is largely remembered for being the first Texas Ranger ever to win the MVP, when he helped carry the 1974 Rangers to 84 wins and a second place finish, one season after the club went 57-105, and with being a major actor in the infamous "Ten Cent Beer Night" fiasco in Cleveland that resulted in the Rangers winning a game via forfeit.

The 35th Greatest Ranger of All Time is, as you've no doubt guessed by now, Jeff Burroughs.

Jeff Burroughs entered professional ball with high expections, being the #1 overall pick in the 1969 draft out of Wilson High School in Long Beach, California.  Burroughs hit the ground running, putting up a .355 average with 8 home runs as an 18 year old in the Rookie-Level Appalachian League after signing in 1969.

This performance resulted in Burroughs being jumped all the way to Denver in the AAA American Association for the 1970 season.  Burroughs held his own, putting up a .269/.380/.474 slash line while splitting time between third base, first base, and the outfield. 

Burroughs was rewarded with a cup of coffee at the end of the 1970 season, getting into 6 games as a 19 year old with the Senators, and going 2 for 12 with a pair of walks.

The next two seasons saw Burroughs split time between Denver and the majors -- he was called up to Washington in late July, 1971, and spent the rest of the season with the Senators.  Burroughs hit well enough over the final two months to start the next year in Arlington, where the Washington Senators had become the Texas Rangers during the offseason, but a bad start to the 1972 campaign meant that Burroughs would once again spend the bulk of the season in Denver.

Burroughs started the 1973 season back in Arlington, and had a breakout season that put him on the map as a 22 year old.  Burroughs had a .279/.355/.487 slash line, leading qualifying Rangers in OBP, slugging and OPS, finishing the season 7th in the A.L. in slugging and logging a 141 OPS+, good for 8th in the A.L. 

Only two young part-time Texas players posted a better OPS than Burroughs that season -- 25 year old outfielder and future broadcaster Tom Grieve, and 22 year old third baseman and future batting champ Bill Madlock.  Texas also had 24 year old shortstop Toby Harrah and 23 year old centerfielder Vic Harris in the lineup regularly and acquitting themselves well, plus Elliott Maddux coming off the bench.

The '73 Rangers weren't terrible with the bats...but the pitching staff was a mess.  Of 20 pitchers to take the mound for Texas, only two -- Jim Bibby and Rick Henninger -- posted an ERA+ of better than 100, and Henninger only logged 23 innings, fourth-fewest on the team.  Behind Bibby, the pitching staff consisted of the likes of Jim Merritt, Pete Broberg, Sonny Siebert, and of course 18 year old David Clyde, with Bill Gogolewski, Mike Paul, Jackie Brown and Steve Foucault doing the heavy lifting in the pen.  Despite pitching in a pitcher-friendly park, the Rangers were last in the league in ERA, with an ERA+ of just 80.

So the Rangers finished up the 1973 campaign with some nice young pieces to build around, with Burroughs looking like the most exciting and special of that group.  Still, it didn't look like the team was going to get that much better anytime soon.  Even with youngsters Jim Sundberg and Mike Hargrove ready to come up to the majors and contribute, the Rangers still seemed to be a long way to contending.

Nevertheless, Texas made a couple of gambles in the '73 offseason in an effort to try to win right away.  First, Texas fired manager Whitey Herzog (who would go on to become a legend at the helm of the Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals), and replaced him with the already notorious and controversial Billy Martin.

Second, in an effort to shore up the rotation, Texas dealt youngsters Harris and Madlock to the Chicago Cubs for 31 year old workhorse Ferguson Jenkins, a righty who had been one of the elite pitchers in the National League in the late-60s, but was coming off a down season that had some questioning whether he was still an elite performer.

These moves paid off in 1974, due in no small part to an explosive season from Burroughs.  Burroughs built on his successful 1973 season and improved across the board, putting up a .301/.397/.504 line and establishing himself as a dominant force in the A.L.  Burroughs finished fourth in the A.L. in batting average and home runs, third in the A.L. in walks, OBP, slugging, OPS and OPS+, and first in the A.L. in RBIs.  That, combined with the Rangers increasing their win total by 27 between 1973 and 1974, impressed the voters enough for Burroughs to be named A.L. MVP.

The 1974 MVP balloting is fascinating, as all the 1st place votes, as well as the top 6 slots in the balloting, went to players from just two teams -- the Rangers and the Oakland A's, who beat out Texas for first place in the A.L. West.  Behind Burroughs was the Oakland trio of Joe Rudi, Sal Bando, and Reggie Jackson.  Fergie Jenkins finished fifth, edging out Catfish Hunter.  Rod Carew of the Minnesota Twins finished 7th in the balloting, with the first member of an A.L. East squad not being found until the #8 spot -- and remarkably, that player, the 8th place finisher in the MVP vote, was New York Yankee centerfielder Elliott Maddox, acquired by the Yanks from the Rangers in exchange for cash at the end of spring training.

Texas did very well in the award voting that year, with Jenkins finishing second to Hunter in the Cy Young balloting, and Mike Hargrove winning the Rookie of the Year vote in a landslide, beating out Bucky Dent, George Brett, Rick Burleson, and teammate Jim Sundberg by a considerable margin.  And on the heels of a strong season, with this solid core and a young superstar in Burroughs in place, the Rangers were expected to be contenders in 1975.

Alas, it was not to be.  The Rangers finished the 1975 campaign in third place at 79-83, 19 games back of first place Oakland, and 12 games back of second-place Kansas City.  The mercurial Martin was fired after 95 games, with the team struggling at 44-51, and was replaced by third base coach Frank Lucchesi.

And no one on that Ranger team had a bigger fall that year than Jeff Burroughs.  On the heels of his MVP season, Burroughs regressed mightily.  He did hit 29 home runs, and improvement over the previous season's 25, but his average fell from .301 to .226, leading his OBP to drop to just .315 and his slugging to plummet to .409.  Given the home park and the run context of the 70s, Burroughs wasn't a bad player -- he had an OPS+ of 105 -- but given his defensive limitations, he went from being a cornerstone to a contending team to just another guy.

1976 was even worse for Burroughs and the Rangers.  Under Lucchesi, the team continued to struggle, finishing 76-86 on the year, despite solid seasons from future Hall of Famers Gaylord Perry and Bert Blyleven.  Texas found itself in the reverse of its situation in 1973, having a solid pitching staff but not getting enough from its young lineup.  The oldest regular on the 1976 Rangers was leftfielder Gene Clines, who was just 29, but despite having a talented group of position players that should be hitting its stride and producing, Texas struggled to put runs on the board.

Burroughs became emblematic of the team's offensive problems, continuing to regress.  His home run total dropped to just 18, as he finished behind Grieve for the team lead, and while he led the club in RBIs, he did so while posting just a .237/.315/.369 line.  There were signs of hope for Burroughs towards the end of the year, as he finished up the season with a .274/.386/.406 line over the final month. 

Nevertheless, the Rangers had seen enough, dealing their 25 year old former MVP to the Atlanta Braves in December of that year in a blockbuster deal that brought the Rangers pitchers Adrian Devine, Dave May, Roger Moret, and Carl Morton, outfielder Ken Henderson, and $250,000 in cash.

Burroughs got his groove back in Atlanta, bouncing back with a pair of strong seasons in 1977 and 1978, posting a .271/.362/.520 line the first year after the trade, and then following it up with a .301/.432/.529 season, leading the N.L. in both walks and OBP, and being honored with his second All Star berth.  Burroughs would struggle to stay healthy and productive thereafter, though, posting just a 695 OPS in 116 games in 1979, logging just 278 ABs in 1980, and then getting dealt to the Seattle Mariners before the strike-shortened 1981 season, in exchange for pitcher Carlos Diaz. 

Burroughs spent a year in Seattle before going to Oakland and posting one more impressive offensive season in 1982, putting up an 878 OPS and a 145 OPS+ for the A's in 113 games.  Burroughs stayed with Oakland in 1983 as their regular DH, then spent 1984 coming off the bench for them, before finishing up his career as a part-time player with Toronto in 1985.

In recent years, Burroughs is also well known for coaching his son, Sean Burroughs, in the Little League World Series, with Sean eventually becoming a first round draft choice of the San Diego Padres, continuing the family tradition.  While Jeff Burroughs was only with the Rangers for five seasons (albeit with the Senators for two seasons before that), he's one of the most memorable members of those early-70s Texas teams, and one of the first stars the franchise ever had. 

And he's well worth memorializing as one of the greatest Rangers of all time.

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