Today is the 24th anniversary of one of the more bizarre episodes in Texas Rangers history — and the Texas Rangers are not a team that is lacking in bizarre episodes.
Yes, it was 24 years ago today that a fly ball off the bat of Carlos Martinez bounced off of the head of Rangers right fielder Jose Canseco, and into the stands for a home run.
This seems to encapsulate both Jose Canseco’s time with the Rangers, and really, the overall vibe of those early-90s Rangers teams. Canseco came to Texas from Oakland on August 31, 1992,* in exchange for Jeff Russell, Ruben Sierra and Bobby Witt. Texas was out of the A.L. West race, and Sierra and Russell would be free agents at the end of the season, so they wanted to get something for them. Meanwhile, the A’s wanted reinforcements for the final month and the playoffs, and were tired of Canseco’s schtick. Thus, Canseco came to Texas for what ended up being roughly two full seasons.
* If you are wondering how these players cleared waivers, since the trade was made post-July 31, back then, there was a gentlemen’s agreement that was more or less in place whereby teams wouldn’t put claims in on players willy-nilly like they do now.
Canseco finished out the 1992 season putting up a .233/.385/.452 slash line for the Rangers in 22 games. Come 1993, he got off to a decent start, as did the Rangers. Heading into their game in Cleveland 24 years ago today, the Rangers were 24-20, 1 game behind the first place Chicago White Sox in the A.L. West (in the final season of two division per league play), and Canseco had a spiffy .291/.344/.517 slash line on the year.
Texas took a 3-0 lead in the top of the first that day on a Julio Franco home run and a two run Rafael Palmeiro home run off of Indians starter Jose Mesa (yes, young people, Joe Table used to be a starter).
Rangers starter Kenny Rogers faced Carlos Martinez to start the fourth, and gave up a deep fly ball to right field. Canseco, never a good defender, wandered under it, then...well, you saw above what happened.
Things went south for Canseco beginning that day. Texas ended up losing the game, 7-6. Canseco, already something of a cartoon, was the subject of much mockery from the national media and baseball fans. Three days later, he talked manager Kevin Kennedy into letting him pitch in a blowout loss to the Boston Red Sox (which is the scene pictured in the photo above), and not only did Canseco pitch terribly, he tore his UCL. Canseco missed some time at the start of June, tried to play some more, then ended up going on the d.l. late in June and missing the rest of the season. From the “home run off the head” game through the end of the season, Canseco put up a .153/.203/.271 slash line. Texas stayed competitive, finished the season second in the West with an 86-76 record, but were 8 games back of Chicago in the division.
Canseco was back with the Rangers for the 1994 season, and mashed as the DH, putting up a .282/.386/.552 slash line, but the team as a whole wasn’t good. In the first year of three-division play, the Rangers had a losing record (52-62) when the players went on strike, but because the rest of the four-team division was so poor, they still were in first place. The strike dragged on, the playoffs were canceled, and the 1994 Rangers became a footnote in history, not even getting to claim to be the first division winner in team history, or the first team to make the playoffs with a losing record.
After the season, Tom Grieve was fired as g.m., Doug Melvin was hired, and Canseco got shipped out, sent to the Boston Red Sox for center fielder Otis Nixon and third base prospect Luis Ortiz. Canseco was done as a Ranger, but never forgotten, due in no small part to his headed home run ball 24 years ago today.