The sum of the Texas Rangers includes the very ingredients that have taken baseball to so many peaks of fascination and folly this season. There has been some Yankee hostility, some Angel greed and Athletic confusion, a wonderfully gifted enigma, Bert Blyleven, and, lately, unexpected success from an unexpected source.
That Billy Hunter has won 11 of his first 14 games as Ranger manager hardly startles those who know him well, although much of baseball simply assumed he would continue coaching third base for the Orioles, with daring and zest, until water covered the earth again. He had said no to managerial offers so often.
In 1970, Hunter said no to the job another largely unknown fellow, Sparky Anderson, accepted - and the Cincinnati Reds have won fewer than 95 games in just one season since. He "side-stepped" the Kansas City Royals in 1975 and the Milwaukee Brewers a year later. For the Rangers? As their fourth manager in a week?
"I honestly said before the season that of all the jobs in baseball I'd like to manage the Rangers," Hunter said. "Everyone was giving the division to the "California) Angels, but the Rangers had a helluva group of players. Also, I must say, I thought the (Chicago) White Sox were the worst-looking team I'd seen in spring training in some time."
Ah, the Rangers, ever unpredictable, volcanic at times. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn held up the acquisition of Paul Lindblad; a rookie, of all people, Bump Wills, was a holdout: two '76 regulars were bumped from their positions and one of them, Lenny Randle, beat up the manager.
That was in spring training.
In mid-June, everyone but a few rice peddlers in Peking had gotten the word from owner Brad Corbett that manager Frank Lucchesi would be fired. And, Of course, Lucchesi had to manage the team the evening of the day Eddie Stanky said he was negotiating for the job.
Those in attendance at Stanky's press conference after he accepted the job most vividly recall frequent references to his "zest for the game." Stanky opened and closed in one game and Corbett finally got around to asking Hunter.
Then, nine days after Hunter took the job Corbett threatened to sell the team. It was an eye-of-the-beholder sort of thing. What Hunter perceived, from afar, as great players the owner saw as "dogs."
"I talked to Brad after he did that," said Hunter, "and he said he was serious but that he also didni't think a whole lot of people would jump out of the stands with $6 million to buy.
"And I'm not going to pull a Stanky and quit. But that doesn't mean I love my family any less."
Ironically, family was the reason Hunter kept declining offers to manage.
"I told my wife I wouldn't taka head job until the two boys were grown. The youngest still is a junior in high school, but he's pretty much a young man now. Still, it's an inconveenience, because I want him to finish school where he started, with the kids he's grown up with."
Sometimes Hunter casts a fond look toward Cincinnati - and what might have been. But with no regrets.
"I didn't have the National League at all," he added. "I'd have been out in left field. It would have been a difficult task." Then he smiled and said. "of course, the club might have been able to overcome that."
Also, his promise to his wife might well have caused offers to manage to dry up once Hunter was in a position to finally accept.
"You turn down three or four chances," he said, "and a lot of people think: 'He doesn't want the job.' But I haven't turned down anything in the last three years, just sort of sidestepped chances."
Nearly two months into his 50th year. Hunter hopes to bring the sort of stability and patience a talented and relatively young team needs. The Rangers are in fourth place in the AL West. But the teams above them hardly seem overwhelming.
For the record at least, Hunter is more impressed with the White Sox in July than he was in March, although he did say, "If they just let up a bit and Kansas City and the Twins falter a bit, who knows?
"A staff of Blyleven, (Gaylord) Perry, (Dock) Ellis and (Doyle) Alexander, with (Nelson) Briles and (Roger) Morst for sport starts and Lindblad, (Darold) Knowles and (Adrian) Devine in the bullpen is not a bad thing to have.
"Also, we have great enthusiasm now."
As he was talking, the phone rang. Hunter answered and, as he had done so often as a coach, went into the clubhouse and told a player (Ellis) it was for him.
"Some things never change," he said.