Responding to a recent report that he was thinking of selling the Texas Rangers, millionaire Eddie Chiles admitted he had second thoughts about keeping his baseball team.
"I've not only had second thoughts about it," he told Blackie Sherrod, a Dallas columnist. "Also third thoughts and fourth thoughts. It's like the rat with the cheese. He's no longer interested in the cheese. All he wants is to get out of the damn trap."
Chiles, a self-made oil tycoon, is the third owner of the Rangers since the late Bob Short moved his Washington franchise to Arlington, Tex., in 1971. For all of them, Short's greener pastures proved out to be a mocking mirage, with the Rangers highly unprofitable from the beginning.
Chiles' enthusiasm for baseball hardly has been served the last two years by the Rangers' consecutive last-place finishes.
Another concern could be his 5,000-employe Western Company of North America, a hard-hit victim of the oil glut that has shattered its sales of rigs and other petroleum services. Company stock, once selling in the $30 area, lately has been quoted at about $1.25 a share.
Yet Chiles isn't accepting any offers for his team. Could be that the excitement of spring training, where hope is always recycled, has grabbed him again.
So what's new with his Rangers? Well, there are these two big college kids, one out of the University of Oklahoma, the other from Oklahoma State, who are feeding the fantasies of all Rangers fans. They are Bob Witt, the right-handed pitcher who hasn't been scored on in his first five appearances in Florida and who strikes out more than one per inning, and Pete Incaviglia, a muscular outfielder who hits balls not only over fences but through them -- honest.
The rest of this essay will be devoted to Incaviglia, the one from Oklahoma State. He says the "G is silent," just as his father Tom had to explain when he played in the Dodgers' farm system and as his brother Tony would tell people when he was a third baseman in the Pittsburgh and San Diego organizations.
Incaviglia, as they say, has the stats. These include his 45 homers in merely 78 games in the Big Eight last season. His batting average last season? A mere .460, a bit of a comedown from the .490 he hit for his Pebble Beach, Calif., high school in his senior year.
But how will he do against major league pitching? Well, in his third spring training game, against the Yankees, he intercepted the first pitch he saw from Britt Burns, the third-leading winner in the AL last year, and knocked it 400-plus feet over the fence in left center. Raised his spring training average to .500 at that point.
Incavigilia said: "I think I can hit big league pitching. All my life, I've hit all kinds of pitching. I always feel very good up there at the plate."
To the plate, he takes 220 pounds of right-handed desire. Some have compared his physique to that of Steve Balboni, the Kansas City powerhouse, only more so.
Asked by one writer how he would describe himself as a hitter, Incavigilia said quite brightly: "Depends on what kind of a pitch they throw me."
They've left unrepaired in the Pompano Beach ballpark the hole that Incaviglia put in the fence with one of his line drive shots into left center, near the 380-foot sign. "I wouldn't believe it," said Manager Bobby Valentine. "That's one-inch plywood out there."
Without minor league experience, would Incavigilia survive the next squad cut? "I'd have been gone by this time if they didn't want to keep me," he said. Valentine indicated that he was ready to take a gamble.
"Columbus did," Valentine said, "and they've put up statues to him all over the world." Incavigilia already is a $175,000 gamble of the Rangers. That's the bonus they gave him last year in addition to a three-year contract. Originally he was drafted by Montreal as the No. 8 pick in the country, but he wouldn't sign with the Expos until they promised to trade him -- which they did, to Texas.
Initially, there was skepticism that he could power the ball the same distances without the aluminum bats that colleges use. "We had him hitting batting practice in January in Arlington," said the Rangers' John Welaj, "and he showed us plenty with wood. Only thing was, he broke so many bats. He was such an innocent; didn't know you had to hold the trademark up."
Batting appears to be Incaviglia's chief interest, even as it was said of Ted Williams that he used to make catches in the outfield so it would get him to bat quicker. If, as yet, there is no great elation over his performance in the outfield, there still is the solid suspicion that the designated-hitter job was invented for Pete Incavigilia. The G may be silent, but it's fair to say his bat isn't.