Rangers cashing in, at least in standings 7th in payroll, West leaders are driven to 'be the best'



What does it have to do with winning baseball games?

Not that much if today's standings in the American League mean anything.

The Orioles, now 24-28, have the highest payroll in baseball at $69 million and have been hanging around last place in the AL East.

The Texas Rangers are being paid close to $15 million less than the Orioles this season, but they have a 31-20 record that ranks as the best start in franchise history.

The impressive start has Texas in first place in the American League West by 5 1/2 games.

That is why Rangers manager Johnny Oates was a content man last night as he sat in the Texas dugout and surveyed the field where he used to make a living as Orioles manager.

Oates said his team, which has the game's seventh highest payroll, has responded to a challenge he gave the players the first day in spring training and it had nothing to do with money.

"I asked them, 'Are you content and satisfied being in the battle or do you want to be the best?' " Oates said. "Only the best wins the last game of the year. There are so many things in the game today that can make players satisfied being average. They have rTC to be driven to be the best."

So far the Rangers seem to be a driven team.

Before last night's 5-2 loss they ranked first in the American League in hitting with a .299 average and third in fielding with 28 errors. They have seven players batting .300 or better, and have hit .323 with 42 home runs at The Ballpark in Arlington.

"We've done a lot of things right," Oates said. "We've scored more than 300 runs, our defense has been good, our bullpen strong and [Aaron] Sele and [Rick] Helling have combined to win 15 games. And Juan [Gonzalez] has always been there for us."

But Oates warned, "There is a long ways to go. We have more than 100 games to play. You have to remember that we were a better team last year than we showed [77-85 record]. We were hurt all year."

About one hour after Oates talked about the injury jinx last season, Texas catcher Ivan Rodriguez had to be scratched last night because of a bruise to his sternum and upper chest after a collision at home plate Wednesday.

Texas first baseman Will Clark said the quick start doesn't surprise him.

"It actually started in spring training and has continued," said the intense Clark. "We're winning games in every possible way. We started out in spring training wanting to win the World Series like every other team that is in the mix and nothing has changed."

Clark is one of the highest paid Rangers at $6.25 million a year and refused to do any gloating over the Orioles' slow start.

"I'm not going to get drawn into any talk about Baltimore," he said. "This is about the Rangers, not the Orioles."

Texas second baseman Mark McLemore said, "We're a good team and money has nothing to do with it. We're here to win. I've never thought about money [$2.3 million a year]. I go out and play hard every day no matter what I make."

McLemore gained a reputation as a hard-nosed player in Baltimore from 1992 to 1994 and gained a lot of respect from the fans.

"I loved Baltimore and I still love it," he said. "But Texas is my home now and I'm happy there. I've said all along, all Baltimore had to do is ask me and I would have returned."

Pub Date: 5/29/98

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