In baseball, as in every team sport, the team with the better players has an obvious advantage over its opponent; however, sometimes the line between winning and losing is a thin one, and it may also hinge to some degree on pure, dumb luck. Such was the case on May 10, 1972, when the Texas Rangers took on the defending American League champion Baltimore Orioles before a sparse crowd of 6,617 fans at Memorial Stadium.
The Rangers had no reason to be optimistic about their chances against the powerhouse Orioles, who had won over 100 games each season from 1969 to 1971 and had claimed the AL championship each year as well, as well as a World Series victory in 1970. The Rangers, on the other hand, had lost over 90 games in each of the past two seasons, when they were still the second incarnation of the Washington Senators, and would end up losing 100 games in 1972.
In addition to the obvious disparities between the two franchises, the Rangers were up against noted Senators-slayer Dave McNally, a 20-game winner in each of the previous four seasons. McNally had a career 23-4 record against the Senators/Rangers; since 1968, he was 17-1 against the franchise and had beaten them 13 times in a row.1
Rangers manager Ted Williams sent right-hander Pete Broberg to the mound in the hope that he could play the role of David against McNally’s Goliath. Broberg, an Ivy Leaguer from Dartmouth College, had been the Senators’ first-round draft pick in June 1971 and had posted a 5-9 record with a respectable 3.47 ERA over 18 starts in his rookie season.
Broberg was projected for future stardom and appeared on the cusp of fulfilling his potential as he entered the game with a 1.86 ERA. After he suffered a tough loss to the Cleveland Indians on May 3, the result of two unearned runs, Rangers pitching coach Sid Hudson said, “There’s a great deal of difference in Pete this season compared to last year. More confidence, more maturity. … The only thing he’s lacking now is being able to put that ball where he wants it every time. …”2 Hudson had no idea that his words would be prophetic; Broberg would suffer a worse fate against the Orioles on this evening due both to a sudden inability to find the strike zone and a freak error in the bottom of the ninth inning.
The Rangers’ best chance to score came in the top of the first as Dave Nelson and Frank Howard hit back-to-back one-out singles, but they were stranded when McNally got Ted Ford to fly out and retired Tom Grieve on a grounder to third. After that, the Rangers demonstrated an innate ineptitude on the basepaths the few remaining times they actually had a baserunner.
In the top of the fourth, Lenny Randle reached base on a two-out single but was picked off by McNally. Two innings later, Ford demonstrated the Rangers’ lack of learning that so frustrated their manager, Williams, when he suffered the same fate as Randle, hitting a two-out single and being picked off by McNally.
After Grieve led off the seventh inning with a single, he at least was gunned down at second base by Orioles catcher Andy Etchebarren rather than being picked off at first. In any case, Grieve’s lack of base-stealing success quickly quenched any hope of a Rangers rally.
Perhaps lost amid the Rangers’ misadventures on the bases was the fact that Broberg was matching McNally zero-for-zero through the game. Entering the ninth inning, the Orioles had managed only a single by Etchebarren in the third and a walk to Don Buford in the sixth. In fact, since the Rangers’ half of the first inning, neither team had managed to get a man as far as second base.
Unfortunately, the wheels quickly fell off the Broberg Express in the bottom of the ninth. After Buford hit a one-out single, Broberg lost his composure and walked Merv Rettenmund and Boog Powell to load the bases. (Powell was walked on four pitches.) Brooks Robinson stepped to the plate, and it seemed a certainty that he would knock in the winning run one way or another. With the count at 3-and-1, Robinson appeared discontent with the idea of drawing a walk for the victory and took a hack at a Broberg fastball. The result was a tailor-made double-play ball to Nelson at third base.
Nelson threw to home for the easy force out on Buford, but then bad luck stepped in to thwart the Rangers’ chance to end the inning and extend the game. Catcher Ken Suarez, who was making his first start of the season, threw to first, where he would have had an easy force out except for the fact that he stepped on Robinson’s bat just as he threw the ball. Suarez’s throw hit Robinson on his left side and caromed into right field.
Randle chased after the ball from his second-base position as Rettenmund raced home with the winning run. Though Randle made a throw home, the play was not even close and the Orioles escaped with a 1-0 victory. It was one of 13 walk-off losses this inaugural Rangers squad would suffer in 1972 compared to only three such victories.
In addition to the on-field shenanigans that had cost the Rangers a chance at a win, there was additional drama in the stands that added insult to injury. This series was the first for the team in the Baltimore-Washington area since the Rangers had departed for Texas after the 1971 season, and a number of angry Senators fans had made the 30-mile trip from Washington just to express their opinion of Rangers owner Bob Short, who was at the game.
In the sixth inning, a disgruntled female Senators fan poured a cup of beer over Short’s head as he viewed the game in a box seat behind the Rangers’ dugout. Jerrold C. Hoffberger, the Orioles’ chairman, had been sitting with Short, and he pursued the woman. Eventually, Hoffberger and security officers “grabbed the woman at the top of the stairs and she was hauled away.”3
After the ignominies on the field and in the stands were over, Broberg demonstrated the maturity Hudson had credited to him as he handled the tough defeat by simply stating, “When you’re snakebit, you’re snakebit.”4 He tried to deflect some of the blame from Suarez, urging the reporters, “And say something good about Suarez. Man, he caught a hell of a game for me. I’ve never handled Baltimore like that before. Suarez brought out the best in me.”5
In spite of his “best,” it was Broberg’s second consecutive loss on unearned runs, and his inability to throw strikes at the right time had contributed greatly to the late-game fiasco. Los Angeles Dodgers pitching great Don Drysdale, a Rangers radio announcer in 1972, said a few days later, “And that’s very important. Being able to put a pitch exactly where you want it is what separates the average and the great pitchers.”6
As destiny would have it, Broberg was unable to control his pitches and never achieved major-league greatness. He finished the 1972 season with a 5-12 record and a 4.29 ERA. After posting an 0-4 record with an 8.07 ERA in an injury-riddled 1974 season, he was traded to Milwaukee; there he went 14-16 in 1975, a season in which he walked more batters (106) than he struck out (100). Following stints with the Chicago Cubs and Oakland A’s, the 28-year-old Broberg’s career was over after the 1978 season.
This article was published in “The Team that Couldn’t Hit: The 1972 Texas Rangers” (SABR, 2019), edited by Steve West and Bill Nowlin. To read more articles from this book at the SABR Games Project, click here.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also consulted Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org.
1 Deane McGowen, “Roundup: Broberg Loses Two-Hitter on Error, 1-0,” New York Times, May 11, 1972.
2 Randy Galloway, “For Rangers’ Broberg Stardom in the Future?” Dallas Morning News, May 6, 1972.
3 “Fans Give Short Beer Baptismal,” Dallas Morning News, May 11, 1972.
4 Randy Galloway, “Orioles Back Into 1 to 0 Win,” Dallas Morning News, May 11, 1972.
6 Randy Galloway, “Broberg Makes Own Orbit,” Dallas Morning News, May 16, 1972.