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Rangers’ Top 5 center fielders: Sullivan’s take

@Sullivan_Ranger
May 4, 2020

ARLINGTON -- No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are

ARLINGTON -- No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only … if you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favorite at this position.

Here is T.R. Sullivan’s ranking of the Top 5 center fielders in Rangers history. Next week: Right field.

Rangers' All-Time Team: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF

1. Josh Hamilton, 2008-12, 2015
Key fact: Ranks third all time among Rangers with a .901 OPS and a .542 slugging percentage and ninth with a .302 batting average.

Hamilton only started 305 games in center field during his time with the Rangers, but he is clearly the franchise’s all-time greatest at the position. In fact, the five-time All-Star and 2010 American League Most Valuable Player Award winner was one of the greatest Rangers/Senators players at any position.

Hamilton started in center field more than in left, right or at designated hitter. And Texas has a dearth of candidates in the middle of the outfield if you don’t count Juan Gonzalez, who patrolled center in 1991-92 but spent his best years in right.

Since 1961, the Rangers/Senators are the only Major League franchise without a player with at least 500 starts in center field. Even the Rays and D-backs, who have only been in existence since 1998, have had two each.

The Rangers have had just two outfielders win a Gold Glove Award: Gary Pettis in 1990 and Juan Beniquez in 1977. Not counting the Astros, that is the fewest for any current AL franchise.

2. Oddibe McDowell, 1985-88, 1994
Key fact: Ranks sixth in club history with 129 stolen bases.

McDowell was the 12th overall pick by the Rangers in 1984 after having won the Golden Spikes Award at Arizona State and been a member of the ‘84 U.S. Olympic Team that includes Will Clark, Barry Larkin, Mark McGwire and Bobby Witt.

Texas needed the excitement -- the team had grown old and one-dimensional. McDowell was viewed as a dynamic leadoff hitter at a time when Rickey Henderson, Tim Raines, Brett Butler and others had made speed a huge part of the game.

The Rangers didn’t wait long, calling McDowell up to the big leagues on May 19, 1985, just three days after Bobby Valentine had been named manager. That was just the beginning of a massive infusion of youth that helped turn Texas from a 99-loss team in ‘85 to a shocking 87-win club the next year. Valentine finished second in the AL Manager of the Year Award voting, and the Rangers’ future looked promising.

McDowell had a decent rookie season, hitting .239/.304/.431 with 18 home runs and 25 stolen bases in 111 games. He became the first Ranger to hit for the cycle on July 23 and placed fourth in the AL Rookie of the Year Award race, which was won by Ozzie Guillen.

During the Rangers' turnaround season in 1986, McDowell scored 105 runs, hit 18 more homers, stole 33 bases and had a 106 OPS+ off a .266/.341/.427 slash line. He was doing everything for the team.

Then he just flattened out. McDowell didn’t get any better the next two years, Texas’ great youth movement lost steam, and he was one of three players traded after the 1988 season to the Indians for Julio Franco.

3. Juan Beníquez, 1976-78
Key fact: In 1976, he set Rangers records for an outfielder with 3.34 chances and 3.16 putouts per nine innings.

Beníquez came up through the Red Sox system as an infielder and was a good-looking prospect, except that he made a lot of errors (64 in one season alone). The Red Sox moved him to center field but had Fred Lynn in front on him, so Beníquez ended up being the key piece in a 1975 trade to the Rangers for Ferguson Jenkins.

Beníquez spent three seasons in Texas and may be the best defensive center fielder in club history. Offensively, he slashed .261/.314/.362, but an average of 17 stolen bases per season did not make up for a lack of power.

4. Del Unser, 1968-71
Key fact: He led the league with eight triples in 1969.

Unser was the 18th overall pick by the Senators in the 1966 MLB Draft out of Mississippi State and became their starting center fielder in 1968. He finished as the runner-up for the AL Rookie of the Year Award.

Unser had four solid seasons for the club as a legitimate leadoff hitter who handled himself well on defense. He was the Senators’ Opening Day center fielder for the first three seasons but lost the job temporarily in 1971.

The Senators had acquired Curt Flood from the Phillies that winter. Flood had been an All-Star for the Cardinals but was in the process of challenging baseball’s reserve clause in court and had sat out the 1970 season after being traded to Philadelphia. He lasted 13 games before retiring, and Unser got his job back.

5. Gary Matthews, 2004-06
Key fact: His .866 OPS in 2006 is the seventh highest by a Rangers switch-hitter in club history.

During that 2006 season, Matthews was an All-Star, hitting .313/.371/.495 with 102 runs scored, 19 home runs and 79 RBIs. He hit for the cycle on Sept. 13 and made maybe the greatest catch in Rangers history came when he took away a home run from Mike Lamb on July 1.

Also receiving consideration:

Marlon Byrd -- He had three strong offensive seasons for the Rangers in 2007-09 with an .820 OPS and a 113 OPS+. But in only one of those three years (2009) was he the club’s regular center fielder.

Don Lock -- He averaged 20 home runs and 57 RBIs per season from 1962-66 with the Senators.

Mickey Rivers -- His best years were with the Yankees, but he hit .333 for the Rangers in 1980, the fourth-highest tally in club history.

George Wright -- He was a surefire star in 1983 and a fourth outfielder by 1986. Honk if you are old enough to remember he missed a fly ball in Charlie Hough’s near-no-hitter.

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast.