Shaping The Rangers: #20 Jose Guzman

Lone Star Dugout begins a series reflecting on the 20 biggest player transactions in Texas Rangers history. This time, we look back at the 1981 signing of pitcher Jose Guzman.

February 10, 1981: The Rangers sign pitcher Jose Guzman as an amateur free agent.

When the Puerto Rican Winter League announced in August they were disbanding after 69 years of existence, it closed the door to a portion of the Caribbean rich with Rangers history.

Former Rangers Ivan Rodriguez, Juan Gonzalez, and Ruben Sierra, along with current players like Ramon Vazquez and Jason Botts have all called that area home at one point in their careers.

But arguably one of the brightest beacons of hope for the Rangers during a pitching-starved stretch of baseball in the 1980's came out of the rich baseball landscape of the island.

His name was Jose Guzman, a native of Santa Isabel, and he gave the Rangers glimpses of greatness in what otherwise was a career plagued by injuries.

Guzman was first spotted by former Rangers' scout Orlando Gomez while splaying his craft for John F. Kennedy High School in his Puerto Rican hometown. His repertoire of pitches included a devastatingly impressive split-finger fastball, one that might have led to a bevy of injuries down the road.

The righty emerged onto the major league scene in September of 1985 as a late season call-up and was bombed in his first two starts with the team, losing 12-3 and 10-4 in games against the Athletics and Angels. But Guzman was able to rebound in a big way in his final three outings of the year, allowing no runs on six hits and finishing just an out shy of a complete game victory in his second to last start of the season against the Minnesota Twins.

His valiant efforts had secured a spot on the team for the following season. But a freak accident landed crafty knuckleballer Charlie Hough on the disabled list and left Guzman, in just his second season in the majors, as the Rangers' Opening Day starter.

Guzman had no easy task ahead of him as the Rangers were set to face the defending AL East Champion Toronto Blue Jays in the first game of the 1986 season. But he rose to the occasion and threw eight innings of scoreless ball to become then just the first rookie to record an Opening Day victory since Fernando Valenzuela in 1981.

His workload increased to 172 innings in 1986 and 208 the following year, when his 14 wins were good for second on the team to the veteran Hough. It gave the Rangers plenty of high hopes that 1988 would be a breakout year for the then 25-year old. Guzman didn't disappoint, lowering his earned run average to 3.70 – good for second on the team. He also finished second with 206.2 innings pitched and 157 strikeouts.

In his first three seasons in the majors, Guzman had tallied 37 victories. But as the fall of 1988 approached, the right-hander entered into a "dead arm" phase of sorts and managed to win only twice after the month of July.

Guzman underwent some minor off-season surgery over the winter of 1988, and following some R&R, was expected to be in fine shape when he reported to spring training the following year. But during a pre-spring training workout session at Arlington Stadium, former Ranger pitching coach Tom House noticed Guzman was struggling with a strange, new arm motion and a serious lack of velocity.

Guzman immediately was sent to team physician Dr. Frank Jobe in Los Angeles. His reports weren't encouraging: A slight anterior dislocation on the front side of his shoulder. The order was to completely shut down all baseball activity for the time being.

Then, towards the end of May, Guzman reported to Arlington Stadium for his first workout since the injury. He reported no pain and the Rangers considered him to be about a month away from a rehab stint in the minor leagues.

But only two days later, the situation had taken a severe downward turn.

When Guzman returned to the bullpen for another workout session, he threw a few pitches, then motioned for House to come over. The pain in his shoulder had returned, and the workout would have to be abandoned. On May 22nd, 1989, Guzman left Arlington Memorial Hospital facing the very real possibility that his brief career in the major leagues could be abruptly over. An MRI had revealed some depressing news: A partially torn rotator cuff. Much like fellow Rangers Edwin Correa, Brad Arnsberg, and other one-time prospects, another bright looking young star for the Texas Rangers faced the kind of injury interruption that can stop a pitcher's career cold when it should be blooming.

Guzman's 1989 season was over.

He would go on to miss most of the following year as well, but towards the end of 1990 Guzman performed admirably in ten minor league rehab starts, lifting the Rangers' hopes for his future.

The year 1991 brought upon a surprising comeback for the Puerto Rican native, who went 13-7 with a 3.08 ERA for the Rangers, while striking out 125 batters 169.2 innings pitched. Guzman was even more impressive the following year, winning 16 games while tossing 224 innings – his most as a big leaguer.

But with the Rangers ready to go with a rotation anchored by two 27-year olds in Kevin Brown and Kenny Rogers, along with a future Hall-Of-Famer in Nolan Ryan, the Rangers appeared ready to go in a different direction and opted to let Guzman test free agent waters following the 1992 season.

Guzman went on to sign a free agent contract with the Cubs, but it never really panned out. After a 1993 campaign that saw him go 12-10 with a 4.34 ERA, Guzman went on the disabled list in April of 1994 and stayed there for the rest of the season. At the end of the year, Guzman had a procedure to remove a bone spur from his right shoulder, but postoperative problems continued to haunt him long after that. In June of 1996, the Cubs finally gave up on Guzman and gave him his unconditional release.

In 1998, Guzman tried a return to the major leagues via the Rangers and was assigned to Triple-A Oklahoma following spring training. But arm problems got in the way once again, this time tendonitis in his throwing shoulder, and on March 29th Guzman finally hung up his spikes for good.

These days Jose Guzman calls the broadcast booth home, recently wrapping up his fifth season behind the microphone for KFLC (1270 AM).

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