January 16, 2002: Rangers sign free agent pitcher Chan Ho Park.
At the stroke of midnight on November 13th, baseball's second-most exciting time of the year officially commenced.
Technically, it's known throughout the major leagues simply as the free-agency filing period, but the wide open marketplace of available talent (with over 140 free agents this year alone) almost always ends up resembling a no holds barred free-for-all full of soaring prices from teams trying to outbid one another for a certain players' services.
Historically speaking, the Rangers have hit the mark on free agent acquisitions more than a couple times in the past. Key additions like Will Clark in 1993, Nolan Ryan in 1989, and the 1996 signing of former World Series MVP John Wetteland all were done via free agency.
But for every successful move orchestrated by an organization, especially one that's been a part of major league baseball for over 35 years, there's bound to be a handful of player acquisitions that are undoubtedly doomed from the very beginning.
Such was the case of the Rangers and Chan Ho Park.
The sad tale of Park's tenure in Texas begins three months prior to his arrival. The Rangers had just wrapped up a 78-84 season – good for last in the American League West. While the team offense ranked among the best in franchise history, the pitching staff was abysmal, finishing at or near the bottom of the American League in earned run average, wins, saves, hits, runs, walks, and homeruns allowed. The top six members of the starting rotation combined for 145 starts and an ERA of 5.74. Nobody doubted the fact that the club was in desperate need of pitching, so Rangers headed to the market for help.
Relief appeared to have come two months into the free agency period when the Rangers believed they had found their man in South Korean native Chan Ho Park. The hurler, then just a 28-year old righty, had recently said goodbye to Los Angeles – the city where his career first began to flourish.
Signed as an amateur free agent in early 1994, Park quickly became a mainstay in the rotation for the Dodgers. During his six years in Los Angeles, he finished with double figures in wins in five of them. The apex of Park's success came in 2000 when the hurler finished the season with a record of 18-10 and amassed a 3.27 ERA. He also fanned a career-high 217 batters, but walked 124. Park improved upon those numbers the following season however, upping his strikeout total by one while walking just 91 batters.
But Park's tenure as a Dodger wasn't without its tumultuous moments either.
In a start against the St. Louis Cardinals in April of 1999, Park became a part of baseball history when he gave up two grand slams to third baseman Fernando Tatis in the same inning.
In a game against the Anaheim Angels two months later, Park triggered an altercation with Angels pitcher Tim Belcher after Belcher forcefully tagged him out on a sacrifice bunt up the first base line. Park took offense to the tag and shoved the veteran with both hands, then forearmed him in the face and landed a vicious looking bicycle kick that left Belcher with a spike wound on his left thigh and a bruised left forearm.
Park also had the misfortune of delivering the record-breaking 71st and 72nd homeruns of the season to Barry Bonds in September of 2001. Incidentally, those two historic blasts would serve as the final homeruns Park would give up as a member of the Dodgers.
In early January of 2002, the Rangers signed the prized pitcher in that years free agent class to a five year deal worth $65 million. The deal, partly made possible thanks to the cordial terms Rangers owner Tom Hicks and agent Scott Boras were on after the signing of Alex Rodriguez, made the righty the fifth-highest pitcher in baseball at the time.
But Park came to the Rangers possessing some caution flags. Despite calling pitcher-friendly Chavez Ravine his home, he had finished in the top 10 in the National League in ERA just once (3.27, 7th in 2000). Park was also constantly nagged by back injuries in his final year as a Dodger.
As the season got underway for the Rangers, things quickly began to unravel for Park. The righty strained a hamstring during spring training and aggravated the injury in an opening day loss to the Oakland A's on April 1st, sending him to the disabled list for over a month. Park was out another three weeks in August with blisters, but in his final eight starts he finally showed some of why Texas signed him. Park had six quality starts, five wins, and a 3.29 ERA.
His performance down the stretch gave the Rangers some hope for the coming season, but injuries continued to plague Park over the next two years, holding the pitcher to just seven starts in 2003 and 16 in 2004.
The club made it known that Park would have to earn a rotation spot in 2005.
After two thoroughly disappointing years, speculation began to swirl that the Rangers would waive the starting pitcher with just over 2 years and $29 million left on his contract. But Park did earn his job and remained healthy, making twenty consecutive starts and earning Player of the Month honors for the month of April. But the results that followed soon thereafter had finally become too much for the Rangers to bear. On July 24th, Park allowed six runs on nine hits and failed to make it out of the fourth inning of an 8-5 loss to the Athletics.
It proved to be Chan Ho Park's last start with Texas.
Even with a banged up starting rotation, the Rangers jumped at the opportunity to rid themselves of Park and shipped the native of Kongju, South Korea to the Padres for former All-Star third baseman Phil Nevin.
The deal turned out to be an unmitigated disaster.
Chan Ho Park finished with a 14-18 record and a 5.65 ERA as a member of the Texas Rangers. During that span of three-plus years, Park spent 319 games on the active roster and 278 on the disabled list. Aside from his half-season spent in Arlington in 2005, he never made more than fourteen consecutive injury-free starts. And although he left Texas with an 8-5 record thanks mostly to an explosive offensive, opponents were hitting just below .300 against him in 20 starts.
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