Hoss-teria is running wild, brother!
Or at least it was, back in the summer of 1982 in Arlington, Texas. The one bright spot during an otherwise miserable Rangers season came from first baseman Dave Hostetler’s bat.
Hostetler came over to the Rangers at the end of spring training from the Expos along with Larry Parish in a trade for Al Oliver. He was called up from AAA in late May and almost immediately gave the woeful Rangers something to cheer about, banging a home run in his second game off of the Royals’ Keith Creel.
On June 1, the Rangers were 15-29 and 12.5 games out of first place.
“I think we can win it all,” manager Don Zimmer had said in the Street and Smith’s Official 1982 Yearbook preview after landing second baseman Doug Flynn from the Mets. Zimmer wouldn’t make it through the year. Flynn hit .211.
So as the dog days approached, the Rangers were desperate for something to cheer about. They found their answer in Hostetler, whose nickname “Hoss” perfectly fit his 6’4, 215-lb frame. In the month of June alone, he slammed 10 home runs, prompting the Rangers’ PR department to issue a press release titled “Mightier than the Mightiest,” which showed that Hostetler’s home run pace through his first 100 at-bats surpassed Ruth, Mays, and Aaron.
Hostetler’s bat awoke the Rangers fan base, who were suddenly whipped into a frenzy dubbed “Hoss-teria.” With him in the lineup, the Rangers went 14-12 over their next 26 games, prompting fans in left field of old Arlington Stadium to drape a banner on the wall reading “The Hoss Corral.”
Perhaps the greatest innovation came during Hostetler’s at-bats. Walk-up music was still a decade away from being a thing, but the Rangers were ahead of their time. Recognizing the popularity of the Big Hoss character on the TV show Bonanza, the Rangers PR people began playing the show’s theme song each time Hostetler strode to the plate.
I reached Hostetler this past week at his home in Arlington to ask him about that special summer.
“The old Arlington Stadium looked pretty much like a Minor League ballpark,” he started.
“The Rangers needed something at that time. Crowds were pretty small. Friday night football in Texas was pretty big and I think there were some Friday night football games that outdrew us. It was pretty sparse.”
“[Hoss-teria] was kind of a kick, a jumpstart for them. It was a neat thing to get people talking about Ranger baseball.”
The Rangers were so desperate for good news that Hoss-teria may have induced some temporary hyperbole, if not insanity.
“He has as much strength as anyone playing,” Zimmer told the Associated Press.
“[Jim] Rice isn’t as strong. You put Rice in a 10-minute home-run hitting contest with him, and Hostetler would win.”
From catcher Jim Sundberg: “I’ve only seen three players with the capability of hitting the ball out of this park consistently—Reggie Jackson, John Mayberry, and now The Hoss.”
After his torrid June, Hoss returned from orbit.
“The first trip around the circuit is pretty good, but they figure out what you can do and what you can’t do fairly quickly,” Hostetler told me.
He didn’t hit another home run after August 17. The Rangers finished 64-98.
The early 1980s was a different time. There was no Fan Graphs, no widespread understanding of advanced statistics, no video technology to dissect and analyze every at-bat.
“I think I had a few VCR tapes of my hitting from a single camera in center field,” he told me.
Back then, you just had to rely on the advice of the veterans on the team to get a sense of the pitchers. For Hostetler, his go-to-vets were Buddy Bell, Jim Sundberg, and Billy Sample.
Despite tapering off in late ’82, expectations were high going into the 1983 season. Sporting News columnist Furman Bisher said he could “become the next power symbol of the American League,” also calling him a “mannerly lad of 26” (funny how old-timey sportswriters were so, well, old-timey in their prose).
The Rangers gave him a fair shot. He was their Opening Day cleanup hitter in 1983. But in 353 plate appearances, he hit .220/.323/.372 with 11 HR, 46 RBI, and 103 strikeouts.
Hostetler kicked around for several years, playing in the minor leagues and Japan, and even earning a cameo with the Pirates in 1988.
He now works as a regional sales manager for the football sporting goods company Riddell and is active in the Rangers alumni program, teaching at youth clinics and entertaining VIP fans.
But for that one summer in 1982, Arlington was his. Hoss-teria will live forever in Rangers lore.
One Pack. No Turning Back.