Rangers' performance a testament to 'Wash'
Players respond to skipper's temperament in pivotal season
ARLINGTON -- The storm has passed. The furor that Rangers manager Ron Washington found himself in during Spring Training is only a distant memory.This is no longer a manager surrounded by questions of job security. This is a manager surrounded by committed players who are performing at a high level and leaving it all on the field every night for him. The Rangers, off on Monday, enjoy a seven-game lead in the American League West and are pushing their way toward their first division title since 1999. The biggest drama surrounding Washington is if he'll be named AL Manager of the Year. Right now he's the obvious choice. "Wash is having a great year," third baseman Michael Young said. "It's easy to be in a position where you can pick out which players are having great years. Josh [Hamilton] is having a great year, Vlad [Guerrerro] is having a great year, you can go up and down the lineup. But Wash has done an incredible job with this team. "From the beginning of Spring Training, he has kept this team focused on the big prize. The biggest strength of this team is our focus. Win or lose, we don't focus on the past, we move on to the next game. He also stresses effort, and this team's effort is off the charts. This team goes hard every night and takes on the personality of our manager." Nothing has been won yet, either individually or as a team. There are more than two months to go. The Angels, having acquired Dan Haren on Sunday, aren't going away, and the Athletics and their young pitchers are still lurking. But the Rangers' performance to this point is a resounding testament to their 58-year-old manager, who has never stopped believing -- even in difficult times -- in his team, his organization, himself or the basic principles he has developed during a 40-year career in professional baseball. "Guys talk about Michael Young and how you can't tell whether he went 0-for-4 or 4-for-4 the day before," general manager Jon Daniels said. "There is an element in that in Ron. We could give him the [Class A] Bakersfield team, and he'd still be motivated to find a way to beat the Angels. "Whether guys are banged up or struggling at key positions, he's always positive, he always has high energy and he always keeps players focused on the task at hand." Yes, Washington may be smarter and more comfortable as a Major League manager than he was four years ago, when he was hired, but he is basically the same person who lost 87 games that first year, finished in last place and also had to deal with a bad start in 2008 when, at the end of April of that season, it seemed that either Don Baylor or Mike Hargrove would be on the next plane to Arlington. Four years later, Washington is only the third manager in Rangers history to have an overall winning record.
Rangers managers, ranked by winning percentage
(minimum 100 games)
"I don't fear failure," Washington said. "That's what has kept me in the game so long. I don't fear failure, because I know I'm going to do what I need to do to keep from failing. That attitude is instilled in my players. They don't fear failure, and that's why they are able to bounce back."I never feared for my job. I'm only concerned with what I can control. I can only handle the stuff on the field. I don't worry about the other stuff. Other people make those decisions. I've always said, I'm tied to the players. I give all the credit to my players and my coaches. If the players are not performing, I'm not here. The players, the coaches, they know what I bring. Trying to prove things to other people, that's not what it's all about." The Rangers are a reflection of their manager in temperament, effort and style of play. This is his team. He came to Texas promising to put together a team based on pitching, defense and playing the game right. He never stopped preaching that, and he was relentless in making sure that was instilled in the Rangers. It didn't happen right away, but part of the problem is that shortly after Washington took over in 2007, the Rangers realized what they were doing wasn't getting anywhere and that it was time to start over. "I go back to '07," Daniels said. "This was a veteran baseball man who waited his whole career for this opportunity, and a month into his first season as manager, we started a multiyear rebuilding program. "He never blinked an eye, almost to the point where the past month, when we've been looking for veteran players to help him, he cautioned us not to give up the farm, because that's what got us here. That's a big-picture view that most managers don't have." But when you've been doing things the right way for your entire career, you don't veer from the path when you're finally reaching your destination. "I've known Wash for, what, 30 years?" Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, remembering Washington from their days together in the Dodgers organization. "He played the game the right way, hard. I always liked to study guys, how they played the game.
"Wash really stuck out with his work ethic, the way he understood the fundamentals of baseball. We could sense that in camp ... There was a lot of observation. There was constant education in the ways guys played the game. You could see Wash's leadership on the field. It was very apparent how he understood fundamentals and applied them."
Washington also came to Texas promising that he would be a "player's manager," and he has not wavered in that at all, even through the tough times that would seem to call for a heavy hand."He lets us run the clubhouse and police ourselves, which is the way we like it," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "The only time he talks to a player is when it's necessary. He's not a rah-rah guy. He has his two or three meetings a year, and then expects us to go out and play hard. He understood early on that we had a great team. That allowed him to relax and trust his players. You can see the confidence he has in his players." His approach to leadership is as uncomplicated and basic as his approach to playing the game. "I just try to lead and tell them what I'd like to see done, and they get it done," Washington said. "I have been on both sides. I was a player. I was a player in the clubhouse that people looked up to, and I know what players feel like when things aren't going good. I know when you should get out of the way, and I know when you should inject some ideas. "I let them play. I let them make mistakes, and I let them learn. I try to help them believe in themselves. I let them be who they are. There is a line that everybody can't cross, but I let them be who they are, because that allows them to be the player that they are." Of course, it hasn't been all smooth. The worst part came this past Spring Training, when the storm crashed with the news that Washington had tested positive for cocaine midway through the 2009 season. The Rangers, when Washington notified them of the situation in July, chose to deal with it privately at the time. Washington insisted that it was a one-time mistake, Daniels and club president Nolan Ryan backed him, and he did everything required by Major League Baseball as prescribed by its drug treatment policy. The incident was seemingly behind him until the news broke. Washington was forced to deal with it publicly, with his players, the media and the fans. Everybody had an opinion on the subject, and not all was favorable, as people speculated what the affect on the Rangers would be. Four months later the answer is clear: negligible. Anybody who thought this would negatively affect the Rangers or cost Washington either his respect or his job were dead wrong. "We understood what kind of person he is and what kind of team we had," Kinsler said. "It's something we had to deal with, and we were going to have his back. We were able to get through it, and it hasn't had any effect on us at all." Said Young: "To Wash's credit, that was a story for 24 hours, and then it was gone. He addressed it, gave the team an opportunity to talk about it, then we rallied around him and put it in the past." Now it's rarely brought up. Instead the focus is on the field, on a team that is in first place because of pitching and defense, and on a manager who survived the storm to get them there. "It has been satisfying from the standpoint that everything we wanted to be as a club and everything we wanted to accomplish has happened," Washington said. "We wanted to be better in pitching, better in defense, we wanted to have a better all-around offense and we wanted to push the envelope on the basepaths. We have a group of guys who are doing that. I couldn't be happier with the result."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.