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02/08/05 8:00 AM ET

Washington patiently waits

A's infield coach hopes to run his own show soon

Ron Washington grew up in 1960s Louisiana, surrounded by what he calls a "racially charged" vibe, so he's stared down more than a few challenges. But he's also seen progess, in society and in baseball.

"I think we've gotten to the point where if you can perform, you'll get an opportunity," he explains. "I'm living proof. I came from the South, where you saw racism every day, and I made it to the big leagues. Why? Because I got the job done. That's progress. That's positive. That's Black History Month.

"To me, Black History Month is a celebration of every day: yesterday, today and tomorrow. Yesterday -- the past we're talking about -- wasn't so great. Today is better. Tomorrow, you'd like to think, will be better still."

Waiting another year or so for the chance to become a big league manager, then, is no big deal.

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"I'm a patient man," says Washington, 52, who coaches infielders and handles baserunners from the third-base box for the Oakland A's. "And while I ain't no spring chicken, I ain't no old man, either, now. I've got some tread left on these tires, so I'll just wait my turn. If it's meant to happen, it'll happen."

Some of Washington's pupils are surprised it hasn't happened already. Third baseman Eric Chavez, who gives Washington the lion's share of credit for turning him into a four-time Gold Glove winner, is at the front of the line.

Chavez says Washington's 10 years as a player with the Dodgers, Twins, Orioles, Indians and Astros have served him well in his 14 years as a professional coach.

"I think Wash would make a great manager," Chavez says. "He's played in the big leagues, so he knows what it's all about, and he communicates with players really well. He probably knows the game better than a lot of people who've already been given a shot [at managing].

"He's got the credentials already, no question. Now he just needs someone to give him a chance, and if someone does, they'll be glad they did."

Adds A's manager Ken Macha: "Wash is certainly qualified. I'd hate to lose him from my staff, but I'd happily recommend him."

If Washington does indeed get a shot, he'll proudly join a small group of African-Americans who have ascended to the top spot in a Major League dugout. Frank Robinson was the first, in 1975, and in today's game, as manager of the Washington Nationals, he's part of a four-man fraternity that includes Dusty Baker of the Cubs, Willie Randolph of the Mets and Lloyd McClendon of the Pirates.

Don Baylor, Jerry Manuel, Cito Gaston and Hal McRae are among those who have been in the fraternity before.

"There haven't been a lot of them," Washington says. "But there was a time when there was none. Zero. So there's been progress, and the thing about progress is that it keeps progressing.

"See, I'm an optimist."

Mychael Urban is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.