A team already having one of the most star-crossed, injury-riddled seasons in its recent history just took another hit with the news that, one day after being eliminated from all postseason competition, Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington has resigned "to take care of a personal problem." Tim Bogar, like Washington a former major league utility infielder, will take over on an interim basis. In a human sense, this is a loss. On a pure baseball level, this may actually be the first step on the Rangers' way back.
Subsequent to Washington's resignation, Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said that the team had fully intended to bring the manager back in 2015 and, to forestall the inevitable speculation given Washington's past experience with cocaine use, Daniels also said, "Ron has given us permission to say this is not drug related."
Lone Star Ball
Lone Star Ball
Baseball's proper place in the grand scheme of things being somewhere well behind human empathy, it's both reassuring and worrisome that Washington needed to quit his job to handle something that is not a drug relapse. Here's hoping that neither he nor anyone in his family is suffering from a serious illness and that the problem is transient and curable. Washington was (mostly) likeable and, with his unique take on the English language, sometimes Casey Stengel-level quotable. For however long he is out of baseball, he will be missed.
Having said that -- and meant it -- we must also look at what this might mean to the baseball team at the performance level. The Rangers, who had won 90 or more games for four consecutive seasons and made the playoffs in three of them, including two World Series appearances, are on a pace to lose 100 games for the first time since the epochal season of 1973, when the combined talents of Whitey Herzog and Billy Martin weren't enough to rescue the team from a historically weak pitching staff.
This year's team suffered from no such weakness, at least not as constructed. Sure, it went into the season without a plan at catcher, but almost everyone else got hurt, disappointed or both. If you add up all the players currently listed on the 60-day disabled list and considered them as consecutive jail terms, the Rangers would be serving nearly two years. The young players deployed as replacements did not perform up to expectations, and so the roster has been a transient congeries of thirtysomething castoffs: Donnie Murphy, Chris Gimenez, Adam Rosales, Josh Wilson, Carlos Pena, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Brad Snyder, Scott Baker, Jerome Williams, Daniel McCutchen and Joe Saunders have all passed through town.
None of that has anything to do with Washington except that it apparently caused him to suffer a serious loss of perspective as epitomized by his suggestion that Yu Darvish pitch through elbow inflammation because to do otherwise would be to "quit on his teammates." "So he's got inflammation," Washington shrugged. "I've got inflammation." (In an example of either good or bad timing, depending on your point of view, I wrote about this as part of my quotable series earlier on Friday morning.)
Washington later disowned those comments, but they called into question not only his judgment, but his whole raison d'etre given that he was a terrible X's and O's manager. His whole appeal was based on his ability to manage players as people, not as chess pieces. If you're a danger to those pieces, risking breaking them for questionable gain, or character-assassinate them in the press, well, then what are you contributing? You're not the morale officer anymore, you're just the boss, and not a good one. He may well have retained the respect of the players right down to the day of his resignation, but at that point there are bigger issues at stake, greater risks to be avoided.
Yu Darvish, spectator (Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports).
Washington knew something every good manager knows, in baseball and out: Getting the most out of your subordinates requires flexibility. "If you cuss out a kid and he can't handle it, you might lose him. If you hug a kid who needs to be cussed out, you won't get the most from him." Right there, that made Washington a smarter, better manager than many who have attempted to succeed in the role. Yet, one truism of managers is that as they age their ability to connect with players is the first thing to go. As players change from near-contemporaries to near-grandchildren, something is lost. Washington is 62, and his comments about Darvish call his entire worldview into question.
It may be unfair, but anyone can erase years of good service with one questionable decision. Given that, Washington's shortcomings start to shout. Despite managing in the DH league, Washington was a fan of the sacrifice bunt, leading the American League in attempts three times. No team has bunted more often than the Rangers during Washington's tenure. Even during the World Series years, lineups were rarely optimized, he clung to Michael Young even when he was actively hurting the team, and getting the bullpen organized was a yearly riddle to which Washington rarely had an answer (nor did Daniels).
As Grant Brisbee wrote in these pages just two days ago, the Rangers could bounce back quickly. All it would take would be a return to health for, well, everybody:
Derek Holland made his season debut on the night the Rangers were eliminated, and there's a nifty symmetry there. He pitched brilliantly, just the kind of encouragement the Rangers needed. That one start was the little plant from WALL-E, some life and hope just waiting to rise out of the rubble. Not everything bad that happened this season was because of injuries -- gee, I can't believe J.P. Arencibia didn't work out -- and the red flags on Fielder and Choo look a lot redder with the benefit of hindsight. Still, the Rangers are still built to win now, even if they're currently winning fewer games than anyone else in baseball.
Get everyone back and add more talent. It's worked before. It's failed before. It's not like the Rangers have another choice.
Add in that minor-league slugger Joey Gallo might be ready next year, catcher Jorge Alfaro made it up to Double-A and could make you forget J.P. Arencibia ever existed by the end of the year, and that trading Joakim Soria to the Tigers netted a couple of strong pitching prospects, one for the rotation, one for the bullpen, and there is hope here.
Washington won't be part of that, and while his personal issues are a matter of sympathy, his shortcomings as a manager are not. The Rangers might not have wanted this move, and no doubt as good people they mourn it, but it might prove to be the best thing for the organization as they look to rebound from this nightmare of a season.