Home MLB Rounding the Bases: Ron Washington’s Reputation

Rounding the Bases: Ron Washington’s Reputation

by Matt Smith

MlbHlSqThere are a lot of things you can take from reading Michael Lewis’ ‘Moneyball’. One of them is an admiration and liking for Ron Washington. 

In common with most A’s fans, I was extremely disappointed when he didn’t succeed Ken Macha as the Oakland A’s manager after the 2006 season and, while sad to see him go, was glad when the Texas Rangers gave him a chance to be a Major League manager that offseason.  Wash was well-liked by all and had an excellent reputation within the game.  As a result, the news this week that he had failed a drug test last year due to cocaine use was all the more shocking.

For a start, few realised that managers were subject to drug testing; apparently all clubhouse personnel are now covered by MLB’s programme.  Washington’s positive test was kept secret at the time. Such confidentiality would be standard procedure for an employee not specifically covered by a public ‘outing’ process, but the private nature of the offence was instantly in jeopardy once reporters started hearing rumours of the story.  It was only a matter of time before the Rangers had to address it; however the claim that a former employee was using it to blackmail them makes the saga all the more depressing. 

It’s been a major talking point this week and understandably so: if the manager of Tom Hicks’ other sports team was involved in a similar story, the ‘Rafa Benitez’s bong bombshell’ headlines would send the 24-hour news channels and radio phone-ins into overdrive.  The unfortunate consequence is that it leads to a lot of misinformed, hypocritical, moralising rubbish being spouted by people who just want to stick the boot in with undignified glee, rather than having any reasoned and intelligent comments to add to the discussion.

Let’s turn back to Washington’s depiction in Moneyball. He was the A’s third base coach at the time and was charged with turning Billy Beane’s experiments into players who could pass for fielders.  As the author Michael Lewis puts it at one point: “When you asked Wash what it was like to be the infield coach for a team that would have started a blind man if he had a talent for getting on base, he’d grimace and say, ‘I seen some shit. I can tell you that’”.

Thankfully for the A’s, Washington was brilliant at his job.  This is shown most vividly by the section about Scott Hatteberg, a lifelong catcher who Wash had to turn into a first baseman.  He did this through spending countless hours working on Hatteberg’s technique and also by working on his confidence.

“’He knew that what looked like a routine play wasn’t a routine play for me’, said Hatty. Wash was helping him to fool himself, to make him feel better than he was, until he actually became better than he was.  At the Coliseum it was a long way from the A’s dugout to first base, but every time Hatty picked a throw out of the dirt – a play most first basemen made with their eyes closed – he’d hear Wash shout from the dugout:

‘Pickin’ Machine!’

He’d look over and see Wash with his fighting face on:

‘Pickin’ Machine!’

Professional sports clubhouses (dressing rooms etc) are an unforgiving territory.  Players will size up a new coach or manager very quickly and anyone not up to the job struggles to survive long.  From the passages in Moneyball (“Wash got inside your head because – well, because you wanted Wash inside your head”), to the many quotes elsewhere from A’s players of that era and the comments coming out the Rangers’ clubhouse this week, it’s undoubted that Washington has earned the respect of those he has worked with. 

Such respect is not erased on the back of one, admittedly big, mistake. 

The fact that he has built up so much goodwill is a genuine reason for him to be treated sympathetically, although clearly that’s not to excuse what he did.  Players generally can get away with irresponsible acts; however a manager should be older and wiser and they are employed to make judgements and decisions under great pressure.  Whether you can make a direct link between his decision-making process in these two very different situations is something only a person familiar with such matters can answer with any authority.  Still, the Rangers were right to carefully consider this before making their decision to retain him as their manager.

We all know how it works: the Rangers’ performances on the field will determine whether Washington’s drug use will lead to his sacking any time soon.  If the team is winning then everything will be fine; if they get off to a bad start to the season then the hacks will pick holes in every decision he makes, blame the team’s failings on the ‘distraction’ he has caused and he’ll be sacked.  It might not be fair, but that’s how it is.

That’s why, even as an A’s fan, I’m now hoping the Rangers have a good season.

You may also like

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.