COMMENTARY | When Ron Washington was named manager of the Texas Rangers in 2006, many fans said, "Who?"
If you weren't plugged in to what was going on in Oakland, where he was helping define Gold Glove infielders, he wasn't even on the radar. Nationally, it seems he has the same problem today. In virtually any list of the best managers in baseball, you'll be hard-pressed to find Washington in the top five.
This summer, Washington will put one more in the win column than any previous Rangers manager, and a quarter of the way through his seventh year at the helm the question remains: Is this the year Ron Washington gets the respect he deserves?
Washington has skippered the franchise to its only two World Series appearances, and in both cases the baseball writers stiffed him of Manager of the Year awards. Jon Daniels assembled those players and was tagged at American League Executive of the Year in 2010. But there was nothing for the guy who had to get those players to work together as a World Series-contending team.
The 2013 season is shaping up as a great case for why Washington deserves recognition. After leading the AL West all of last year, the players went belly up. This year qualifies as the deadly "Rebuilding Year." Half the position players from last season are gone from the lineup, either injured or playing somewhere else. The pitching staff is even worse -- only four remaining members of last year's opening-day staff suited up for to play against the Detroit Tigers.
So Washington juggles. Batting David Murphy, of all people, in the second spot. He weighs the tactical advantage between Leonys Martin's arm and Craig Gentry's speed. And stands up for Mitch Moreland, who may finally be the answer to "who's on first?" That hasn't been a comedy routine, but rather a game-time decision for Washington these last few years. He makes the call and takes the heat for Yu Darvish throwing 120 pitches.
Washington tinkers and tweaks and tests and with 25 percent of the season in the books, the Rangers are once again the best team in the American League.
Washington's game is run and gun. Pitching, defense, and taking risks on the bases. But this season the Rangers have the most home runs in baseball at the quarter pole -- in spite of missing the tremendous bats of Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli and Michael Young. That's contrary to Washington's style and how he has always managed. He's showing a uncanny ability to leverage the strengths of the players he has, on the day he has them. His 2013 model focuses on pitching, fielding and the long ball. Opponents are hitting only .237 against the Rangers, the defense is in the top five in fielding percentage, and the team has 58 homers through the first 44 games. It's a different type of season for a Washington-managed club so far, but it's working.
Legendary Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox only won the World Series once. But casual fans remember the Braves as the Team of the Decade and Cox is lauded for his baseball genius. Maybe Ron Washington has to win a World Series to prove to the world he is a great baseball mind. Or maybe what the baseball world needs is a little better radar.
Colin Holmes has followed the Rangers through 19 managers, 11 general managers, six owners, 25 different opening day pitchers, two stadiums and two World Series appearances. He patiently waits for a win in the last game of the year.
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