Friday, June 12, 2009

Ron Washington outlasts Bill Parcells, Avery Johnson and Dave Tippett


Ron Washington outlasts Bill Parcells, Avery Johnson and Dave Tippett

So now he’s the senior member of the fraternity.

For the past three Aprils, there has been some serious doubt — particularly April of ’08 — if Ron Washington would last the first month of the baseball season. Now he has outlasted them all on the local coach/manager depth chart.

This is the same Ron Washington, of course, whose job security status in Arlington has often been defined as more day-to-day than year-to-year.

But on Nov. 6, 2006, The Wash was the surprise — no, make that shocking — Rangers managerial hire by Tom Hicks and Jon Daniels. It was considered an interesting reward for a then 54-year-old baseball lifer who had never been given a serious sniff by any other major league team when it came to manager, including the 11 seasons he spent in Oakland as a respected infield coach.

The local fraternity landscape at the time looked like this:

Bill Parcells was the Cowboys’ head coach. A legendary name in his game, and his team was about to embark on a four-game winning streak, making the record 8-4 going into, gulp, the December stretch run.

Avery Johnson was the head coach of the Mavericks, a team still in recovery mode after an NBA Finals collapse. But for the first time ever, the franchise had gotten to the Finals.

Dave Tippett of the Stars was coming off a 53-win season, and on his way to a 50-win year. The future looked bright for Dave. On Thursday, Dave was fired after seven years and six seasons (an NHL lockout is mixed in) as head coach on the hockey scene.

Kind of strange, huh, that it’s ol’ Wash who is still employed?

In the beginning he was labeled a yes-man hire for Daniels, and there was probably some truth in that. Regardless, that put Washington in a bind in the clubhouse, where key players also had the same yes-man thought. That theory alone placed a bull’s eye on the new skipper.

Yet, then came Nolan Ryan, who was placed in charge of all things baseball by Hicks in February of ’08. With that move, Hicks made sure to extend Daniels’ GM contract, but there was no such courtesy for Washington, who was originally hired with only a two-year contract, followed by club options for two more years.

I’d have bet 50-to-1 Mine That Bird in the Derby before betting Washington would survive a year under Ryan.

This week, almost a season and a half later, the Rangers announced the contractual option for Ron had been picked up for 2010. And that was also me the other day, lamenting how Washington was really being given no reward (it was only the club option) for a job pretty well done. Do right by the man and tack on another year, meaning a new contract extension for 2011.

It comes down to one thing:

Despite the many opportunities to quit on Washington, the Rangers haven’t. Maybe Michael Young deserves some credit for that, as the unquestioned clubhouse leader. But not even when Wash found himself caught in the middle of that move-to-third base flap last winter, did Young turn on the manager.

Wisely, Ron privately worked hard to repair what was briefly some hard feelings by Michael toward Washington. And Young was quickly receptive as the manager mended the relationship.

But more than anything, Wash had to sell Nolan. "The players respond to Ron. They play for Ron," Ryan said this week when the club option thing for 2010 was announced.

An column came out last week on Washington by Howard Bryant. It was a sympathetic piece on how Wash was a lame duck manager (at the time) despite being in first place in the division, and at the time having the best record in the American League.

I don’t know Howard Bryant, and with this following comment, Howard obviously doesn’t know the Rangers’ situation:

"... the hiring of Ryan by owner Tom Hicks rang of old-school cronyism."

Actually, Howard, it rang of desperation for a franchise quickly falling off the local map as a ticket-buying destination.

But the writer, again being very sympathetic to Washington over the then-contractual situation, was upset that Ryan "further isolated Washington by forcing him to fire his bench coach — longtime friend Art Howe — and replace him with a Ryan ally, Jackie Moore.

"For the new pitching coach, Washington wanted Rick Peterson, with whom he coached in Oakland. Ryan instead hired Mike Maddux."

And that’s bad? It’s true. Ryan did do all that. But again, is that bad?

Yes, a manager should be allowed to hire all his coaches. But it wasn’t that way before Ryan got here. And it was Washington himself, quoted in the same story, who said:

"[Maddux] has been a difference maker. He has given me more confidence in that part of the job. His professionalism has been invaluable."

And Jackie Moore as the bench coach, meaning the manager’s sounding board? Well, there aren’t people in the dugout this season, at least not that I’ve heard, openly and loudly questioning in-game moves. I’ve known Art Howe for years. Luv him. But there were some strange dynamics in play last season that went beyond the normal and accepted second guessing.

How this season ends up for the Rangers remains iffy. But so far, there’s been a lot to like. As a manager, Ron Washington has overcome perception, among many things.

Plus, in local seniority, he’s now outlasted Big Bill, Avery and Tip. Not bad.

Randy Galloway can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on Galloway & Co. on ESPN/103.3 FM.
Randy Galloway, 817-390-7760

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