When Ron Washington was picked as the Rangers' manager before the 2007 season, he was a bit of a surprise choice. He'd never been a manager, was a third-base coach with an AL West rival and was joining a club clearly in a rebuilding mode.
But those were some of the exact reasons that Jon Daniels, getting ready to start just his second season as general manager, decided to hire Washington. The manager was known as a great motivator and teacher with his players. Ask the Oakland A's who played for him, and they'll tell you that. (Washington even has a replica of the Gold Glove given to him by Eric Chavez, who says he wouldn't have won it without Washington's guidance.)
So Washington began teaching a very young Rangers group. It was slow going. They won 75 games in 2007, and a rough start to 2008 had folks wondering whether Washington would get through the first half of that season. But he survived it, and the Rangers overcame a 9-17 start to finish four games under .500 and second in the AL West.
The Rangers hung around in the AL West race in 2009 until the final few weeks, but it was clear they were improving. Of course, the Rangers went to two consecutive World Series after that. But it was the fact that Washington improved along with the Rangers that made a big difference.
"He’s grown as the team has grown," said Daniels, who called Washington the "perfect guy to manage our club" as he announced the manager's two-year contract extension through 2014 on Monday. "I think the challenge has changed over the years. In the beginning, we were in the mode of talent acquisition and he was a teacher, first and foremost. He's grown and learned to delegate to his coaches. He’s always been very patient with young players."
Washington also has made some mistakes along the way and learned from them. It's the same kinds of lessons he imparts on his players.
"I think what causes improvement is dealing with the fact that you don't know everything," Washington said. "I always try to tell that to my players. I’m open-minded. I'm willing to learn and willing to say I'm wrong. That’s the way I was brought up. I’ve gained a lot of experience in this game from a lot of people, and I try to use those experiences to get better. I'm no different than a player. That's what we expect from players, and I expect it from myself. Each year comes and goes, and I get a little better at dealing with adversity in the game of baseball, and there's a lot of it. I never think that I've got it figured out."
Washington, who will turn 60 in April, is now the sixth-longest-tenured manager in the big leagues. And he's helped mold a young team into an annual contender.
"Our guys love playing for this man," Daniels said. "You see that every day. The national baseball audience has seen that for two Octobers. They bounce back from adversity and play hard for him. The team takes on the personality of the manager, and that may be the single most important aspect of a manager to me. You see how the players respond to him.
"What you see is what you get. He’s honest with them. It’s all baseball all the time. There’s no pretense. No B.S. It’s about winning. He cares about people. He’s not going to sugarcoat things for you, but he cares about you and is going to look out for you."