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Can Rangers' Washington survive revelation?

3/17/2010

Ron Washington's latest comments were obviously well-prepared, but I thought his earlier statements were more telling ...

    Washington, 57, has been subject to increased drug testing since his failed test, which was administered by Major League Baseball last July, and he has passed all of his subsequent tests. In deciding to support Washington and retain him as manager, the Rangers accepted his apology as heartfelt and also his explanation that this was a one-time transgression.

    "I did make a mistake and I regret that I did it," Washington told SI.com by phone from Surprise, Ariz., on Tuesday night. "I am really embarrassed and I am really sorry."

    The Rangers called a team meeting for Wednesday morning at their spring training facility in Surprise, where Washington was to address the incident with the club.

    Washington declined to discuss the specific circumstances surrounding his decision to use cocaine because he didn't want his family to hear about it in the media. "Any attempt to try to explain it is going to sound like excuses," he said. "There is no right way to explain something wrong, and I did wrong. Was it tension? Maybe. Anxiety?''

    --snip--

    Washington took the unusual step of calling the commissioner's office shortly after he was tested following the 2009 All-Star break to warn it that he might fail the test. Washington told the commissioner's office and his Rangers bosses about his cocaine use before the test results were known, and the team decided not to fire him after the test did come back positive.

    "It was the right thing to do," Washington said of his decision to come forward. "I couldn't deal with the result to come back positive and be a shock to those who've shown faith in me."

Let's take everyone for their word ... but not completely lose our powers of skepticism.

Without an exact date, let's use July 20 as the date on which Washington previewed the results of his drug test.

On the 20th of July, the Rangers were still very much in the pennant race, trailing the first-place Angels by just two-and-a-half games. Would management have been so forgiving if the club had been, say, 10 games out of first? For that matter, would management have been so forgiving if they hadn't, just a month earlier, picked up the 2010 option on Washington's contract?

As for Washington, I wish him the best. But are we really supposed to believe this was "a one-time transgression?" Are we really supposed to award bonus points for his early admission, when he must have known he was going to get nailed one way or the other? Does it count as not sounding "like excuses" when you go ahead and make excuses two sentences later?

I won't begin to argue that Ron Washington is a bad guy. Baseball managers have been self-medicating for a long time, usually with alcohol but occasionally with other things. Is an occasional (or "one-time") cocaine user more ethically or morally deficient than a functioning alcoholic?

I'm just a baseball writer, but I do understand that one of those things is illegal and one isn't. Whether you consider this an accident of history or not -- 80 years ago, cocaine was legal and alcohol wasn't -- the law really does matter, in terms of credibility and viability if nothing else.

Ron Washington might be able to survive this story; all of those clean tests since last July help him a lot. But he's put himself (and the Rangers) in a tough spot. Washington's contract expires after this season. It's generally assumed that a lame-duck manager has a tougher time controlling his players, but you can understand management's reluctance to offer a new deal to someone who's been clean for only two-and-a-half months of tension-filled, anxiety-inducing baseball.

How the front office -- now apparently led by Nolan Ryan as much as anyone -- handles this situation might tell us a fair bit about the franchise's future.