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Sunday, March 28, 2010
Updated: March 29, 10:48 AM ET
Rangers' skipper on shaky ground

By Jim Reeves
ESPNDallas.com

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- To watch Ron Washington go about his job on the back fields of the Rangers' spring training complex, you'd think nothing has changed at all.

He still teaches when the opportunity presents itself, still smiles and laughs with friends, still occasionally sneaks one of his beloved Winstons when -- he hopes -- no one is looking.

That belies the underlying truth, though, because on March 17, 2010, Washington's life changed forever.

He is the same likable person, the same down-to-earth lifelong baseball man. But as far as his managerial career is concerned, he is dead man walking.

Ron Washington
Ron Washington's managerial career could very well be over if things don't work out with the Rangers. "I certainly couldn't blame (other teams) if that happened, but it's certainly not anything I'm thinking about right now," Washington said.

Once Washington is no longer managing the Rangers -- and that could be sooner rather than later if this team stumbles out of the gate this season -- he will never manage in the major leagues again.

That's just an opinion, but of a dozen or so people who have spent a good portion of their lives around baseball, none disagreed when confronted with that question.

What must concern the Rangers and their fans now is whether this also means that Texas is now dead team walking.

Considering that the Rangers have lost eight of 11 exhibition games since Washington's public humiliation and were outscored 66-26 during an eight-game losing streak that was snapped Sunday, it's a fair question to ask. And whether anyone wants to admit it or not, the worst is probably yet to come.

Sure, Washington's bleak future as a manager could change if he leads the Rangers to the World Series, or if his team suddenly supplants the Los Angeles Angels as kingpins of the AL West and dominates the division for the next four or five seasons.

If that happens, all bets are off. Perhaps at that point team owners and general managers will forgive and forget that less than two weeks ago Washington became the first major league manager to ever confess to testing positive for cocaine.

But I wouldn't count on it.

The far more likely scenario is that Washington's career as a major league manager will end the day he's fired by the Rangers, especially if it's at some point this season. Because he is so respected and because his reputation as an excellent third-base and infield coach is so impeccable, he may get a chance to coach again. Let's hope so.

But you can't make the mistake in judgment Washington admitted he made last season and have people still believe in your leadership skills, or be willing to step up and take the public relations hit that would be sure to come.

"I hope not," Washington said when asked if he thought this would be his only managerial opportunity. "That's all I can do is hope not.

"I certainly couldn't blame [other teams] if that happened, but it's certainly not anything I'm thinking about right now. I feel bad about what I've done and I hope that someday people can find it in their hearts to forgive me."

Forgiveness will come because Washington is a good man who made a terrible mistake. Most will recognize that. But there are also consequences to pay, one of which is likely to be any chance at ever managing again.

"I haven't thought about that," general manager Jon Daniels said.

What he has thought about is whether there will be a lingering effect on the team once the season begins. He does not think the way the team has played since Washington's confession news conference on March 17, which coincided with the news that he had failed a drug test last summer, are related, "but I can see where people might think that."

Daniels can only hope that the Rangers players, who have rallied around Washington, can put the distraction behind them and get off to a fast start.

"You can't predict it," Daniels said of how it will affect the team when the season starts. "All we can do is prepare to do our jobs the best we can, get ready for our season. The fans will react and have their opinions and say what they're going to say. Some will be supportive. Some won't be."

The Rangers will have a pretty good idea of how opposing fans are going to react when they make their first three-city road trip in mid-April. There are three potentially tough stops in Cleveland, New York and Boston.

Washington insists he's ready for whatever comes and said so far the reaction from fans has been "excellent." He said he's received hundreds of letters, and the majority by far has been supportive.

"I'm going to do whatever I have to do to deal with whatever comes," Washington said. "I don't see anything that happened to me affecting those guys. Our No. 1 goal is winning the division, and we'll see how much further we can go from there.

"It's not about Ron Washington. It has to be about the players and the fans in Texas. My players have forgiven me for the indiscretion I had. I know that I'm going to have to work awfully hard to get the fans in Texas to do that, and I'm willing to do whatever it takes."

There is only one way Washington can indeed change what seems to be his tragic destiny.

Win.

If he can get the Rangers off to a fast start and lead the team to another good season -- and not even necessarily a division championship, but keep them in the race -- then he'll have a chance.

But if the Rangers stink in April, if expectations -- and Daniels said they remain as high as ever -- aren't met, if things go south and management feels it must make a change this season, then Washington will almost certainly never manage again.

Win, and there could be a last-minute reprieve from the governor. Win, and we'll all be amazed at how quickly people can forgive and forget.

Until then, he's dead man walking.

Jim Reeves, a former columnist with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, is a regular contributor to ESPNDallas.com.