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Washington needs to win more than ever
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That statement rings true for any major-league manager. It especially rings true for a manager who is entering the final year of his contract under new ownership and high expectations — and who just confirmed that he used cocaine.
Plain and simple, the report by SI.com that Washington tested positive for cocaine during the first half of last season thrusts him to the top of the list of managers on the hot seat.
Oh, I know the Rangers’ players are behind Washington, the front office, too. Chances are, the club will be galvanized by the “us against the world” mentality that often unites sports teams in crisis.
But frankly, the only way the players can save Washington’s job is by winning games — lots of games, right from Opening Day.
The Rangers can talk all they want about remaining a family, and they certainly made a good show of it Wednesday, with virtually all of their players showing support for Washington by attending his news conference. But the perception of Washington — particularly in the Dallas-Ft. Worth community — is forever changed.
The immediate reaction of Rangers’ fans will be difficult to gauge; different people will hold different views. But if the season turns sour, look out. Public opinion matters, especially when it comes to managers, who are easily and cheaply replaced. The Indians, for example, did not want to fire Eric Wedge at the end of last season. Their fans all but demanded it.
Winning usually is all that matters in professional sports; winning sure helps people forgive. Besides, few among us have not been touched by drug abuse on some level. If Washington indeed used cocaine only once, as he said in his formal statement, then perhaps this will be a one-time distraction. Athletes, other celebrities and regular folks commit worse offenses every day.
The problem is, Washington is the Rangers’ manager, their leader, the spokesman for the franchise twice a day, before and after games. The questions about him might be only beginning, particularly since he said that “this was the one and only time I used this drug,” implying that he might have used others.
Doesn’t matter that Washington was accountable from the start, informing MLB of his drug use before even taking a test.
Doesn’t matter that he offered to resign immediately — the Rangers declined to accept, and kept the matter confidential in accordance with club and baseball policies.
Doesn’t even matter that Washington handled himself with class and dignity Wednesday, apologizing, offering no excuses, promising to tell young people about “my story and my mistake.”
Just consider the dynamics already in play.
Washington, 57, was hired by general manager Jon Daniels, not team president Nolan Ryan, who joined the Rangers’ ownership group after Washington was aboard.
Ryan contributed to the decision to exercise Washington’s option for 2010 last June, about a month before the manager’s cocaine use. But Washington is not Ryan’s guy, and Ryan will assume an equally prominent role in the team’s new ownership group.
“When you have a situation of this nature, it certainly adds challenges,” Ryan said. “It’s not going make his job or his position easier to handle. It’s something else he’s going to have deal with. The thing you worry the most about is how his players respond. They seem to be very supportive.”
That support is likely to be unwavering, at least at the start.
Washington addressed his players at 1:30 p.m. ET Wednesday; the Rangers were scheduled to play at 10:05 p.m., but club officials summoned them to the team’s training complex for a meeting. Washington invited players to ask questions, right then and there, in front of the full room. Some players, one source said, were near tears.
“It was very quiet,” Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton said. “Everyone had their full attention on him. Wash was very emotional. You could tell he was a broken man from the bad choice he made. That’s all it takes sometimes, one bad choice, especially if you’re a man of integrity, who (tries) to do the right thing. You could tell it was heartfelt. He meant every word.”
Hamilton distinguished his own past drug use from Washington’s, saying, “He’s not an addict. He didn’t ruin his life.” Rangers third baseman Michael Young predicted the news about Washington would “make us rally around him even more.” Five minutes after the clubhouse opened, the players were ready to move on.
Some of them knew as far back as last September that Washington had tested positive, according to one source; perhaps the news did not faze them. Still, will he merit the same trust as the team's on-field decision maker? What will happen if the Rangers get off to a slow start? How will Washington respond?
Washington said his cocaine use was “an attempt to dodge personal anxieties and personal issues I needed to confront.” He said he completed MLB’s drug-treatment program, which includes at least three drug tests per week, and plans to continue voluntary tests to eliminate any questions about future drug use. According to SI.com, doctors cleared Washington this spring to go back into the regular pool of managers and coaches, who are all randomly tested once a year.
“We still believe in him for all the same reasons — his energy, his desire and ability to get the most out of people,” Daniels said. “He always supports the underdogs. He’s about giving people opportunity and second chances. I feel our club has responded to him. A lot of those same messages he’s about all the time — overcoming adversity — are appropriate here.”
To be sure, people have come back from more trying circumstances, but as Ryan said, the news of Washington’s drug use only increases the pressure that he is under. That pressure existed before, exists every day for every major-league manager. But a revelation of cocaine use takes it to another level.
Now more than ever, Ron Washington needs to win.
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