Tears In The Eyes Of Texas

By Jim Reeves
Updated: May 2, 2008

ARLINGTON — I heard a local sports talk show host suggesting Wednesday that just about any casual baseball fan off the street could manage the Texas Rangers at least as well as Ron Washington has in his one season, plus one month, in the first-base dugout at The Ballpark in Arlington.

It gave me an idea for the Rangers’ next big promotion, which I offer to new team marketing guru Dale Petroskey free of charge, my own personal “welcome wagon” gift.

Hold a “Manager of the Month” contest that any fan — male or female — can enter and win. Really, how hard could it be? Scribble nine names onto a lineup card. Ask pitching coach Mark Connor whose turn it is to start on the mound.

Sit next to former big league manager Art Howe and listen to his sage advice. Tug on your earlobe or wipe your nose now and then to signal a hit-and-run or sacrifice bunt.

Given 27 games, like Washington had had going into Wednesday night’s game with Kansas City, all Joe Fan would have to do to match the current Rangers’ manager would be win one-third of his games, a measly nine. You could do that, right?

Heck, Rusty the Longhorn that picks football games in the fall could do that.

That Washington apparently will leave town after Thursday’s game with his job still in hand is perhaps the biggest surprise of a local sports week filled with shockwaves, from the Stars’ unexpected playoff success to the firing of Mavs coach Avery Johnson less than 12 hours after his team’s first-round elimination.

I was all but certain the Rangers would hold a news conference Monday to announce Washington’s dismissal, especially after reading general manager Jon Daniels’ quotes following last Friday’s meeting with owner Tom Hicks and club president Nolan Ryan.

It was more what Daniels didn’t say than what he did. Daniels had every opportunity to declare that Washington is his manager, period. End of story. He didn’t. He couldn’t. It’s not his call any more.

So when it didn’t happen Monday, I figured it would certainly come no later than Wednesday, before the team leaves on a six-game road trip to Oakland and Seattle after Thursday’s game.

Again, no announcement. There Washington was before Wednesday night’s game, working up a sweat throwing batting practice to his players.

Maybe it’s just that Hicks doesn’t want to do anything to steal headlines from his Stars right now.

Ryan was back at The Ballpark on Wednesday night, sitting with Petroskey in the owner’s box by the dugout, but Nolan has had other things on his mind this week after a family emergency in the Panhandle.

And Daniels hasn’t wavered in his support for Washington, nor would I expect him to do that.

“Anybody I hire and bring into the mix, I have strong ties to,” Daniels said. “I’m not going to jump ship on him, and I’m not saying that just to be a martyr.

“I’m hopeful we will right the ship like we did last year, but there has to be an active solution. By that, I mean we can’t just sit around and say, ‘Don’t worry, it’ll get better.’”

From the day Daniels shocked all of us by choosing Washington from his list of candidates, I’ve maintained that their careers have been inexorably tied together. To me, they’re a package deal. Whether Hicks and Ryan look at it that way, I couldn’t say.

But if Washington is fired, and that now seems inevitable, then the Rangers should make it a two-fer. Hiring Washington was Daniels’ biggest decision ever as the Rangers’ GM, bigger than any of the sour trades he’s made. If the Rangers have to admit that it was a disastrous mistake, then Daniels should also pay with his job.

Daniels understands the inherent risks that come with the job.

“Anytime you make a big decision, you put your neck out there,” Daniels said. “It’s the nature of the business.”

There is no pleasure in suggesting that the Rangers need to dismiss Washington and Daniels. They are both good and decent men. But they are in a results-oriented business and the bottom line simply isn’t there.

You could easily argue that Washington never had a prayer to succeed with the teams Daniels gave him last year and this. But it’s not just that the Rangers lost 18 of their first 27 games, it’s how they’re losing. Poor fundamentals. Poor defense. Lack of passion. Those are all signs of an uninspired, poorly motivated team, and that reflects directly on the manager.

It’s not that Washington hasn’t worked his tail off or poured his heart into doing this job. But somehow the same traits that made him a valued and gifted teacher as a third-base coach, traits that were so appreciated by the A’s players he helped for nine years, somehow haven’t translated into the same results now that he’s a manager. Whether that’s his fault or the players he’s trying to reach is open for debate.

Daniels is saddled with a record of having pulled the trigger on some of the worst trades in Rangers history, and while there are caveats on some of them, the fact remains that he has dealt players such as Alfonso Soriano, Chris Young, Adrian Gonzalez, Francisco Cordero, Mark Teixeira and John Danks with only recently called-up catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia on the current 25-man roster to show for it.

Daniels’ complete rebuilding of the team’s minor league system has been remarkable, but it’s not enough. It’s the big league club that pays the bills and the back-to-back disastrous starts last season and this are a marketing man’s nightmare.

How do you sell a team with no flair, no chance and no hope? Petroskey? Anybody?

As a major league marketing vice president once told his GM, if you’re going to go 82-82, win the 82 in the first half of the season.

There are tough decisions ahead for Hicks and Ryan, starting with Daniels and Washington. They should have been done this week, before the team hits the road again today.

But, hey, if the big boys don’t want to make those decisions, perhaps Petroskey could expand his contest to “Owner/President for a Day.”

I guarantee you Joe Fan wouldn’t hesitate to pull the trigger.