One of Ron Washington’s favorite artifacts of his time as Texas Rangers manager is a copy of the local Sports section that covered the October 2006 news conference announcing that he had been hired.
The lead story quotes Washington, in his first managerial job, explaining how success will come to Rangers Ballpark — with pitching, defense, aggressive base running, and fundamentals first and those big bats next.
Washington, to the dismay of many who were shocked by his hiring, has made it happen.
Yet, credit seldom comes his way. The record book, though, will soon show that no Rangers manager has won more games than Washington, who already has done more than any other in the postseason.
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He will put Bobby Valentine in the rearview mirror with eight more victories, and he will amass 582 wins much more quickly than the manager who sent him to Triple A in 1990 and essentially brought his big-league career to a close.
Washington won’t feel any sense of vindication once the record falls, probably late this month or early in August. Instead, he’ll feel grateful for Rangers players, the members of his coaching staff and those who have helped him and stood by him into his seventh season as dugout boss.
“It means a lot to me because I’ve been surrounded by some good players and some good coaches,” Washington said.
“I said that I wanted to have a complete team from the day I got here. There are days when it looks like we are not. But when we do put it together, it’s like music, man. It’s about as sweet as it can get when you put it together for any amount of time.”
“I just put the foundation down and let everybody do their job. It wasn’t easy, but you have a vision. If you do the right thing, the game will reward you. That’s always been my philosophy. I got the players to buy in on it, which isn’t easy. When you preach the same thing over and over, the good thing is the game eventually shows that what you’re talking about is reality.”
The icing on the cake is that the record will fall during what some believe is Washington’s finest season. Despite being ravaged by injuries, the Rangers will enter the second half Friday night 13 games above .500.
Washington has juggled a lineup that at times has featured Leury Garcia, Robinson Chirinos, Engel Beltre and Chris McGuiness, and ridden the ups and downs of a starting rotation that for much of the season has included rookies Justin Grimm and Nick Tepesch, with contributions from Josh Lindblom.
Ian Kinsler missed a month. Lance Berkman is out, and when healthy hasn’t produced as the Rangers were hoping. Matt Harrison has made two starts, and Alexi Ogando is on the disabled list for a second time.
A look at the standings, though, shows that the Rangers hold one of the two wild-card spots and are only two games behind Oakland in the American League West as they chase a fourth consecutive postseason berth.
“The last few years we’ve had a lot of successes, but I really believe he’s doing his best work this year,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “I don’t know if we’re going to reach the levels we’ve reached the last few years, but I believe this is as good a job as he’s done when you look at a variety of things.
“If this season continues the way it’s going and he’s not the front-runner for manager of the year, then something is wrong with that process.”
Daniels hired Washington, whose only previous managerial experience was in 1993-94 at Class A Capital City in the New York Mets’ organization, away from his longtime post as Oakland’s third-base coach.
They have worked together in helping build the Rangers from bottom-feeders to contenders, and each admits that not every idea from Daniels is implemented. And that’s fine with Daniels, who has been criticized for interfering too much.
Their biggest reported split came last season, when Washington stuck with veteran players down the stretch instead of giving prospects Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt a chance in the pennant race.
Overblown, said Daniels. A “top-notch” relationship, said Washington.
“He can say what he wants to say to me, and I can say what I want to say to him,” Washington said. “One thing he doesn’t do is he doesn’t tell me what to do. He makes recommendations. If it’s right for the situation, why wouldn’t I do it? If it’s wrong for the situation, I don’t do it. It’s just that simple.”
Washington recognizes that others, like Daniels, are responsible for the club record he’s about to take down, thus downplaying his role. But he has grown as a manager as his team has grown.
He is often praised for his ability to get his players to play hard for him each day. He is called a players’ manager, allowing them to be themselves and prepare in their own way but holding them accountable if they aren’t performing. That’s what he gleaned from the managers he had as a player.
Washington has learned to delegate duties to his coaching staff while continuing to coach up younger players and help them grow. He has also overcome some of his admitted weaknesses at juggling a bullpen.
“He’s the best manager in the history of this franchise,” second baseman Kinsler said. “He’s a big part of our mentality. He expects you to do the job you’re given, and he expects you to play hard regardless of who you are and where you’re from.
“He’s grown with the organization. He wasn’t given a contending team when he first became manager. He’s been able to instill things he wanted in the club from the beginning. That’s the cool thing.”
To many, though, Washington falls short with in-game decisions. He relies on his gut as much as or more than the book, eschewing matchups with the bullpen or off the bench.
He’s a believer in the sacrifice bunt, which one school of thinkers insists is a wasted out, and he lives with outs on the bases because he wants his players to continue to be aggressive.
He’s loyal to a fault, though he believes that loyalty will instill confidence.
Along the way, however, he’s taken down some of the perceived brightest managerial minds — Mike Scioscia in the American League West, Joe Maddon twice in the AL Division Series, Joe Girardi and Jim Leyland in the AL Championship Series, and all but had Tony La Russa in the World Series.
“And we didn’t go to the World Series on a fluke,” Washington said.
Next up is Valentine, who recorded 581 victories from 1985-1992.
Washington, 61, said that he always believed he was capable of a long and successful tenure, with the lone exception coming when he thought he might get fired in the days after his positive test for drug use in the summer of 2009.
But the Rangers stuck with him, going to the World Series for the first time the next two seasons, and he wants to be around beyond his current contract that expires after next season.
“I want to stay as long as they want me,” Washington said.
The feeling is mutual toward the man who is about to become the Rangers’ all-time winningest manager.
“He deserves it,” shortstop Elvis Andrus said. “He’s a great manager. People think that it’s an easy job, but it’s not. He’s accomplished a lot for this organization, and you have to appreciate that.”
Said Daniels: “I’ve told Wash before that I hope he’s the only manager I ever work with. That’s my mindset. The idea of working with someone else, for whatever reason, never enters my mind.”