For all the ugliness that has surrounded the 2014 season, it has never gotten ugly inside the Texas Rangers’ clubhouse.
Losing, especially at the clip the Rangers have this summer, often leads to implosions. Either behind closed doors or sometimes, inconveniently, in front of the media and fans, tough times tend to lead to combustible moments.
But that hasn’t happened with the Rangers, despite a multitude of crises that have befallen them during their summer of discontent.
Much of the credit goes to manager Ron Washington, who has kept his cool while watching his team go 17-46 since June 6, the last time the Rangers were above .500 (31-30). They open a two-game series Tuesday night in Miami.
They’re on pace to lose 100 games for the first time since 1973, but Washington and his few veteran players have kept the angst to themselves. And the young, inexperienced rookies filling out the roster have followed suit.
And that’s also a big part of the equation. The Rangers’ unprecedented rash of injuries — including a league-high 14 players out and 24 uses of the disabled list — have helped the team come to terms with reality.
Veteran pitcher Colby Lewis said having the worst record in the big leagues would be much tougher to stomach if the team’s original roster was intact. Instead, key figures such as Prince Fielder, Mitch Moreland and Jurickson Profar have been replaced by the likes of Mike Carp, Rougned Odor and Jim Adduci.
“Things could have been different,” Lewis said. “It’s not like we have the same 25 guys we started with and ended with them and we just lost all year.”
But losing still stinks, and it’s not something most professional baseball players experience on their way to the big leagues. Most of them won as kids, in high school and in college.
“It can be debilitating, if you allow it to be,” said Rangers reliever Scott Baker, who’s in his ninth major league season. “It’s Sports Psychology 101. You come to the ballpark every day, you prepare yourself to the best of your ability and you go out there and give it your best effort.”
Regardless of the record, Baker said, professional athletes are at heart, competitors. So each wants to succeed, whether it’s against a pitcher, a hitter or “even against yourself to keep the right mindset.”
Especially for guys such as Baker, Lewis and Adrian Beltre, who have been around long enough to have few personal goals left. Winning a World Series, Baker said, is still what drives them.
“That’s what we play for,” he said. “I can’t imagine doing something else, regardless of how the team is performing. But it’s still a lot more fun to win.”
Losing isn’t something Washington has been used to during his eight seasons with Texas. His teams have won 90 or more games the previous four seasons and haven’t had a losing record since 2008.
“You find out a lot about people when things aren’t going well,” he said. “It’s not going well for us.
“You’ve got guys in that clubhouse who won’t let them quit. They play hard every night. We just haven’t been able to put things together that we can walk off the field with a W. But they leave their heart on the field every night. I’m proud of them.”
It’s part of being a professional, Washington said. “That’s what you’re supposed to do. That’s your job. You’ve got to have pride.”
Washington would prefer to avoid the topic of losing. The idea makes him squirm, even if as a former player, he knows better than anyone how much failure the game involves.
“I get upset like everybody else, I just don’t get frustrated,” he said. “You get frustrated, you get blind. I’m not being blind. I still see everything that goes on. It’s tough, but I’m the leader. I’m leading through hard times.”
The organization acknowledged in July that 2014 had been officially transitioned to development mode. The team began shepherding young talent to the big leagues to give Washington and his staff a closer look at prospects.
The young, first-time big leaguers are too in awe to be demoralized by the team’s record. The older, more experienced players have learned over the years how to appropriately respond to losing.
The Rangers’ clubhouse leaders aren’t overly vocal, Lewis said. The older players, including Lewis, Beltre, Shin-Soo Choo, Elvis Andrus and Alex Rios, prefer to lead by example.
A couple times this season, players-only meetings have been held to address issues, but usually the mentoring occurs during one-on-one chats on the plane, in the hotel or in the clubhouse.
“I talk to Colby a lot,” pitcher Nick Tepesch said. “He’s helped with all sorts of things, on the field, off the field. He’s one of those guys I look up to and watch to see how he goes about his business.”
Allowing the losing to keep him in a bad mood all the time isn’t going to help him pitch any better, Tepesch said. In fact, negativity could breed failure.
“I get to come to the ballpark every day and play a game,” he said. “It’s breaking it down to really being fortunate to be able to come to the park every day and do what we do and trying to have fun every day. And realizing: it is fun.
“We may have lost some games this year, but each day is a new day. We still have a lot of fun and enjoy playing the game.”