Enough time has passed that when Jeff Banister reviews the reasons why he was fired as the manager of the Texas Rangers he blames only himself.
“It’s on me. Absolutely. That was on me,” Banister said. “In hindsight, that team needed me to be more 2017 rather than 2015 and 2016, which is what I was. I was trying to manage like, ‘Here it is, let’s go. Let’s go.’ When what I needed to do was to recognize the situation and be more encouraging and take my foot off the gas in certain situations. That was my mistake.”
Sounds great. These are the right words to say, even if anyone who observed the situation knows the state of the 2018 Texas Rangers was more than the manager.
“If you are invested completely and totally in the position, and the team, and the fans, than (being fired) is an emotional experience,” he said. “But it’s one that you should be reflective in that, if you want to continue to do this, you look back at your own leadership; where were the holes? Where can I improve? You ask that in hopes that you can move on and do it somewhere else.”
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Having been in baseball for forever, Banister was conditioned for the reality that one day he would be fired, and the person doing it was more than likely going to be the man who hired him.
On Oct. 16, 2014, GM Jon Daniels hired Banister.
On Sept. 21, 2018, GM Jon Daniels fired Banister.
He had a .509 winning percentage in four seasons, and division titles in each of his first two years. He was named the 2015 American League manager of the year.
The last two seasons got ‘em as the Rangers were a combined 142-172 in ‘17 and ‘18 under Banister. At the time he was fired, the team was 22 games under .500.
“If you understand the position you know it’s coming at some point. You develop some thick skin in that regard,” Banister said. “You prepare people that are around you for that. It’s still tough. It’s tougher on my family more than it is (on me).”
On Jan. 6, Banister was hired as a special assistant to baseball operations by the organization he has a long history with, the Pittsburgh Pirates. His family plans to remain living in this area as his son is still in high school.
He sat down for a long interview recently at a restaurant in Southlake.
Star-Telegram: What did you do after you were fired?
Jeff Banister: I drove home. I walked in the house and it was empty. I called (his wife) Karen and I told her. She was at lunch with some friends and I told her to stay there; that was OK. Then I called Jacob (their son, who was in high school) and had him come home. I wanted to tell him first before it hit the airwaves.
Did you see it coming?
If you are pouring yourself into the job correctly there is some element of unknowing surprise, but if you are intuitive enough and perceptive enough there are certain signs that start to show. In my case, maybe in my own emotional state prior to, Karen tells me, the last couple of weeks maybe there was a difference in my own mindset. Was it me knowing or just intuitive enough that something is going on?
Did you lose the clubhouse?
I think you have to define what that means. That’s the easy thing to say.
My theory was you lost (third baseman) Adrian Beltre.
There is fatigue in anything. Then you have to think why did you get fatigued? When you lose, everything looks bad. Nothing looks good. When you win even the subpar things look good. There is fatigue in most everything that doesn’t feel comfortable.
Would I still be the manager if I felt like the friendship was still a strong friendship? Listen, obviously there was a partnership there of things when you manage and run a team and one of your leaders of the playing portion of it. I look back on it and think, ‘Are there things I probably should have taken off Adrian’s plate at a time when he should be focusing in on who he was as a player and enjoying the ride and the things he’s knocking down names on the career lists?’ I could have done a better job of that. I know now the desire, and drive to win, and to give a city and an organization and the pride they need for their team. There are times in certain seasons things need to be celebrated other than wins and losses. Even though that is what we are paid to do. We are charged to do.
Could I have done a better job of that? Absolutely.
What would you do differently next time?
What is necessary – we talk about culture. The culture is who you are, and the standards, and that identity needs to be extremely strong that you need to stay true to and authentic to. It’s OK when things are challenging as long as you are looking towards progress. And daily progress. Guys need to know on a daily basis that their world is still good.
I should have allowed my ability to smile in tough times and softer eyes for challenging moments. That is something I know. I am talking about individually. People do need to see that. everyone. Kids. Wife.
Go back to Game 5 of the 2015 American League Division Series. You are leading 3-2 in the bottom of the seventh with Cole Hamels pitching. You take him out. Team gives up four runs that inning and you lose 6-3; I always thought that you should have kept him in. Do you regret that one?
I don’t know if I regret it. I know exactly what you’re talking about. It was counter intuitive to what I told him the last game of the season in 2015 when I told him, ‘You will be the starter, the setup man and the closer today.’ And he pitched us into the division title.
Why deviate from that?
Probably inexperience of major league playoff inexperience on my part. There were a number of thing. I made a decision more based on all of the things you talked about. Short rest. It was pitch count. Situation. Just the energy of what had transpired during that game. At that point I had prided myself on guys like that and trusting them. This was a World Series MVP. That’s why I say playoff inexperience for me at that moment got the best of me.
Do you look at that game and say, ‘What a great game,’ or does it just hurt?
There will always be some pain there. So many things that happened in that game. Ultimately, no matter what, who players are and their legacy, what it means to them, is ultimate to me. I think about that. Careers are so microscopically short compared to anybody else. They have a short time to succeed, or fail, and be who they are to establish a legacy in the game.
What was your greatest high as the manager?
There is no one moment. Winning the division. The last day of 2015 when we clinched the division. Watching Austin Bibens-Dirks stare down Max Scherzer. Great moments. Even the challenging moments, like when Jon informed me I was no longer the manager. As much as that hurt. Life goes on.
Did you have a good relationship with Jon Daniels and the management?
Absolutely. For sure. I loved all of those guys. They treated me and my family great. It was an organization I love. Players and coaches I care about. A few weeks after I was fired I went hunting with (Rangers owner) Ray Davis and (Rangers COO) Neil Leibman.
You are ‘prepared’ to be fired, but can you really be prepared for that?
It still felt awful. It doesn’t take away the emotional side of it. I have seen and gone through worse. I’ve known people in positions that are bad. I gave the same message, ‘You need to feel the way you need to feel. But there comes a time when it’s time to focus in and move forward.’
When did you do that?
Probably about the time Jacob got home from school and then Alex (their daughter). We all packed up and went to Tyler so I could watch him play a baseball game.
When was that?
The day I got let go.
You want to be a big league manager again?
Yes. Absolutely. To me it’s still unfinished. I have the desire to impact people and to be an agent of change. To be a part of something. For me I don’t do this because I have some grandiose idea that a world championship is the end all. It’s not. The world championship is the celebration that there was a group of people, players, front office, and coaches, and fans, and ushers, and ticket takers, a culmination that a group of people that endured something that no one else did that season. That they were the only ones who accomplished it that year. We revel in that. We celebrate it but that’s finite, too.
Did you take it home with you?
No. I didn’t because I had a great example. My dad. There were times he brought it home and I know what it felt like. You tried to avoid him. Then there were times he didn’t bring it home, and I thought it was the greatest thing ever.
It’s why we lived where we lived from the ballpark. It wasn’t that I needed it; it was that Karen, Jacob and Alex needed it. When I left I needed to drive and decompress and flush and be able to walk through the door, my four dogs and (my family) I was there. They all knew if we won or lost. Dogs didn’t know. They didn’t need me to be dragging that home. They knew from me that it was OK and that their world was going to continue. I needed that 35 minutes it took me to get home so I could go from being Texas Rangers manager to husband and father and pet owner.
Are you a baseball lifer?
I hope so. Karen knows this: There are days when the ballpark is more of a home than anywhere else. She knows that. It’s her home, too. I would go out to center field every day and look around and I knew I was the luckiest guy around. It was a privilege to do that.