Mac Engel

Rangers GM hit home run in his decision to hire Banister

Rookie manager Jeff Banister, center, has the Rangers playing as one this season.
Rookie manager Jeff Banister, center, has the Rangers playing as one this season. Special to the Star-Telegram

Before commencing on a well-deserved lobbying effort on behalf of a certain Texas Ranger, let me again say that Josh Hamilton was right — we are not a baseball town.

When Texas Rangers co-owners Bob Simpson and Ray Davis grow tired of losing money because of decreased attendance and slash payroll, the indifferent paying ticket public will share a tiny part of the responsibility.

The Texas Rangers began a meaningful series against a division and in-state rival on Monday night at the Ballpark, the Houston Astros, and there was more interest in watching a reality TV star’s blustering rhetoric for the presidency.

Donald Trump’s presidential stumping at the AAC trumped Rangers-Astros at the Ballpark in Arlington.

When the home team has a chance to take over first place in the American League West and roughly 10 people show up, you are not a baseball town. You are a great town, just not a baseball town.

The Rangers are in this position of potentially “shocking the world” by overtaking first place in the AL West for a variety reasons, starting with one decision that GM Jon Daniels deserves ample credit for nailing — hiring Jeff Banister as the replacement for Ron Washington was a giant home run, and this man should win the American League Manager of the Year award.

We kill JD when he blows it, but the decision to hire Banister over interim skipper Tim Bogar is a success. As beloved and respected as Wash was in the Rangers’ clubhouse, I am not sure he could have done what Banister has accomplished with this team this season.

Expect Minnesota’s Paul Molitor and Toronto’s John Gibbons to comprise two of the four contenders for this award. Chances are good that the manager of the team that wins the AL West will win the award. A.J. Hinch of the Astros is no bum, but Banister’s situation was far more daunting to try to compile a winning record, let alone contend for a division title.

Hinch inherited a talented and stacked team ready to open its window to win. The Astros have been building for this season for years, and a young team has grown up into a contender in H-Town for the first time since the days of Bagwell-Biggio-Berkman.

Banister walked into a chainsaw of a situation. He lost his ace in spring training for the season, Yu Darvish, and his No. 2 starter, Derek Holland, suffered an arm injury in his first start that put him on the DL for four months. There was a while he had to throw out a Houston Astros reject named Wandy Rodriguez as a starting pitcher; Colby Lewis was Banister’s ace; the best center field option was another guy the Houston Astros didn’t want, Delino DeShields.

He also has to manage up; working with the “new age” GM in MLB, such as JD, mandates a different skill set than this position used to require.

Throw in a mess of a bullpen and a lineup that was erratic, how this team loaded with high-priced players didn’t pack it in is on the manager. Veterans with big contracts that know the score can unintentionally dial it back without even knowing it.

Vegas set the over/under on the Rangers’ wins at 78. That number looked optimistic on May 3 when the Rangers dropped to 8-16. When they “improved” to 16-22 two weeks later, the smart cash said this team was not going to finish .500.

“You don’t learn about your ballclub when you’re winning; winning will mask a lot. Losing will expose every wart you have,” Banister said. “Losing can separate a clubhouse. You can become dysfunctional fast.”

The Rangers never did become dysfunctional, and whatever Banister was selling, his clubhouse was buying. He convinced Prince Fielder to become the designated hitter in favor of the superior fielding Mitch Moreland to play first base, and eventually the team came around as did the roster.

JD gave him more to work with, and the starting pitchers began to return from the disabled list. The front office opened the vault to bring in a stud ace in Cole Hamels.

Now the Rangers are legit playoff contenders with a rotation and a few relievers good enough to win a round or two in the postseason. The players deserve the credit, but so does the manager who should win the AL Manager of the Year.

It would be nice if a few more fans showed up at the yard to notice.

Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.

Mac Engel, 817-390-7697

Twitter: @macengelprof

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram