It’s still hard to believe that Ron Washington won’t be clapping and smiling and spitting seeds and hugging and laughing on the top step of the Rangers dugout ever again. It’s even harder to believe that it all ended in such mystery. I’m sure that we will eventually find out what happened, but either way it doesn’t look good for Washington, GM Jon Daniels, or for the Rangers organization. Whatever the reason though, it doesn’t take away from what Washington accomplished on the field and what he meant to the organization.
When the Rangers run to two straight World Series and four straight 90-win seasons started, there was a triumvirate of leadership that represented what every organization needed. There was Nolan Ryan, Rangers legend, part owner and President. There was Jon Daniels, the young, Cornell educated General Manager. And there was Ron Washington, a baseball lifer finally getting his chance to manage a team.
Ryan, with his Texan swagger and toughness was the Heart of the team. His demeanor and attitude permeated every part of the organization. You could see it with his gigantic Texas Legend mascot that raced other Texas legends including Davy Crocket and Jim Bowie. You could see it when you ordered a Nolan Ryan Beef hot dog. And you could especially see it every night when the Rangers replayed the video of the infamous brawl in which a 46-year-old Nolan Ryan beat up a 26-year-old Robin Ventura. The video was almost 20 years old and yet it still got a rise out of fans. What it represented was the Heart of the organization. We don’t back down from challenges. We don’t care that we have sucked for the better part of a decade and really, for the last 40-odd years. This team, this town, this state, is ready to take on anyone.
Daniels was the Brains of the team. Cornell educated, from Queens, New York, Daniels represents very little that Texans can identify with. He is cold and calculated and seemingly disloyal. Many of these characteristics may be false, but that is the perception. Sometimes, this perceived disloyalty works like a charm, such as trading fan favorite Mark Teixiera for a haul that made up the core of the Rangers World Series teams or trading Edinson Volquez for Josh Hamilton. Others, like trading Alfonso Soriano for Brad Wilkerson, swapping John Danks for Brandon McCarthy, trading All-Time Rangers hit leader Michael Young, not re-signing Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, or Mike Napoli, and trading Ian Kinsler for Prince Fielder have backfired and left a bad taste in fan’s mouths. However, Daniels has been the architect of what is still one of the top minor league organizations in baseball. Daniels, like everyone, has done some great things and some terrible things. But the problem with being the Brains is that you don’t get too much love, but you definitely get the hate when things go wrong.
Washington was the Soul of the team. A baseball lifer, the Rangers were the first team to finally give him a chance at managing. He has been, without a doubt, the best manager in the history of the organization. He’s been the one constant through the extreme highs and the extreme lows. His down-home demeanor, straight talk, and genuine smile made fans love him. But more importantly, the players loved him the most. All of them talk glowingly about him. Despite the fact that many believe that Wash struggled as a tactical manager, his relationship with the players helped keep his job and at times seemed to make the players play above their potential. It seemed that the team played for Wash, and that his soul shone through them. His love for the game, his desire to win, and his fun-loving nature combined to make those World Series teams not only great baseball teams, but extremely fun teams to watch. The players fed off of Wash and in-turn, the fans fed off of the players. The whole “claw and antlers” craze of 2010 doesn’t happen if Wash doesn’t let the players be themselves.
Losing the Heart and Soul
But now, the Heart is gone. Ryan was the odd man out in a front office power struggle involving himself, Daniels, and the owners. Sensing it was time to go, Ryan headed to the Astros. No longer do Rangers fans get to see a man who threw seven no-hitters, who is the all-time strikeout king, and who (never forget) beat up a punk 26-year-old when he dared mess with him.
The Soul is also gone. Mysterious circumstances surround a man who was always perceived as extremely straightforward with fans, players, and the media. Even when he tested positive for cocaine in 2009, he offered his resignation in embarrassment and as a way of doing the right thing. Maybe we will never know why he is gone, but all that we do know is that there is no more soul left on this team. I’ve been a Rangers fan my whole life, watching some of the worst teams in the league. Yet, I honestly can’t even bring myself to watch a game after Wash left. It’s just a lifeless and dead team now.
All that’s left now is the Brains. Maybe that’s how Daniels has always wanted it. It is finally his organization. Everything will be on him. In the same way that Jerry Jones gets all the blame for Cowboys losses and wants all the credit for wins, Daniels will get that from now on. No longer will people talk about the impact Ryan has had on the organization. No longer will the media glowingly talk about Washington’s impact on players. Daniels influence will finally be reflected throughout the organization.
But here’s the thing about Brains. Nobody cares about the Brains of the organization. Nobody connects with that. People don’t come to the ballpark to see a well-organized team. They connect with the swagger of Ryan and the joy of Washington. They come to the park to see a team that’s having fun, whose chemistry is recognizable even from the stands. But mostly, they come to see a team that’s winning. And as Daniels has grabbed more and more power, the winning has been less and less.
The World Series runs were great fun. Four 90-win seasons is unheard of in these parts. But those days are long gone.
We’ve lost the Heart of the team.
We’ve lost the Soul of the team.
It’s time we lose the Brains.
We need a clean break and a hard reset. It’s time for Daniels to go.