Tonight will be a sad night. Lisalverto Bonilla’s season will come to an end.
I’m not predicting injury or a Mo Claiborne-style walkout for the 24-year-old righty. No, this is more like U2, leaving the stage, one by one, as they play “40” to finish the show.
Only this is a concert with no encore, and that’s what makes it so sad.
Tonight Bonilla takes the ball to start the fifth-to-last Texas Rangers game of the season. And then, because only four games follow, he’s done for 2014.
I’m so used to the ramp-up adrenaline that coats this week on the schedule, and I miss it. The last time the Rangers were playing out the string in the final week, the iPad hadn’t been invented, there was no such thing as Instagram, and Tiger Woods was not only Superman but Clark Kent as well.
It shouldn’t be that tough to handle. I spent a lifetime celebrating 162 with perennially gutted hopes of anything more than that, and I was still a passionate, devoted baseball fan. There were those three years out of four when the miracle of the baseball encore visited my world, but getting fed to the Yankees each time got to be even more demoralizing, in a sense, than the innocence of having a regular season attraction without realistic expectations of more.
I know for some of you it’s hard to even fully enjoy 10 wins out of 11, given the surrender of the “worst record” trophies that seems fairly likely at this point, but I’ve got to say, baseball is fun again. I’d have appreciated something more than the one win out of eight that the Diamondbacks have pocketed on their bullet train down to baseball’s worst mark, and while I’ll admit to moments the last couple weeks when seeing a Scott Baker inning go wrong wouldn’t have crushed me, I still find myself wanting the win every night, and when the big moments are provided by Rougned Odor or Ryan Rua or Nick Martinez or Spencer Patton — or Derek Holland — all the better.
And if there’s a better candidate to manage this team in 2015 than the one at the helm right now, then great — and yes, I’m in favor of going through the process of interviewing a small number of whoever the front office considers the top prospects for the job, for various reasons — but I can’t imagine anyone other than Tim Bogar running this team on the field at this point. And it has nothing to do with this win streak, in which eight of the 10 victories have come against teams who needed the wins. Bogar is an awesome candidate for this job. He wants it, and has said so. This is going to happen, and I’m fired up about that.
Jon Daniels has said he doesn’t expect to begin the interview process until a week or so after the season ends — but wants to make a permanent hire before the World Series kicks off on October 21 — and though we don’t know who is on the list of folks that will come through, Michael Young won’t be one of them. Evan Grant (Dallas Morning News), Richard Justice (MLB.com), and Ken Rosenthal (Fox Sports) each devoted a story to the idea of Young as Rangers skipper over the last week or two, but Grant reported last night that while Daniels and Young discussed the possibility Tuesday, Young is committed to family right now and isn’t ready to consider an opportunity as all-encompassing as managing a big league baseball club.
More immediate is the wait for the Carolina Mudcats to decide whether to hook up with the Rangers (who visited on Monday) or the Braves, leaving the other to head to Adelanto, California to make the High Desert Mavericks their new High Class A home, and this isn’t an unimportant thing.
And for Texas to hold a private workout for 23-year-old Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas, which will reportedly happen today. Also not unimportant.
And for Bonilla-Scott Feldman tonight, which is unfortunately less important.
Followed by Colby Lewis-Jason Hammel, Nick Tepesch-Scott Kazmir, Holland-Jeff Samardzija, and Martinez-Sonny Gray, four games that six months ago looked like they might be for everything, a long weekend of Castle Doctrine baseball as the Rangers looked to reclaim the AL West perch that the A’s had swiped from them the last two years.
Instead, the ultimate meaning of those four will likely be wrapped up in whether Texas can force Oakland to travel to Kansas City for the Wild Card Game, after which the house lights at 1000 Ballpark Way flip on and we file out of the 2014 season, without an encore.
As a baseball fan you never want the length of the off-season to be fixed when there’s still one swing through the rotation left on the schedule, but in this case the question of how long to sing the winter song offers a sadly clear-cut answer, and the identity of the manager who will lead this team the next time it suits up is nearly as certain, and I’m not sad about that part at all.
I don’t remember many concerts or many baseball seasons that I wanted to end, and while I’m enjoying baseball right now more than I have in a long time, thanks to Rougned and Neftali and Adrian and Bogey, one absolute truth for the Rangers is that it’s necessary for 2014 to end in order for 2015 to get here, and though I’m looking forward to these final five of 162, truth be told I’m more than ready to pour a 40 out on this baseball season and, like I’d gotten used to before the last four glorious, spectacular years of 162+, get fired up for the next one.
I hope you saw Tim Bogar’s postgame presser, especially his response to Gerry Fraley’s question about whether he considered pinch-hitting for Guilder Rodriguez in the bottom of the seventh inning with two outs and the go-ahead run on second base.
Pretty great moment, both in the seventh and after the game in the media interview room.
Atlanta, two games back in the NL Wild Card race, badly needed a win in Arlington last Friday.
And badly needed a win Saturday.
And badly needed a win Sunday.
Oakland, in the midst of a colossal, spiraling plummet, badly needed a win in its own building against Texas on Tuesday.
And badly needed a win Wednesday.
And badly needed a win Thursday.
They both needed wins far more, practically speaking, than the Texas Rangers did but they failed, all six times, against a Rangers team that some diehard fans, inspired by draft position and associated lagniappe, have been hoping would lose every game left on the schedule.
(Not me, by the way — I’m just pulling for Rockies and Diamondbacks wins . . . and series splits when they play each other, as they are right now. The Rangers’ tragic number: nine, and counting.)
How slim were the odds of the Rangers sweeping either the Atlanta or Oakland series, let alone both? Ridiculously slim — in fact, the great Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs called the sweep of the Braves the third-most unlikely series outcome of the entire 2014 MLB season (2.766 percent likelihood) . . . and the sweep of the A’s the first-most unlikely series result all year (2.087 percent).
As Sullivan put it, “the A’s didn’t just get swept — the A’s got embarrassed, by a full roster with half the talent. . . . [I]nexcusable.”
In none of those six games, by the way, did more Texas players appear who started the season on the big league roster than those who didn’t. In the Braves series finale, for example, six Rangers from the Opening Day roster appeared, along with three players who began the year in AAA (including one with San Diego’s AAA club), four who started the year in AA, and one who was in High Class A. Appearing for Texas in the A’s finale: five Opening Day big leaguers, three AAA players (including one with Kansas City’s top farm club), and six AA players.
Hanging in there and pulling for this Rangers roster isn’t quite like watching Jackie Davidson and Johnny Monell on the Replacement Rangers in the spring of 1995. Or Kevin Sweeney and Cornell Burbage leading the Replacement Cowboys in 1987. Or Ralph Drollinger leaving Athletes in Action to suit up for the expansion Mavericks.
But there are minor league free agents getting regular playing time for Texas right now, and you can probably imagine what a gut punch it must be to be a fan of the Braves or A’s right now, let alone of their players, coming off three days each of abject failure against this going-nowhere team, when every game meant just about everything to them.
Oakland corner bat Brandon Moss, who is hitting a remarkably anemic .179/.303/.282 in 185 second-half trips to the plate, said after his team’s series-ender against the Rangers: “When you’re in a race, it’s supposed to be fun. But I don’t see anyone in this clubhouse having any fun. Because it’s not.”
I completely disagree. This has been a blast.
And, considering that this is a team relegated to the unwanted role of spoiler and in line to land draft pick 1.1 — for the first time since 1973, very strange to watch.
I can’t begin to imagine how much more exponentially strange it is for Ron Washington to watch, from a couch rather than the top step.
Even as little as a month ago, if I’d asked you to identify which AL West team had locked up 162+ by now, which two were fighting for a playoff position (perhaps the final one), and which two were looking for a manager, there’s basically zero chance you would have gotten more than two of the five right. What a weird season.
I’m enjoying Oakland’s developing and potentially epic collapse (#addisonrussell) immensely. Unbecoming (the accusation a couple years ago was “gauche”), maybe, but unapologetically so, because sports.
And because we as Rangers deserve a little fired-up in 2014, wherever we can find it, after the season-long fusillade of gut-punches we’ve had to endure.
None of us is going to look kindly back on 2014 as Rangers fans, even if the way it has played out could end up leading to a franchise-altering draft and the Dawn of Odor and perhaps an opportunity to go forward with a field manager that the organization wouldn’t have had the chance to entrust Game Day to had it not been for perhaps the most unbelievable turn of events in a season full of them.
But, strange as it probably seems, I bet lots of us are enjoying baseball right now more than a whole lot of Atlanta Braves and Oakland A’s fans are, and not just because even the losses these days — remember those? — come with a highly unfamiliar silver lining.
Tonight the Rangers kick off their third and final series in Oakland for the season. In the last one, Texas took the June 16 opener, 14-8 — putting up its biggest run total of the season — before embarking on an eight-game losing streak (which would extend to 22 losses in 25 brutal games) by dropping the final two against the A’s.
In the clubs’ first series in O.co this year, Texas won the first two games by a run each, and took the finale, 3-0, behind a Martin Perez complete-game shutout on April 23, which for obvious reasons feels like about two years ago.
That early-season series happened to have been the only Rangers sweep of 2015 until they took care of the Braves in Arlington over the weekend.
There’s late night baseball the next two nights, followed by a getaway afternoon tilt on Thursday, and while Texas will go to battle with a turbo-decimated roster marked by an absurd number of rookies, it’s the other team that’s in a really bad way.
Just five weeks ago, on August 9, the A’s owned baseball’s best record (72-44) by a full four games, leading the West by the same margin because it was the Angels who boasted MLB’s second-best mark. Since then, Oakland has the worst record in the game at 11-22 (Texas is 12-21 over the same stretch), while Los Angeles’s 26-8 tear has it on the brink of clinching the division title.
Oakland is now a game ahead of Kansas City for home field in the Wild Card Game — but only three games ahead of Seattle (imagine if the Mariners hadn’t just lost three straight) in its effort to avoid missing the playoffs altogether.
The Rangers have a chance to make things meaningfully worse for the A’s this week, just as they did for Atlanta over the weekend.
The silver lining, of course, is that any loss to Oakland takes Texas closer to securing the 1.1 pick in June and all those other goodies, though this three-game win streak in combination with the Rockies’ current seven-game skid has Colorado just 1.5 games back in that backpedal chase. Arizona had briefly caught the Rockies before going on its own win streak these last three days, but there’s now 4.5 games of distance between the Rangers and Diamondbacks.
Speaking of Colorado and Arizona, Jon Heyman (CBS Sports) was the first to report that Rangers Assistant GM Thad Levine is on the Diamondbacks’ list of 10 candidates for their vacant GM position, while Ken Rosenthal (Fox Sports) speculates that if the Rockies dismiss GM Dan O’Dowd, Levine could be a candidate there as well, as he worked in Colorado’s front office for six seasons before Jon Daniels brought him to Texas.
But that’s not what brought me to my keyboard this morning. Buster Olney (ESPN) published a story on Saturday titled “Oakland’s collapse could be worst ever,” and I enjoyed that a lot before even reading the article, especially because I’d just read a chat that Olney’s ESPN colleague Keith Law conducted that included this exchange:
Q: How many hitters in minors have a future 70 hit tool, [and] is J.P. Crawford one?
A: I wouldn’t put that on many prospects. Addison Russell would be one. Crawford . . . I’d feel more comfortable at 60 or even 65. 70 is pretty rare.
Yes it is.
And Russell, like Yoenis Cespedes and Billy McKinney, belongs to someone other than Oakland going forward. Which is awesome.
Maybe you think the schadenfreude is a little unbecoming and a lot pot/kettlesque given where the Rangers’ season has gone, but 2014 is what it is for Texas, and you can recover from injuries.
Recovering from Cespedes (and a premium draft pick) for impending free agent Jon Lester, and Russell/McKinney/Dan Straily for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel? The A’s have a chance over the next two weeks to make sure their season doesn’t have a devastating “worst collapse ever” result, before salvaging things when they trade Samardzija this winter (or I guess possibly next summer) to start to restock a turbo-decimated farm system.
And Texas has a chance, late tonight and late tomorrow night and Thursday afternoon, to make things even more difficult on the A’s, a position that I hate the Rangers find themselves in, but we are where we are, at least for 2014, and I’m not a bit above looking forward to this opportunity to keep knocking the Oakland kettle off the stove . . . not that I won’t be keeping an eye on Colorado and hoping for a little Rockies pride at home against the Dodgers and Diamondbacks these next six days.
Twenty years ago today, the Rangers had already played the final game of what to that point had been their unluckiest season. A franchise that had never played a post-season game was in first place in the American League West (albeit with a 52-62 record) when, on August 12, 1994, the Players Association went on strike.
New stadium. New uniforms. First place. No playoffs.
The Stars were coming off their first season in Dallas and were weeks away from the second NHL work stoppage in two and a half years. The Mavericks were coming off their second-worst season ever (also known as “the Quinn Buckner era”), enabling them to draft Jason Kidd. The Cowboys were kicking off their first season under Barry Switzer, coming off of consecutive Super Bowl wins. The day before September 12, 1994, Dallas (which would ultimately go 12-4 but lose to San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game) squeaked by the hapless Houston Oilers, 20-17, in its home opener.
It was nearly four years before the first Newberg Report, a terribly crafted email I sent to a few friends that focused on the AAA contract given by the Rangers to 28-year-old 4-A lefthander and Fort Worth product Ricky Pickett. It was written very poorly, regrettably preserved evidence of an effort that was about 9,999 hours short of the Gladwell threshold. It contained exclamation points.
I’d like to think there were no exclamation points generated from my desk back on September 12, 1994. That Monday, 20 years ago today, was my first day as a lawyer.
Ron Washington (Low A manager), Tim Bogar (second-year big leaguer), and Mike Maddux (ninth-year big leaguer) were each with the Mets, and 20 years later they’re all part of a story whose next chapters are uncertain, as a season whose Unlucky Quotient obliterates 1994 nears a merciful end.
Arizona Diamondbacks GM candidate Thad Levine finished up his bachelor’s degree and baseball career at Haverford College in 1994, and four-year-old Engel Beltre presumably had two fewer injured legs than he does today.
Rougned Odor was seven months old on September 12, 1994, and of all the awesome images I have in my head of that kid, whose future I can’t wait to see unfold (preferably in a Rangers uniform), the one I can’t shake right now is seeing him quietly seethe in the dugout last night, all alone, well after all his teammates and coaches had retreated to the clubhouse after a sweep at the hands of baseball’s best 2014 team, the Angels. Bet he was a handful at seven months old.
Dominican “14”-year-old Albert Pujols was about to move to New York in September 1994, after which he would move to Missouri, after which he would be drafted in the 13th round, after which he would play in 2,102 big league baseball games before striking out four times in one of them, and it would come at the hands of Nick Martinez (twice), Spencer Patton, and Neftali Feliz, because not even Albert can predict ball.
And even if he could, it’s highly unlikely that he’d have foreseen that it would happen in a game that ended the worst 76-game stretch in Texas Rangers — and predecessor Washington Senators — history, culminating a 19-57 run that feels pretty much like a 19-57 run.
That footnote from last night’s loss comes from the great Scott Lucas, who was in Austin those seven years I spent before that September 1994 day and has been since, and yesterday he delivered his final minor league game report of the 2014 season. It was Scott’s best year yet, at least from a writing standpoint, though as a new father I suspect he might think of this as his best year in other ways, too.
So might Guilder Rodriguez, about whom Scott wrote on Monday, and about whom I will write about myself one day soon, bringing Jayce Tingler into the discussion because I think there’s an awesome parallel.
Jayce, who was born the “same year” as Pujols, probably won’t think of this as his best year, but it was a tremendous season on the farm for the Field Coordinator and his troops. While there have been an obscene number of setbacks at the big league level, there have been remarkably few in the organization’s minor league system this season, and a huge number of players who without question will consider this their best year yet, and rightfully so.
The Texas Rangers will think of 2014 as something entirely different. They now have baseball’s worst record by a full five games, and of course that’s not the worst part of it.
The only people at my office who will know that today is my 20th anniversary to practice law are those who read this newsletter, and that’s cool. It’s not a big deal. It’s sorta hard for me to believe that I’ve been at it this long, but it’s not a big deal.
But I do want to thank everyone I work with for making our law firm a place I still look forward to pulling into (almost) every day.
And I want to thank Scott for another really fantastic year of writing, and for doing what he does so reliably and with integrity.
And Jayce for another great year on the farm.
And Roogie for being Roogie, which includes that cold postgame stare out of the dugout and across the field last night, which was the 20-year-old saying to the Los Angeles Angels, I think: Go ahead. Get your licks in now.
(Or, as a hat-tip to that awful first-Newberg-Report-ever back in 1998: Get your licks in now!)
My wife and I finally got around to watching Season 2 of “Derek” the last few nights, at the end of which the Ricky Gervais character says, through tears:
That’s the amazing thing about life. You can just start again.
It’s what you do from now.
It’s never too late, until it is.
It’s one of the amazing things about sports, too, and I can’t wait for Texas Rangers baseball in 2015, when things can just start again, and give us genuine, renewed hope that we can celebrate the 19th, 18th, and 16th anniversaries of something special, if not the fifth and fourth.
On September 5, 2007, Ron Washington’s first Texas Rangers team beat the Royals, 3-2. The victory, Texas’s second straight and 9th of 11, drew the club to within 17 games of the division lead.
On September 5, 2008, an 8-1 loss to the Red Sox dropped the Rangers to 17 games back.
It would get better.
On September 5, 2009, Texas fell to the Orioles, 5-4, but, especially for a franchise that hadn’t played beyond 162 in a decade, still had hope at just 4.5 games back.
On September 5, 2010, the Rangers were in first place in the American League West.
On September 5, 2011, the Rangers were in first place in the American League West.
On September 5, 2012, the Rangers were in first place in the American League West.
On September 5, 2013, the Rangers were in first place in the American League West.
On September 5, 2014, Ron Washington — who hadn’t managed a ballgame in which the Rangers were mathematically eliminated since 2009 — announced hours before he would have done so again that he was resigning, immediately, from the job he’d grinded in uniform for 37 years to earn, the job he’d performed for eight years after that, building toward and cementing the greatest run in franchise history.
The fighter, walking away from the fight.
The man who consistently demanded and inspired effort and belief from the players who played for him, issuing a written statement that he felt he’d let the organization down, and its fans.
The baseball lifer, pulling his own plug.
We’ve heard it a hundred times, Wash talking about doing what the game asks you to do.
You make a long list of the things that Ron Washington, as genuine and transparent a man in his position as we’ve seen in local sports, is and is not. That list would include, near the top, that Wash is not a quitter. It was a hallmark of his 20-plus years as a player and his 20-plus years as a coach, and of every one of his teams. No quit.
In my November 7, 2006 article about the hiring of Wash as Rangers manager, I wrote:
Daniels called Washington authentic, a class act, one of the most contagious personalities he’d ever been around. I saw Washington interact with people for two hours yesterday, and came to the same inescapable conclusion. His character and enthusiasm are infectious.
Washington was almost apologetic in classifying himself as a “player’s manager,” a cliché label that nonetheless can’t be avoided when describing his coaching style. “We’ve all got to have each other’s backs, through thick and thin,” Washington said, and it was impossible not to believe he meant it, and lives it.
Eight years later, all Wash did was drive that point home, living it through leadership, over and over.
So what happened?
Something evidently outside the boundaries of thick and thin.
According to local reports, it has nothing to do with his contract, which ran through 2015 (“[w]e were already discussing 2015 and looking forward to getting the Rangers back to post-season contention,” Wash said in the statement he released to the press), or the club’s disappointing 2014 results.
This isn’t drug-related, we’re told.
It’s not health-related, we’re assured.
(In spite of Gary Pettis, Wash’s close friend and the only member of the coaching staff during his entire tenure, cryptically telling reporters Friday: “We just hope he has a speedy recovery, and gets back on his feet soon.”)
“As painful as it is,” Wash wrote, “stepping away from the game is what’s best for me and my family.”
In a season that has made so little sense on so many levels, that comment from the reliably resilient manager and baseball man’s baseball man — especially if health and his past drug use issues and current contract status are not involved — is just about impossible to wrap your head around.
There will be talk show guesswork as to what Wash is going through — why, in Jon Daniels’s words, the 62-year-old “needs to be doing what he’s doing” — but USA Today columnist Bob Nightengale takes the best approach:
It really doesn’t matter what the specific reason, but you know it’s got to be pretty serious for Washington to walk away. . . . Let’s not jump to assumptions. No need for rumors or speculation. Let’s sit back and permit Washington [to] tell us what happened.
He deserves that from us.
While it’s the most sensible thing Nightengale wrote, it’s not the most striking. Wash sent USA Today the following text message:
I’ll be back! Need some time!
We all have our favorite memories of Wash. Taking awesome, unapologetic liberties with the language. Wildly sending runners around third — from the dugout. Making those occasional early-game mound visits with nobody getting loose in the pen, usually targeting a young Derek Holland. Slapping his players in the face, lovingly, often targeting Derek Holland. Hitting grounders with that fungo and tirelessly throwing BP. Always teaching. The hugs. The pregame shows with Eric. The profanity-flooded clubhouse speeches that made every one of us go digging for the eye black.
Here’s Grantland writer Jonah Keri’s favorite:
Was at winter meetings talking to team exec. Wash walks by. Exec stops [our] conversation, runs over, hugs Wash, chats him up.
Maybe 20 seconds later, scout from another team does the same. A minute later, baseball ops guy from another team.
Within five minutes of first spotting Wash, there are maybe 9-10 people hugging him and crowding around to chat.
Other than Scott Boras’s winter meetings pop-ins drawing huge crowds with cameras every year, never seen anything like that. Before or since.
MLB.com’s Tracy Ringolsby responded to Keri’s series of tweets, particularly that final one, with his own:
[D]ifference is Wash drew a crowd from people because they wanted a handshake, not a headline.
Who walks away from that, and the 40-plus years that built up to it?
I’m concerned for Ron Washington and whatever’s going on. It just can’t be what the game asked him to do, and that’s troubling, whatever the reason is.
As for who succeeds Wash, it’s Tim Bogar for the next three weeks and maybe beyond that. He’s qualified to have been on a short list of candidates even if he hadn’t spent the last 11 months with the organization, and it stands to reason that he’ll have a real opportunity to influence his chances while running the ballclub as it plays out the string and tries to spoil other teams’ plans for October (while seeking to avoid 100 of its own losses). Bogar is quick to point out that he learned a ton from Ron Washington when he was a AAA infielder and Wash was a AAA coach, and having coached on Joe Maddon’s, Terry Francona’s, and Wash’s big league staffs, he’s learned from some of the best — and from three very different personalities — in that role as well.
Other names thrown out by various reporters as candidates to succeed Washington permanently in 2015 include pitching coach Mike Maddux and AAA manager Steve Buechele, along with external possibilities Dave Anderson, Don Wakamatsu, Omar Vizquel, Bud Black, Dave Martinez, Bill Haselman, Michael Young, Gabe Kapler, and Mark McGwire, and I’ll go ahead and irresponsibly suggest it would be worth looking into Maddon, who is under contract with Tampa Bay (through 2015) and thus would require an open mind on the Rays’ part and, even if that hurdle were cleared, a lot more talent expenditure than when Boston sent veteran infielder Mike Aviles to Toronto in October 2012 for manager John Farrell and righthander David Carpenter.
For what it’s worth, Ken Rosenthal (Fox Sports) reports that the “Rangers have not yet decided whether to begin [their managerial] search now or wait until after [the] season,” and are “[d]oing due diligence on internal [and] external candidates.” There’s nothing much to say about this part of this story for now, and since I’m still feeling the gut punch over Wash’s decision to leave, it’s not something I really care to think about yet anyway.
Evan Grant (Dallas Morning News) also reports that the Rangers and Jon Daniels, according to a major league source, have begun discussions on a long-term contract extension. Aside from JD deserving the extension, from an objective standpoint it makes all kinds of sense to have the GM in place for a longer term than the manager (and any other baseball operations officials) that he’ll offer jobs to this winter.
In the last 11 months, I’ve had to write about the departures of Nolan Ryan and A.J. Preller and Don Welke, a record-setting number of injuries, at least one of which could be career-threatening — and the loss of Richard Durrett — and while sports helps us learn to lose, we’ve all had more than enough baseball loss the last year, and that was before Ron Washington’s abrupt and mysterious decision to no longer see this team through thick and thin.
I’m at a loss myself, unsure of how I feel or what to say or what I hope is happening in Wash’s life, because all I can think of right now is what I hope it isn’t. And I wonder what he’s doing right now, and how it must feel to wake up and not have a professional baseball uniform to put on for the first early September since he was 17 years old.
That is, since 1969, when the Texas Rangers didn’t even exist. Ron Washington has worn the uniform, has lived the dream, longer than the Texas Rangers franchise.
His legacy goes well beyond the back-to-back pennants and the four straight 90-win seasons. He made Rangers players better, Rangers teams more resilient and more successful, Rangers baseball more fun. He made an absolutely huge impact here, in lots of ways, many of which will still be felt.
I think back to the Gold Glove trophy that Oakland third baseman Eric Chavez gave to his beloved infield coach a decade ago, the one that was damaged in Wash’s New Orleans home three years later during Hurricane Katrina, the one that Chavez replaced soon after that in a pregame ceremony in Arlington that nearly brought Wash to tears.
Chavez had the original trophy engraved with a simple inscription: “Wash, not without you.”
That’s where we all are today, I guess. At least it feels that way.
But it can’t. This is no time to close the window and shut the blinds. A tenure is over — number 38 needs to be retired next year — but that doesn’t mean an era is. St. Louis returned to the World Series without Tony LaRussa.
Man, I miss Ron Washington. A lot. And that won’t change.
I miss Pudge Rodriguez and Michael Young and Mike Napoli and Cliff Lee, too.
And one day I’ll miss Adrian Beltre, but he’s still here and so am I and we just move forward.
Through thick and thin.
The last September 3 that found the Rangers somewhere other than first place had been 2009, a season in which Texas ran out a roster that featured graybeards Omar Vizquel, Andruw Jones, Eddie Guardado, and Pudge Rodriguez but also broke in rookies Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Julio Borbon, Craig Gentry, Pedro Strop, and a 25th-round pick out of an Alabama community college in just his third pro season, lefthander Derek Holland, who came into 2009 with as much buzz as any pitching prospect the franchise had developed in years.
The Rangers had only two winning months that season, none after July, and finished 10 games behind the Angels, but we could all see things coming together, even if in September 2009 no adult realistically thought a World Series the next year was possible.
On this September 3, Texas is once again trailing Los Angeles in the division, only this time by 30.5 games, and Holland is an established 27-year-old veteran. But his start last night, at least for me, carried as much anticipation — for much different reasons, of course — than the 21 starts and 12 relief appearances he made in that 2009 season, when at 22 he was the second youngest (next to Feliz) of the 23 pitchers on the club.
Last night, Holland was the 37th Texas pitcher to take the hill in 2014.
Michael Kirkman, who relieved Holland after seven really strong innings (7-6-1-1-0-6) against a team fighting for 162+ in its park, was number 38, an all-time MLB record for pitchers used by one team in one season.
Sometime this week, Lisalverto Bonilla and Spencer Patton will make it 40 pitchers in 2014.
And 63 players, also a record number in the history of big league baseball.
I don’t know if 13 players seeing time on the 60-day disabled list (Holland, Joseph Ortiz, Geovany Soto, Engel Beltre, Jurickson Profar, Pedro Figueroa, Martin Perez, Matt Harrison, Prince Fielder, Mitch Moreland, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Alexi Ogando, Tanner Scheppers) is a record, and I don’t want to check.
But I do know the club’s 13 big league debuts in 2014 (Seth Rosin, Nick Martinez, Luis Sardinas, Daniel Robertson, Rougned Odor, Ben Rowen, Jake Smolinksi, Roman Mendez, Matt West, Phil Klein, Alex Claudio, Jon Edwards, Tomas Telis, Ryan Rua) sets a franchise mark, and all things considered, there’s a lot there to be encouraged by.
Five of the club’s top seven minor league affiliates earned playoff baseball this year (three of them — Frisco and Myrtle Beach and Spokane — will get their post-seasons underway tonight), and that’s encouraging, too.
I could sit here this morning and write a report about Rangers bench coach Tim Bogar, pitching coach Mike Maddux, and AAA manager Steve Buechele, and how they might fit into a story along with Tom Lawless, Dave Martinez, Dave Clark, Joe McEwing, Phil Nevin, and Craig Biggio, but given the choice I’d rather spit out 500 words on 17-year-old Mexico native Samuel Zazueta, a lefthander who followed his brilliant debut season in the Dominican Summer League (1.63 ERA, .203/.255/.278 opponents’ slash, 49 hits [zero home runs] and 12 walks in 66.1 innings, 91 strikeouts) with a gem in that club’s playoff-opening win against the Giants on Thursday (6-1-0-0-2-8) and then another awesome effort yesterday against the Red Sox (6-4-1-1-3-8) to put the Rangers in position to win that league’s championship series this morning.
I’d rather talk about Joey Gallo falling one 2014 home run short of (childhood friend Kris Bryant’s) minor league lead with his 42, and falling one AA home run short of leading both the Texas League and the Carolina League, the latter of which he departed way back on June 6.
That’s right. While with Myrtle Beach, Joey Gallo played two months out of the Carolina League’s five-month schedule, and no hitter in that circuit hit as many as his 21 home runs.
And in three months out of five with Frisco, his 21 homers was one short of a league title.
But for one night, last night, the big league game monopolized my baseball focus, just as Holland did back in 2009, when he battled through an inconsistent rookie season but carried a big bag of promise on a club that had never won a playoff series, yet was getting a lot closer than most people imagined. In a 2014 season almost devoid of moments that reminded us of this club’s last four years of nearly singular dominance, watching Holland deal last night provided one.
Taken by itself, the result of Kansas City 2, Texas 1 will never matter. Derek Holland flashing his 2011 form? As we all think about 2015, that matters a lot.
This is the season of 26 disabled list assignments and Player of the Month Adam Rosales, of more players than wins (for now), of Mike Carp batting third in his last act before being designated for assignment, for a team that just two and three years ago would regularly bat Mike Napoli eighth.
But it’s also the season of Rougned Odor and Robinson Chirinos and Daniel Robertson — and yes, Adrian Beltre — and of two dozen huge steps forward on the farm, with a spring around the corner when few organizations will have more power on Draft Day or in the international market.
There’s no telling what 2015 will bring on the big league front, but it will be better than 2014, and the last time there was no question that the next year would bring much bigger things was 2009, when the Rangers were on the doorstep of their best years ever and we knew it, when Derek Holland was breaking into the bigs and, for those who looked past the numbers and understood what he just might be, providing appointment baseball every fifth day.
He provided appointment baseball again last night, in a season short on it, and while I’m not going to sit here and suggest next year will be a World Series season, I wasn’t thinking that in 2009 either, and I know this: If Texas is going to erase the ugly memory of 2014 in 2015, Derek Holland will be a huge reason why, and last night’s game, whatever the final score was, should give us all confidence that things can change course quickly and drastically in this game, and not just in the direction things have gone this year.
There’s a lot to get to and I planned to do it this morning, but I thought this was more important.
The Do It For Durrett Benefit Concert at Billy Bob’s Texas is next Monday, September 8. You can find all kinds of details here and here — the auction lineup is seriously hard to believe. This event, which will help support Richard’s wife Kelly and their children Owen, Alice, and a third on the way, is shaping up to be an incredible showing of kindness and cool, and you can be part of that yourself.
I’d really encourage it.
Back with some baseball tomorrow.