How Ron Washington is making baseball history

OPINION - Washington winning the World Series wouldn't just be a triumph for African-Americans, but a triumph for the man himself...

Ron Washington is on the verge of history. An unlikely result, for a manager that two years ago, never thought he’d reached the pinnacle of his profession.

The Texas Rangers manager admitted to using cocaine two years ago, offered his resignation, and figured he threw his career away. Two World Series appearances later, and Washington is now regarded as one of the best in the game.

Last year, the Rangers made an unlikely run to the World Series, but would end up losing to the San Francisco Giants. After Monday night’s thrilling victory, Washington and the Rangers are just one game away from winning Major League Baseball’s Championship.

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If the Rangers win tonight, Washington would become just the second African-American manager ever to win a title, and the third to reach a World Series. The last time an African-American manager won a World Series was nearly two decades ago, when Cito Gaston led the Toronto Blue Jays to back-to-back titles in 1992 and 1993. Dusty Baker is the only other black manager to ever coach in a World Series.

If Washington wins tonight, it would be a huge step for both black managers and MLB as a whole. Washington helps represent a small percentage of current black managers, as just he and Baker currently lead MLB teams.

It’s been well documented that the MLB has had trouble getting young black kids to pick up gloves and bats. Seeing a prominent African-American in a position of power, leading his team to the World Series, is just the type of marketing baseball can use to reach black players and families. Baseball has typically been at the forefront of diversity hiring, but the current dearth of black men leading baseball teams has to be alarming to a league that in the last 50 years has made significant strides in promoting its black athlete.

Washington winning wouldn’t just be a triumph for African-Americans, but a triumph for the man himself.

In the coaching match-up, Washington is a clear underdog. The St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa will be in the Hall of Fame some day and is widely regarded as one of the best managers ever. Washington is still new to the coaching ranks, having less than five years of head coaching experience. La Russa is lauded for turning a baseball game into a chess match. Washington, on the other hand, is unconventional and goes with his gut. He makes calls that defy traditional baseball logic (like burying the Rangers’ hottest hitter – Michael Napoli – in the lineup this series at the No. 8 spot), and is not known as much of a strategist.

According to the New York Times, before Game 5, Washington said:

I’m not as dumb as people think I am. They call it unorthodox; I just call it reacting to what the game asks you to do. I’ve got personnel that can do a lot of things, and sometimes those things make us look like we’re renegades. But we’re not renegades; we can play baseball. And when we’re playing our game of baseball, it’s very, very, very exciting.

In the dugout, Washington is known for his off-the-wall reactions to big Rangers plays. His passion is not lost on the players he coaches.

The Rangers trust and admire Washington. The coach is compassionate and cares about his players. When Washington was an infield coach for the Oakland A’s, shortstop Eric Chavez gave him his gold glove trophy because he believed he wouldn’t have won the award without Washington’s coaching.

Arguably the Rangers’ best player is Josh Hamilton. The power-hitting outfielder was a cocaine abuser for most of his early years. After a promising rookie year, Washington traded for him, believing Hamilton had put his demons behind him and could become a leader for the Rangers. Hamilton’s been one of the Rangers’ most reliable players since.

If Washington wins the World Series, he’ll win, most importantly, respect. Fans and pundits certainly haven’t forgotten his admittance to using cocaine, which he admits was the first and only time he had done the drug.

In just this series, La Russa’s daughter tweeted a comment that referred to Washington as a crackhead. When this series began, everyone talked about the Rangers power hitting, La Russa’s genius and Pujols mastery. No one mentioned just how impressive and difficult it is to bring a team to back-to-back World Series.

If the Rangers win tonight, Washington may finally get his due. But regardless if they win the title or not, Washington must be looked up to. He’s proven that second chances really do mean something.