Thanks to “Moneyball”, the cinema people are heroes. He worked in two World Series games. He is the most famous leader of four-minute, both-knees-on-both-knees-infield exercises in America. But now, suddenly, Ron Washington has changed into something he doesn’t know.
He’s been the managerial hire that seems to have made most people in the baseball world smile more than they have in a long, long time — perhaps more than mentor Dusty Baker walking through the Astros’ doors in 2020.
It’s only been a week since Washington was hired as the new manager of the Los Angeles Angels; The name is still trying to drum into his mind after all those years of calling him the “Angels of Anaheim.” But calls, texts and messages flooded in by the hundreds. Literally.
So on this week’s fantastic tour with me and Doug Glanville on the new episode of “The Athletic Baseball Show,” Starville reflects on why Washington thinks so. (These quotes have been edited for clarity and brevity.)
“You get that from the years you’ve spent in the game and the relationships you’ve developed. That’s what the game of baseball is about, relationships. And you’ve always treated people the way you want to be treated. So, you know, I think, as a manager, that’s why I’m back in that position to lead again,” he said on the podcast. Because people like nice people. And anyone who has ever met me or spent any time with me knows that I am genuine.
But there is a quality to Washington that transcends authenticity. It’s his ability to stay connected to the modern game and modern players in a way that many of his 71-year-old peers can’t match in this sport.
So I asked him a question that led to a classic wash-ism. I told him that if you saw Bruce Bochy manage in Texas, I don’t think it’s “old school.” If you watch Brian Snitker manage in Atlanta, I don’t think of him as “old school.” So is “old school” an accurate description of Ron Washington?
Okay, now pay attention. Here it comes.
“No, I think ‘Generational Giants of Baseball’ is the description,” he said.
I’ve never heard anyone use that phrase in my life – certainly not to describe themselves. But as Washington explained what he meant, it was hard to argue.
“The thing in the game of baseball is to adjust and adjust,” he said. “As long as you make adjustments and after you make those adjustments, you’re going to be fine in baseball. I fixed it and fixed it for a few generations. I tweaked and modified it for many changes in the game. It didn’t do anything to my teaching style or my playing style.
“I saw the difference in the game. And I see where it comes in the application. And now that I’m a manager, when this new style of baseball is implemented, I won’t miss it. I passed. What I’m trying to do is get the guys who have to walk between those lines to understand that we want to be ready for every part of a baseball game. Every part.”
Then I remembered a story he once told me about a disagreement with the Braves’ analytics department about the center field position. “I want you to teach me what you know,” he said to one of the members of that class. But I want you to let me teach what I know. It’s an expression that has stuck in my head ever since.
Is there a better way for Baseball Life to reach a meeting of minds with a new age baseball thinker? Let’s learn from each other. That’s the message Washington wants to convey then and now — and it feels like it has to solve everything.
“It’s not hard if you’re willing to adjust and adjust,” he said. “It’s not hard at all. … What happens is, you make everyone feel invested. And in this business, that’s all you want to do, invest in what’s happening. It may not work your way right now. But at least I had an opinion. Do you see what I mean?
“And that’s all you want,” he said. “And all I want from them is to know the wisdom and knowledge here—just as you want us to know the wisdom and knowledge there. Let’s talk about it. That’s all I want to do.”
As he did at his inaugural news conference last week, Washington described himself as a “leader” several times. And when Doug asked if he still planned to hold daily pregame infield drills as manager, he confirmed that he did. The body of who he is and how he leads is very important.
“You create a cult,” he said. But what it does do is give you a chance to make things right. It gives you a chance to see where a player’s head is. It gives you the opportunity to teach. It gives you a chance to lead. It gives you a chance to help them learn how to overcome problems. …
“So you see? There’s a lot more down there, on my knees, in my practice than just me putting the ball on the floor and them catching it. There’s a lot more going on. And if you don’t know it, you’ll never know it. But the guys who are part of it know it.
“I did it in Texas,” he said. “And I’ll do it in Anaheim with the Los Angeles Angels. … I do the Los Angeles Angels an injustice. If I didn’t go out there giving my best, I would be doing the players that needed to be unfair. I will be a manager. I’ve always been a working coach. And I was always the manager. So this will not change.
It was fun. But there were many, many vintage moments of Ron Washington – explaining how he viewed the world, how he viewed the sport, how he viewed his new team, and how he viewed the unique path he took in his baseball career.
So to hear how he’s approaching his new role, how he views Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon and Shohei Ohtani, how Dusty Baker changed his life and what happened during his “Moneyball” divorce episode, watch the full episode. It’s available wherever you find your podcasts.
(Top photo: Kirby Lee / USA TODAY)