November 04, 2023 5 min read 1 Comment
Atlanta third base coach Ron Washington, a Geezer Jock, has plenty still to offer the game, just as the rest of us have plenty to offer our industries. Photo by Kevin Liles, courtesy Atlanta Braves.
*Update. This story was originally posted November 4. On November 8, Washington was named manager of the California Angels.
By Ray Glier
Sometimes you’re going down a road and you don’t even realize what you’re doing until you’re already down it. I found out I’m human and I had weaknesses.”__Ron Washington, Atlanta Braves coach, in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
This story isn't just about how a man makes his way back from a detour down a dark road. It's what that man still has to offer his industry when he gets back on the right road.
This story about Ron Washington, 71, shows he has more to offer than fanciful parables from his 50 years in baseball, or lessons learned from a mistake. Wash is a slapback against those who think the game has passed US by.
It's been nine years since Washington resigned as manager of the Texas Rangers, the winningest manager in that franchise's history. He took the Rangers to two World Series, and they came within an out of a title in 2011. It all crashed when there were allegations of sexual misconduct and a revealed affair. That came after a failed drug test (cocaine) in 2009.
This week, the Rangers won the World Series. One of the underpinnings of the championship was defense and for eight years as Texas manager, Wash preached defense.
I'll go into details in a minute, but the other point here is that Washington remains a viable baseball man, just as many Geezer Jocks remain viable within their own industries.
If you are 65 and older and have some doubt about what you can offer, click on the link in the paragraph above and read the different ways older workers are valued. Baseball, as much as any industry, has adopted technology, but it has not left the gamers, like Washington, behind.
And if you made a mistake, it's never too late to bounce back. Wash did not hold a gun to somebody's head, or steal millions of dollars of somebody's money. His mistake wasn't catastrophic.
He rallied quickly, just one season off (2015), and has been the Atlanta third base coach since 2016, which has included six consecutive National League East Division crowns.
Just look at these examples of Washington's value, at 71.
*Major League teams have adopted some of the drills he taught the Rangers and the Braves, which have become ritual in the two organizations.
The Rangers’ minor league teams still have their infielders work on their knees before a game in the grass in front of the dugout. Wash started that and the Rangers continue to be one of the game's best defensive teams, which is part of his legacy as the winningest manager in franchise history.
These days, Washington gets grass stains on his knees with the Braves—veterans and rookies alike—as he hits hiccup-quick one hoppers to them from four-to-five feet away. The drill teaches them to cut off the hop and he uses different gloves to exaggerate and target the move he wants guys to make. It improves quickness and it is consistent work.
I saw Washington one day with a fungo bat over his shoulder and on the end of the bat was a small, left-handed glove. Ron is right-handed. The southpaw's glove was for drill work.
The Braves’ infield defense shined during their 2021 championship run and infield defense has rarely broken down in the current run of National League East Division championships.
*Two years ago, at the height of the home run barrage in Major League Baseball, I stood on the top step of the home dugout at Truist Park with Washington. It was pre-game and Wash talked about how the “running game” in baseball had been stifled.
It wasn’t just the home runs.
“They don’t know how to run the bases,” he said of the big leaguers.
“They don’t have to,” I said. “It’s all a home run trot.”
Wash grinned and said the running game was fixable and he anticipated a U-turn in baseball. He understood fans were growing tired of not seeing athleticism on the field. The caretakers of the game were noticing, he said.
Nothing beats timely hitting and effective, high-volume bullpens in the postseason, but speed matters for some teams in the game. Washington, who played in the bigs from 1977 to 1989, is a Geezer Jock® who envisioned the game's revival from the plague of strikeouts and home runs.
He anticipated rule changes, talked often to the young Braves about footwork rounding second and third, and MLB obliged before this season. Bases were made bigger—those extra three inches make a difference between out and safe—and pitchers are allowed to throw to first, or step off the pitcher's plate, just twice during an at bat.
MLB ostensibly made the switch to bigger bases to cut down on close plays at second base that can lead to injury, but the feature result for fans are stolen base attempts, which have increased this season.
Sure enough, the 84-win Arizona Diamondbacks were in the 2023 World Series because of their athleticism. They can hit some home runs and pitch (except in Game 4), but the Snakes were really alive on the bases. Their 23 stolen bases in the 2023 postseason is second all-time by a team. They stole the second most bases in MLB in the 2023 regular season.
My friend, Jeff Schultz, a columnist at the time for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, wrote about Washington’s detours and owning mistakes.
“I found peace with myself,” Washington told Schultz. “I found peace with my family, peace with my wife. I even found peace with the Lord again. Sometimes you’re going down a road and you don’t even realize what you’re doing until you’re already down it. I found out I’m human and I had weaknesses.”
On the consequences of the failed drug test at 57 years old and the affair, Washington said to Schultz, “Baseball had me doing stuff for two years, coming to me in the winter time, checking out my family, sending out investigators.
“I went through testing. I was seeing doctors. I was going to counselors. It was the whole gamut and I did it for two years.”
Washington wanted to manage again in the big leagues and he went through the laundering process to prove himself fit. Baseball, as an industry, trusts him again.
Dusty Baker is retiring as the Astros manager and Washington wants the Houston job. He's a 100-1 longshot because of his age.
Baker, in this technology age, guided Houston to the 2022 title at 73 years old. Bruce Bochy, who just took the Rangers to their first-ever championship, is 68 years old.
The Houston job is coveted. The Astros are cutting edge in technology and player development. There will be serious competition for Baker’s job.
Age shouldn't be a factor and baggage shouldn’t be a factor. Washington likely won't get the job, but there is still a place for this Geezer Jock in the game, just as there is a place for the rest of us Geezer Jocks in our industry.
Stay motivated. Washington is full of pep on the Braves' bench during games. Stay fit. He is up at 5 a.m. most mornings to get his exercise in.
If you have detoured, it's not too late to make a comeback.
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