Every day that Michael Young goes without looking like the Michael Young of old, the cries from fans and media grow louder for him to be benched and for Ron Washington to rework the lineup to give promising kids like Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt a chance to show how brightly they can shine.
But I’m here to tell you that if you feel Ron Washington is standing in the way of progress, then you don’t understand Rangers magic.
When watching the Rangers night in and night out, their talent and depth tends to jump off the screen at you. While their starting pitching has been uncharacteristically inconsistent this season, their bullpen, batting lineup and defense can best be described as downright scary.
To loosely use some football-speak, those are the three phases of the game in which the Rangers are rarely equaled or surpassed when compared, on paper, to opponents. They have got a murderers row for a batting order and what must seem to opponents to be an endless stream of fireballers with nasty changeups coming out of the bullpen.
But even to a casual observer or even to a non-sports fan, the one thing that stands out more than the Rangers’ talent is their chemistry, and that’s where Ron Washington’s magic comes in.
I have heard many a local media member describe the Rangers clubhouse as being the tightest and most unified that they have ever seen in all of their time around various sports and clubhouses. You only have to watch a few innings of them interacting with one another to see evidence of how much the guys genuinely seem to like each other and how loose they are playing the game.
Have you ever seen a Major League Baseball team dog pile a walk-off home run? That’s what the Rangers do after pretty much every home run.
When a Ranger hits a home run, he doesn't look like a mercenary Yankee that exchanges stern-faced, intense hi-fives and head nods on his way back through the dugout. Instead, he looks like a giddy little kid celebrating in there.
It’s a predictable party each time—Elvis greets people just outside the door with signs, hugs and his ever-present Magic Johnson-sized smile and Ron Washington, next, excitedly chews a freshly popped mouthful of sunflower seeds and looks for hands to slap and asses to smack.
And then the home run hitter has to brave the long gauntlet of giddiness to the other end of the dugout until the players simmer down and become more relaxed.
Whether the home run put them up 12-0 or whether it tied the game in the eighth inning, the scene is consistent.
The Rangers maintain an innocent chemistry that you don’t often see in this age of overpaid me-first superstars under intense pressure to perform. And pressure is the very thing that Ron Washington seems to understand and does his best to relieve.
If one can understand his career path as a player, one will also understand his Buddha-like attitude as the Rangers manager.
Ron Washington was never an all-star. Ron Washington was never a superstar. Ron Washington was never even really a star. Washington was a mix between the little engine that could and a journeyman’s journeyman.
After being drafted in 1970, he spent his first 10 years in the minor leagues with three different organizations, while earning only one September call-up in 1977. And though he hit .377 during that brief stint, he would not make it back to "the show" until 1981. When he finally got back to the majors, he stayed there for almost a decade with a few different clubs before retiring at AAA Oklahoma City in 1990.
A trail like that is not for the thin-skinned to successfully navigate, and recognizing that trail should help us to understand his aforementioned Buddha-like attitude towards the game.
With so much out of his control, he was a guy who might not have gotten as many opportunities as he would have liked, and on more than one occasion, he experienced the sinking feeling of being passed over by a younger, more promising prospect, which is a feeling that many of us either have experienced or will almost certainly experience in life, pro ballplayer or not.
But he's not a whiner, he's a learner, and from his experience, he learned “that’s the way baseball go," a quote he has become well-known for around Rangersland.
You see, a player does not know what the game is going to ask of him in his career or on a given day or in a given play.
But when a moment comes for the game to ask something of a player, he has to be ready to do it to the best of his ability. Whether you’re the most talented or the least talented player on the field, you have got to “do what the game asks of you” at any given moment, which is another of his go-to quotes. Putting too much pressure on yourself and being outside the moment is often recipe for certain failure.
And one of the things that Washington does best is to understand how to remove the pressure from his guys. He shoots straight with them, tells them what he needs from them, and his players love him for it and try to preform for the man. For Washington, it all seems to be about creating the best and most relaxed atmosphere for them to succeed in, which brings us back to the proposed benching of Michael Young.
When asked outright about benching a struggling Young, who many people believe is approaching the extreme downside of his career arc before their very eyes, Washington becomes downright indignant. He’ll tell you repeatedly and with venom that no, he will not be benching Young. Not on his watch.
Michael Young has been through it all with this team, is a huge part of the turnaround and recent success and Wash will tell you that he’s going to ride with the guys that got him here. Is that just stubbornness? Not the way that he sees it.
You see, it's not Ron Washington's job to just look at stats and set a fantasy lineup every day with no regard for the human beings in his clubhouse.
What kind of message would that send to the other players who, no matter how well they are playing this year or right this moment, have not built up as much credibility with Wash and the club as Young has through the years? If Michael Young can be benched, can players really relax and try to preform in the moment the way that Wash asks them to?
When you have got a farm system full of studs that are just trying to force their way to the big leagues, you’d better believe the current Rangers know about them.
If you don’t think Andrus and fellow middle infielder Ian Kinsler have had the name Profar in the back of their minds for at least a year or two, you’re crazy. They know that he will likely be the one to replace one of them in the long-term, and maybe sooner than later.
But if you think Ron Washington is going to risk upsetting team chemistry by setting a precedent of benching a longtime stalwart like Michael Young in order to try to bring the future to Arlington a little early or to achieve some short-term goal, you just don’t get what Ron Washington is all about.
Loyalty. Respect. Honesty.
These are not concepts that you can fiddle with or pick and choose when to call upon or exhibit.
If Kinsler sees Young start to get benched here and there as means of working the future into the lineup, how long is it until he starts having visions of Profar pop into his head while fielding grounders or stepping into the batters box?
How is that good for the team? How is it good for the team to have guys like Young and Kinsler sitting in the clubhouse watching and wondering if and when their time will come again?
No, Ron Washington is not going to play with his guys' minds like that. There's too much at stake.
It’s true that Ron Washington has a lot of talented players to work with. It may be true that those players are a bunch of seemingly decent fellas who are winning right now, and it's definitely true that neither of those is exactly bad for team chemistry to begin with.
And it may be true that these are professionals that are, as Bill Parcells would say, in the replacement business—they need to stiffen up when challenged and prove that they have what it takes and that if they are going to wilt under the pressure, it’s better to find out right here and now that they don’t belong.
Again, that may be true for most teams.
But there’s a reason that the Rangers have the most relaxed clubhouse in baseball. There’s a reason why they seem to have so much magic to them. There's a big reason why they could be about to achieve something special in the next few years. And that reason goes by the name of Ron Washington.