He has been a cinematic folk hero, thanks to “Moneyball.” He has managed in two World Series. He’s the most legendary conductor of the four-minute, down-on-both-knees infield drills in America. But now, all of a sudden, Ron Washington has turned into something he never expected.
He has become the managerial hire that seems to have made more people smile, across the baseball world, than any in a long, long time — probably since his mentor, Dusty Baker, walked through the Astros’ doors in 2020.
It has only been a week since Washington was hired as the new manager of the “Los Angeles Angels,” a name he is still trying to drum into his brain after all those years of calling them “the Anaheim Angels.” But the calls, texts and messages have been flooding in by the hundreds. Literally.
So in his epic visit this week with me and Doug Glanville on the new Starkville episode of “The Athletic Baseball Show,” Washington reflected on why he thinks that is. (These quotes have been edited for clarity and brevity.)
“You get that,” he said on the podcast, “from the years that you spent in the game and the relationships that you develop. That’s what the game of baseball is about, is relationships. And you’ve always treated people the way you would like to be treated. So, you know, I think that’s the reason why there’s such an uproar, that I got back into the position to lead again, as a manager. Because people love good people. And anyone that has ever met me or spent any time with me, they know I’m genuine.”
But there’s a quality to Washington that goes beyond genuine. It’s his ability to stay connected to the modern game and modern players, in a way that not many of his 71-year-old peers in this sport could match.
So I asked him a question that led to a classic Wash-ism. If you watch Bruce Bochy manage in Texas, I told him, I don’t think of him as “old school.” If you watch Brian Snitker manage in Atlanta, I don’t think of him as “old school.” So is “old school” the right description of Ron Washington?
OK, pay attention now. Here it comes.
“No, I think ‘a baseball generational giant’ is the description,” he said, so matter of factly that it made us laugh.
I’ve never heard anyone in my lifetime use that phrase — certainly not to describe himself. But as Washington explained what he meant by it, it was hard to argue.
“In the game of baseball, what it is about is adjusting and readjusting,” he said. “As long as you make adjustments and you readjust to things after you’ve made that adjustment, you’re going to be fine in baseball. I’ve adjusted and readjusted to a few generations. I’ve adjusted and readjusted to a bunch of changes in the game. It hasn’t done anything to my style of teaching, or my style of the game.
“I see the difference in the game. And I see where it comes in application. And while I’m the manager now, when this new style of baseball can be applied, I’m not going to miss it. I’ve been through it. What I’m trying to do is get the guys that have to go between those lines to understand that we just want to be prepared for every part of the game of baseball. Every part.”
I then reminded him of a story he once told me about a disagreement he had with the Braves’ analytics department, over infield positioning. He concluded that debate by telling one of the members of that department: “I want you to teach me what you know. But then I want you to let me teach you what I know.” That’s an expression that has been stuck in my head ever since.
Is there any better way a baseball lifer could reach a meeting of the minds with a new-age baseball thinker than that? Let’s learn from each other. That’s the message Washington wanted to convey, then and now — and it feels like it ought to solve everything.
“It’s not hard, if you’re willing to adjust and readjust,” he said. “It’s not hard at all. … What happens is, you make every person feel invested. And in this business, that’s all you want to do, is be invested in what’s going on. Now it may not work your way. But at least I had an opinion. You see what I’m saying?
“And that’s all you want,” he said. “And all I want from them is to recognize the wisdom and knowledge down here — just like you want us to recognize the wisdom and the knowledge up there. Let’s talk about it. That’s all I want to do.”
As he did last week in his introductory news conference, Washington described himself multiple times as “a leader.” So when Doug asked him if he still planned to roll out his daily pregame infield drills, even as a manager, he confirmed that he did. It’s too important a part of who he is and how he leads.
“You create a ritual,” he said. “But what it does is, it gives you an opportunity to correct things. It gives you an opportunity to see where a player’s head is. It gives you an opportunity to teach. It gives you an opportunity to direct. It gives you an opportunity to help them learn how to get through adversity. …
“So see? There’s much more going on down there, on my knees, with my drills, than just me putting the ball on the ground and they’re catching it. There’s a lot that goes on. And if you don’t recognize it, you will never know. But the guys that are part of it, they recognize it.
“I did it in Texas,” he said. “And I will do it in Anaheim, with the Los Angeles Angels. … I would be doing the Los Angeles Angels an injustice. I would be doing the players that need to work an injustice if I didn’t (go) out there, giving my expertise. I’m going to be a working manager. I’ve always been a working coach. And I’ve always been a working manager. So that won’t change.”
It was mesmerizing stuff. But there was so much more, so many vintage moments of Ron Washington — explaining how he views the world, how he views the sport, how he views his new team and how he views the unique road he’s taken in his baseball life.
So to hear how he’ll approach his new role, how he looks at Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon and Shohei Ohtani, how Dusty Baker changed his life, and what really happened in his defining “Moneyball” scene, check out the whole episode, which is available wherever you get your podcasts.
(Top photo: Kirby Lee / USA Today)