Commentary

Rangers had every right to fire manager

Updated: March 18, 2010, 10:12 AM ET
By Jim Reeves | ESPNDallas.com

Yes, the Texas Rangers should have fired Ron Washington on the spot in July. That, I suspect, is what most teams or companies would have done. You or I probably would not have survived such a transparently self-serving confession of "one time" cocaine use.

I'm glad they didn't, but that's personal; that's because I know and like Washington and have grown to appreciate his managerial style more than I did in 2007, his first year in Texas.

That doesn't excuse his behavior. This goes beyond stupid. This begs the question: How can Washington manage others when he can't manage himself?

[+] EnlargeRon Washington
Kirby Lee/US PresswireRon Washington's confession came only after the team returned to Texas and he discovered he was about to be randomly tested as part of Major League Baseball's ongoing drug-testing program.

That's why the Rangers had every right to fire him, and few would have questioned that reaction. A 57-year-old man walks into his boss's office and confesses that on a whim, he decided to accept a friend's offer to snort coke during a three-game series in Anaheim before the All-Star break? This isn't the '70s or '80s, for Pete's sake. And Washington isn't in his 20s, living wild and free.

He's responsible for not just himself and his coaching staff but also 25 baseball players on a nightly basis. What does this kind of lapse in judgment say about his ability to lead others?

It's also important to remember that Washington's confession came only after the team returned to Texas and he discovered he was about to be randomly tested as part of Major League Baseball's ongoing drug-testing program. It's safe to assume that if a drug tester hadn't showed up, there would have been no tearful confession.

To Washington's credit, though, he didn't wait for that shoe to drop. He called the commissioner's office to tell Major League Baseball what he'd done, then told Rangers president Nolan Ryan.

That pretest confession was apparently what saved Washington's job, along with the fact that the Rangers were bouncing in and out of first place in the AL West at the time. Having Washington's drug use plastered over sports pages and sports Web sites from coast to coast wasn't something that anyone in Texas' front office was ready to stomach.

When Washington delivered his stunning mea culpa to Ryan and general manager Jon Daniels in July, the initial reaction from the two of them was one of disbelief, shock and outrage.

Sort of like how you and I were feeling Wednesday after SI.com's Jon Heyman broke the story and sent the Rangers, who had about a 48-hour warning that it was coming, scurrying into spin control mode.

"I was floored," Daniels said by phone from Surprise, Ariz., on Wednesday afternoon. "It was a gut punch. I was physically affected."

Washington told Ryan first, then asked Daniels to come down to his office after that night's game at The Ballpark in Arlington. By that time, Daniels had had some time to digest what Ryan had told him a few hours earlier.

"People make mistakes, and after a while you can look through that lens, but when you first hear it, you don't have that perspective," Daniels said. "I asked a lot of questions. It was an emotional discussion."

Firing Washington was something that Ryan and Daniels already had discussed earlier that day.

"We talked about it as one of the options we had," Ryan admitted. "The end result was we felt like we owed him the same treatment that we have for our employees, to give them assistance in a situation like this. Major League Baseball stepped in and evaluated him and put him in their program.

"We felt like Ron was growing in the position he was in and that he brought a lot to our club. The players were responding to him and playing for him. We felt like we still had confidence in him and that he still had the ability that the team had seen in him when he was hired."

Once Daniels, who hired Washington and has been his biggest defender, got over his initial anger and shock -- he had every reason to feel betrayed -- compassion took over.

"Nothing excuses the behavior, but let's not be naive enough to think that Ron's the only person in a leadership position to make a mistake," Daniels said. "We felt the right thing to do for the team and for Ron was to make sure that he got the right treatment and consultation."

Washington's likability and sincerity helped save him. You can read his official statement for yourself and make your own judgment.

"The sincerity that he came to us in admitting he made a mistake … we felt like since he was forthright with us, we ought to give him an opportunity to right the wrong," Ryan said.

After making the decision not to fire Washington, the Rangers crossed their fingers and hoped that word of his cocaine use would never get out. They should have known better. Ryan alluded to a "disgruntled former employee" during a radio interview with Galloway & Company on 103.3 FM ESPN.

Hindsight says the smart thing to do would have been to persuade Washington to make a public statement during the offseason, when the Rangers could have controlled the timing. Then they could hope it would blow over before spring training. Coming out now, it threatens to negatively impact what has a chance to be an outstanding season.

Then again, there's never really a good time to admit to overwhelming stupidity.

"The reality is every one of these [coaches and players] put their lives on hold, miss kids' birthdays, make sacrifices, and we're very much a family," Daniels said. "When one of us slips up, it impacts everybody.

"To his credit, Ron gets the gravity of that. As a family, it's either going to make us stronger or pull us apart. The early returns indicate that the guys, especially the ones in the clubhouse, are going to rally around him."

Washington, who has been tested three times a week since turning himself in, completed his MLB-mandated treatment program last week. Daniels said the manager has contacted the commissioner's office and volunteered to continue multiple tests or consultations just to erase any doubts that people may still have about him.

It won't be that easy with the fans.

"I made a huge mistake, and it almost caused me to lose everything I have worked for all of my life," Washington said in a statement Wednesday.

What struck me as completely naive, though, was what he had told Heyman by phone Tuesday night.

"I don't want this to be held over my head for the rest of my life and have this be the one thing that's associated with my name," he said. "I made a terrible mistake, and all I can do is pray that I am forgiven for it and don't have to carry it for the rest of my life."

Sorry, but he'd better get used to it. Most can forgive, but Washington is the first Major League Baseball manager in history to admit to failing a drug test. We've all made stupid decisions that have stuck with us all our lives, and this is one Washington can't run away from anymore.

He's lucky that he still has his job. That's going to have to be enough for now.

Washington barely survived when the Rangers got off to such a sluggish start in 2008. He slid through this monumental screwup by a whisker.

We all know how the game works -- three strikes and you're out.

Some would say that's at least one chance too many.

Jim Reeves, a former columnist with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, is a regular contributor to ESPNDallas.com.

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