Commentary

'Rangers-ball,' starring Jon Daniels

With several smart moves, Texas GM has team on the cusp of its first Series title

Updated: October 26, 2011, 10:25 PM ET
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

ST. LOUIS -- Went to see "Moneyball" on Tuesday night. In fact, with the Game 6 World Series postponement, St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said he was going to see the same movie Wednesday evening.

I don't know what La Russa will think about the baseball flick starring Brad Pitt as Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane, but I know what I thought:

They made a movie about the wrong GM.

[+] EnlargeRon Washington and Jon Daniels
Matthew Emmons-US PresswireJon Daniels has made several smart moves, including the chance he took on Ron Washington.

Jon Daniels doesn't drive a souped-up pickup truck like Beane/Pitt did. He doesn't dip tobacco. He wasn't a New York Mets first-round bonus baby like the celebrated Beane. Truth is, Daniels was a washout on the Hunter College High School freshman team in Manhattan.

I know this because when I asked respected Rangers PR man John Blake if Daniels owned a truck or dipped, Blake looked at me like I'd asked if Nolan Ryan was from New Jersey.

But Daniels' Texas Rangers are playing in their second consecutive World Series and need one more victory to end the franchise's 51-year championship O-fer -- the third longest in MLB history. For all of his underdog success, Beane has never reached the Series.

But there is a connection between Daniels and Beane. His name is Ron Washington.

Washington was a longtime coach for the A's and a semi-central figure in the movie and the Oakland rebuilding process as Beane applied the concepts of economics, mathematical formulas and contrarian statistical analysis to his payroll-challenged team. The A's coach didn't agree with all of those concepts -- or with all of the movie's depictions of those times -- but Washington knows that without Beane, he might not be the manager of the Rangers today.

"I like the movie and I'm a big fan of Billy Beane," Washington said Wednesday. "He gave me an opportunity to become a major league coach. And he trusted me with his young talent. I think I got this opportunity to manage because he gave me a rousing review to the Texas Rangers. And Jon Daniels and [former owner Tom] Hicks loved what I brought to the table."

Daniels, the youngest GM in the big leagues, took a chance on Washington. He does that a lot. This is what happens when you're an outsider to the game -- your mind is freed from conventional baseball thinking.

Washington was Daniels' first choice. This was at a time when Washington wasn't anyone's first, second or perhaps third choice.

"My statement about becoming a manager was that it will take a general manager to convince an owner that I'm the guy to lead his organization where they want to go," Washington said. "Well, Jon Daniels was that guy. I was a novice. I hadn't managed before. I managed two years in the minor leagues. … He took a shot on me and I keep reminding him of that. Every time we win something I tell him, 'Thanks for the opportunity.' Every time we win something."

Daniels, with Beane's recommendation and Hicks' blessings, hired Washington in late 2006. And he stuck with Washington after the manager tested positive for cocaine use in 2009.

First chance. Second chances.

A season later, the Rangers were in the World Series. And here they are again, this time with the luxury of two games to win it all.

Daniels has had his share of clunker deals (Adrian Gonzalez and Chris Young to the San Diego Padres in 2005 immediately comes to mind). It happens.

But in 2006 he traded for Nelson Cruz. And the following year, in a deal that transformed the culture of the franchise, he traded slugger Mark Teixeira for, among others, pitcher Matt Harrison, shortstop Elvis Andrus and reliever Neftali Feliz. He also got outfielder David Murphy on the same day. Was that any good?

In 2008 he traded for Josh Hamilton, whose career was once left for dead because of substance abuse. Hamilton became the league MVP in 2010.

Last season he traded for Cliff Lee. This year he traded for catcher Mike Napoli, who might end up as the Series MVP, and reliever Mike Adams.

Should I go on? OK.

Daniels stocked the Rangers' minor league system like a trout farm. He helped turn the franchise from a free agent-heavy, bat-dependent, no-pitching organization into what it is today: the envy of lots of other MLB teams.

"He took chances," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "He believed in what he wanted to do and the type of team he wanted to create.

"To bring in Wash is a huge chance. The man had never managed before. Yes, he was in the game for an extremely long time, but he had never managed before. Jon Daniels trusted in him, and you see the strides that we made with him as our manager and where we are now.

"He took a lot of chances, and I'd say most of them worked out."

Said Adams: "He's a young guy, but he knows what he's doing."

Daniels wasn't at Busch Stadium when the "rainout" was announced, which was just as well. Had I asked him about a "Moneyball" movie based on his career, there likely would have been a very long silence. Daniels is about deflecting attention, not attracting it.

Too late for that. Especially with one more win.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter @GenoEspn.

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Gene Wojciechowski | email

Columnist / College Football reporter

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