2015 Preview: The Manager

Photo taken by Dallas Morning News

For the first time in eight seasons, a number other than ’38’ will be at the helm of the Texas Rangers’ ship. Players have come, players have gone, staff has been switched around or moved on to different teams, but the one constant since 2007 was Ron Washington. We know the failures and successes of the man we call ‘Wash,’ from a positive cocaine test in 2009 to the following back-to-back World Series runs. The ride with Wash was many things: a roller-coaster of emotions regarding his in-game management, a collection of dance moves no other manager in the game would ever display, a victory for the fan who simply loved the game, among other things, but the best word I can use to describe the Ron Washington era is ‘fun.’

Now it’s time for a new voice – a stern, but relatable voice. It’s a voice of a battle-hardened second-in-command who is getting the chance to display what he has learned. It’s the voice of a man who has fielded bad hops in life and made some great plays to recover. It’s the voice that Texas needs to lead.

In 2014: Throughout all of the injuries, all of the questions surrounding the depth, the lack of production from healthy people, and everything else the Rangers had to endure during 2014, Washington was always there to reassure the club and the fans that they would continue to play their baseball and continue to show up to work.

“It’s not the best team, it’s the team that plays the best on that day”

This was a phrase Wash always liked to use, and he continued to answer questions about his struggling club using cliches and words along those same lines. Baseball gives you the opportunity to forget everything that happened the day before and start fresh the next day and every team has the same chance to win on any given day.

Washington’s job security was being called into question while simultaneously being defended because of a season beyond his control. Certainly, nobody in the front office was going to blame Wash for Derek Holland tripping over his dog, or for Prince Fielder finally succumbing to neck problems and emotional baggage he had held onto for a couple of years, or Martin Perez falling victim to the Tommy John bug. On that same note, nobody in the fan base should have blamed him for those things – but some did. Washington got gut punched so many times during the season, but he absolutely has to be commended for continuing to rebound from the ropes and keep swinging.

His energy was just as infectious, his battle for the right for his players was everlasting. That became evident early in the season.

During a rout on April 14th against Seattle, Pedro Figueroa fielded a comebacker with the bases loaded and threw to J.P. Arencibia. Arencibia caught the ball but lost it on the transfer. With the new transfer rule in effect, the runner had been originally called out, but on the drop, the call was overturned. Washington came out to argue, was ejected, and when asked about the play later, Washington flat out said that he knew exactly what the rule was and knew that the right call was made by the letter of the law and knew that he was going to get ejected – he just wanted everyone to know that the rule was ridiculous. A few short weeks later, the rule was amended so that umps could use common sense. It was a battle Wash had started and won for his team. It was so characteristic of him to keep fighting the good fight.

wash

Ron Washington became known for his notorious dugout dances.

He would keep fighting as the season plummeted further and further down, until the unthinkable happened. The winningest manager in franchise history, the man who guided the Rangers to four straight 90+-win seasons, stepped down from his post. It wasn’t a baseball thing that caused him to remove himself, but in a season where he was one of the shining beacons of hope for next year, this wasn’t just a gut punch to the Rangers front office and fan base – it was a straight up groin kick. Out was Washington. In, for the last month of the season, was Tim Bogar.

Bogar was not Wash. He might have had the same passion for the game, but ‘Bogey’ as some called him, was an analytic mind, coming from an analytic Anaheim clubhouse. He was a motivator, though, and great at working with young minds. At that point in the season, that’s all Texas had was young minds. His prowess in managing the future of the Major League club became evident in the small sample size, leading the collection of kids who weren’t supposed to be there yet to a 14-8 September.

Following the season, Jon Daniels was asked about the future of the managing position with Tim Bogar as the incumbent. Daniels said that while the presence of Ron Washington as a manager and a person would be missed, it could be argued that everything had worked out for the best. Washington was successful as the Rangers’ skipper, even through a little bit of head-butting with his bosses. 2014 was not going to be blamed on Wash, and up until his resignation, Daniels had made it clear that he would be back for 2015. Let it be known right now that I’m not subscribing to the narrative that JD was looking for a reason to replace Ron Washington, but Daniels’ admission of needing a new voice in the clubhouse probably means that, professionally, he wasn’t as upset at losing Wash as he let on.

As the long, long winter following 2014 set in, it was widely believed that Bogar had earned the title of 2015 Texas Rangers manager. Jon Daniels would go on to say that a process needed to be conducted to properly select a skipper. A field of candidates was interviewed- from pitching coach Mike Maddux, minor league skipper Steve Buechele, and eventual Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash. Also among the candidates was Pittsburgh Pirates bench coach Jeff Banister.

In 2015: It was on October 16th that Texas announced Jeff Banister as its new manager. Daniels made it clear that he was completely blown away by Banister’s interview, everything from his battle with bone cancer to his recovery from paralysis, from his long tenure within the Pittsburgh organization to his dedication to communicating and motivating players through instilling the values he himself has lived. Banister is a survivor, a fighter, and possibly more important, a presence. Those qualities, plus learning under former Rangers’ hitting coach and current successful Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, led JD to bring Banister into the fold.

This is not going to be a diatribe on all of the battles Banister has won; those are well documented. This is about Banister motivating a team and a fan base. This Spring, we have already seen that his method of communicating with his players, straight-forward and meaningful, has resonated in the clubhouse. He is learning his team’s strengths and encourages each man to play his game. Nothing that wasn’t set in stone was handed out. Sure, Fielder, Shin-Soo Choo, Elvis Andrus, Adrian Beltre, Rougned Odor, Robinson Chirinos, Holland and Yovani Gallardo were givens on the Major League roster. But Leonys Martin would have to prove he could handle the full-time lead off position, Ross Detwiler was only told he would be given the opportunity to start, Adam Rosales had to win the utility job, and Ryan Rua and Jake Smolinski had to separate themselves from the pack, leading to a decision that took practically all of training camp to decide.

Banister is a man that plays partly to numbers and partly to the temperature of his players. He has already dictated that a lineup on any given day will be determined by strengths against certain pitchers. Pitchers that pitch well in the first 50 pitches will see the more patient batters at the top of the lineup, splits and reverse splits will determine batting orders and matchups, and I’m sure that pitchers from the stretch vs. pitchers in the wind-up will be explored areas as well. Is he one to overuse shifts? He could be. By all accounts, Banister looks like a thinking man’s manager. Know the stats, know the tendencies, but there are no rules because baseball is a fluid game. Adapt and evolve, survive and win, all of that summed up by #NeverEverQuit.

The story alone of Jeff Banister is one too, as has been said many times before, cause players and fans alike to find a brick wall to run through, but the message and the words that he speaks when talking about the upcoming season should give reason to any Rangers fan to hope for the best this upcoming season. It’s not going to be the very best Rangers team that has ever been assembled for 2015, but it’s going to be a team that unites under Banister’s banner and should be an absolute joy to watch evolve from April to Sept October, year after year.

What are your expectations for this Rangers team as a whole? Does Jeff Banister get your blood pumping and get you ready to take the diamond? Is he going to be the type of manager that can overcome the injuries already sustained by the team and the negative hype going into the season? Leave a comment below and discuss!

Thank you all for reading my season previews for 2015 (you can see the rest below). This started out as a tribute to our late, great friend, Richard Durrett and hopefully you all have had as much fun reading these as I have had writing them. Baseball counts for real starting on Sunday. Are you ready?

2015 Preview: The Closer
2015 Preview: The Bullpen
2015 Preview: The Rotation
2015 Preview: Catcher
2015 Preview: First Base
2015 Preview: Second Base
2015 Preview: Third Base
2015 Preview: Shortstop
2015 Preview: Left Field
2015 Preview: Centerfield
2015 Preview: Right Field

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Matt Fisher
Matt Fisher is an Editor/Staff Writer for ShutdownInning. He is a baseball lifer, preferring to use the eye test and rely on the knowledge and analysis of baseball minds greater than his, while using relevant stats to encourage situational discussions. He is also co-host of The Most Valuable Podcast on the NextWave Radio Network, talking sports, entertainment, and sports entertainment.

While Matt's favorite team will always be his hometown Texas Rangers, he knows the ongoing story lines of every team in Major League Baseball. If you sit next to him at a game, be prepared to hear him try and do play-by-play. If you're famous and reading this, just know that he's not afraid to drop names.

Matt Fisher. ShutdownInning Editor/Staff Writer

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