Ron Washington

Major League Baseball finally got some good news last week following a postseason marked by criticism from many quarters about a new playoff system that seemed to negate regular season success (the elimination of all 100-win teams in early rounds) and a World Series between the Texas Rangers and Arizona Diamondbacks that drew record low ratings numbers and resulted in a five game Rangers win. But there was nothing but positive response to the announcement that longtime Atlanta Braves third base and infield coach Ron Washington would be joining the Los Angeles Angels as their new manager. Washington signed a two-year deal to manage a team that has in the eyes of most observers been a consistent under-achiever the past few years.

Despite having multiple MVP winner Mike Trout and current two-way star Shohei Otani on board, the Angels not only haven’t made the playoffs they haven’t even been very competitive. The hope is that Washington, who formerly managed the Texas Rangers and got them into the World Series twice before leaving in 2014, can revive a team that’s been both dormant and dull over the past few seasons. Washington has been credited with helping turn the Braves infield into one of the finest in the majors. This past season all four of its members made the National League All-Star team. Washington spent seven years with the Braves, and becomes the first Black manager hired in MLB since 2020, as well as the first for the Angels.

Washington has already begun addressing what remains a problem with the sport, increasing its diversity. He’s hired another longtime member of the Braves staff Eric Young to join  his coaching staff. Young previously played 15 years in the majors before joining the coaching ranks, and  previously had been first base coach with Arizona and Colorado before joining Atlanta in 2018. Washington also tried to hire Torii Hunter, but he reportedly turned down the offer. However he’s also hired Chili Davis, which gives his staff a trio of Black coaches, far more than many MLB teams. 

While there’s happiness in several circles regarding Washington’s hiring, that doesn’t mean there aren’t also some questions being raised. The first concerns his age. At 71, he becomes the oldest current manager as well as being the second of the two Blacks holding those positions along with Dave Roberts of the Los Angeles Dodgers. “I’m lost for words, but not the work it will take,” Washington told the Associated Press by text when responding to the news. He was well known during his years with the Braves for being one of the hardest working coaches in the sport, arriving early and hitting hundreds of grounders to infielders in his other role as infield coach.

He takes over a team that’s had eight straight losing seasons and nine consecutive non-playoff seasons. Both of those are the longest in baseball. Washington becomes the fourth manager for the Angels in six years, replacing Phil Nevin. Angels owner Arte Moreno at 77 has tired of waiting for success. Mike Scioscia had a 19-year run with the team as their manager, but no one since has been able to get the team into the expanded postseason. Joe Maddon, who had previously helped the Cubs break their multiple decades record of failure, proved unable to do the same with Texas. He’s also tired of paying out big money to both Trout and Ohtani, who became a free agent last week and may or may not return. Trout has three MVP awards but zero playoff victories, something Moreno hopes that Washington  can change.

It took almost a decade for Washington to get another shot at managing, despite a successful track record while with Texas and also 13-year and two very good stints as a coach with Oakland. Some unfortunate off-the-field incidents no doubt contributed to that, although the Rangers thought so much of him that they overlooked the first issue  in 2009 and were willing to overlook a second in 2014 and bring him back again,  but he resigned instead. His importance to the Oakland A’s was dramatized during the film “Moneyball,” when actor Brent Jennings portrayed him describing to a player how tough it was to make the transition to first base. Former Athletics third baseman Eric Chavez once gave one of the Gold Gloves he earned for defensive prowess to Washington, crediting him with  helping him develop into a top player. Former Braves and Gold Glove winners Freddie Freeman and Dansby Swanson also pay tribute to Washington’s coaching prowess.

He’s known as an old school manager and  players advocate, but also someone able to make peace with the prevalence of advanced statistics (analytics) into the current game. Though he’s been in the National League for several years, his background with Oakland and Texas gives him plenty of foundation in the American League West. Perhaps the only other question is whether two years is long enough time for Washington to turn around the fortunes of the Angels.

But win or lose, it’s good that he’s gotten one final shot at doing what he loves most, managing a  team. Hopefully, the results this time out will equal what he achieved from 2007-2014 with Texas, where he won two American League pennants and had a record of 664-611. No doubt Moreno also hopes that like the 2021 Braves, either the 2024 or 2025 Angels will eventually get a World Series title.