Thursday, March 18, 2010

The bombshell in Arizona

Baseball spring training is supposed to be a sleepy time where prospects show their potential, pitchers get the kinks out, and veterans hold on to their job. Not much big news comes out of Arizona or Florida other than roster moves.

Except Wednesday when it was revealed Texas Ranger manager Ron Washington tested positive last July for an illegal drug, reportedly cocaine. Wow. Only the Rangers it seems. With players, unfortunately, it doesn't get much more than a raised eyebrow. But this is believed to be the first time in Major League history a manager or coach failed a test like this.

Rangers president Nolan Ryan and general manager Jon Daniels stand by their manager. They've known about this since July when Washington was proactive and told them. He knew he would likely flunk the required test.

Because of that, because of his remorse, because he convinced Rangers brass it was a one-time stupid mistake, they stood by him and did not fire him even when Washington offered his resignation.

Because of the failed test, he was put on a mandatory program by MLB in which he was tested three times a week. He completed the program without incident.

To Washington's credit, he has manned up. He held a 13-minute press conference Wednesday in which he blamed no one but himself and owned up to everything possible. He couldn't have said or done anything more.

"I made a huge mistake," he said. "I'm not here to make excuses. There are none." He called the incident "stupid" and "shameful." And he was right.

It should be noted that almost the entire team was at the press conference as a show of support of their manager.

Questions abound. Should, though, have Washington been fired? Aren't leaders held to a higher standard? Can he still lead, can he still have credibility in the clubhouse after this? What does this say about his judgment and decision-making? Maybe it was a one-time thing, but if it was, how does a non-user get cocaine so easily?

The public is torn. A Fort Worth Star-Telegram poll had 1,073 voters: 52 percent (560) agreed with the Rangers to keep him, and 48 percent (513) disagreed. The Dallas Morning News poll showed that 48 percent said to move on, 32 percent thought he should be terminated and 19 percent said he should be disciplined.

Managers have never been choir boys. Tony LaRussa, considered among the best in history, had a 2207 DUI arrest. But LaRussa has won championships. Washington hasn't.

Players get second chances too when they run afoul of the law or drug policies. Those that get repeat chances usually hit home runs and drive in runs. Those who don't are shown the door.

I hope Washington overcomes this. Lord knows, he's under a microscope. But if the Rangers get off to any kind of a slow start, this incident will only accelerate his exit.

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