Ron Washington puts family first

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Ron Washington has nine siblings. His wife, Gerry, has 12.

If nothing else, the Texas Rangers' 59-year-old manager understands the importance of family.

That's why Washington spent his only free evening during the Rangers' two-day swing through Las Vegas at a Hard Rock Cafe casino blackjack table with his big brother, Robert.

It's among the reasons he purchased a mausoleum large enough to house 21 coffins in his beloved New Orleans, so his family will be together in this life and the next.

Family is about sacrifice. It's about taking care of those unable to care for themselves because it's the right thing to do -- not for any accompanying praise.

And it's about teaching the youngsters and learning from the elders. Most of all, it's about accepting folks, flaws and all.

Washington, like many managers, compares his team to a family. He takes the comparison seriously -- and that's part of the reason the Rangers, who open their 40th season Friday against the Chicago White Sox, have increased their win total each of the past four seasons and have played in the past two Fall Classics.

See, most folks get so caught up in pitching changes and batting orders and infield positioning that they lose sight of the manager's most important job.

Every manager's goal is to get his players to maximize their talent every day, which is incredibly hard to do during the grind of a professional baseball season that requires its teams to complete 162 games in 180 days.

This much is clear: No one is better at managing the 25 personalities on a roster than Washington.

Oh, there are guys such as Jim Leyland, Joe Maddon and Dusty Baker who are just as good, but none surpass the standard Washington has established the past two seasons.

He does it by preaching family values.

"It ain't about you," Washington said, "It's about us."

Cool, but every manager has some version of that. You know, there's no "I" in team. Or those hokey T-shirts that have "TEAM" on top of "me".

"You get them to buy in by telling every player from the best players to the 25th man that he's important to the team," Washington said. "We can't win if every player doesn't do his job.

"If your job is to play defense, steal bags and bunt, then you will help us win if you do your job. That's it. You don't have to do anything extra. All you have to do is your job."

Like a lot of young players, Washington took several years to figure out he could carve out a career for himself in the big leagues.

No one plays 14 seasons of winter ball because they want to do it.

"Winter ball was good because it helped me figure out my game," Washington said. "I didn't have a manager putting restrictions on me or telling me what I could or couldn't do.

"I learned what I was good at, and how that could help a ballclub."

That's how a guy who never played more than 119 games and hit just .261 with 20 career homers played 10 seasons in the big leagues.

Players such as Baker gave the eager-to-learn Washington as much information as he could absorb. They talked to him about stretching in the sixth inning, so he'd be ready to pinch-run or play defense in the eighth or ninth inning.

And once Washington established himself as a key utility player during six seasons with Minnesota, he passed the knowledge on to future stars such as Kirby Puckett, Gary Gaetti and Kent Hrbek.

The Minnesota Twins lost 102 games in 1982 and 92 games in 1983. Four seasons later, those layers formed the core of a team that won a World Series in 1987 and again in 1991.

Look closely and you'll see Washington using the familial approach as the Rangers' manager.

We've seen him yank talented shortstop Elvis Andrus from the game after a careless error, and we've seen him cuss out Derek Holland on the mound.

We've also seen Washington put his hands on Holland's shoulders and infuse him with confidence on the dugout steps moments before the left-hander turned in the performance of a lifetime in Game 4 of the World Series.

Washington does even better work behind the scenes. He'll constantly tell Josh Hamilton that his presence in the lineup means more than his production and won't hesitate to tell Matt Harrison, angry at being removed from a game early last season, that every time he didn't attack hitters he was going to get pulled early.

Everything Washington does is in the name of team success, which is how he persuades players to sacrifice elements of their game without protesting publicly or privately.

Think about it. Mike Napoli and Yorvit Torrealba would each like to play more at catcher. Michael Young would prefer to play an infield position instead of designated hitter.

Scott Feldman and Alexi Ogando want to be starters. Mike Adams wants to close.

"I've never been on a team like this where everybody gets along and has fun," Torrealba said. "We win, so it's easy to sacrifice. It's not about numbers because if we win and you play -- you're going to get paid no matter what kind of numbers you put up whether it's here or somewhere else."

Washington, the patriarch, leads; the players willingly follow. It has been a winning formula.