The Texas Rangers have grown up a lot over the past thirty years, especially in the last five years. Including their past life as the Washington Senators, the Rangers have had 23 managers in 47 years. That’s an awful lot of turnover, but for much of their history, the Rangers have been awfully bad.
Those lost-in-the-wilderness days began to change in the mid-1980s as the team moved from perennial laughingstock to perennial loser. There’s a big difference between the two, and that first step towards contention is generally the hardest one to take. Bobby Valentine managed the club from 1985 to 1992. He was, by far, the longest-serving manager to date and posted a .490 winning percentage which was a clear improvement.
After the forgettable Kevin Kennedy and Toby Harrah (who is one of eight baseball palindromes… can you name the other seven?), the club hired Johnny Oates prior to the 1995 season. The team won three division titles under Oates, although that success was probably due to the fact that everyone else in the division was even worse than the Rangers. His nice-guy act had worn thin by 2001, but he does have a fond place in team history and recently had his jersey number retired.
Oates’ bench coach, Jerry Narron, replaced him, and Narron was an abject failure. Then along came the competent Buck Showalter, who was Manager of the Year in 2004.
When Ron Washington was hired prior to the 2007 season, the Rangers had regressed from their three division titles back into a last-place club. At the time, his George Jefferson appearance and colorful malapropisms were just the right thing. In a classic “Bad News Bears” motif, Washington took the team nearly to the baseball summit in 2010 and 2011.
Although they suffered through a one-and-done two years ago and missed the playoffs entirely last year, the Rangers are now in the upper division of the American League. Washington deserves a great deal of credit for building on the foundation that others had laid. Now, fans are beginning to see why Washington was a coach for so many years but never a manager: He can only take a team so far.
His recent contract extension was more an admission that the team could not find anyone better as opposed to a vote of confidence. If he serves out his current contract, Washington will pass Valentine as the longest-tenured manager in team history. But he’s firmly on the hot seat. Another disappointing season, and Dusty Baker’s phone will start to ring.
TRIVIA ANSWER: Mark Salas, Dick Nen, Robb Nen, Eddie Kazak, Johnny Reder, Dave Otto, Truck Hannah