By Chris Olds | Beckett Baseball Editor | Commentary
Ron Washington‘s career and his image within Major League Baseball changed forever on Wednesday as he apologized for using cocaine one time while manager of the Texas Rangers last season.
He’s the first MLB manager known to fail a drug test, something he’ll now always be known for, despite a career beginning its fifth decade as a player, coach and manager this season.
Why was the revelation made public?
Because Washington has completed completed MLB’s drug rehab program and passed all subsequent drug tests. Remarkably, Washington admitted his mistake even before his drug test, which he was randomly selected for by MLB, took place. He offered his resignation right then and there last summer — which the Rangers didn’t take him up on — and he admitted his wrongdoings in a public manner multiple times on Wednesday.
There was no finger-pointing denial followed by a subsequent failed test. There was no sudden lack of speaking ability. There was no Ari Fleischer-coached tear-enhanced, rhetoric-laced sit-down with Bob Costas.
Instead, the 57-year-old manager — a career baseball guy who made his big-league debut as a Los Angeles Dodger nearly 33 years ago — doffed his cap and addressed his family, the media, his bosses, the fans and all of baseball. He wasn’t hiding behind prepared phrases, he wasn’t hiding behind a pair of designer sunglasses like some star slugger.
“I’ve learned a lot about myself personally, and I recognize that this episode was an attempt to dodge personal anxieties and personal issues I needed to confront,” he said. “That was the wrong way to do it. It was self-serving, and believe me, not worth it. I know you will ask, and so here’s the answer: this was the one and only time I used this drug.
“I made a huge mistake, and it almost caused me to lose everything I have worked for all of my life.”
WATCH VIDEO OF WASHINGTON’S STATEMENT HERE.
“I am not here to make excuses. There are none,” he said. “I am not here to ask for sympathy. That would be asking too much.”
This was the textbook apology that baseball has been missing for years as many of its stars have had to address problems with performance-enhancing drugs — mistakes which often get discounted as surprises as a result of tainted supplements, lies, conspiracies. Or, we get doubletalk or comments about nothing specific … spin. (As a long-time Jose Canseco fan, I’ve read plenty on the issue of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball.)
Rarely do baseball fans get the truth. Rarely do they get an admission of guilt and a chance to allow the player, the person, who made the mistake to atone for it and move on. Washington remains on contract with the Rangers through the end of this season, having added scrutiny on his team’s performance and, of course, every rise and fall in the standings will be (fairly) under a microscope.
Unlike the noteworthy sluggers who many a collector has invested in only to watch them fade from the game and those dollars dwindle, Washington’s career on cardboard really isn’t a remarkable one. He’s got just 119 baseball cards — his most valuable Rookie Card checking in at 15 cents — no memorabilia cards and just one certified autograph, a 2007 Topps Update 2007 Highlights Autographs card worth $10.
As a player, Washington hit .261 in 10 MLB seasons for five clubs. Before taking over as the Rangers’ manager in 2007 (where he has a 241-245 record) he was a long-time coach with the Oakland A’s. He’s a guy held in high regard by some — notably including third baseman Eric Chavez, who gave Washington one of his Gold Glove Awards. (Read A’s players’ reactions here.)
And, of course, today Washington manages one of baseball’s most high-profile players when it comes to past drug problems in Josh Hamilton, a former No. 1 overall pick who was suspended from baseball at one point after several failed tests. His team was another thing Washington mentioned on Wednesday — as well as a willingness to make his error a lesson for others.
“This morning, I talked to our players. I assured them that this will never happen again, and I asked them to forgive me. In the true spirit of a ‘team,’ they seemed to embrace me not only as a manager but as a human being,” he said. “I won’t let you down again. Please know that I will personally take on the challenge of telling young people my story and my mistake. I don’t know what form that will take, but I am committed to do that.
“Challenges are what you make of life – that makes it interesting. Overcoming those challenges is what makes life meaningful, and I do want to make a difference.”
Mark McGwire promised before Congress to help baseball educate children and others about the problems of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. It never happened after he declined to “talk about the past.” Today, he’s back in baseball after admitting his wrongdoings to Costas and telling his story, which continues to have gaping holes poked in it — most recently in a book written by his estranged brother, Jay.
There are countless other examples one could cite as there are countless past examples of cocaine and other drug use by stars you probably have in your baseball card collection right now. (And there are countless other athletes in other sports who have faced even more larger legal and personal issues, too.) Many of them didn’t have positive endings, while others continue to fight their demons daily — years after their playing days ended.
Few of those players faced the issue head-on like Ron Washington, though, and that’s something that we, as baseball fans and collectors, should notice — both today as well as going forward.
Chris Olds is the editor of Beckett Baseball. Have a comment, question or idea? Send an e-mail to him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter by clicking here.