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October 22, 2010

On the Beat

Creating a Mindset

by John Perrotto

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Ron Washington has the chance to make history in the next two nights. The Rangers lead the Yankees 3-2 in the American League Championship Series and need only one win in the next two games to qualify for the first World Series appearance in the franchise' 50-year history.

Washington would go down as the first manager to get the Rangers to the Fall Classic, which would be fitting since the Rangers began as the second incarnation of the Washington Senators in 1961. Ask Washington how he has helped turn a perennial losing franchise into a winner and he will tell you he has done it by following a fairly basic formula.

"I'm an old-school baseball guy," Washington said. "I believe in pitching, defense and the execution of fundamentals. I'm no different than any other manager. They want their players to do the same thing. I'm just a guy that loves to stress the little things in the game of baseball because those are the things that take care of business and then the big things happen."

Washington isn't a high-tech guy and not too proud to admit it. In an organization with a forward-thinking general manager in Jon Daniels, who has a strong gasp of sabermetrics, Washington admittedly leaves the numbers to others. It's not that he won't consult statistics in making decisions but he isn't a slave to them.

"I always say, things that you ask of people, especially in the game of baseball, this game is so beautiful, it will show it," Washington said. "And then they begin to know that maybe you're right about what you're seeing, and you know, that's what's happened here. We preached a certain style, and the things that we ask them to do, you go out there and you play the game, and then you can figure it out and say, wow, we lost a ballgame because we didn't do this little thing. And those are some of the things sometimes that get lost and those are the types of things that we like to keep in the forefront so that they can understand that we are not interested in you looking at results. We are more interested in execution and the results happen."

The Rangers have posted a better record in each of Washington's four seasons. They were 75-87 when he made his major-league managerial debut in 2007 and have since gone 79-83, 87-75 and 90-72.

Some people might wonder why it has taken the Rangers four years under Washington to break through. Washington, though, believes his club has arrived right on time.

"If it were that easy, I think everybody would be able to go out there and create something but it doesn't happen like that," Washington said. "It's a process. It's a mindset. Especially when in Texas, pounding the baseball was the forefront. We tried to change styles as far as our pitchers learning how to pitch, our defense learning how to become a better defensive team, us understanding how to run the basepaths, understanding when the situation says just move someone, understanding when you can get runs without even getting a base hit, just make an out. It takes time to do that. You just can't turn that around just because you say it."

Washington feels Daniels has found the right players to fit his style of play and credits Hall of Famer and club president Nolan Ryan for setting an aggressive tone, especially with the pitchers. Most importantly for Washington, his players have been receptive to how he wants them to play the game.

"You set standards that you would like to be reached," Washington said. "You set expectations, and you hold people accountable for it. And accountability not only starts with me, and then it flows through my coaching staff and into the players. So we all had to expect to do something then we had to go out there and do the grunt work to make sure that those expectations were met. In the end, though, it all falls on the players. It all falls on the leadership in that clubhouse, making sure that when things don't get done, that everyone is aware of it. Because if it's just me and my coaching staff constantly making them aware of it, sometimes that can get lost."

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Giants manager Bruce Bochy also has his team within a game of the World Series with a 3-2 lead over the Phillies in the National League Championship Series. Like Washington, Bochy is not a sabermetric type but the difference is that the Giants, as a whole, downplay advanced statistical analysis in the building their team.

Yet the Giants need only one victory to get to the World Series for the first time since 2002. Bochy says that is a victory for assembling a roster while accounting for the human element in the game.

"When you put together a club, hopefully you have guys who are unified," Bochy said. "You hope to have that chemistry, and that's not something that just happens. You have to work at it. These guys do. They play well together. We've had roles change but they've accepted it and they've gone about their business in a professional way. Those types of tangibles do get overlooked. You have a lot of great winning-type players on our club. If you look at their tools, they may not grade out well, but they find a way to win."

Harmony is nice but it also helps to have good pitching. The Giants have that in abundance as they were second in the major leagues in runs allowed with a 3.60 a game average in the regular season, which compensated for an offense that scored 4.30 run a game to rank ninth in the NL and 17thin the majors.

In an effort to find more offense, Bochy has been proactive in the playoffs. At times, he has benched third baseman Pablo Sandoval for Mike Fontenot and relegated center fielder Andres Torres to the bench and played Aaron Rowand in his stead.

"It's not so much ruffling feathers, it's doing what's right and putting the guys out there that you think are going to help you win that game," Bochy said. "

Bochy is in his fourth season with the Giants after managing the Padres for 12 seasons. He had an extremely close relationship with former Padres GM Kevin Towers and says his relationship with Giants GM Brain Sabean is becoming just as strong. Unlike some managers, Bochy is willing to have his GM make suggestions about playing time and batting orders.

"Brian and I do discuss the lineup and he has suggestions and we work well together," Bochy said. "And we come up with what we think is our best lineup."

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The elephant in the room for new Mariners manager Eric Wedge is going to be outfielder/designated hitter Milton Bradley. The two had an infamous clash in an exhibition game during the last week of spring training in 2004 when Wedge was the Indians' manager and Bradley was quickly dispatched to the Dodgers in a trade. However, Wedge is optimistic that he can handle the temperamental veteran.

"It's (6 ½) years since I had Milton," Wedge said. "I think one of Milton's biggest obstacles is just staying healthy. Hopefully, he'll be healthy and help us have an opportunity to win some ballgames. I'm looking forward to having another opportunity to work with him. I don't hold any grudges. Milton's a long ways away from that, too. I'm sure our relationship is going to be fine."

Wedge could seemingly find no negatives in the Mariners' situation as the 2007 American League Manager of the Year also talked to the Cubs, Brewers, Pirates and Blue Jays about their vacant manager positions. Thus, when Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik offered the job, Wedge quickly accepted. Even though the Mariners have lost 101 games in two of the last season, Wedge said he got great vibes from Zduriencik, CEO Howard Lincoln and club president Chuck Armstrong during his interview.

"The passion I saw in Howard's and Chuck's and Jack's eyes … I just think it's going to be a tremendous working relationship," Wedge said. "I'm excited by this part of the country. I've always been excited about coming to Seattle. I've always been excited by Safeco (Field). I love the energy in this city. You can feel it."

Wedge says he has that energy after sitting out last season following his dismissal as Indians' manager at the end of the 2009 season. Wedge promises a team that will be filled with energy and pride.

"Being a good teammate and respecting the game are going to happen here, every single day with all our players," he said. "It may not happen from Day 1, but at some point in time, that's going to be a big part of what we're about. The bottom line is we're going to stand for something here within the Mariners' organization, from head to toe."

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Mike Quade grew up outside Chicago in Evanston, Illinois. Thus, he knows all about the Cubs' 102-year World Series title drought, the Billy Goat Curse and everything else that surrounds the franchise.

Yet Quade said the specter of becoming the permanent manager of a franchise with all of that hanging over its head is not daunting. In fact, when the Cubs announced that Quade had signed a two-year contract with an option for 2013 after leading them to a 24-13 record as the interim manager at the end of the season following Lou Piniella's retirement, he said he would tune out all negative vibes.

"I lived here, I was raised here, I get it," Quade said. "You're totally aware of it, and any of the other comments that are made. But it's not going to do us any good as a ballclub, or me as a manager or a person, to have that anywhere near our thoughts on a daily basis. I think we understand how we need to win baseball games, and the less said about that—during our work, during the games—the better."

Quade spent the past four seasons as the Cubs' third base coach before becoming interim manager. Yet while he is a Chicago guy, his hiring was met with skepticism by many Cubs' fans, who wanted Hall of Famer and Triple-A Iowa manager Ryne Sandberg to succeed Piniella.

"You do what's best for the organization, at the end, we couldn't have had a bad choice," GM Jim Hendry said. "That's what made it hard for me. Forget about how great a player (Sandberg) was. I have a lot of respect for Ryne and I get along very well with him. I get offended when I read 'He never had a chance, we never should've let him go do the work in the system.' Those things are so unfair and wrong. That's the part that bothers me. As disappointed as Ryno was maybe in the final decision, he was very comfortable with the process. We spent a lot of time with him, and we all watched a lot of games at Iowa this year. There's nothing bad to say about it."

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MLB Rumors & Rumblings: The Pirates' manager search has stalled because they reportedly are interested in interviewing Yankees bench coach Tony Pena, who cannot talk to other clubs until his team is no longer involved in the postseason … The Tigers will not grant permission for other teams to interview assistant GM Al Avila because there is a thought he will become the GM in the next few years, with Dave Dombrowski concentrating solely on his duties as club president … Cardinals hitting coach Mark McGwire is leaning toward not returning for a second season as his wife recently gave birth to triplets … Brewers manager Ken Macha is likely to wind up on the Red Sox's coaching staff if the Pirates do not hire him as manager. He and Red Sox manager Terry Francona are close friends … The Orioles are interested in shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima, a free agent from Japan.

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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