“It was time for my wife and I to get closer to home,” he said, a reference to New Orleans. “It felt right.”
It was an interesting hire by the Braves because, despite a couple of significant incidents in Washington’s life, personal baggage that dinged his resume and impacted his otherwise standout career in Texas, Washington now has a major presence on the coaching staff. He could be viewed as a safety net if Snitker doesn’t pan out as manager.
A number of coaches and players have already sung his praises. Freddie Freeman recalls watching the Texas Rangers in their two World Series runs in 2010 and 2011.
“They had that little camera in the dugout and it was always on Wash,” he said. “He was giddy every time his players were about to score, and he was in his 60s.
“I get here in the morning and he’s already out there at 6:45, 7 o’clock, in full metal jacket every day.”
Almost everybody’s life story includes a detour or two. Washington’s detours were just more dramatic and unexpected than most.
— March of 2010: Sports Illustrated reports that Washington, then Texas manager, tested positive for cocaine the previous July. Washington admits to the failed test and apologizes but denies he has any substance abuse issues and maintains it was a one-time slip — albeit a strange and extraordinary slip at the then-age of 57 during an All-Star break. The Rangers stand by Washington, who go on to win 90-plus games in the next four seasons, with three postseasons and two American League pennants.
— September of 2014: With the Rangers reeling at 53-87, Washington stuns the baseball world with a sudden resignation. Personal reasons are cited. Rumors of something nefarious circulate. Many wonder if he’s involved with drugs again. Washington ultimately announces that he needs to step away from the game t0 devote his time to healing his family and his marriage after an extramarital affair.
It was eight months before anybody saw him again.
Beane, a former teammates of Washington’s in Minnesota and the man he calls “my sponsor,” rehired Washington as a coach in May of 2015. At 63, the old man had a job again.
“I wouldn’t say I never thought I wouldn’t be back in the game,” Washington said. “I just felt some of the issues I had would fade away a little bit. Everybody makes mistakes.”
Washington says he’s a changed person. Trauma can do that.
“I found peace with myself,” he said. “I found peace with my family, peace with my wife. I even found peace with the Lord again. Sometimes you’re going down a road and you don’t even realize what you’re doing until you’re already down it. I found out I’m human and I had weaknesses.”
Failed drug tests can derail careers. The Rangers didn’t fire Washington but the months that followed weren’t easy, even despite the two World Series appearances.
“Baseball had me doing stuff for two years, coming to me in the winter time, checking out my family, sending out investigators,” Washington said. “They was devolving.”
Into his family?
“You know, when you tell a story, sometimes people don’t believe it. So they’ve got to send out people to check into your background. But they found nothing. I went through testing. I was seeing doctors. I was going to counselors. It was the whole gamut and I did it for two years.”
But through it all, he gained a new perspective on life, learned about embracing each day, having gratitude and letting go of those who didn’t share in what he calls “positive energy.”
“I had support from major league baseball, the Texas Rangers, my players, my family. You really don’t know where you stand until you’re down and out,” he said. “All of this love came out. It makes you think: You’re responsible for you and you realize when you do stupid things it hurts other people.
“I never really thought I took anybody for granted. But I did.”
Washington had a connection with Braves president John Hart from their days in Texas. He has a connection with John Schuerholz from Kansas City as one of three major league players (with U.L. Washington and Frank White) who grew out of the “Royals Academy,” a developmental system in the early 1970s. So this has the feel of a family reunion.
Working with young players is Washington’s passion. So he’s with the right team at the right time. Nobody has ever questioned his knowledge of the game or his ability to teach.
“My mind is still working and I feel I’m able to make a difference — that’s why I’m here,” he said. “I’m one of those dinosaurs.”
Snitker said, “He’s a baseball rat. He likes to grind.”
Freeman again: “I’ve heard him say every day at the ball park is a good day. I know a little bit of what he’s gone through. His emotion is raw. It’s a true genuine passion he has.”
Washington still wants to manage again. It seems doubtful that chance would come at his age. But this hasn’t been a normal journey.