Chipper Jones explains why Ron Washington’s departure is ‘a tremendous loss’

Ron Washington, the new manager of the Los Angeles Angels, smiles during a baseball news conference Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023, in Anaheim, Calif. The 71-year-old Washington managed the Texas Rangers from 2007-14, winning two AL pennants and going 664–611. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Ron Washington, the new manager of the Los Angeles Angels, smiles during a baseball news conference Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023, in Anaheim, Calif. The 71-year-old Washington managed the Texas Rangers from 2007-14, winning two AL pennants and going 664–611. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

During the season, the favorite part of Chipper Jones’ day happened in the minutes just before the Braves took batting practice at Truist Park.

Just off of the home dugout, Jones said, third-base coach Ron Washington, first-base coach Eric Young and occasionally second baseman Ozzie Albies assembled for pointed conversations.

“And they would be at each other’s throats, talking smack to each other,” Jones said in a phone interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “And I just loved it because I’m a chameleon. I can fit into any environment whatsoever. And just those exchanges and just shooting the breeze and the bull with those guys was really entertaining for me before the actual work started.”

The Hall of Famer Jones, who in his role as the club’s hitting consultant is a regular presence at Truist Park, is happy for Washington to have been named the Angels’ new manager and for Young to be their new third-base coach. But he hates it for the Braves, particularly in losing the beloved coach who answers to “Wash.”

“It’s a tremendous loss for us, it really is,” Jones said.

In accounting Washington’s contributions, Jones started with his work with the club’s infielders hours before the games with no one in the stands.

“He is widely regarded as, I’ll just come out and say it – he’s the premier infielder guru in the game,” Jones said. “I mean, I’m sure that will probably be argued, but you ask everybody who’s played for him, they’d say the exact same thing.”

You certainly could ask Braves third baseman Austin Riley, who with Washington’s help adjusted his pre-pitch setup and has developed into one of the game’s top fielders at his position.

“He sees everything,” Riley told the AJC in September. “You can’t get anything by him.”

But Washington’s greatness with the Braves went far beyond expertise.

In those pregame fielding sessions that Jones relished watching, Washington refused anything but his players’ best. He wasn’t always the smiling, grandfatherly type that is his public persona, but was instead quite willing to jump down players’ throats.

“I used to sit there and listen to him,” Jones said. “He wouldn’t cut them any slack whatsoever.”

Jones compared Washington’s standards with a father’s.

“If you allow your kids an inch, they’re going to take a mile,” Jones said. “Professional athletes are no different. If you give them any slack whatsoever, they’re going to take it. Wash doesn’t allow that.”

Additionally, Washington had the skill to know how to administer those standards, no small ability when working with a team full of pampered millionaires across a season that begins in February and can last into November.

Washington skillfully related to players from a diverse set of cultures and backgrounds. The hardest aspect of coaching, Jones said, is knowing which players need to be kicked in the rear end and which ones need a pat on the back.

“Because there’s all different kinds,” he said. “And you pick the wrong side with a particular guy, and you’ll lose him. So Wash is great at knowing the room.”

A team that has won with a strong culture and an unrelenting high level of performance – you certainly can see Washington’s fingerprints all over a club that won six consecutive National League East titles and the 2021 World Series in his seven years on Brian Snitker’s staff.

And this isn’t even getting into the Braves losing their third-base coach. There’s a bit more to the job than making circles with your right arm. It requires split-second decisions based on the runner, the situation and the defense. It takes time and effort to know the outfielders, the infielders and the relays – who does it well and who doesn’t, Jones said.

“There’s a ton of homework that goes into being a good third-base coach,” he said. “When you have one, to replace him, there’s a whole trust factor that goes along with the players getting used to that guy. Wash has been here a long time. There’s a new guy that’s going to be there, and he’s going to have to earn his stripes.”

The same goes with Young, who has coached the outfielders and base running along with serving as first-base coach. Behind the scenes, Young aided Ronald Acuna Jr. in his theft of 73 bases, a feat that helped him win the NL MVP award Thursday night.

“‘E.Y.’ studies pitchers like nobody’s business,” Jones said.

Jones’ observations make it easy to understand why Angels general manager Perry Minasian would hire Washington, and further why Washington would bring along Young. Minasian knows the 71-year-old Washington well, having been a scout with the Rangers when Washington managed them to two World Series and then serving as the Braves’ assistant general manager from 2017-20.

Asked how the Braves will feel Washington’s departure the most, Jones was not sure.

“That’s yet to be determined,” he said. “I don’t know who takes Wash’s spot. You bring in a clone, it won’t be that difficult. But there’s only one Wash.”

Quantifying the loss of Washington and Young might be impossible, but the impact can’t be denied. Games and titles aren’t won solely by amassing the best players that a team’s budget will allow.

The 2023 salary chart – topped by the Mets, Yankees and Padres, none of whom made the postseason – undercuts that fallacy.

In a demanding game played over a long season by people who – like all people – are prone to complacency, wilting confidence and lapses in form, an assistant coach who insists on full effort, is a peerless instructor and knows the right words to lift a player or team can make an incalculable difference.

Snitker’s staff now is short two such individuals, and the onus falls upon him to find two more. On an appearance on 680 the Fan’s “The Locker Room“ show Wednesday, Snitker gave strong hints that the openings could be filled internally. One logical option is Gwinnett Stripers manager Matt Tuiasosopo.

Whoever they are, best wishes to them in following two pillars of the Braves’ success.

“To say that the Braves have an offseason where they need to replace two really, really good people at what they do at first and third base, that’s an understatement,” Jones said.