September 23, 2021

A Portrait of Ron Washington in 1989, at the End of His Playing Career

September 14, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

In 1989, David Lamb spent the summer rambling around the U.S. in his RV, watching minor league baseball games as he traveled. A couple years later, he published a book, Stolen Season, about his journey. Lamb caught up with Ron Washington in Tucson, where the future Rangers manager was playing shortstop, mostly, for the Houston Astros’ AAA farm team, the Tucson Toros. I thought I’d present that scene and Washington’s comments in ’89 here as a way to gain a different perspective on the man, one that goes back to the days when he was on the field, not in the dugout.

In his book, Lamb wrote of Washington:

At thirty-seven, he was four years older than the oldest starting shortstop in the major leagues, Ozzie Smith, and was earning approximately $2.2 million per season less. He looked younger in uniform than he had when I saw him in jeans and a T-shirt by the clubhouse bench press and noticed his receding hairline and worried face. . . .

Washington referred to each plate appearance not as an at bat but as an opportunity, and when he missed an opportunity, he would clench his left fist and give his head a quick shake on the way back to the dugout. Baseball was still fun to him, and each game pushed so much adrenaline through his system that, after taking the bus back to his apartment on Broadway [in Tucson], it was three or four hours before his body calmed down and he could sleep.

One of ten children, he was raised in the projects of New Orleans. . . . In 1970, Washington paid his way to the Kansas City Royals Baseball Academy. If he had negotiated the contract offered him there, he could have gotten five thousand dollars. But talk didn’t interest him; he signed immediately and headed for Sarasota with his modest bonus—a new glove and a pair of spikes.

“I was so happy just to sign, they could have kept the glove and spikes,” he said.

A few quotes from Washington: “If I get hit with the negative side of something, I turn it positive. I’ve never stuck my head behind my ass and run like a puppy in my life. Just so I go out onto the field every day a little more fired up than I was the day before, I’ll be all right. I’ll get back. . .

“Still, when you been to the top where everything’s first class, you don’t like coming back down. You have to worry about nourishing yourself on the meal money they pay you here. You can hear the hecklers real good with the small crowds. You get worn down with those 4:30 a.m. wake-up calls to catch another plane. Up there, everything’s done for you. Down here, you gotta do things for yourself.

“I’ll tell you this. The sun shines bright every day in Tucson, but it doesn’t shine as bright as it does in Houston. It shines bright in Houston even when it’s raining.”

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