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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

August 6, 2010 at 1:38 PM

Ron Washington and Don Wakamatsu: Who’da thunk?

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(Texas manager Ron Washington, left, congratulates Michael Young after a recent homer against Oakland. Photo by Associated Press).

I had barely landed in Arizona this past March when the first big melodrama of the 2010 baseball season exploded mere miles from the Mariners’ spring home in Peoria. At their complex in Surprise, Ariz., the Texas Rangers held a hastily arranged press conference after SI.com revealed their manager, Ron Washington, had tested positive for cocaine during the 2009 season.

At that point, I admit I thought Washington was a goner. Yes, the Rangers were standing by him — admirably, I might add — but it was hard to fathom how he was going to regain his credibility amidst this crisis. And surely, he was hanging by the thinnest thread imaginable. At any sign of adversity by the Rangers, and Texas management seemed certain — to me — to have no hesitation in giving him the boot.

Meanwhile, down the road at Mariner camp, optimism couldn’t have been higher. They were coming off a spectacular rebound season, winning 85 games after losing 101 the previous year. With several new additions, such as Cliff Lee, Chone Figgins, Milton Bradley and Casey Kotchman, the Mariners were — naively, we know now — expected to contend in, if not win, the AL West. Don Wakamatsu was regarded as a rising star in the managerial ranks after his deft handling of the team in 2009.

If anyone had told me back then that five months later, Wakamatsu would be battling to keep his job — an uphill battle — while Washington would be on the threshold of signing a contract extension, I probably would have said they were nuts. And yet, that’s exactly where we stand on Aug. 6. This story moved today on ESPNDallas.com, under the headline “Rangers want to keep Ron Washington.”

“I’m really pleased with the job he’s done,” general manager Jon Daniels told ESPNDallas yesterday from Safeco Field before a win over the Mariners. “I don’t think he gets enough credit for the way we’ve played. I think we’re all in agreement that he’s the guy we want managing this team in 2011 and beyond.”

And why not? The Rangers are running away with the AL West, and by all accounts Washington has done a masterful job in guiding them. At the same time I was having my doubts about Washington’s future back in March, I remember being highly impressed with the stand-up manner in which he addressed his slipup, and by the fact that the entire team seemed to be rallying behind him. Yes, he made a terrible mistake, but it’s a tribute to Washington that he owned up to it, overcame it, and kept the Rangers together throughout the ordeal. Of course, it helped that he had a tremendously talented ballclub that could be at the forefront of a long stretch of annual contention — and perhaps its first World Series appearance, especially with Cliff Lee now on their side.

While Washington readies for his inevitable extension, his one-time third-base coach, Wakamatsu, has to be content with assurances from his GM, Jack Zduriencik, that “Don is our manager.” Today, anyway. No guarantees for tomorrow. With the M’s season long ago having turned into a nightmare — and getting worse by the day — Wakamatsu’s chances of returning as Mariner manager are very much in doubt. The slim thread I mentioned earlier applies to Wakamatsu now.

The divergent circumstances of the two managers were juxtaposed at Safeco the past three nights. Wakamatsu looks tired and stressed out, but who wouldn’t after dealing with the Mariners’ mess every night. And Washington is presiding over a dugout that is full of energy as it rolls to a likely division title.

It just goes to reinforce, yet again, that the vicissitudes of baseball make it very difficult to predict.

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