By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Hurricane Katrina flattened his house in New Orleans. Alzheimer's has taken his mother's memory. Former owner Tom Hicks admitted Washington was this close to being fired early in 2008 (his birthday and a subsequent 18-9 streak saved his job). And critics constantly chastise his "gut" strategies and poke fun at his curious and infamous subject-verb agreement that has birthed classics like "That's what baseball do." (E-Ron-ics, I like to call it.) There's even a longtime commenter on my Sportatorium blog who goes by the handle "Wash Hater."
But through it all Washington—only the third black World Series manager along with Cito Gaston and Dusty Baker—is the eternal, at times irrational, optimist. He smiles. He smokes cigarettes. He reminds players to "respect the game." He is emotional and demonstrative during games, reticent and reverent afterward.
With positivity and perseverance he's improved the Rangers from 75 to 79 to 87 and—this year—90 wins. We have to credit Clint Hurdle for more patient hitting and Mike Maddux for deeper pitching, but under Washington, the Rangers are an attacking team that takes extra bases and plays with passion.
Claw. Antlers. Wash.
He's become an endearing figure this season. Lost in his story are his guts and belief in his style. Less than 24 hours after his team coughed up a late-game lead in a Game 1 loss to the Yankees, Washington restored the Rangers' confidence by—in the bottom of the first inning of Game 2—calling for a double-steal that resulted in a run.
Washington has overcome bankruptcy and Rich Harden and cocaine and, now, history. After a playful run around the infield last Friday night amidst the fireworks and the confetti, he finally got a Gatorade dousing behind home plate, courtesy of frolicking players Elvis Andrus and Neftali Feliz.
Don't look now, but the manager who began on a short leash is authoring the Rangers' longest season. And the man who should've been fired is about to be crowned.