New Rangers Manager Jeff Banister: Who Is This Guy?
While the Rangers' hiring of Pittsburgh Pirates bench coach Jeff Banister to take over Ron Washington's vacated managerial post didn't come completely out of nowhere, it's certainly a surprise. For those outside the organization, the first sign that Banister was a serious candidate for the gig came when he, along with Tim Bogar and Kevin Cash, was named as one of the three finalists for the job. Even then, the easiest person to see taking the job was Bogar. He'd just finished leading the previously moribund 2014 Rangers to a 14-8 record in his stretch as interim manager and had the tactical acumen the team sorely lacked under Washington.
Wednesday though, the tide seemed to turn in Banister's direction. With members of the national media like Ken Rosenthal reporting that the Rangers were conducting deep due diligence on Banister, it began to look like the job might be his.
Now, on Thursday, it is.
Like Washington, Banister is a baseball lifer. After overcoming cancer in his leg in high school and a neck broken in a home-plate collision in college, Banister played seven minor league seasons. In 1991, Banister got exactly one at bat with a Pirates team that would go on to win the National League East. He legged out a pinch-hit infield single -- hit using former Ranger Cecil Espy's bat -- and finished his MLB career with a perfect 1.000 batting average. After serving as a player coach for the Double A Carolina Mudcats in 1993, Banister quit playing and became a full-time member of the Pirates minor league coaching setup in 1994. He became the big league club's bench coach in August 2010, serving under former Rangers hitting coach Clint Hurdle from November 2010 onward.
It seems Rangers general manager Jon Daniels may view Banister as the best of both worlds. He has the credibility that a long minor-league career and overcoming so much adversity lends and he's spent a long time with the Pirates, an organization that's recently reinvented itself with a winning blend of analytics and great coaching. In his time with the Bucs, Banister has worked closely with Mike Fitzgerald, a guy Grantland's Ben Lindbergh has called "something of a sabermetric pioneer, the bleeding-edge embodiment of the trend toward teamwide, data-driven decision-making."
Banister will be given the ability to pick his own staff, as current Rangers coaches have been given permission to seek other employment. Just this afternoon, outfield, baserunning and third base coach Gary Pettis accepted a position with the Houston Astros. The official announcement of Banister's hiring is expected Friday.
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