The Texas Rangers have already started their off-season. After making it to back-to-back World Series, they, for all intensive purposes, didn’t even make the playoffs this year, which is hard to fathom given the talent on their roster. Thanks to a late September collapse that allowed the Oakland Athletics to steal the AL West crown on the last day of the season, the Rangers were put in the unenviable position of playing an elimination game against a team that has had higher powers on their side all season long.
Even with Joe Saunders on the mound, a non-descript lefty with exactly one good season on his resume, and their home ballpark still 100% behind them, the Rangers could only muster one run. This being a team that started off the season on a historic pace for scoring, that is clearly unacceptable. And it wasn’t as if injuries had crippled this team, either. All of their superstars were physically able to perform their duties yesterday. Whether or not the Rangers were there mentally is a different story, and it is likely one that decided their fate last night.
Josh Hamilton played the last 30 games of the season halfheartedly. There’s no way to deny that. The dropped flyball in the final game of the season against the Athletics summed up what was probably the final month of his Ranger career perfectly. He was jogging to flyballs, being surly and terse with the media and didn’t even attempt to show discipline at the plate. Hamilton has always been a free swinger, but the hacks he was taking over the past month seemed like “let’s get this over with” efforts.
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The thing that made Hamilton so fun to root for over the past couple of years was that he was a total gamer. He had a terrific redemption story and he backed it up by setting the tone for his team by being the hardest worker around. He was a bit reckless and that didn’t make him the sturdiest player in terms of health, but you could never question his effort or his production.
Hamilton still put up the numbers this season, but the effort faded down the stretch as did his production. His 285/.354/.536 line, 43 homers and 128 RBIs will look good on the back of his baseball card, but it won’t tell you the whole story. His .245 average and 37 strikeouts (which outnumbered his homers and RBIs combined) in September/October do a better job illustrating Hamilton’s choke job down the stretch, but you had to watch his performance against the Orioles last night to truly understand how little Hamilton seemed to care at the tail end of this season.
He saw eight pitches, hitting into a double play on the first pitch he saw, grounding back to the pitcher on another first pitch and striking out on three pitches twice. Hamilton, who was once the symbol for the Rangers’ resurgence as a power house, was serenaded with boos from a Texas crowd that had been nothing but supportive of the 31-year old outfielder during some of the darkest times of his life. Hamilton deserved those boos, though, because he turned his back on his team and his fans.
It’s tough to know what exactly caused Hamilton’s attitude to take a turn for the worst. If I had to take a guess, I’d say it was contract related. Texas chose not to commit to an injury prone 31-year old during the middle of a key season in franchise history and Hamilton might have taken that as a slight against him. It is also possible that, as Oakland made their charge and Texas couldn’t seem to hold them off, Hamilton got discouraged about this team’s possibilities of winning a championship. Whatever the case was, everything from his body language on the field to his approach at the plate made it painfully clear that Hamilton wasn’t totally invested in winning, and that seemed to reverberate in the clubhouse.
Most of the blame for Texas’ lack of a sense of urgency down the stretch has to fall on Ron Washington, who has never been a great tactician and also appears to be a poor motivator as well. Putting aside the fact that he couldn’t get his team to give a maxim effort in the final series of their season in Oakland, along with the fact that he made horrific managing decisions like playing Michael Young and not playing Jurickson Profar, Washington failed to do anything about his best player pouting, which had a negative effect on things in the clubhouse.
How can you be the appointed leader of the team and choose not to act on such an important problem? Managing team culture is perhaps the most important part of a manager’s job and Washington didn’t do a singe thing to improve the environment at an extremely crucial time. It could have been as simple as having a one-on-one sit down with Hamilton to get him to clear his chest or he could have even benched Hamilton to send a message to the rest of the team. Something needed to be done about the Rangers’ attitude at the end of the season. But nothing was, and now their season is over.
Based on the circumstances, I’d have to believe that Hamilton won’t be returning to the Rangers. Instead of upping his game when the Rangers said they were going to wait on making a contract offer, Hamilton regressed and essentially cost the Rangers a shot at winning a championship. I’d have to think that the way Hamilton carried himself over the past month ruffled some feathers in the Rangers’ front office, which will likely result in Hamilton receiving a nine figure contract from someone else this off-season.
Washington should go, too. At this point it appears as if he brings nothing to the table. He has a couple of AL pennants under his belt, but that’s because of his talent and not because of his managing (if you don’t think managing matters, look at the way Buck Showalter completely outclassed Washington last night). In fact, you can make the case that the reason the Rangers don’t have a ring right now is because of the poor job that Washington did against Tony La Russa. I don’t know what “type” of manager the Rangers need in their clubhouse, but Washington has shown enough times that he’s not particularly effective in any one aspect of the profession.
Next season will be a big year for the Rangers. Texas has just been anointed one of the new powers in baseball but it feels like that can deteriorate quickly if they don’t deliver a title soon. Their will undoubtedly be a lot of change this off-season, which includes the potential departures of Hamilton, Michael Young and others. The Rangers will still have a very good team in 2013, but now there is real competition in the West. The Athletics are an extremely young team that only figures to improve after their tremendous run this season and the Angels will probably get off to a better start next season (and they’ll have Mike Trout for all 162 games), and they might have just as much talent as the Rangers do.
Texas has whiffed three straight post-seasons in a row now. If they don’t come through next season, we may be looking at the Buffalo Bills of the MLB.