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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, March 18, 2010

MLB: A behind the scenes look at Ron Washington’s positive drug test case

By Randy Galloway
McClatchy Newspapers

FORT WORTH, Texas — Not that anyone would admit it publicly, but the Texas Rangers management could see this one coming. For months, it watched a PR disaster building like a thunderstorm to the west.

Let’s just say the ballclub had been warned.
A blackmailer had the goods on the team’s manager, and he was making strong demands, using the manager’s “situation” as his hammer. Numerous sources within the team have confirmed that.
Ron Washington, I don’t know personally, but by all accounts he’s a good guy, plus a major league manager who has slowly earned the respect of a segment of Arlington baseball people previously not convinced of his expertise in that job.
But Ron Washington was also a dope. He did dope. Cocaine. Real stupid, of course, particularly in a job where street-drug testing can come at any time, and did come. At exactly the wrong time for Washington.
A tearful, yet forced, confession to his superiors swayed any opinion about firing him on the spot in July of last season. MLB honchos were notified immediately, Washington was placed in a mandatory confidential substance assistance program, where it was later determined there was no evidence he was a consistent white line fever abuser.
The Rangers, based on evidence gathered by the club and MLB, considered it a one-time, one-night massive screw-up on a road trip in Southern California. (Age 57? First time ever? Just a snort out of the blue? OK, believe it or not.)
But in July that was going to be the end of that story. Washington kept his job, and nobody would know. The entire episode would be swept under the bat rack. And was, as the season gave way to fall and winter.
Then, however, came the blackmail threats.
Somebody, you see, did know. How or why he knew, that’s unknown.
But this team employee, fired after the season, had all the details. He also had a list of demands for the club, which if not met would mean the Ron-does-dope story would suddenly become national news.
Some of his demands were met, but the club balked at personally giving this person a glowing letter of recommendation and also refused at least one other item. By January, word leaked that the former employee was bad-mouthing Washington around north Arlington.
Blackmailer was real unhappy, but all was still quiet as spring training opened in Arizona nearly four weeks ago. Then this week, Washington received a call from a national baseball writer saying he had the Ron-does-dope details.
It’s uncertain if this is how the blackmailer made good on his threat to disgrace Washington and embarrass the ballclub, but I’d definitely wager that way.
So it goes, however. Unfortunately, the manager had made himself an easy target. And the ballclub, well . . .
“We had prepared for this, just in case,” team president Nolan Ryan said Wednesday. Asked if he had an opinion on who sprung the leak this week, Nolan’s first mention was, interestingly enough, “disgruntled employee.” Or maybe former employee.
Questions linger, of course. Should Washington have been fired in July, as soon as Ryan knew? The hard cores will say yes. I’d say maybe, except by human race rules, Ron was a first-time offender.
As a manager — the bleeping manager, of all things — Washington has to be held to a higher standard. No, he wasn’t fired, but it’s not worth a road rage case.
Easy, J. Edgar. Give the man a second chance. It’s OK.
Once the cocaine story became public, however, was a Wednesday termination the proper course? Absolutely not. He said all the right things, like “I did it,” “I was wrong,” “I am ashamed” and “I hope I can earn your forgiveness.”
In the jock kingdom, when you step up, confess, and say the magical “I’m sorry,” we forgive you. It happens every time. It’s the rules. Roger Clemens never learned the rules. Clemens is now baseball scum.
Granted, it wasn’t a sudden pang of guilt that caused Washington to confess to his Rangers bosses, and also to MLB drug lords. The truth only surfaced after an MLB drug-tester showed up unannounced at the clubhouse in July and told Washington it was time to whiz in a cup.
Ron knew immediately it was a bad time. He notified Ryan and Jon Daniels, plus MLB. Eventually, his test came back positive, but by then the right people knew he had done wrong.
And the right people backed him, then and now.
It is interesting that as this ordeal unfolded during the course of seven months, the strong show of support for Washington came from all baseball areas in Arlington. Originally it was the executive level, and as of Wednesday, the clubhouse.
Almost the entire team attended Washington’s media session as a show of support. It says something about how far his respect level has climbed from those early doubts of Ron being nothing but a puppet for the GM and the previous owner.
How the fans react will be determined in about three weeks, as the regular season begins.
Players who say “I’m sorry” for failing a drug test, even for steroids, are normally given a warm home-field welcome back. But this is a manager. It is being reported that until now, no manager or coach in the majors has ever tested positive for a street drug.
Certainly Washington will hear about this on the road from mouthy fans, and that might also be the case in Arlington, depending on how the team is doing.
But despite being nationally humiliated Wednesday, and despite this lowest of low personal moments, Washington emerged with strong support from the people he cares the most about, his bosses and his players. I’d call it a warm and fuzzy, except I never wrote warm and fuzzy in my entire life.
A blackmailing rodent (and he knows who knows) attempted to bury a guy who had absolutely nothing to do with the rat’s firing. That failure made the day at least somewhat successful.