Every offseason Ron Washington returns home, to the Ninth Ward in New Orleans, to the same modest house where he and his wife, Gerry, have lived since he was a back-up middle infielder two decades ago. No one bothers him there. "Some don't know who I am," he says, of his neighbors. "And I like it like that. Because I like to cut grass. I like to wash my cars. I like to do stuff outside. People just pass and wave and keep going. And that's good."
Washington may never again get to cut his grass in peace. This October, he's gotten more air time on FOX than Simon Cowell, with his dugout boogying, animated mound visits, and unorthodox (some would say, downright crazy) in-game tactics. But now he has a chance to become more than the free-spirited skipper who had some funny lines in Moneyball. With one more win, Ron Washington will be the genius who out-smarted La Genius, the man who led the Texas Rangers to their first-ever championship.
In this wonderfully wacky and weird World Series where the managers have taken center stage, no one has more at stake right now than Texas' fifth-year manager. Love him or hate him, Tony La Russa has two rings and is already a lock for Cooperstown. But Washington? The manager who has slotted arguably his best hitter eighth in the order? The manager who in Game 5 became the first skipper in World Series history to intentionally walk a batter with no one on base?
Washington is about to become either the genius of the World Series or the goat -- nothing in between. And he knows everyone will be watching to see what he does next. "There may be a point where someone says, you should have done this," he told reporters at Busch Stadium on Tuesday, on the eve of Game 6. "Well, you don't know my players. That's you saying that. Maybe the strategists say that's what you do, but the flow of the game says something different. I'm in the flow... That's the way I've always been in the game of baseball since the day I arrived as a professional as a player, since the day I arrived as a professional as a coach, since the day I arrived as a professional in the major leagues as a coach and the day I arrived as a manager in the big leagues, that's been my flow. I flow with the game."
You can argue about the odd lineup construction. You can call hitting Mike Napoli eighth in the order crazy. (Napoli's not just an October revelation -- he hit .383 after the All-Star break and posted a team-high 1.094 OPS for the season.) You can call his Game 1 decision to have Esteban German pinch-hit with the game on the line indefensible. You can call putting the winning run on base, as he did in Game 5 with the intentional walk to Albert Pujols, a terrible baseball move.
But it's hard to deny Ron Washington's genius: his ability to inspire his players. It's a gift he learned in his decades in the game from his many great mentors. "One thing I learned with Tom Kelly in Minnesota: every swinging person in that clubhouse cared about each other," he said one afternoon last month. "I cared about you getting the job done, and when you didn't get the job done, as a player, I told you. The manager didn't have to tell you. See what I'm saying? It means a lot when it's coming from your peers. I understand that. That's one thing we did in Minnesota and we did in Oakland when we had our little run: We cared about each other, and didn't care who got it done, as long as it got done when nine innings was over. I tried to just bring that atmosphere here. We've got to pick each other up."
The Rangers have been picking each other up all season long. And now their big moment has come. Their manager's big moment has come. No one knows what is going to happen next in this unpredictable World Series. But know this: After the final pitch, Ron Washington will be one or the other, either a genius or a goat.