Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington tested positive for cocaine during the 2009 season, SI.com has learned.
Washington, 57, has been subject to increased drug testing since his failed test, which was administered by Major League Baseball last July, and he has passed all of his subsequent tests. In deciding to support Washington and retain him as manager, the Rangers accepted his apology as heartfelt and also his explanation that this was a one-time transgression.
"I did make a mistake and I regret that I did it," Washington told SI.com by phone from Surprise, Ariz., on Tuesday night. "I am really embarrassed and I am really sorry."
The Rangers called a team meeting for Wednesday morning at their spring training facility in Surprise, where Washington was to address the incident with the club.
Washington declined to discuss the specific circumstances surrounding his decision to use cocaine because he didn't want his family to hear about it in the media. "Any attempt to try to explain it is going to sound like excuses," he said. "There is no right way to explain something wrong, and I did wrong. Was it tension? Maybe. Anxiety?''
Cocaine generally clears the system in 3-5 days after limited use. (Heavy users could take 10-14 days.) After one-time use, a person usually tests positive for cocaine (or technically a metabolite of cocaine called benzoylecgonine) for only 2-3 days.
Washington took the unusual step of calling the commissioner's office shortly after he was tested following the 2009 All-Star break to warn it that he might fail the test. Washington told the commissioner's office and his Rangers bosses about his cocaine use before the test results were known, and the team decided not to fire him after the test did come back positive.
"It was the right thing to do,'' Washington said of his decision to come forward. "I couldn't deal with the result to come back positive and be a shock to those who've shown faith in me.''
The Rangers were alarmed at Washington's admission, but ultimately decided not to fire him if he followed the necessary steps and didn't slip up again. "Despite the disappointment, we felt that supporting Ron was the right thing to do," Texas general manager Jon Daniels told SI.com on Tuesday night. "We asked a lot of questions and worked through Major League Baseball's program, where Ron had appropriate consultation, support and testing. But for all the reasons we hired him in the first place, we felt and continued to feel that he's the right guy to lead the club. He made a significant mistake. He also admitted to it and took steps to ensure that it won't happen again."
Major league managers, coaches and other clubhouse personnel have been subject to drug testing since 2008, when MLB adopted the measure as one of George Mitchell's recommendations as part of his report regarding steroid and drug use in baseball. MLB mandates that any non-playing personnel who either fail a test or admit to drug use be subject to counseling and a substance-abuse program developed by a doctor approved by baseball. First-time offenders are generally not subject to punitive measures such as a suspension, pending the commissioner's discretion, and their names are not made public. (Tests are administered randomly once a year to all non-playing personnel who work around the clubhouse, which also includes trainers, clubhouse and equipment managers, massage therapists and traveling secretaries.) So by calling MLB headquarters even before his test results were known, Washington was subjecting himself to the substance-abuse program regardless of the results.
"I cannot comment on anyone in the program unless it's a performance-enhancing substance issue,'' MLB spokesman Pat Courtney wrote in an e-mail to SI.com on Tuesday.
Washington is well-liked throughout the Rangers organization, has expressed remorse and has never had any other off-field issues. His admission and test result came as a bombshell to the Rangers at a time when the team was enjoying surprising success. Washington's option for the 2010 season had been exercised only a month before his failed test.
Washington was treated as a first-time offender under MLB rules because he had not previously failed a test. He underwent extensive outpatient counseling over the last nine months, and was this spring cleared by doctors to have his tests reduced and go back into the regular pool of managers and coaches, who are all randomly tested once a year. But Washington said on Tuesday that he plans to continue more frequent testing on a voluntary basis to eliminate any possible questions about his drug use.
According to MLB rules, disciplinary measures are only mandatory in cases of performance-enhancing drugs. Those who test positive for recreational drugs such as cocaine, even multiple offenders, are subject to possible discipline at the commissioner's discretion.
The Rangers continued to play well throughout the 2009 season but were overtaken by the Angels in the AL West and finished second with 87 wins. They are considered to have as bright a future as just about any team in baseball, with a fine young nucleus that includes star outfielder Josh Hamilton, whose past drug troubles are well-known. Hamilton, 28, was suspended multiple times for drug use and has talked openly about his addiction to cocaine and other drugs, and how frequent therapy has helped him stay on the right course.
Considered one of the most talented players in baseball, Hamilton was banned from the game for one year after failing a drug test in 2004 but has managed to rebuild his career, first in Cincinnati and now with the Rangers, whom he credits for handling his situation with discretion and sensitivity.
No other major league manager or coach is known to have tested positive for cocaine or any other recreational drug, but that doesn't mean that no positive results have ever occurred, because first-time offenders aren't made public.
Major league managers and coaches are given drug tests by MLB that are much more extensive than the players'. Managers and coaches are not represented by the players' union, and are thus subject to testing for recreational drugs, such as cocaine. Major league players are not tested for cocaine and other recreational drugs, though minor league players are tested for these drugs.
Washington, a longtime infielder and coach before being hired by the Rangers to replace Buck Showalter in November 2006, is known as a baseball lifer and independent thinker who openly disagreed with some Moneyball principles even as he served for a decade as a coach for Billy Beane's Oakland A's. He has been beloved by his players, such as Eric Chavez, who presented Washington with one of the Gold Gloves he won, and he has helped develop infielders in the Mets, A's and Rangers organizations, including Texas' phenom at shortstop, Elvis Andrus. A New Orleans native, Washington is also known for involving himself in Katrina-related causes.
Washington was thought to be on the hot seat shortly after Texas legend Nolan Ryan took over as club president and the team started 7-16 in 2008. However, Washington was retained, and he responded by leading the young club to a 72-67 finish that year.
Washington's job status was considered uncertain heading into last season, as he entered the final year of his contract coming off two losing seasons, but with the team in first place in early June, his Rangers bosses picked up the 2010 option in his contract. He enters this season as a lame duck again.
Washington is 241-245 overall as Rangers manager. Four other men were interviewed for the job that went to Washington (Trey Hillman, Don Wakamatsu, John Russell and Manny Acta) and all four went on to become major league managers. Before going to Texas, Washington served as a coach for the A's from 1996 through 2005. He played from 1977 through '89 for the Dodgers, Twins, Orioles, Indians and Astros, batting .261, and worked in the minors for the Mets before being hired in Oakland.
Washington fears that his drug use will overshadow an otherwise exemplary 30-plus years in baseball. "I don't want this to be held over my head for the rest of my life and have this be the one thing that's associated with my name,'' he said. "I made a terrible mistake and all I can do is pray that I am forgiven for it and don't have to carry it for the rest of my life.''