New Texas manager Banister has #NeverEverQuit approach
Jeff Banister has never quit.
Not after bone cancer as a teenager when he needed multiple surgeries to avoid having part of his left leg amputated.
Not after being temporarily paralyzed in a collision at home plate during a junior college game and being told he would never play baseball again.
The 51-year-old former catcher, who got a hit in his only major league at-bat, is now a first-time, big-league manager with the Texas Rangers, a team that certainly believes his approach to baseball - and life.
''It's genuine,'' Texas general manager Jon Daniels said. ''It's who he is. He lives his life that way, and I think he expects the team's going to play with that same spirit.''
With Banister's blessing, the Rangers embraced their new manager's mantra in some of their offseason marketing after he was hired last October. There were television spots centered on that, and (hash)NeverEverQuit is placed prominently by the Texas logo on top of the team's website.
''Unless we can as a team take those words down off the wall and live them, they're just words,'' Banister said. ''It's never a mission statement until you put it on the front of a T-shirt. We've got it on the front of a T-shirt.''
The Rangers lost 95 games last year, the most in the American League. That followed four consecutive seasons with at least 90 wins during a span that began with back-to-back World Series appearances in 2010 and 2011.
''I heard his story. It's amazing. ... I get emotional, too,'' Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus said. ''Every time he says the story about him, he's so emotional. You can see his pure passion. When you have that as a manager, it is amazing. You don't really find that many managers with the passion like the way he is. I think it is going to help the team a thousand percent.''
Banister, who spent the past 29 years in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization as a player, coach and instructor at all levels, first used (hash)nevereverquit in an encouraging tweet late in the 2013 season. He was the Pirates' bench coach and the team was closing in on its first playoff appearance in 21 seasons.
But the origin of that mindset for Banister is much deeper and more personal.
After reconstructive surgery on his right knee at age 14, he was told to quit playing baseball. He was 16 when he found out he had bone cancer, after swelling and persistent pain in his lower left leg. Doctors repeatedly recommended amputation as the best option for a full recovery. He instead endured seven surgeries.
Banister was paralyzed below the neck for 10 days in the fall of 1983 after three vertebrae were fractured in a home-plate collision. He was catching for Lee College in Texas that day only after a pro scout requested he play, and got hurt in what was supposed to be his last inning.
There were three more operations, and his doctor told him that could and should be the last inning he ever played.
Banister instead went back to Lee, got a Division I scholarship to Houston and was later drafted by the Pirates in the 25th round in 1986.
While home during the offseason after his second minor league season, Banister was having a conversation with his father, a Texas high school football and basketball coach. His father asked if he had written down everything he had been through, and told him never to quit on the people who invested in him.
Several hours later, Bob Banister died from a heart attack.
Now tattooed on Banister's left forearm is a cross with 1-13-88, the date of his father's death.
''We all have our stories. We have adversities that we go through in our life,'' Banister said. ''For me, I had the easiest job. My parents and everybody else had the toughest job. They had to show up every day.''
The most emotional Banister got during his introductory press conference with the Rangers last fall was when he talked about his only major league game, when he beat out an infield single as a pinch-hitter on July 23, 1991.
''To be able to walk into a major league game when everybody told you that you couldn't, you shouldn't, you wouldn't ... now you get an opportunity to do it, it happens,'' he said then. ''You're on top of the mountain for one day, one moment in time and you carry those people with you. It's the best thank you that you can give.''
The Rangers weren't planning to change managers until Ron Washington resigned suddenly, citing personal reasons, late in a miserable, injury-plagued season. Interim manager Tim Bogar was the perceived front-runner after leading Texas to a 14-8 finish.
Then Daniels and his staff, who started with a list of about 40 names, came across a baseball lifer they had never met.
''A few of us looked at each other, we were like, is this guy for real?'' Daniels said. ''I think the resounding answer is yes.''