New manager Ron Washington brings optimism to LA Angels as Shohei Ohtani rumors swirl

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Los Angeles Angels manager Ron Washington can’t take more than three or four steps before he is stopped at Major League Baseball's winter meetings.

He has places to go and people to see, but everyone stops him, wanting to shake his hand, hug him, interview him, take a picture and congratulate him.

Everyone wants a piece of Washington.

He finally yells over to the Angels’ public relations director, “Adam!"

Adam Chodzko walks back over to rescue him, letting everyone know that he needs to get going, and that there’s no time for chit-chat.

Washington, 71, laughs, thanks him, and off they are trying to get through the next wave of well-wishers.

It has been like this ever since Washington set foot at baseball winter meetings.

It’s not so much to get Washington’s thoughts on whether they can possibly retain Shohei Ohtani (“I don’t have much to say about that yet because I don't want to let anything out the bag"), but everyone around the game is genuinely thrilled that he’s back as manager for the first time since 2014.

“Having them come up to me and saying things like that," Washington says, “I really couldn't describe it in words. I really couldn't, but it's satisfying, because this is where I belong. I belong leading.

“When I wasn't the head manager, I was still leading, but now I don't have to watch anything that I don't like."

Ron Washington speaking at the MLB winter meetings on Monday in Nashville.
Ron Washington speaking at the MLB winter meetings on Monday in Nashville.

The man led the Texas Rangers to back-to-back World Series appearances in 2010-11, stepped down in 2014 for family reasons, and has tried to get back to a managerial role while spending the last seven seasons as Atlanta’s third-base coach, finally got someone to give him an opportunity.

Washington, one of only two Black managers in MLB, takes over a team that hasn’t reached the postseason since 2014 or posted a winning record since 2015.

He plans to change that, with or without Ohtani, and will let his team know in his introductory speech in spring training that he could care less what has happened in the past.

The future is now.

“The way I would address that is let's not talk about the last five or six years when the Los Angeles Angels were struggling," Washington says. “ Let's talk past that when they were the team that everybody was trying to run down. That's what I want to think about because we do have the personnel to go out and compete every night.

The Angels were a power from 2002 to 2009, reaching the postseason six times, winning five division titles and the 2002 World Series. They have spent the past 15 years trying to return to that success.

Washington didn’t come to the Angels to accept mediocrity now.

“There ain't no rebuild here," he says. “I'm not thinking about the division right now. I'm thinking about preparation, getting prepared for a season. Once we get prepared and ready for the season, I'm ready for whatever comes in front of us. My players will be ready for whatever comes in front of us.

“We’re going to be fine, and that's the only way I'm thinking right now."

Washington left behind a legacy in Atlanta. He spoke with every player of the team's infield when he left for the Angels, receiving a two-year contract and a club option, as well as with former pupils Freddie Freeman of the Dodgers and Dansby Swanson of the Cubs.

“I'm gone, but the winner in those guys is still there," Washington says. “That's why you teach, and you help people to be self-sufficient, and you never stop teaching them so they can be self-sufficient.

“The umbilical cord has been cut. Now, all of the wisdom and all the time we spent together, they have to use it on each other and not let anybody come there and uproot their winning ways.

“They don't need me. They know how to win."

Now, he takes over a team that has been loaded with star power, but has significantly underperformed. He needs outfielder Mike Trout to stay healthy. He needs third baseman Anthony Rendon to play. He needs his young players to believe in themselves.

He had long conversations with Trout and Rendon. He talked with a handful of his young players. He let them all know that things are changing.

He hired the most diverse staff in baseball, with four Black coaches – and tried to hire Torii Hunter and LaTroy Hawkins.

“We have youth," Washington says. “We have veterans. We have Black. We have white. We have Latins. I mean, it's very diverse. Each and every one of them are teachers, and in the game of baseball today, the way youth is making it to the big leagues so fast is that you need teachers.

“I tried to put together the best coaching staff of teachers that I possibly can."

Washington is convinced he and his staff can make a difference. He believes the Angels will be knocking on the door of contention. And he couldn’t care less that the Rangers, the defending World Series champions, and Houston Astros, who have reached the ALCS seven consecutive years, will be trying to standing in their way.

“I've been this type of leader all my career, and all my life in the game of baseball,’’ Washington says. “Right now, the buck stops with me. I'm ready for that. I'm not afraid of failure, because I'm not a failure. My players aren't going to be afraid of failure, because they're not failures. …

“I'm not going to let the group around me continue to fail.’’

Don’t believe?

Just wait and see.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ron Washington brings optimism to Angels amid Shohei Ohtani rumors