The Ron Washington Situation

If you haven’t yet heard, Jon Heyman broke the news that Rangers manager Ron Washington used cocaine during the 2009 season.

However, Washington was not reprimanded — neither by MLB nor by the Rangers — and continued to serve in his role as the club’s skipper without consequence.

To Washington’s credit, he alerted both team officials and the MLB offices that he might test positive. He claims that he tried cocaine once, due to “anxiety issues”.

I’m not sure I buy into the story that he only tried the drug once. Non-playing personnel are tested randomly and from what I understand, no more than once a year (unless they test positive). So it is possible that Washington was using for a while before being tested — and then had the very smart idea to head off the results of the test by admitting to it and coming up with the “only once” plea.

But that’s neither here nor there. There are a number of things wrong with this situation, whether Washington used cocaine once or a hundred times.

One of the most concerning issues to me is the fact that the entire incident was buried by both MLB and the Rangers. This is the most recent in a long line of secrets poorly kept by MLB — a disturbing habit that has been a mark of the (Beelze)bud Selig regime.

For example, why was J.C. Romero allowed to pitch in the 2008 postseason after testing positive for PEDs? Why was Rafael Palmeiro allowed to chase 3000 hits after being caught using steroids? How many other positive tests were “swept under the rug” and not dealt with over the past 10 years?

In a society that demands disclosure and transparency, MLB remains in the stone ages. At what point will people start to hold this secret-keeping against Baseball?

Beyond the secrecy, what truly upsets me about Washington’s cocaine use is that he continued to go to work every day, when he probably should have been excused of his duties temporarily and checked into some kind of treatment center — be it for substance abuse or psychological issues. According to Heyman’s story, Washington did receive “extensive outpatient counseling over the past nine months”, but how “extensive” can counseling be if you are serving as an MLB manager in the middle of a heated pennant race? One would think that such a job would take up most of man’s waking hours — getting to the clubhouse in the late morning / early afternoon, and not leaving the ballpark until shortly before midnight (not to mention the constant traveling). I’m not a drug counselor but I find it hard to believe a person could be properly treated while working such a demanding schedule.

But Washington has recently been cleared by doctors — he’s “cured” so to speak — so you could argue that MLB handled the situation exactly right. Or that the ends justify the means. Or maybe the intensive treatment didn’t begin until after the season. Or maybe it was very lucky that Washington has come out OK.

Illegal drug use is not something to be taken lightly, or to be left in the hands of the individual. The entire point of testing is to identify employees who have problems and then help those employees overcome their problems. Washington admitted his “one time use” was motivated by anxiety issues; if someone is THAT stressed, to the point that he will jeoporadize his job, reputation, and 6-figure salary by taking a controlled substance, then something is very wrong and that person needs outside help — immediately.

It’s very strange how MLB has, through the past 20 years, gone backward in its drug policy. We all remember all too well the drug problems that destroyed the careers of Dwight Gooden and Steve Howe, for example. In the time that Peter Ueberroth, Bart Giamatti, and Fay Vincent served as commissioner, a very clear, transparent drug policy was in place to help the individual. It didn’t matter if the drug abuser was a backup middle infielder or a Cy Young Award winner — the issue was made public, and the individual was relieved of his employment and treated for his problem as soon as possible. Now, the league has “evolved” to a policy where everything is kept secret, lest the “brand” lose value. Only after a secret is leaked, will the league and/or individual come forward and make apologies — after the fact.

What’s that line from the Traveling Wilburys song? “In Jersey everything’s legal as long as you don’t get caught!”

I do understand the privacy issues, but at the same time it’s impossible to be a public figure and keep a bombshell like that private for very long. Losing one’s privacy is part of the deal when you make an obscene amount of money to play or coach a kid’s game. Your life is under a microscope whether you like it or not, and if you find that unacceptable, then put on a suit, sit behind a desk, and work 9 to 5 like the rest of us schlubs. It may not be right or fair but it is what it is.

Again, I credit Ron Washington for owning up to his mistake and making a sincere public apology. But my issue is not with Washington, but rather with the system. It’s issues like this that make me uneasy wondering what other skeletons are rattling in Bud Selig’s closet.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. isuzudude March 18, 2010 at 4:11 pm
    Two things not mentioned here that likely had a role in the decision not to relieve Washington from his managerial duties (which I know you’re not calling for, Joe, but others are):

    1. He’s black. I don’t like playing the race card, but let’s talk straight. Firing an African American manager after a single offense, when he claims it was the only time in his life he did cocaine, would have led to a public outcry of epic proportions. So instead of being tabbed as potential racists, now the Rangers and MLB are forgivers who believe in second chances. I’m not saying I agree with their philosophy, but from a PR standpoint, you can understand it.

    2. The Rangers have Josh Hamilton on their team, who has had more publicized run-ins with illegal narcotics than anyone else in baseball but has never once been disciplined or suspended. What message would be sent if baseball let him continue to play, while giving the boot to Washington? That the value of hitting 30 home runs and being an attraction to potential ticket buyers is more important than an old man who sits in the dugout all game and rarely is acknowledged by the fans unless he’s getting ejected?

    I’m not trying to make excuses for why the Rangers and MLB swept Washington’s positive testing under the rug. I think the best course of action would have been breaking the story as soon as it happened, checking Washington into a rehab clinic, but allowing him to return to his job once he completed rehab and proved to be clean for a certain length of time. That way, instead of it coming across as punishment, the action taken by baseball would have gotten Washington help. The top priority of safeguarding the health of Washington would have been accomplished, and baseball’s integrity would have stayed intact. And though it rubs me raw that Washington would have escaped jail time/fines/employment dismissal/etc, whereas us Average Joes would have incurred the full wrath of the law, at least my plan would have led to full disclosure and immediate action. But now we’re left wondering who’s corrupt, who’s lying, and who else is getting away with stuff they’re not supposed to be.