For being a model organization, there seems to be an awful lot of off-the-field crap that follows the Texas Rangers and their players. Perhaps it’s the legacy of recent near-misses and the resultant finger-pointing. A few years of whiffing the rarefied World Series air after decades of irrelevance turned the Rangers into magnets for controversy.
Former Ranger Ian Kinsler made headlines today when he sounded off on his old team, calling Rangers GM Jon Daniels a “sleazeball” and wishing the team would “go 0-162.” While Kinsler walked back the latter statement, there is obvious hostility between the Tigers new second baseman and his former club. While Kinsler calls his former boss names and disparages the team that gave him his big league chance, there is something to be said for one of the main themes running through his ESPN The Magazine interview - leadership.
Kinsler hardly shows it and he claims the Rangers lacked it after dealing away Michael Young. Perhaps, contrary to what Mr. Kinsler thinks, leadership has always been a problem in Texas. With or without Michael Young, the Rangers organization can’t see to put the right foot forward.
Kinsler mentions the extra burden he took on in 2013, trying to serve as a leader and mentor in the Rangers locker room. The departure of Michael Young left a void in this department, so the eight-year vet attempted to wear this hat as well as the “aging second baseman fighting against time” hat that sits heavy on many heads.
It was too much, Kinsler claims. The rigors of policing young players distracted Kins from this ability to make boneheaded decisions on the bases. In Detroit, he happily defers to the other veterans in the mix, free to focus on fighting back against the decline phase. It isn’t a great look for Kinsler but at least he was somewhat honest. Leadership in Texas seems like a dicey proposition, given the protracted cold war taking place in the front office and the…unorthodox leadership of the club’s field manager, Ron Washington.
Wash slaps his brand of leadership on the Rangers roster, a laissez-faire type that lets the players be the players, maintaing a sense of distance and only imploring his players “do what the game asks you to do.” This is the club that coddled and hugged and provided all the support required to coax an MVP season out of the enigmatic talent. But it is also the club that permits Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus to grabass their way through the season, screwing around on the field and doing what clubhouse leaders generally hate: having fun. Kinsler describes an extended shouting match with Beltre after some of the pro-shenanigan left side of Texas’s infield finally pushed him too far.
Elvis and Beltre are talking about the play, and Elvis is just holding the ball — like the game isn’t even going on. It’s not a dead ball. It’s not timeout. The play is still live. I’m like, ‘Hey! Let’s f — ing go!’ And Adrian’s like, ‘Chill out. We’re talking about the play.’” Beltre and Kinsler continued their argument in the dugout and even went down the tunnel to hash out their differences. “For the two leaders of the team to be yelling at each other in front of the squad … it’s not very cohesive to winning,” Kinsler now admits.
The leadership in Texas has been called into question time and time again. The collapses, both World Series and regular season, loom large. Michael Young, Nolan Ryan and all the older infrastructure was in place for the 2011 World Series and the 2012 September to forget. Unfortunate incidents with baseball-related causes or a pattern of repeated negligence within the Rangers organization? For all he’s accomplished, maybe there is something to Kinsler’s characterization of general manager Jon Daniels? An obvious Ryan loyalist, Kinsler does not paint the picture of an organization for which “accountability” is a top priority.
The cold-hearted robot in me wants to believe this is about baseball and baseball alone. The Rangers lose games because they’re players aren’t good enough and despite Nolan Ryan’s repeated calls to sack up and pitch more innings, the Texas heat wears these athletes down over the span of a long, hot summer.
But Ian Kinsler didn’t say he was tired from the heat. He said the team lacked leadership and direction. The team didn’t bring in a high-profile dietitian and trot them in front of the media all day yesterday, the brought out an NFL quarterback who played some baseball a few years ago. The made Russell Wilson take ground balls and pal around with the Rangers infielders not so he could explain the vagaries of the option offense but so he could talk to them about being A Champion.
The Rangers have a little bit of an identity crisis on their hands. Jon Daniels wrested control of the club away from Nolan Ryan and is not afraid to push older players to new positions as younger, cheaper (and often better) alternatives force the issue. But can he fix the culture around the club? Is that something a general manager can do with celebrity cameos and one-day retirement ceremonies?
The Rangers will be good again this year. There is a whole lot of talent on the club. But until they get over the hump and win the World Series, the near-misses will cloud the picture of success they paint outside Dallas. All the young Latin talent in the world doesn’t put them back into the playoffs.
Leadership is an issue right up until the moment it isn’t. Teams that “lack leadership” and then ultimately triumph, having learned from the adversity faced in the previous disappointments. But as Kinsler suggests, leadership might be in short supply in Arlington. He couldn’t provide it, and even the player often credited with leading this group couldn’t steer the ship back onto the rails in 2012. A different cast produced a similar result in 2013. If the cycle repeats in 2013, with Kinsler coasting the Central division crown as a member of the stacked Tigers, who gets to the be villain? Who slips into the doghouse dogmatic Rangers fans use for their former favorites?
Talent matters most but the pattern emerging from the Rangers camp over the last few years suggests distractions and disruptions take on many forms. Maybe the Rangers steps to address this leadership vacuum are a matter of too little, too late. But let nobody suggest Ian Kinsler is out to lunch on this issue. The Rangers own actions all but echo his bitter sentiments.