ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Angels titled the event to introduce new manager Ron Washington a press conference. But a more accurate term would have been a pep rally.
Hundreds of seats were filled with many members of the organization present. Loud ovations permeated the room numerous times as the new skipper pledged the Angels’ return to relevance. This was a celebration marking a new era.
“Our whole focus will be to run the (American League) West down,” Washington said. “You can take that to the bank and deposit it.”
The Angels and Washington undoubtedly won the press conference, or pep rally. Washington said one right thing after another. He promised to establish buy-in. He said he wanted Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon to be leaders and promised to make them his first two calls on Wednesday afternoon. He expressed a perfect balance of gratitude for another chance to manage and confidence in his ability to find success.
Now comes the hard part — actually doing it. The Angels have a long track record of making splashy, and oftentimes smart, offseason moves/acquisitions only to watch futility play out when the games count.
If the Angels have proven anything over the last decade, it’s that winning requires more than a great offseason. There needs to be an organizational infrastructure that has long proven to be lacking.
What matters most is what happens next.
“Nobody has more respect from players than Ron Washington,” general manager Perry Minasian said. “When he talks, people listen. He’s got a way of connecting and giving people confidence. I think he’s going to get the most out of our group.”
— Bally Sports West (@BallySportWest) November 15, 2023
Minasian said he woke up at night to scribble down managerial characteristics he liked in a notebook next to his bed. He flew to New Orleans two weeks ago for a full-day one-on-one with Washington. Then Washington met with owner Arte Moreno on Nov. 7 in Arizona.
That afternoon, Washington was offered the job. He joked that Minasian wouldn’t have veto power because Moreno already was set on hiring him. Still, that evening, the front office went with Washington to a Scottsdale-area steakhouse.
Washington wasn’t aware the team announced the hire the next day while he was flying home, and landed to more then 250 messages and 50 voicemails.
The weeks-long process wasn’t linear or clear-cut. But the Angels got their guy — the right person for this moment. Whether he’s given the tools to actually succeed is a completely different question.
“It’s creating an atmosphere,” Minasian said when asked about what else this team will need to be successful. “When you walk in the building, you feel it. There’s a sense of urgency that’s really, really important to have day in and day out. A sense of responsibility. There’s an expectation. Everybody knows where they stand.”
Minasian said he’s heard from agents and others around the game. The reaction to Washington’s hire has been positive across the board. There are players who want to be part of this franchise because of him.
But that begs the question of just how much the team is willing to invest monetarily into its roster. He talked about players buying in, but it will be incumbent on ownership to do so as well. Payroll was at a record high in 2023, but Minasian said acquisitions this offseason will be on a case-by-case basis. It’s unclear if payroll will remain elevated in 2024.
It remains to be seen whether the Angels will hire an assistant general manager, underscoring their overall very small baseball operations department. And that leads to questions about the club’s investment in technology, analytics, spring training facilities and minor league operations. All are just as critical to the business of winning as having a good manager.
— Bally Sports West (@BallySportWest) November 15, 2023
There’s no doubt Washington is a good manager. The proof is in his record. He’s waited a decade for another shot. Now that he has it, he can only control what he can. That’s working with what’s got.
There’s an internal perception that the entire team needs to toughen up a bit and have more of an edge. Fewer excuses and complaints. That will be a part of Washington’s mandate.
“Commitment, attitude and effort. That’s what we’ve got to get to,” Washington said. “That’s not just being committed to your game, that’s being committed to everyone that’s involved. Bringing the attitude every day when you wake up in the morning. And we need the effort.”
Washington is a skilled coach and an excellent people person. Minasian shared a story of their time together in Texas, when Minasian was much lower on the baseball ops roster. Minasian was doing sprints on the field during spring training. And Washington saw him and corrected his form. Fast forward all these years later, and now it’s Washington who said he’s open to all advice the Angels front office has to offer.
He said he plans to still help with coaching infielders, which is his specialty. He’s all baseball, all the time. A man who can focus on the minutiae of fundamentals, while engaging with players on a human level.
The Angels showed a video of him meeting and hugging the three current players in attendance — Patrick Sandoval, Mickey Moniak and Kenny Rosenberg. On a team in need of a strong leadership presence, they found someone who can set that tone.
“This is baseball. Everything that’s under baseball, we’re going to be a part of,” Washington said when asked about his managerial style. “We’re not going to pick and choose what we’re going to do as far as playing the game of baseball. We’re going to play baseball. Everything. That’s always been my style.”
Everything Washington said resonated. Players, fans and front office members alike were thrilled with how the day went and the promising future that can be envisioned as a result.
This team, however, has been here before. It has put in place a building block to win, without finding the others. Washington has twice been to the World Series. He knows how to be successful; there’s nothing left for him to prove. But there’s plenty left for his employers to show.
The Angels gave him a chance to lead. Now they need to provide him a pathway to winning.
(Photo: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)