The A’s had a good weekend. Hell, they had a great weekend. They won both games against the Rays in Tampa Bay, their first “winning streak” since April 14. Billy Burns had his first-ever big league home run, and his first-ever homer hitting left-handed, even in the minors. That came on the first pitch of yesterday’s game, which was a huge sign it would be a good day for Oakland. Today Yoenis Cespedes returns to the Coliseum with the Tigers. Ouch. At least the Cubs aren’t scheduled for a visit this season, so we don’t have to see Addison Russell in the flesh just yet.
But the big story for these A’s is the return of Ron Washington. Art Howe’s former third base coach won’t be allowed in the dugout during games (with assistant hitting coach Marcus Jensen, they already have the maximum number of coaches allowed) but he will be in uniform during batting practice. There is one reason and one reason alone why Wash is here: to attempt to teach Marcus Semien how to play shortstop at the MLB level. Wash was instrumental in helping former A’s third baseman Eric Chavez earn six Gold Glove awards, with Chavez giving one to Washington in gratitude. Former AL MVP and A’s shortstop Miguel Tejada has also raved about Washington’s prowess as an infield instructor. And we all know the Moneyball story with Scott Hatteberg.
The hiring of Washington shows that Billy Beane is committed to Semien for the long haul. The former St. Mary’s High star is doing everything right (hitting, stealing bases, scoring runs) except fielding, which is the number one requirement of a shortstop. Semien’s error total (16) leads the solar system. He often looks like he has no clue out there. Can Washington possibly help? I would think that, by now, Semien is what he is: a lousy defensive player. But I would love to be proven wrong. The irony behind Washington working with Chavez was that the player was originally known as no glove/all bat and ended up closer to all glove/no bat.
Washington should have been hired as A’s manager when Ken Macha was fired but Beane selected his personal friend, Bob Geren, instead. Geren was a good baseball man but had the joie de vivre of a mannequin. His peak was a 81-81 season. As a skipper, Geren was a real snoozer. Meanwhile, Washington went on to become the winningest manager in Texas Rangers history. He took that lowly franchise to their only two World Series appearances. He would still be there but for a rather self-destructive phase he went through, and has thankfully survived. Washington has kept himself busy while he’s been away from the big leagues, like giving free instruction at the New Orleans Urban Youth Academy. The NOUYA is a venture funded by Major League Baseball to get inner-city kids interested in playing baseball. Washington, a native of the Crescent City, also has volunteered his time to the University of New Orleans baseball team (Glen Kuiper’s college team).
So Washington’s return is a good thing. The A’s are trying to be proactive with Semien, and they’ve reached out to an old friend to mentor him. And Wash is too good a guy to let his personal demons devour him. He has so much to offer and is ecstatic that the A’s have asked for his help. It might just be rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic when it comes to helping Semien, but it’s worth a shot.