Rangers: The Missing Piece

This is what the A’s looked like after beating the Rangers 9-8 on Friday despite an almost-miracle Rangers comeback. They looked like winners. They carried themselves like winners. Because they are winners. In an article on ESPN, Jean-Jaques Taylor wrote:

Oakland, playing its best baseball of the season, essentially clinched the division Friday night. Oakland arrives at the ballpark each day expecting to win.

He’s absolutely correct.  I would contrast that with how the Rangers arrive hoping to win.  Staying loose, having fun, playing their game, doing what the game asks.  These mantras did get them to the World Series. Twice. Not last year though. And, by the looks of it, not this year.

And when they went, they did not win.

Assuming all else is equal, if we consider what distinguishes a good team from a great team, from a championship team, surely a most critical success factor is the expectation to win.  This is also known as mental toughness, a killer’s mindset. It is what Taylor is referring to later in his article as the need to “collectively find the mental fortitude to push through.” If we consider why, for the last two years, the Rangers have spent most of the year in first place only to fall to their nemesis in September, this mental state is the root cause. The Rangers are a good team. A well run team with a great front office. So are the A’s. But the A’s expect to win, and the Rangers don’t.

The Ranger mantras do have value, and are effective to an end. What should by now be clear, though, is that what has worked to varying degrees over the last few years was not only not enough in those years, but is no longer working even to the degree it once did.  When asked if he knew of plans for Ron Washington to deliver another pep talk to the team, Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star Telegram quoted him as saying “I’ve told them everything I can.” What that says is that Wash feels it’s up to the players now. Taylor says the same in his article:

All that matters is that the best players on this team play at a much higher level. Either they’ll collectively find the mental fortitude to push through these difficult days and make the playoffs, or their shameful September will continue and they’ll spend the off-season contemplating another late-season collapse.

The problem with this mindset returns us to expectations, or lack thereof. It would seem that Wash, God love him, does not have any. And the evidence of the results over the last four years would indicate that no one else within the organization has them either. This is the missing piece. This team needs more than a collective push. It needs someone who can gather up the collective and push it. To instill mental toughness, to develop a killer’s attitude. This is not something that will happen spontaneously. This is a bunch of guys playing ball, not The Borg. A super-talented bunch. But even super-talent needs to be focused by someone with a clear vision of what excellence looks like, the skill to communicate this vision, and the persistence to realize it.  The umbrella under which all that falls? Expectation.

No one doubts this team wants to win. Washington, Daniels, and Ryan are gifted men who have done outstanding work in revitalizing this team and it’s fans. Each contributes in significant ways to their unique triumvirate. Together, they made it to back-to-back World Series. In the first, the team was just not good enough. In the second, the team was very good, but still, not good enough. Those who have the stomach to talk of that Series usually talk about Game 6. But there was a Game 7.  And unfortunately that game was over before it started. The look on the Rangers’ faces made this clear. The Cardinals never had that look.

Expectations. Fortitude. Toughness. The missing piece.

This missing piece could come from a player. Ray Lewis was an example of someone who could motivate and inspire from the field, and that peer-to-peer method might be effective for the Rangers, considering how most of the rest is fairly well in place. Perhaps more effective, and probably more consistent long-term would be someone at or near the top. Certainly a new manager could add this element, the risk of course being in attempting to fix what ain’t broken. But in putting forth that argument, we would need to examine what we mean by broken, and there would be disagreement. In looking at what happened last September, and at what is happening this September, a case could be made for something being broken. At the very least, a piece is not working effectively, or is absent altogether.

Perhaps adding the missing piece involves a change at a lower level of coaching. Perhaps it involves creating a new position that allows for someone to be hired in to address this very problem. Bring in Tony Robbins. Hell, bring in Alec Baldwin’s character from Glengarry Glen Ross. Bring someone new in, because the person needed is either not currently employed, or not effectively executing that piece of the job description.

It would make the millenium of every baseball fan in Texas if the Rangers were able to spontaneously discover that mental toughness, that killer attitude, that expectation to win which can enable breakthrough performance. It’s not going to happen. A piece is missing.

Read Jean Jaque-Taylor’s article here: http://espn.go.com/dallas/mlb/story/_/id/9671133/best-players-texas-rangers-respond-make-playoffs

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