Texas Rangers: Honor Ian Kinsler, Fire Manager Chris Woodward

The Texas Rangers have parted ways with Chris Woodward. Photo Courtesy: Dominic Ceraldi

By Wiley Singleton

Sometimes admitting your mistakes is hard. Sometimes the mistake is so severe that pretending you did not make it is impossible. For years the Rangers front office has defended the catastrophic trade that sent cornerstone second baseman Ian Kinsler to Detroit for Prince Fielder. Kinsler was beloved and exceptionally talented. He was drafted by the Rangers in 2003 and was the starting second baseman from 2006-2013. He was a huge asset throughout his entire time in Texas. His tenure was great from beginning to back like the Rush album Hemispheres.

Kinsler was a leadoff hitter with pop and speed. In his prime he was a 30 homer/30 steal guy. He played crisp defense, earning two Gold Gloves in his career. Kinsler and Elvis Andrus made a great middle infield combo and always excelled at turning the double play. Kinsler was a hyper competitive five tool player. He was a hard-nosed grinder that never relented. He was the sort of guy you want beside you in a foxhole when at war. 

Kinsler had all the intangibles on the field; but is often remembered best for his attitude. Kinsler played with swagger. He played with panache. He played with the same sort of a confidence that Darryl Strawberry had. The most appropriate and accurate way to phrase it: the Semitic Slugger had chutzpah. Kinsler is currently the Skipper for the International Team Israel. He is the third best Jewish athlete ever behind Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax. 

Kinsler’s competitive fire was on full display when he quipped that “I hope the Rangers lose every game.” after he was traded. You know what? The sentiment was not far off from the truth. The Rangers trading Ian Kinsler for a sloppy and bloated Prince Fielder and his equally bloated contract was a repugnant disgrace. It was one of the most egregious moves in Rangers history. It was not even one of those trades where you get burned by giving away good prospects or get bad prospects in return. The Rangers traded one of their stars straight up for an out of shape, one-dimensional slugger who turned in a mere one good season before his grotesque body broke down like an old Buick Cutlass.

The Rangers trading Ian for Prince will remain an atrocity in perpetuity. It was so awful because it was a trade that was obviously bad at face value at that moment. The benefit of hindsight was not needed to see the exchange for the rip off that it was. As Ian Kinsler added to his trophy case years after worthless Prince Fielder retired, Jon Daniels and company were left to be humiliated out of the playoffs as the slugger they gave away for nothing won a ring with the guy they thought was so bad he needed to be replaced by Prince Fielder: Mitch Moreland.

This trade marked the final nail in the coffin of the 2010/2011 glory years. Not Cliff Lee leaving. Not Josh Hamilton leaving. Not Michael Young leaving. Not Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, or Alexi Ogando getting hurt. This was the moment the Rangers jumped the shark. This was the moment they lost the plot. This is the moment they went from Season 2 of Game of Thrones to Season 7. This was the moment they went from Season 2 of Entourage to Season 7. Ian Kinsler was the perfect example of the player who brings far more than a batting average to a ballclub. The Rangers lacked leadership and confidence once Ian left. Ian had a plethora of on field talent, but he was also S class in the locker room. Ian’s positive influence cannot be understated. It is no coincidence that the Rangers have not made it out of the first round of the playoffs since Kinsler left. Kinsler represented a winning attitude and a grinding mentality.

A perfect example of this grinding, explosive style came in game 2 of the 2011 World Series. The Rangers were down 1-0 in the game and series in the 9th when Kinsler reached first off of Cardinals flamethrowing closer Jason Mott. Kinsler then stole 2nd base off of defensive stalwart catcher Yadier Molina. This was the sort of steal that defines playoff runs. It is the sort of steal that is most impressive because of the obviousness of the tactic. 

“He steals 2nd when the whole world knows he is going,” Kevin Millar once said of Dave Roberts in game 4 of the 2004 ALCS. This is the same sort of steal Ian executed in the Rangers must win game 2. Everyone knew he was going, including brilliant Tony La Russa and equally intelligent Yady Molina. Kinsler still swiped the bag and led the Rangers to a crucial 2-1 win. If Ian does not steal that bag, the Rangers lose the game and go back to Texas down 0-2 just like in the previous year. This steal showed Ian was capable of swiping a bag when you really needed it. 

Ian’s other biggest playoff moment came in the previous year during the Rangers first ever pennant run. Many people forget the incredibly formidable Tampa Bay Rays teams the Rangers beat in the 2010 and 2011 ALDS. The 2010 ALDS was the more formidable test; remember the Rangers had only won one playoff game in their entire history up until that point. Kinsler was electric in that series. He was on base constantly and drove a dagger into the heart of Tampa in the winner take all game 5.

The Rangers led 3-1 off of a classic Cliff Lee hard carry performance in Tampa when Ian Kinsler strode to the plate in the 9th inning. Kinsler faced Rafael Soriano, the Rays unhittable closer with a man on. Kinsler pulled a homer to left field in his classic fashion to silence the crowd and give Lee an insurmountable 5-1 lead. It is worth noting Rangers close Neftali Feliz had shown control problems in game 1 of the series and looked shaky at the time. The difference between 2 and 4 runs on the road was immense. Lee of course shut down the downtrodden Rays in the 9th to lead the team to their first ALCS ever. These are the sort of moments that do not receive proper credit because the Rangers never ended up winning the World Series. 

The Rangers basically said they were sorry a couple days ago when they inducted Ian Kinsler into the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame. Ian was right to wish ill on the Rangers after he was stabbed in the back. Ian had great seasons after being traded while Prince Fielder floundered. Ian won a ring. Prince had his contract partially paid off by an insurance company. 

When the Rangers acknowledged Ian Kinsler with a Hall of Fame induction, it was not just a recognition of his greatness like when Michael Young was inducted. There was a definite air of “what could have been” and “we are sorry for trading you.” The Fielder trade was the giant elephant in the room. The Rangers so obviously and hilariously took the L in that trade that honoring Kinsler was almost a cathartic acknowledgement of incompetence. They can finally stop pedantically pretending the Prince Fielder trade was “a good idea at the time.” This phrase was the quickest litmus test to know if someone knew NOTHING about baseball for a few years by the way. Anyone who said that trading Kinsler was “a good idea at the time” could be dismissed with the same venomous contempt as a 2016 “Cubs Fan” who had never heard of Kerry Wood or Mark Prior. 

Ian Kinsler was a paragon in Texas. He should have been a career Ranger. He finished his career with 1999 hits. In many ways this is an allegory for his career. He was exceptional but could have been even better. He was agonizingly close to winning with the Rangers. Although he ultimately won a title in Boston with Mitch Moreland, his career did not go the way it should have. He was wronged by dim Jon Daniels. Ian Kinsler represents everything about being a Ranger fan: despite being God Tier in 2011 he did not quite get there and does not get the credit he deserves. 

No player better represents that era of Ranger or the unsatisfying end they met as players and as a team than Ian Kinsler. Kinsler’s tragic career arc mirrors that of his compatriots on the pennant teams. Alexi Ogando, Matt Harrison, and Derek Holland hurting themselves and never being the same. Josh Hamilton and CJ Wilson going to clout chase in Cali with the Angels. Michael Young playing a terrible final season in LA. Nelly Cruz hitting 40 bombs for the O’s jokish pennant contending squads. Mike Napoli showing his clutch playoff chops for the Red Sox. These things were not supposed to happen! But if they were going to happen, it should have been the forgotten postscript to a Rangers World Series squad. 

After the Rangers spent an entire day honoring Ian Kinlser they realized despite spending 500 million in the offseason they had a team with no personality or soul. Marcus Semien and Corey Seager are both great players, but they combine for less than half of the leadership ability and chutzpah of Ian Kinsler. Chris Woodward, the bald whiny Skipper, exuded little confidence. Woody was a dopey sore loser and a crybaby. He presided over some of the worst seasons in Rangers history. His notable moments usually involved whining about giving up massive homers. Good examples of which were recently when he called Yankee’s Stadium “A Little League Park” after the Rangers gave up a big homer that would have been gone in 26 of 30 stadiums. 

His most famous moment was when he cried about Fernando “Ringworm” Tatis Jr hitting a grand slam off of his mop up man. This was the quintessential Chris “Woody” Woodward moment. He got embarrassed and laughed off the field and went and cried about it after. Woody was an insipid whiner during his entire tenure as manager. He did not show any fire on the field like Billy Martin. He just cried about it after to the press in the most moronic way possible. 

Tactically, Woody left a lot to be desired. He was horrific at managing pitching. He had no clue who to bring in from the bullpen when it really mattered. He would often do clueless things like sitting top relievers in close games in favor of obviously struggling ones. The bad reliever would come into the game and make a close game a blowout. The Rangers have one of the worst records ever in one run games this season. They are 5-24 in those games under Woody. This shows his inability to manage the bullpen.

Woody was decent at using pinch hitters but would almost never bunt, even in extra innings with the gimmick runner. The defining Chris Woodward move will go down in history as bringing your 5th best arm into a close game. Being bad is one thing, but being utterly uninteresting is a death sentence for a baseball team. For some of the Woodward years, the Rangers were uninteresting and unwatchable. They were tearing it down and rebuilding. But when the pieces started to arrive, Chris Woodward turned in the same dopey, uninspired performance as when the team was supposed to lose 100 games. 

The Rangers have spent this entire season showing up flat and unprepared to rubber matches. They look lost in games they need. They often are remarkably uncompetitive. They squander great starting pitching and underutilize great bullpen arms. Chris Woodward, shockingly, had multiple top tier bullpen options to go to this season but would frequently pick inferior ones inexplicably. This was the main reason he got fired. He got insane S class performances from Matt Moore, Brock Burke, and others and chose to use the likes of Garrett Richards in big spots. 

There are two kinds of baseball skippers: offensive managers and pitchers managers. Oftentimes former position players will not understand how to handle pitchers as well as offensive strategies. This was true for Chris Woodward. He bunted too little, but at least tried to pinch hit and pinch run. He was no Billy Martin, but at least he had offensive strategies and build orders. His pitching strategy was utter nonsense. It was the glaring weakness that got him fired. The straw that broke the camel’s back was having four top end relievers and figuring out a way to minimize their talent to the tune of a historically bad one run game record.

Woody made the sort of foolish bullpen moves that even a layman would know was a mistake. Woody would use the same mediocre arm on back to back days in a close game while a top tier one sat on four days rest in the pen. He did dumb stuff like this on a daily basis, which is why the Rangers have been a joke all season and the laughingstock Baltimore Orioles are competing for a playoff spot. The Baltimore Orioles hit 60 wins for the first time since 2017 yesterday. The Rangers are not far off from the O’s in terms of talent, but Woody has grenaded away innumerable games with dimwitted strategy. This is the difference between a respectable above .500 season and another year of repugnant ineptitude. Woody managed with all the intensity of a man with a 10 year contract and ZERO expectations. Maybe that flew before Chris Young was part of the front office and Jon Daniels did his job with the same mindset, but no longer.

Woodward’s firing was odd in terms of timing because they just beat the Mariners twice. Granted, this was right after losing 9 straight to the M’s and getting smashed by the O’s. The interim skipper, Tony Beasley, will take over against the Oakland A’s. This will give him a soft landing, as the Jokeland A’s are a clownshow franchise trying not to get moved to another city. Tony Beasley has been the Rangers 3rd base coach for years and will get a shot at the rest of the season. Beasley will probably not get the full time job. The Rangers will probably target a bonafide “name guy” to manage the team. Here are some names that are possibilities:

Ron Washington- The fan favorite Wash was originally pushed out after 3 different collapses and admitted cocaine use. He has since been coaching 3rd base with the Atlanta Braves and doing an exceptional job. Wash is the best skipper the Rangers ever had outside of Billy “Little Dago” Martin. Martin was literally the best ever strategically though. The only downside to this move is Wash is 70 and happily employed on a winning squad in a role that suits him. This is the number #1 name fans want. Washington employed an aggressive baserunning style and emphasis on infield fundamentals during his time in Texas. He is gregarious and beloved in the Lone Star State. 

Joe Maddon– Fresh off of flaming out in California with the hated LA Angels, California Cool Joe Maddon sits at 68 years old unemployed and available. Maddon is known for being kooky and strategically unique. Maddon is one of those boomers with the visor/hairpiece combo trying to be hip. He is pedantic and should be avoided.

Bruce Bochy- Bochy managed the 2010 Giants over the Rangers in the World Series. He is intelligent, calm, and talented. This would be an S class signing for the Rangers.

Michael Young- This name gets thrown around a lot. He is beloved but has zero managing experience. Just like Jeff Banister and Chris Woodward. Young seems like a manager more fit for a tanking period than a playoff run. The Rangers are looking to get a skipper that can come in for the 2023 season and win over 90 games. They are done tanking and want to compete next year. Not in 2025 or 2026. Next year. This is a good thing. If Billy Martin were still alive he would be the obvious choice to skipper the team in 2023. Martin would be the antidote to listless Woodward losing one run games left and right as though they were Spring Training exhibitions. Martin hated losing and transformed the abominable 1973 Rangers into a playoff contender in 1974.

The Rangers will have the talent to compete for a playoff spot in 2023. They showed they are not content with losing by axing Woody now and not at the end of the season after losing 89 games. The Rangers brass has seen all the vexing games in rubber matches this season like the rest of the fans. They see the team not show up for the final game of a series time and time again. They see tepid performances in games the team needs to start a streak. They see a lack of leadership. Quiet Marcus Semien and Corey Seager looked on listlessly as a glassy-eyed Chris Woodward went through the motions like a Summer Camp Counselor. Woodward batting them at 1 and 2 all season made no sense and showed his lack of strategic understanding. Make no mistake: Woodward had the offensive power and bullpen talent to go above .500 this season. He screwed the pitching up at every turn and had his best two hitters hit with nobody on base. 

Woodward will go down in Rangers history as a forgettable, rat-faced whiner. He was playing out the 2nd half of this season with all the intensity of Motley Crue hammering out their filler b-sides before breaking to do more heroine.