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Washington takes over as Angels' manager with youthful vigor, plans to 'run the West down'

Ron Washington Los Angeles Angels Ron Washington - The Canadian Press

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — When Ron Washington got his first major league managerial job in Texas 17 years ago, his task was to end the Angels' near-decade of dominance atop the AL West — and that's exactly what his Rangers did.

“We ran them down,” he said with a grin.

Washington pulled on the Los Angeles Angels' white jersey Wednesday as this now-struggling team's fourth new manager in just over five years. His new charge in this long-awaited second chance is an inverted version of his job with the Rangers, who now reign atop the majors along with the Houston Astros, who annually dominate the division.

“Our whole focus is going to be to run the West down,” Washington said. “And you can take that to the bank and deposit it.”

The 71-year-old Washington exuded gratitude and optimism during his formal introduction at Angel Stadium, where his ageless energy and boundless baseball knowledge are the team's latest tactic in its attempt to end a malaise nearing a decade.

After getting multiple interviews for manager jobs following his stormy departure from Texas in 2014, Washington finally landed a second chance when he won the competition to replace Phil Nevin, who wasn't re-signed after the Angels completed their eighth consecutive losing year and their ninth straight non-playoff season.

“We are on our way up, and there will be nothing but positivity around here,” Washington said. “We will make our way through the negativity. ... We’re looking forward to the expectations. We will make it happen.”

Washington is a beloved figure around baseball, revered as a leader and teacher who won two AL pennants in Texas and got within one strike of winning the World Series — but the Angels are a daunting challenge.

Even aside from the looming possibility of Shohei Ohtani's departure in free agency, the Halos haven't done much in the past few years to suggest major progress for a roster anchored by highly-paid sluggers Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon.

“I see potential, but I also see guys that have to make certain that baseball is a priority,” Washington said. “What I mean by that is commitment, attitude and effort. That's what we've got to get to.”

Angels general manager Perry Minasian was working for the Rangers when Washington arrived in 2007. Minasian, whose own future likely hangs on the Halos' short-term success, emphatically felt Washington was the best choice among several compelling candidates.

“He was dying for this opportunity, and I could feel it,” Minasian said. “When you're talking to somebody and he's that passionate, and the want-to is through the roof, and he'll do anything he can to get us where we want to go, it just resonated with me.”

Minasian also said the Angels had no concerns about the negative aspects of Washington's successful tenure in Texas, including his admission of cocaine use and his abrupt resignation after what he said was an extramarital affair.

“I feel comfortable with it," Minasian said. "He's a stand-up guy. He addressed it at the time. Over the years, if you ask the people around him what he's all about and what he brings to the table, you'll get nothing but glowing remarks.”

Unlike some of his youngest players, Washington is old enough to remember the era when Orange County had a perennially successful team — and those old-school bona fides were obvious throughout his first official day on the job. During his news conference, he half-jokingly referred to his new team as both the Anaheim Angels and the California Angels, two of its previous names during his playing and coaching career.

“Yes, I’m 71 years old,” Washington said. “I still can think. I still love the game of baseball. I still love making a difference.”

Washington is the majors' oldest manager, and he's only the second Black manager alongside the Dodgers' Dave Roberts. While it's not his focus, Washington doesn't take the responsibility lightly of being the Angels' first Black manager.

“I’ve been in this position before, but it’s always nice to know that you can be a trailblazer,” Washington said. "It’s always nice to know that you’re sitting in a position where it can create other positions for other Black personnel that have an opportunity to be a manager. So it is important that I be successful, and it is important that every opportunity that presents itself to me to open up a door for a qualified Black baseball person, I’m willing to take the step to do that.”

Washington's two-year contract with the Angels contains a club option, Minasian said, adding the deal's relatively short length had no ulterior meaning but is a fairly standard length for modern manager contracts.

Washington is slowly assembling his coaching staff, but hasn't chosen a pitching coach. He said former Houston manager Bo Porter will be his first base coach alongside previously announced Eric Young Sr. as the third base coach.