I am not entirely sure of the year. It was March, probably 2004. Maybe 2005. Jamey Newberg and I were hanging around the back fields in Surprise as morning activities were winding down and what had already been an awkward and tension-filled early session was just about to get worse.
The morning got off to a rocky start when Buck Showalter had Jason Botts (whose Rangers pedigree dated back to the Doug Melvin era) back to the clubhouse to lift - god knows, he needed to lift some more - because he came out with all blue socks, showing no white. Old School Buck sent a message that Old School Socks were not to be tolerated in his camp.
A couple of hours later, John Hudgins was moving from one activity to another as he jogged past a golf cart in which sat director of player personnel Dom Chiti and another member of the Hart "camp" of the front office, the identity of whom I cannot remember as I sit here today. As Hudgins - a member of the Grady Fuson-controlled draft class of 2003 - trotted by, Chiti said loudly enough that anyone near him, including Hudgins, could hear: "There's $600K we'll never get back."
Hudgins was a highly accomplished college arm out of Stanford with serious CWS skins on the wall, but he was not blessed with remarkable physical gifts. He was a "pitchability" selection, where guile, smarts and strike-throwing ability was privileged over raw upside. He signed for a $600K signing bonus. Clearly, Chiti did not agree with the selection.
About an hour after that, as the last of the players had left the fields for lunch, there stood Jamey and I, who were just standing around probably trying to decide where to go to lunch, New York Pizza or New York Pizza? There weren't a lot of choices in Surprise back then. Fuson stood near home plate of one of the four minor league fields and launched into an empassioned diatribe about Chiti, minor league field coordinator Mike Brumley and Showalter in front of an audience of about a half-dozen instructors and coaches. Fuson was buying the groceries. Chiti, Brumley and Showalter were tasked with cooking the groceries and they hated the groceries. And Fuson was not happy with how the groceries were being treated by the chefs.
This was a front office with little direction and an organization with a lot of factions pulling against one-another. It's what happens when a meddling owner forces a part-time GM to work with a "GM in waiting" who is not on the same page with the GM or his people and then throws a control-freak Manager on top of that combustible structure.
Part of the problem, I have always thought, was the weakness of John Hart and whether that weakness was the result of the meddling owner's thirst for attention and credit or Hart's lack of desire to immerse himself in his job is not really the point anymore. The point - as we sit here today - is that nobody knew who was in charge and there were several people, each with their own followers or "camps" who thought they were the ones really running things and were scrapping to fill the leadership void.
Jump forward a few years. Hart is out, the "GM in waiting" Grady Fuson is long gone. Thirty-one year old Jon Daniels is three years into his tenure as GM. After a rough first year on the job, Daniels is starting to find his footing and things are coming together. The 2007 draft was a boon and he had parlayed Mark Teixeira into Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison, Nefti Feliz and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
It was the fall of 2008, with one season of Daniels - Ryan in the can (Ryan came on in the spring of 2008), I had the chance to sit down with Daniels in his office at the Ballpark for about three hours for a lengthy Q&A for the DMN (it's no longer available online, or anywhere else). One of the things I was most interested in talking to him about was the way in which he had put together his front office / scouting and development team.
In those very dark years of the early-to-mid aughts where there the infighting amongst the "camps" in the front office and scouting & development departments were crippling the franchise, Daniels rejected the notion that anyone should belong in any camp other than the "Rangers camp."
“First off," Daniels told me, "it never made sense to me that there could be factions in the organization, but there was some dysfunction. I didn’t pick sides because in my mind there weren’t any sides to pick. My loyalty was to John Hart because John Hart was the GM. He was the man in charge and that was it. But I was close with Grady too and we’re still friendly. For whatever reason, I was able to maintain relationships with everyone involved, and that probably helped me."
Elaborating, Daniels explained:
What we've been able to do here recently is get everyone in the organization completely committed to only one thing and that is to make the Texas Rangers organization as successful as it can be. It comes down to communication, respect and checking egos at the door. The people here now, whether they started off with Doug or John or if they have a connection to Grady or if I brought them in, are people who think about 'we' instead of 'I.'
We get everyone together a couple of times a year. The scouts and the developmental folks have regular contact. They aren't in separate camps. We're far from perfect in this regard but we're getting better. We flooded our minor league affiliates with our own scouts this year. Scott Servais and A.J. Preller have a strong relationship.
An example of what we're trying to build is Mike Anderson moving from pitching coach to pro scout -- that has a lot to do with the relationship of the heads of those departments. Scott had a couple of years of experience as a scout so he can appreciate how the other side operates. Hoppy [Ron Hopkins, director of scouting and Grady Fuson refugee] is a big part of that too. He's all about the kids and the organization. He's a scout's scout.
Everyone is pulling in the same direction, including the big league club. I mean, we joke about this sometimes, but if for some reason we were out west and the big league club couldn't post and we told Wash that we needed him to take on Anaheim with the Bakersfield club, he'd embrace it and expect to win. That's what we're trying to get to -- everyone on the same page with a level of trust in each other.
Most, but not all casual Rangers fans understand the remarkable job that the Daniels-led Rangers did in rebuilding the talent inventory in the organization, but far too few know that perhaps even more importantly -and arguably even more impressively - the young Daniels eliminated the divisiveness and infighting from the system and, as Jamey Newberg has thoroughly chonicled in his e-book JD: Building the Team That Built a Winner, created a cohesive front office / scouting development where everyone was on the same page in just a few short years.
Perhaps most impressively, he did it with people with pedigrees that traced back to each of the old camps.The scouting and development team came from all over the place. There were holdovers from the Doug Melvin / Reid Nichols era like Mike Grouse, Kip Fagg and Keith Boeck. Grady Fuson's choice as scouting director, Ron Hopkins stayed on and presided over several decidedly non-Fuson-like drafts. Guys long-connected to John Hart such as Rick Adair, Mel Didier, Mike Daly and Tom Giordano played key roles, and then there were guys like A.J. Preller, Thad Levine and Scott Servais who were connected to the Rangers only through Daniels and finally, super scout Don Welke who was a Preller mentor in Los Angeles (and long a key component in Pat Gillick's successes, wherever he went).
Having seen the division and dysfunction of the Hart era up close and personal, I - like Mr. Newberg, I think it is safe to say - have come to believe that the cohesiveness and single-minded purpose of everyone employed by the Texas Rangers during it's ascendency during the Daniels era has, as much as anything, been the secret sauce that turned this train wreck of a franchise into a model franchise.
And now I fear that it is slipping away. We are once again hearing about "camps." The Ryan camp vs. the Daniels camp (but not, it should be noted, Ryan vs. Daniels). Who should get the credit? Who has the "power"?
The Ron Washington who came in as the guy who would go to war against the Angels with the Bakersfield roster and expect to win has become the guy who pulls Showalter-style protests against the front office by refusing to play the personnel given to him if they don't meet with his approval.
Another thing that bothers me about what has gone on over the last several months - dating back to Washington's refusal to play Profar and Olt as the first visible sign that maybe the days where "everyone on the same page with a level of trust in each other" were over- is the old, tired and absolutely asinine notion that the two "camps" that have emerged in the Rangers organization can be defined by the "stat guys" (Daniels camp) and the "scouting guys" (Ryan camp).
That's complete bullsh.
I tweeted the other day: "I'm not sure how many people bought & read @NewbergReport 's e-book "JD: Building the Team That Built a Winner" but clearly not enough."
I wasn't kidding. Read that book and you will know that nobody has greater respect for great scouts than Jon Daniels does and that he puts more emphasis on scouting than on stat-based analysis, though he has probably mastered understanding the relationship between the two as well as or better than anyone else in the game.
As I read comments on the mainstream media sites and Rangers Facebook page from the sort of casual fans who don't know about the likes of BBTiA, Newberg Report or LSB (or who don't want to know any more than they do), it is clear that this notion of Daniels and his camp being anti-scouting is fairly well rooted in the collective consciousness of the casual fan. These are the people who don't know or care to know that the transformative moment in the history of this franchise from a player personnel standpoint came in 2007, before the great Nolan Ryan appeared on the scene.
The simplest way to explain something is to create binary relationships, false or not. It is a great shortcoming of American culture that we has been trained to see the world in an either / or sort of way. But it's easy. Easy to (mis)understand and easy to "explain." But it is rarely productive. I am not saying that the local media at-large has perpetuated the notion of a false binary here between the two "camps" and I am not saying that there aren't two "camps."
In fact, I think that there is something to it: I have a hard time believing that Washington could pull the stunts he pulled last year, thumbing his nose at Daniels by refusing to use the players he was given, if he didn't perceive that he could get away with it because somebody else other than Daniels had his back on that decision. I don't argue with the binary of the two "camps" but I do take issue with the simplification of how the two "camps" can be neatly separated into those who are nerdy, anti-scouting computer geeks and those who are real baseball people.
Outside of Newberg's book, there has been far too little said about Daniels' management philosophy or his philosphy on evaluating personnel allowing much of the public to come to believe that the division between the camps is based on Daniels' hostility to scouting or old-school baseball ways, which it is absolutely untrue, as anyone who has covered the Rangers closely over the past decade can tell you if they are telling you the truth. To some extent, it appears, the public is being used as pawns in the power struggle - if indeed there is one - by some who want to create a false perception of Daniels (or simply encourage a false perception that exists among the ordinary fans).
Nonetheless, The entire notion of "camps" in an organization is antithetical to Daniels' beliefs about organizational management. Getting rid of "camps" and getting people - no matter what their pedigree - to come together for a single purpose, putting egos aside for the greater good of the organization is how Daniels built this thing. And this is not to say that he wants to be surrounded only by "yes" men.
Back in the fall of 2008, Daniels explained to me that he valued diversity of opinion, outlook and even dissention, but he also valued loyalty and that the latter gave heft and credibility to the former:
There can be paralysis by analysis with so much information coming in at times. I've become more comfortable with the people and the system in place and have a better handle on what I'm hearing from them. Continuity in the organization is critical - critical - to that. We've been fortunate...to get the right people and keep them here all throughout the system. You look at all of the good organizations - the organizations that sustain success - and they've got that continuity. When it comes time to make decisions, there's an openness. Arguments are good. Constructive. Honest.
But that only works when everyone in the organization is pulling in the same direction and it seems to be Daniels' belief that an egoless organization in which everyone is on the same page, working hard for the common purpose of making the company - in this case, the Texas Rangers - the best it can be is for everyone to feel like their contribution is important to the ultimate goal.
As Newberg wrote in an prologue to his book, in the spring of 2006, Daniels...
sat down and wrote a letter intended for every employee in the organization, and personalized each copy with a handwritten note conveying a message of trust and empowerment and the concept of team.
“Everything we are facing is a competition,” the letter said. “How are you going to help us win today?”
I fear those days are over. "Camps" are back. Concern with who gets the credit and who has the power instead of a system-wide myopic focus on building the best organization possible is back. I don't know who to blame. Based on what I know of Jon Daniels' track record, his organizational philosophy, his words and his deeds, I find it very difficult to believe that he is happy with this development and because I have seen his way work so well, I do not want to see it changed or modified to accommodate an ego.
If you have two quarterbacks, you don't have any. Co-head coaches? I don't think any of you want to see that. A head coach who is really just a puppet for a higher authority whose attentions are often and necessarily diverted to other enterprises and issues? I think you've seen how well that works. There has to be one person who is ultimately in charge of making executive decisions.
My hope is that this Nolan-centric mess came about because Bob & Ray are astute enough as businessmen (and I think it's fairly safe to assume that they are quite astute) that they, somehow, came to understand that part of what went "wrong" in 2012 was the emergence of "camps," a confusion amongst the employees as to who is really in charge and that they sought to fix it by clarifying the issue. They didn't handle it very well, but it had to be done.
I do hope that they have the strength of conviction to carry out that mission, if in fact that is the mission. In the past, the Rangers could simply get rid of anyone who placed their own interests above those of the organization as a whole or anyone who sought to subvert the authority of the man in charge who was and remains Jon Daniels. Whether or not that is what Ryan is doing here, I don't know. Based upon the reporting of the one journalist to whom Ryan seems to want to tell his story, that appears to be the case. And if it is, then - obviously - he is the rare malcontent who cannot be discharged for insubordination.
If in fact Ryan is insisting on having "power" over baseball decisions and protecting the interests of those in his "camp" (even if it is out of an otherwise admirable sense of loyalty) and part of the compromise by his employers is to give it to him, I fear that the Rangers will have forfeited the thing that made them successful in the first place.