11/09/12 9:48 PM ET
Washington 'humbled' by AFL Hall of Fame honor
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
"The World Baseball Classic," Washington said, wincing in anticipation of having the 2013 Spring Training extended by the international tournament. "We'll be here for eight weeks."
Still, Washington was happy to make the commute from his Texas home for his induction Friday into the Arizona Fall League Hall of Fame.
"Getting into Halls of Fame just means you're getting old," said Washington, smiling. "But, seriously, I'm truly honored and humbled and very proud that they thought enough of me to induct me in this Hall of Fame."
Induction into the 21-year-old league's Hall, established in 2001 and permanently housed in Scottsdale Stadium, is not a light matter. The 29 members include the likes of Roy Halladay, Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols and Mike Piazza.
They earned enshrinement between the lines. Very few have been recognized for their pioneering roles in a league that has mushroomed from concept to a bona fide baseball "finishing school" in two quick decades.
Washington now is one of those few -- with a special twist. To commemorate his induction, Arizona Fall League director Steve Cobb announced the retirement of the No. 14 Washington wore as an AFL coach in 1993 with the Tucson Javelinas. No future playing member of the Javelinas -- now based in Surprise -- will ever wear that number.
Washington was one of the "founding fathers" of the AFL, serving as a hitting coach in each of the league's first two seasons, with Sun Cities in 1992 and Tucson the following autumn. He becomes the 32nd inductee into the league's Hall of Fame and one of a select few honored for his leadership and not for his playing (joining Dusty Baker and Terry Francona, among others).
"I was part of the first two years, because the New York Mets showed enough faith in me to put some of their top prospects in my care," said Washington, referring to such future Major Leaguers as Butch Huskey and Jeromy Burnitz. "When you start out, you don't get anywhere without the help of others."
Washington became this year's third inductee into the Hall of Fame, following right-hander Derek Lowe, a free agent who split last season between the Indians and the Yankees, and first baseman Mark Teixeira of the Yankees.
"He is a former Fall League coach who has certainly distinguished himself as a manager on the Major League level," Cobb said during the brief induction ceremonies at Surprise Stadium prior to the game between Peoria and Surprise. "The Hall represents a very distinguished group, and we are proud to add Ron Washington's name.
"Ron has become one of the most respected managers in baseball, and we're indebted to him for playing a role in the crucial early years of the Fall League."
Washington has led the Rangers to finishing first or second in the American League West in the last five seasons of his six-year tenure, including three consecutive postseason appearances -- matching the franchise's total in its first 46 years.
Tim Purpura, Texas' senior director of player development, represented the big league club at the induction ceremony and presented Washington with a plaque listing the names of every Rangers player who has gone through the AFL ranks -- all 139 of them.
"Josh Hamilton, Elvis Andrus, Michael Young and others. It's something we're very proud of," Purpura said. "With this honor, Ron goes to the top of the Rangers class."
Mike Port, the one-time Major League executive who was instrumental in the creation of the AFL and remains on its Hall of Fame selection committee, said Washington's selection was "not only based on his accomplishments at the Major League level, but on all of his contributions to the game."
"With the Rangers," Port added, "he has proven that nice guys do finish first."
The game, and thus his induction ceremony, was sparsely attended on a wind-chilled Friday night. But sincerity does not need a big audience.
"I'd like to say thanks to you fans for taking time out of your day and your night," Washington said into the microphone set up in front of the mound. "I hope you understand how much this means. The players I had in '92 and '93 have a lot to do with where I am today. In my wildest dreams, I never thought this would become part of my life."
With that, Washington waved his farewell and walked off the field, neglecting to add, "And see you all back here in three months."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.