After finally winning World Series, Hall of Fame followed quickly for Washington
NATCHITOCHES – More than a half-century after he signed his first professional contract, New Orleans native Ron Washington finally got a World Series ring.
Two years later, Washington is part of the Class of 2023 of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.
Washington finally reached his sport’s pinnacle in 2021 when the Atlanta Braves, where he still serves as third base and infield coach, won the World Series.
“I had been in the game 52 years,” Washington said Thursday at a news conference inside the Hall of Fame, which opened the three-day induction weekend. “That shows you how tough it is to win. Everything has to come together and it came together in ’21 with a young group we put together and made them believe.”
As manager of the Texas Rangers, he came within a strike of winning a World Series exactly a decade earlier. But he knew how to deal with the heartbreak of just missing.
“Failure’s only temporary,” he said. “It’s only permanent when you allow it to be. That’s what I’ve always told these kids when I’ve coached. That’s been my mindset as long as I can remember.”
A half-century ago, Washington was picked out of the Ninth Ward to attend the first-ever Kansas City Royals Baseball Academy, along with future major leaguers Frank White and U.L. Washington.
“When I left New Orleans in 1970, I thought I was going to Kansas City,” Ron Washington said. “I ended up in Florida.”
Washington talked about learning the game on a chalkboard. Seven years later, he finally made it to the majors with the Minnesota Twins. He would play a total of 10 seasons in the “show.”
And though he waited until his career was over to think about remaining in the dugout in a different role, his playing days helped set the table.
“When I was playing the game, I was also a coach,” Washington said. “I was a detail-oriented type person. The guys I was playing with, when they had a question about the game, they came to Ron Washington. I was blessed. The game of baseball has been very, very good to me.”
In November 2006, Washington was named manager of the Rangers, and he brought a winning attitude to a franchise that had only experienced minimal success.
“When I arrived in Texas, my first meeting was with the scouts and I talked about winning the World Series,” Washington recalled. “I believe that belief is power. I knew what it took to do it; it was just getting everyone else on board. I was the leader; it was the guys between the lines that did it.”
Another legendary dugout figure, former LSU coach Paul Mainieri, is also part of the 2023 induction class.
“I knew at a very early age I wanted to be a college baseball coach,” said Mainieri, the son of legendary junior college coach Demie Mainieri.
After starting his playing career at LSU and then returning home to play for his father at Miami-Dade Junior College, Mainieri transferred to the University of New Orleans, where he played for another Louisiana Sports Hall of Famer, Ron Maestri.
“I learned so much from Mase in my two years playing for him,” Mainieri said. “To this day, he’s probably the second-most important male figure in my life.”
Mainieri not only won a national title in 2009 in Baton Rouge, but recruited many of the players on the Tigers’ 2023 national championship team.
“To see all of that come into fruition was very fulfilling and rewarding for me,” Mainieri said. “Even though I hadn’t coached for two years, it brought some closure for me. It also brought back a lot of memories from 2009.”
Former Tulane running back and Slidell High product Matt Forte parlayed a 2,000-yard rushing season as a senior with the Green Wave in 2007 into a decade-long NFL career, much of it with the Chicago Bears.
“It was really gratifying to know that when you work hard, it’s going to pay off,” said Forte.
Many current running backs are looking to get a bump in salary that hasn’t been quick to happen.
“We’ve got 11 guys on offense and 11 guys on defense,” Forte said. That’s a lot of moving parts. Running backs need to get paid.”
Lori Lyons, a New Orleans-area journalist for three decades, is one of two recipients of the Hall’s Distinguished Service Award in Sports Journalism.
“I have been coming to this event for 30 years and I have sat in the audience and cried,” said Lyons, who in addition to more than 20 years at the Times-Picayune, was also a contributor of Crescent City Sports’ previous iterations.
“Now, it’s my turn to do this. As good as I am with words, I don’t have the words for this.”
Eleven of the 12 inductees were on hand Thursday. New Orleans native and two-time Super Bowl champion Eli Manning arrives in town Friday.
A reception followed Thursday afternoon’s news conference. Friday’s agenda includes a celebrity bowling event in Alexandria and a free concert, VIP reception and fireworks at night, prior to a clinic, luncheon and induction ceremony Saturday night.
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Lenny was involved in college athletics starting in the early 1980s, when he began working Tulane University sporting events while still attending Archbishop Rummel High School. He continued that relationship as a student at Loyola University, where he graduated in 1987. For the next 11 years, Vangilder worked in the sports information offices at Southwestern Louisiana (now UL-Lafayette) and Tulane;…