An Authentic Choice

New Texas Rangers skipper Jeff Banister brings fight and survivor instinct to team

New Texas Rangers skipper Jeff Banister brings survivor instinct

Jeff Banister of the Texas Rangers
Jeff Banister has big shoes to fill as Ron Washington's successor, but he's up for the challenge. Photo via Facebook

We’ve heard a lot about new Texas Rangers manager Jeff Banister recently. Perhaps the most ringing endorsement comes from Chuck Morgan, otherwise known as the voice of the Texas Rangers inside Globe Life Park in Arlington. Morgan took to Twitter after Banister spoke to members of the Rangers’ front office, and said, "I wish opening day was tomorrow. I’m ready to run through a wall."

The general vibe around Dallas has been positive regarding the Rangers’ hiring of Banister, who last served as the bench coach for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He’s already drawing comparisons to the Rangers’ last manager, Ron Washington, as Rangers general manager Jon Daniels admitted that Banister’s "authenticity" is similar to Washington’s.

 He’s undoubtedly the only Major League manager to have something in common with Bob Dole, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, Scott Hamilton and ABC anchor Robin Roberts.

Perhaps the more appropriate barometer of what the Rangers are getting in Banister is to see what the folks in Pittsburgh are saying about his departure. What they’re saying — and doing — will make you feel awfully good about the hire.

Take Banister’s Pirates bio page on their web site. First, the Pirates haven’t taken it down. Most teams take those things down the second a player or coach leaves. Second, the Pirates have put what appears to be Banister’s Rangers mug shot on the page.

It could be taken as a sign of respect for a person who is a Pirates lifer. Drafted by the Pirates in 1986, Banister had one Major League at-bat — a hit — and has held practically every job in the Pirates organization since, from minor league manager to Major League bench coach.

By the way, Banister has two former Rangers to thank for that hit in 1991. Catcher Don Slaught’s injury opened up the roster spot for Banister to be called up from the minor. Outfielder Cecil Espy let Banister borrow a bat.

Banister's bio gives you a glimpse of his toughness. He’s fought cancer his entire life, a combination of bone cancer and osteomyelitis. He had seven surgeries on his left ankle and leg while in high school. For a short time while playing in junior college, a home plate collision left him paralyzed from the neck down after his vertebrae was crushed. And yet he went on to the University of Houston and to play professional baseball.

He’s undoubtedly the only Major League manager to have something in common with Sen. Robert Dole, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, former figure skater Scott Hamilton and ABC anchor Robin Roberts. All have been recipients of the Gilda Radner Courage Award, given to outstanding cancer survivors who advocate for others battling the disease. In fact, Banister was the first recipient.

The media reaction hasn’t been standard, either. No one was more eloquent than Colin Dunlap, who works the night shift for 93.7 The Fan FM in Pittsburgh and is a columnist for CBS Pittsburgh. Dunlap called Banister a “man’s man” and “one of the nicest guys in the world.” He wrote about Banister’s afternoons hitting grounders to his son, Jacob, before batting practice began at PNC Park and called him a teacher of the game, which sounds quite familiar to Rangers fans.

But one story stuck out. In 2012, Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen has hit by a pitch from Reds pitcher Aroldis Chapman. It didn’t cause a brawl, but there were plenty of questions afterward about whether it was intentional. After the game ended, the Reds celebrated the win on the field. Banister stood at the top of the dugout steps and just stared at them until they were done. Dunlap wrote that it looked like Banister was trying to “stare a hole through the entire team.”

The players noticed. The players respected it. Perhaps its coincidence, perhaps it isn’t. But 2012 was the last time the Pirates had a losing season.

The Rangers are getting a fighter and a survivor. Just the thing the Rangers need if they expect to be competitive in the ridiculously tough American League West.