MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Banister's positivity a result of perseverance

Banister's positivity a result of perseverance

Just to show you that good things do sometimes happen to good people, there's Jeff Banister. He's the new manager of the Texas Rangers. To get his first managerial shot at 50 years old says so many good things about this guy, it would be difficult to know where to begin.

"I wake up every morning, put my feet on the floor and thank God I've been given this opportunity," he said.

There you go.

If you didn't know one other thing about the guy, that single sentence speaks volumes about his passion and his energy and all the other things the Rangers fell in love with.

For much of the last 29 years, Banister toiled mostly in obscurity for the Pittsburgh Pirates, catching for seven seasons in the Minor Leagues, then coaching and managing in the Minors. His life was in Watertown and Harrisburg, in Macon and Welland. He rode buses and raked fields and took cold showers.

He missed his wife, Karen, and his family back in Texas -- missed them badly. When you ask him about this next chapter of his life, they're the ones he'll mention first. This is a special Christmas for a lot of reasons, but it begins there.

"I'm telling my family, 'Thanks for putting up with 29 years of grinding and being away and sacrificing family time,'" he said. "I get to be home a majority of the year now. No more bus rides and hot dogs."

Here's the thing about his life in baseball: He loved every moment of it, every single moment. No man on this planet ever loved his job more than this one. He oozes positive energy, and lots of it.

You know people like this, right? You wonder how they're always so upbeat, so positive. If you spend five minutes with Jeff Banister, he'll convince you they're the best five minutes of his day.

Maybe that's why he's the new manager of the Rangers. Because it's so plainly obvious that he cares so much about his players, his profession, his organization. He has loved watching players get better. He has loved watching them develop as men, too.

Only a small percentage of them will have big league careers, but years later, dozens of them keep in touch with their old skipper to let him know about the jobs and the kids and all the rest.

If you asked Jeff Banister what he's most proud of, this might be it. That he touched people a certain way. That he played a role in their lives. That all these years later, some of these guys still take pride in pleasing him, making him proud.

Banister on Intentional Talk

He played in 515 Minor League games. That in itself is a miracle of sorts. He was discovered to have cancer in one of his ankles while at La Marque High School outside Houston. Doctors discussed amputating the leg. He underwent seven surgeries, making fear, pain and doubt a constant in his teenage years.

Something like this happens, and your life gets an injection of perspective. Suddenly, everything has its place.

"I learned that every day is a blessing," he said. "We're not guaranteed anything. We're not guaranteed the next five minutes. I tell my kids that all the time. Dreams are just dreams unless you put them into action. You can't procrastinate on your dreams. Things can be taken away from you.

"On the flip side, don't fear. When you have to face adversity, you face it. Standing up and saying, 'I can do this. I will do this.'"

During the interview process, Rangers general manager Jon Daniels asked Banister how he'd handle the first six-game losing streak.

"He just sort of smiled," Daniels remembered. "That was his way of telling me he'd been through much, much worse."

During Banister's playing days in the Minors, his singular goal was to make the big leagues. He did that. For five days. On July 23, 1991, he got his one and only Major League at-bat and singled against Dan Petry.

That was that.

The following winter in the Dominican Republic, he blew out his right elbow while attempting to throw out a baserunner.

"The throw went right over the pitcher's mound," he remembered. "I mean, six inches over the mound. The umpire says, 'You need to get the trainer out here.' I'm like, 'Why?' At that point, there was no pain."

He missed the 1992 season while recovering from elbow surgery, and when he returned in 1993, the Pirates asked if he'd like to be a player/coach at their Double-A team in Carolina.

Around that time, he accepted the fact that his playing career was just about over. After all those years behind the plate, his body had had enough. He told the Pirates he'd like to manage and that he'd be perfectly happy beginning on the lowest rung of the ladder. He did just that, in the New York-Penn League and the South Atlantic League, right up the chain.

Rangers introduce Banister

He would eventually become a Minor League field coordinator, and in 2010 he was asked to join the Pirates' big league staff. When Clint Hurdle took over as manager the following season, Banister was asked to stay on.

Maybe those four seasons with Hurdle became the finishing touch on Banister's resume. In Hurdle, he found a man just as energetic and driven as he'd been. Hurdle had a huge impact on the Rangers as their hitting coach in 2010, and in a lot of ways, Daniels went looking for another Clint Hurdle.

"From Clint, I learned passion," Banister said. "Passion for people. Empathy for people. Tenacity to dig deep into grown men who are world-class athletes but still need to be motivated, not just singularly but as a club. You've got to be relentless."

Banister, despite a lifetime in baseball, despite winning the respect and admiration of almost everyone who knew him in the game, had interviewed just three times for Major League managerial jobs.

That he got this one was something of an upset. But the Rangers will tell you they were blown away by him. They wanted a guy who knew baseball inside and out. There are hundreds of men who fit that description.

What separates the men who become successful managers is another ingredient, one that's not easy to describe. It's about leading men. It's about communicating and motivating, about being open and honest, about walking the fine line between friend and boss. The Rangers weren't going to be able to hire Clint Hurdle or Bruce Bochy or Joe Maddon, but that was the kind of man they were seeking.

These are qualities that can't be precisely measured, and so every hire is something of a gamble unless the guy has done it before. When the Rangers interviewed Banister, they were almost too impressed.

"I told our people, 'This guy is too good to be true,'" Daniels said. "We had to go dig deeper and find out if he was the real deal."

And so, they interviewed him a second time and then a third. This was their guy.

"When you know, you know," Daniels said. "That's about the best way I can say it."

Rangers prep for Winter Meetings

Banister was at his home in Clear Lake, Texas, on Oct. 16 when Daniels phoned to offer him the job. It was 11:45 p.m.

"When this began, I wanted Jon to know my passion," Banister said. "I wanted him to know he was getting a real person, a guy who loved to build and develop men. I'm not afraid of failure, but I'm not afraid of success. I have a passion to bring a championship to the state of Texas."

These last few weeks have been a whirlwind, moving his family from the Houston area to Dallas-Fort Worth, all the while preparing for this new gig. His energy, his caring has come through in interviews with reporters, in chats with fans, in the way he goes about his job.

"A guy who gets his first opportunity at 50, that's special," Banister said. "I've been with one organization for 29 years, and I loved the Pittsburgh Pirates. I appreciate everything they did for me. I can never repay them."

But he's also ready for this next chapter of his life.

"This is the place I'm going to call home," he said.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.