At some point, it became clear that George Horton wouldn’t get a send-off worthy of his career accomplishments.
There wasn’t going to be a victory lap around PK Park or a ceremony at home plate. There would be no magical run to Omaha that made these past few years seem worthwhile.
But ending with a rainout? That just feels wrong.
I suppose you could say Saturday was classic Oregon baseball weather. It started raining steadily about an hour before first pitch. It rained through warm-ups and the senior day presentation. It rained through the national anthem and the ceremonial first pitch.
The two coaches met at home plate and exchanged lineup cards. Then, instead of taking the field, the Ducks and UCLA went straight to the handshake line.
Thanks for coming, everybody. Drive home safely.
Horton didn’t speak with reporters after the, uh, whatever that was. Through a spokesman, he said he would have something to say after Oregon made a decision about his future. So for now, the last word on Horton’s tenure came Friday night when he cut short an attempt to ask about the big picture of the program.
“I’m not going to answer that,” Horton said. “You guys can write whatever you want. You know how that goes — it’s up to my administration.”
I’ll be happy to fill in the big picture, not that anyone needs the reminder.
Oregon’s season records since 2013: 48-16, 44-20, 37-24, 29-26, 30-25, 26-29 and 27-29.
The Ducks’ conference finishes in the same span: second, fourth, sixth, eighth, eighth, ninth, ninth.
That’s the picture of a program stuck in neutral. Fans have responded accordingly, distancing themselves from PK Park a little more each season.
If Horton were anyone else, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. The Ducks would have moved on already. The fact that he’s still here speaks to the respect he’s earned over the course of a 28-year career, and also to Oregon’s exceptional patience with this particular program.
Looking at Horton’s career trajectory, it’s hard not to think about Augie Garrido, his friend and mentor from the Cal State Fullerton days. Both guys won championships with the Titans and made multiple trips to the College World Series. Both had success in other places. Both seemed to hit a wall and spent their final few years trying to rediscover their touch.
You can understand why Oregon wanted to give Horton every opportunity. He’s a proud, passionate guy. He committed to Oregon’s baseball vision before there was a program or a stadium to back it up. Four years after he arrived, the Ducks hosted a super regional and came one play away from the College World Series.
How many other coaches could get a contract extension from Oregon after back-to-back years of missing the postseason? The Ducks did that for Horton in 2017, with the understanding that he needed to make some changes.
Horton did that, to a degree. I’ve been told he was more involved in recruiting the past two years, and the Ducks tweaked their strength program in hopes of generating more offense.
But also, Horton is who he is. He’s a throwback. Not many coaches are going to reinvent themselves at age 65, not in the way Oregon clearly needs.
Oregon isn’t tied to Horton beyond this season, though his contract contains a mutual option for 2020. When questions about his job came up in the past, Horton usually struck a confident tone. This year he’s been much more terse, refusing to lobby for himself or offer predictions about the future.
There are some who think Horton’s best chance is to approach athletic director Rob Mullens with a plan that includes shaking up his staff and highlights the recruiting class Oregon signed for 2020. But how many years in a row have we been waiting for Oregon’s freshmen to jump-start the program?
It’s the same story, over and over. Oregon’s lineup usually includes a few promising freshmen hitting .200 or so. But not enough of them develop into above-average Pac-12 players, and the ones who do are stuck on mediocre teams with another batch of struggling freshmen.
It’s time for the Ducks to try something new. It’s been time. But this year feels different.
After Saturday’s game was canceled, I kept an eye on Horton near the Oregon dugout. He went around with handshakes and fist bumps for almost everyone. Then he disappeared into the locker room, emerging an hour or so later and walking by himself to a red SUV in the parking lot before driving away in the rain.
It wasn’t the send-off he deserved. But it might have to do.