Hours after firing Matt Williams as the Washington Nationals’ manager last month, general manager Mike Rizzo said he’d prefer to have someone with “some type of managerial experience” fill that role in future seasons, “especially at the major league level.”
In Dusty Baker, the Nationals found a well-suited candidate.
Baker, 66, was hired to be the Nationals’ next manager on Tuesday, stepping in after Williams was fired after just two seasons. He will be introduced by the team at a press conference at Nationals Park on Thursday.
A three-time National League Manager of the Year, Baker has won 1,671 games over 20 seasons, leaving him 17th all-time among managers in victories. He led the San Francisco Giants to the National League pennant in 2002, has guided a team to a first- or second-place finish in the division 12 times and has won at least 90 games in eight seasons.
The Giants’ manager from 1993 through 2002, Baker then managed the Chicago Cubs from 2003 through 2006 and the Cincinnati Reds from 2008 through 2013.
Baker signed what the team said only was a “multi-year contract,” without disclosing figures. He is the sixth person to serve as the Nationals’ manager, following Frank Robinson, Manny Acta, Jim Riggleman, Davey Johnson and Williams.
“I am so pleased to welcome Dusty Baker to the Nationals family,” Rizzo said in a statement announcing Baker’s hiring. “In getting to know Dusty and identifying what we wanted in the next on-field leader of our team, we are excited to have him on board.”
Baker’s hiring comes almost a week after the Nationals had reportedly identified Bud Black, the manager of the San Diego Padres for parts of the last nine seasons, as their top managerial candidate.
According to multiple reports late Monday night, negotiations with Black fell through at some point in recent days when he balked at the Nationals’ contract offer — according to USA Today, just one guaranteed year for $1.6 million — causing the team to begin negotiations with Baker.
Multiple calls to Baker about his hiring and to Black about the hiring process were not immediately returned.
The Nationals have a history of being thrifty with contracts for their managers. Riggleman suddenly resigned during the 2011 season after the team refused to pick up its option on his contract for 2012. Johnson, Riggleman’s replacement, guided the Nationals to their first playoff appearance in 2012, but it took them nearly a month to sign him to a new contract once the season ended.
Williams, who had no previous managerial experience, signed a two-year deal with the team holding two option years. He was Rizzo’s selection as the Nationals’ manager two years ago, owing to a longstanding relationship between the two from their time with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Rizzo believed that Williams, at the time the Diamondbacks’ third base coach, would be aided in a managerial career by his fiery reputation as a player.
The Nationals made their second playoff appearance in 2014, after which Williams earned NL Manager of the Year honors, but struggled this past season, when they were considered World Series contenders because of their top-line pitching staff. Williams’ rigidity, considered an asset when he was hired, was exposed as a weakness, especially when he delineated specific roles for pitchers in his bullpen and failed to adapt to circumstances of the game.
Washington finished 83-79, losing the NL East to the New York Mets by seven games. The season was punctuated by a bizarre skirmish in the dugout on Sept. 27 between outfielder Bryce Harper and closer Jonathan Papelbon, which Williams portended not to see.
Williams was fired by the Nationals on Oct. 5, a day after the regular season ended. The Nationals also reportedly interviewed former Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire; Phil Nevin, the Diamondbacks’ Triple-A coach and former major-league third baseman; Giants bench coach Ron Wotus and Diamondbacks third base coach Andy Green, who was hired by the Padres.
Baker’s hiring addresses one of commissioner Rob Manfred’s biggest concerns: The number of managers with a minority background in baseball. Until Baker’s hiring, this could have been the first season since 1988 with zero black managers.
“I am certain that the Nationals, like all of our clubs, hired the best person for the job. It is encouraging that in this case the best person turned out to be African-American,” Manfred wrote in an email to The Associated Press. “This is a positive step and I am intent on making continued progress on diversity in the managerial ranks going forward.”
An outfielder, Baker played 19 seasons in the major leagues, winning the World Series with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1981. He was the MVP of the NL Championship Series in 1977 and was twice selected as an all-star.
The Nationals are expected to lose several key contributors this offseason, including shortstop Ian Desmond, starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann and center fielder Denard Span, all of whom are free agents.
Still, behind Harper and pitchers Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, they should offer Baker a chance to finally win the World Series as a manager.
“Dusty’s experience, as a winning player, coach, and manager, is vast and varied,” Rizzo said in the statement. “We are excited to bring him to Washington and put his steady demeanor, knowledge and many years in the game to work in our favor. I think I speak for the entire organization when I say I am very much looking forward to working with him.”
• Zac Boyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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