- The Washington Times
Sunday, April 3, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Jerry Hairston Jr. knows something about baseball, and managers — a little bit.


He grew up in a baseball family. His grandfather, Sam Hairston, played in the Negro Leagues before playing briefly for the Chicago White Sox and later as a coach and scout. His father, Jerry Sr., played 14 major-league seasons and also went on to become a coach. His brother, Scott, has played 11 major-league seasons.

Over Hairston’s 16 major-league seasons, he played for 11 managers: Ray Miller, Lee Mazzilli, Ozzie Guillen, Buck Showalter, Ron Washington, Joe Girardi, Bud Black, Ron Roenicke, Don Mattingly and Dusty Baker — twice.

The last time I spoke to Hairston, it was when we all thought the Nationals had hired Bud Black to be their next manager. Hairston played for Black with the San Diego Padres in 2010 and had high praise for Black. But he, like myself, also wondered why Washington had appeared to pass over Baker.

That was before the Lerners negotiated with Black like they were hiring a manager for one of their office buildings and it fell apart. Fortunately for the Nationals, Plan B, as in Baker, was still available.


SEE ALSO: Culture Club: New vibe under Dusty Baker could lead to new ending for Nationals


As the 2016 season begins Monday at the Atlanta Braves, Plan B is a good place to be.

“The Nationals are in a good spot with Dusty at the helm,” said Hairston, who played for Baker with the Chicago Cubs and the Cincinnati Reds.

This team is still carrying the wounds from last season’s disappointing 83-win record and no postseason appearance. It was a snowball of dysfunction rolling downhill throughout the season, fueled by injuries, underachieving players and a gap between manager Matt Williams’ office and the clubhouse that grew to be a sinkhole by the end of the year.

If nothing else, there is no doubt that Baker will fill that hole in.

“He has that ‘it’ factor as far as connecting with players,” Hairston said. “It doesn’t matter what race or nationality you are. He sees everyone as one team. Even though Dusty is up there in age, he doesn’t think so. He has the wisdom and knowledge that comes with age but he can still relate to young players. I can see that him and Bryce have that relationship so far. That relationship will continue to grow.

“He is the right fit for that clubhouse,” Hairston said. “I think they will need Dusty. Guys like Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman are the leaders in that clubhouse, and Dusty recognizes the importance of veteran leadership. Just look at what they had when Dusty was in Cincinnati, and look what they have now. They have good players over there. He is definitely missed over there.”

OK, so we know that Baker is the Leo Buscaglia of baseball. Everybody likes Dusty. But how good of a manager is he? That is the sore spot for his critics, despite having a winning record wherever he’s been — the San Francisco Giants, the Cubs and the Reds.

Maybe, though, he is so well-respected and connected to his players because they respect what a good manager he is. Hairston believes he is one of the best in baseball.

“He is very prepared,” Hairston said. “Playing against him and for him I got to see how prepared he was. He has everything mapped out. He has the game mapped out, always ahead of the game. There is a reason why he has always won. His teams are always in contention.

“The best quality that a manager can have is getting the most out of his players,” Hairston said. “Dusty does that. Managing against him, he is always putting his teams in the best position to win. I think him and Bruce Bochy are the two best managers in the game today.”

That is high praise, considering Bochy has something that Baker doesn’t — World Series championships as a manager.

Baker did win a ring, though, as a player with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1981. Hairston said that carries some weight in the clubhouse.

“There is something to be said for a manager who knows what he is doing, can relate to players, and has had success in the big leagues,” Hairston said. “That carries weight in the clubhouse. So, when he talks about his days playing for the world-champion Dodgers, that means something to the players. They will play hard for him.”

There you go — Doubleday, Gandhi and Yoda all built into one manager.

If this team doesn’t respond this year, then it will have been on the players. They won’t be able to hide behind the manager’s apron this time.

• Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 and espn980.

• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.


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