Nationals Hire Dusty Baker as Manager

The New York Times
November 3, 2015
by Billy Witz

Dusty Baker won National League manager of the year honors in 1993, 1997 and 2000.

Never mind Dusty Baker’s résumé, which notes that he has been a three-time National League manager of the year, that he has taken jobs with the San Francisco Giants, the Chicago Cubs and the Cincinnati Reds, and that he led every team to the playoffs (and attending heartbreak).
Baker, his distinguished playing and credible managing career notwithstanding, considers himself something more, which was the point of writing his recently released book, “Kiss the Sky: My Weekend in Monterey at the Greatest Concert Ever.”
“Deep down inside,” Baker wrote, “I don’t think of myself so much as a baseball man as I see myself as a music man, a blues man and much more than that.”
So perhaps it is best to take a similarly broad view of Baker’s hiring Tuesday as manager of the Washington Nationals.
In an appraisal of it as a baseball move, there are plenty of reasons to find it less than inspiring. Though he has performed turnarounds, Baker has just as often worn out his welcome and his pitchers. Mark Prior and Kerry Wood were never the same after the 2003 season went from magic to tragic for the Cubs.
Never popular with the analytics set, which includes just about the entire baseball universe, Baker, 66, is now the second-oldest manager in baseball, just a month behind his new rival, the Mets’ Terry Collins.
Then there is the matter of how Baker ended up with the job.
The Nationals owner Ted Lerner, who has no problem paying his players but plenty paying his managers, signed off on hiring Bud Black, but according to multiple reports, General Manager Mike Rizzo offered Black a one-year deal — a commitment of the maybe-kind-of-sort-of type.
Black said no thanks, and so Baker it was. Though Baker got a two-year contract with incentives, the base deal is for less than half of what he made in Cincinnati, according to USA Today.
But again, these are all details.
The further removed from them, the easier it is to see the significance of Baker’s hiring — not just for the Nationals, but for baseball.
As it stands, Baker is the only African-American manager in baseball (the only other minority member is the Braves’ Fredi Gonzalez), and with only one remaining vacancy — the Los Angeles Dodgers’ — his hiring spared baseball the ignominy of celebrating its next Jackie Robinson Day without any black managers. Baseball’s record is no different in other positions of power, with one African-American team president and one Latino primary owner.
While Commissioner Rob Manfred last week termed the dearth of minority managers “cyclical,” Baker begged to differ.
“We’re in a very dangerous situation because people don’t really worry about what’s right, what’s wrong, or what’s fair,” Baker told USA Today last week. “I’ve been talking about this minority thing for 40 years, and I hate even talking about it now, because all it is is talk. Nothing’s changed. Who’s going to stand up and say anything about it now? Everybody is afraid to stand up knowing it could be costly to your job and family.”
Doug Glanville, who played briefly for Baker, fully expects him to continue addressing such matters.
“It’s important that he has the voice that he can speak about these things,” said Glanville, who is African-American. “These conversations about race, class and culture and how it plays in the field and the front office — he’s seen a lot of history as a player in the ’60s and ’70s, and I’m glad he’s still challenging the game in a lot of these areas. The game is better with his voice in it.”
The N.L East should be, too.
In some ways, Baker is akin to Chicago Cubs Manager Joe Maddon, exuding an old-school cool that allows him to relate to players four decades younger. And as his feuds with the former St. Louis Manager Tony La Russa might suggest, his presence may well spice up the budding rivalry with the Mets.
Glanville, who joined the Cubs midway through 2003, when they collapsed on the brink of the World Series, praised Baker for adeptly getting a number of veterans, including himself, to accept part-time roles and for fostering a strong team identity.
“When we played the Braves, he called us in for a meeting,” Glanville said, referring to a division series. “He said: ‘I told the press they’re a great organization and they’re going to be tough to beat, but don’t believe a word I’m saying. We’re coming into their house to take it to them.’ Then when we were playing the Marlins next, he was quoting 50 Cent.”
Baker is walking into a job in which talent is not a problem.
The Nationals, who won a league-leading 96 games in 2014, had such lofty expectations after signing the former Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer that the team’s brash young star, Bryce Harper, quipped in spring training, “Where’s my ring?”
Instead, that wisecrack became a punch line, as the Nationals, hampered by injuries, collapsed in the second half and were a picture of dysfunction as the Mets breezed past them to win the N.L. East.
Late in the season, after the Nationals had been eliminated, closer Jonathan Papelbon wrapped his hand around Harper’s neck in the dugout, a scene that the former manager Matt Williams said he was not fully aware of until reporters questioned him afterward. He gave the impression of someone who was docile and detached.
Baker is not that. And his interest in music might be instructive, after all, pulling a group of talented soloists together so that an underachieving baseball team could be, like their new manager, much more than that.
Republished from The New York Times.
Photo Credit:  Getty Images


Motivational Speaker

Click here to learn more about having Doug speak at your next event!




The Daddy Games

Check out Doug's blog, The Daddy Games.  Click here to read more.