The Washington Nationals have officially announced the hiring of their next manager. And no, it’s not Bud Black.
In a surprising last-minute twist, the club announced Tuesday morning that Dusty Baker has become the sixth manager in Nationals history.
Last week, the team had reportedly settled on Black as its next manager. Tabbing the experienced Black -- who spent the past eight and a half seasons as the San Diego Padres' skipper -- to replace the relatively green Matt Williams made a lot of sense. However, as is customary with managerial hirings, the Nationals were prepared to wait until the World Series was over to make it official. But a funny thing happened on the way to the formal announcement.
According to the Washington Post, the team initially offered Black a one-year contract for $1.6 million. Although only four managers in baseball had higher 2014 salaries than what the Nats were prepared to pay Black, he was offended by the short-term nature of the deal. Eventually, Washington extended the offer to a two-year deal with team options. Still, Black was nonplussed, and it’s hard to blame him. Especially when you consider that last week, the Marlins gave Don Mattingly, who has managed 553 games fewer than Black, a four-year deal to be their next skipper.
By the time the Dusty had settled, Black was out and Baker -- who’d been the other finalist among the eight candidates Washington interviewed -- was in.
You can mock the process all you want (and you should), but at the end of the day, if you’re a major league baseball team that’s in need of an experienced leader -- which the Nats clearly were -- then you could do a lot worse than Johnnie B. Baker.
The 66-year-old former outfielder has 3,176 games under his belt as a bench boss. That’s exactly 3,176 games more than Williams had when he was hired to be the Nats' skipper. Of the 16 managers ahead of Baker on the all-time list, 10 are dead and five are retired. The only one who’s neither? That’d be Bruce Bochy, who’s currently employed by the San Francisco Giants and is about as likely to leave the Bay Area as the Golden Gate Bridge. In other words, it would’ve been impossible for the Nats to land a more seasoned skipper than Baker.
"We were looking for a manager to help us achieve our ultimate goal of competing for a World Series championship," said Nationals owner Ted Lerner. "During our broad search process we met with many qualified candidates, and ultimately it was clear that Dusty's deep experience was the best fit for our ballclub."
Not only does Baker have a long track record, he has a good one.
His 1,671 wins ranks second among active managers, just 31 behind Bochy. He’s a three-time Manager of the Year. He’s won a division title at each of his three managerial stops (Giants, Cubs and Reds), and is one of just six skippers in baseball history to win a division crown with at least three different teams. He’s also pretty good at the whole turnaround thing -- in his first seasons with San Francisco, Chicago and Cincinnati, his teams averaged 18 more wins than they did the year before he arrived.
The question is, will the Nationals give Baker the rope he needs to do his job properly? While the team’s official press release refers to his deal as a "multiyear contract," Washington has been historically stingy when it comes to doling out long-term deals to its managers -- Williams had a two-year contract, as did Manny Acta and Jim Riggleman before him.
If the Nationals' front office knows what it's doing (granted, a gargantuan "if" based on recent events), it'll give Baker a longer deal. If not, the Nats are more likely to give him a stiff neck -- you know, the kind you get from constantly looking over your shoulder.