At 11 a.m. on the dot, F.P. Santangelo introduced Mike Rizzo. Mike was in a good mood, pointing out that he had a tie on and had broken out his World Series ring–which he only wears on his favorite day of the year, the first day of the draft. Then he turned it over to Dusty Baker (also sporting World Series rings). Dusty put on a show, a very entertaining show. This is going to be fun, I thought. Baseball should be fun.
— Nationals on MASN (@masnNationals) November 5, 2015
Dusty says he’s a good manager. Of course, he has a long and distinguished record, but he didn’t really point to that. Under gentle questioning, he offered up his experience (“since I was eighteen”) as both star player (though not as big a star as Bryce Harper) and manager. He’s seen just about everything (“a guy’s hands were around my throat”) and what he hasn’t seen, he’ll figure out.
When asked how he would resolve conflicts, he drew on his military training: don’t let things fester, bring it out, talk it out. You can see things on planes and trains. He called on old coaches and famous basketball players for nuggets of wisdom. When asked about his age, he delivered his laugh-line: “I don’t see a whole bunch of dudes out there that look as good as me.”
Short on specifics, he plans to contact players over the winter, get to know them (“I’m in listening mode now”)–and he has no idea (yet) what he will say during spring training. Some players won’t let you in, he said, you have to wait for them. I think if I were a young player in some kind of trouble, I could talk to him. I don’t know about the veterans. They have their privileges (such as being told the night before if they’re out of the lineup). And Dusty will have to manage tactics well enough, at least, not to earn their contempt. I expect he can do that, at least in the regular season.
The pitching coach, Mike Maddux, will be key. He’ll have to stand up to Max Scherzer, bolster Stephen Strasburg, motivate Gio Gonzalez, and develop Joe Ross. And heaven only knows about the bullpen.
Bud Black’s name never came up. The closest to a question about process was a query on why Baker wasn’t interviewed for the Nats’ manager opening two years ago. Mike Rizzo was in blah-blah-blah mode when Dusty interrupted him. “Two years ago I didn’t want the job,” Baker said, startling the room into attention. I knew Matt Williams, my student, was in line for it. I didn’t want to block him. I contacted the Nats so the world would know I wasn’t retired.
That was the only time I felt Baker might be a wee bit, well, disingenuous.
Announcements are coming fast now. New first base coach, and state of the art medical department.
F.P. and Johnny Holiday talked to Baker in the locker room after the press conference. F.P. clearly adores Baker, said Baker’s was the best clubhouse he’d ever been in. They talked about preparation and problems. In contrast to Matt Williams, Baker didn’t seem to have a plan for every situation. Baker has confidence in himself. When he gets to know the players, and with what Rizzo gives him, “We’ll make it work,” he said.