Since he was first named manager of the Washington Nationals, former major league infielder Matt Williams has talked openly about the skippers who shaped and influenced him throughout his playing days and in his second career as a coach and now a manager with the Nats.
"I've played under some great managers," Williams explained in an MLB Network appearances this winter.
"I played under Dusty [Baker], he's my mentor, so I want to be a players' manager as he is. I want to be as prepared as Buck Showalter, who I played under. I want to understand veteran players like Bob Brenly did with us in the desert in 2001. Understand that sometimes you have to let the reins off a little bit and let the guys handle it themselves. I want a little bit of [Kirk Gibson's] passion and the way he goes about it. So I'll try to take a little bit from all of the guys that I played under and try to incorporate it into our game here."
As much as he's learned from the managers he's worked with and played for, however, Williams was clear when he spoke with reporters at NatsFest this past January that he was going to be himself on the bench in his first managing gig outside of a short stint in the Arizona Fall League.
"I have to be myself, I think," Williams said. "I can't tailor myself according to somebody. But I want to try to take a little bit from everybody. A little bit from Dusty [Baker]. A little bit from Buck [Showalter]. I want to be prepared like him. I want to be able to have a relationship with the players like Dusty has. A little bit like [Kirk Gibson] with his intensity. A little bit from Bob Melvin, in that, again I didn't play for him, but I viewed him being part of the Diamondbacks' organization. His baseball acumen and how he thinks about things."
Williams is currently squaring off against one of those mentors in his first series with the Nationals against one-time Arizona D-backs' manager Buck Showalter, who has spent the last four-plus seasons on the bench in Baltimore.
Williams was asked in an appearance on the MLB Network Radio show "First Pitch" this morning if it was weird going up against the man who managed him from 1998-2000 in Arizona in the Diamondbacks' first three seasons as a team.
"It's not weird," Williams told hosts Jim Memolo and Todd Hollandsworth, "I think it's an honor. I respect Buck a lot. When he came over to Arizona he helped build that organization."
"Remember that it started at nothing," Williams explained. "He had to build the whole thing. And there was a lot of talk over there initially with him that it was going to be so structured and [he was going to] run a very tight ship. And it was, but I kind of liked that, that's kind of my personality too. So, I loved playing for Buck. I loved showing the 'A' on the sock. I loved the way he went about it and he's not going to change. He continues to do that and I think it's evident the way his team is playing. They have a reallly good team and they do things right.
"They play good defense. They run the bases well. They've got good leadership. They certainly hit the ball out of the ballpark. They've got young talent and veteran talent. And he knows how to do it. So, on any given day I try to continue to learn from him. He's been a great support for me."
"He got the first one the other night," Williams continued, "so hopefully we can get these two and then see what we can do on August 4th when we play them again. He's a great guy to try to model yourself after because he's ultimately prepared and his guys play hard for him."
The feeling is clearly mutual too, though Showalter turned it around when talking about managing Williams before the Nats and Orioles met on Monday night in the nation's capital.
"Matt doesn’t play for you," Showalter told reporters including The Baltimore Sun's Alejandro Zuniga. "'You feel like, ‘Golly, I got a chance to manage Matt.'"
He also said that the Nationals made the right decision when they chose Williams as their new manager.
"'[The Nationals] got a good one,'" Showalter said. "'They got a good one.'"