Dusty Baker was introduced to the nation's capital as the Washington Nationals' new manager this morning, in an 11:00 AM press conference in Nationals Park that lasted for over thirty minutes. Baker, 66, was given a new jersey, no.12, and he bent the brim of his first Nationals cap, though he said his son told him to keep the brim flat.
Baker said he was interested in a new challenge in the nation's capital in what was a different situation than he's encountered in previous managerial jobs.
"This is my fourth and final team and beyond compare, this is the best talent," Baker told reporters.
"That's why I was excited about coming here and most of the other teams that I had were either on the bottom or near the bottom and had to rebuild from the bottom."
"I asked a friend of mine," Baker said, "'How come I always get teams and have to build them up?' And he said, 'Dusty, you do more with less,' and I told him that I was ready to do more with more. So, I'd like to try that. They've got some great talent here. They have young talent here. It's a mixture of youth and experience at the same time and I've always liked that formula."
After the former major leaguer and veteran of twenty years on the bench in the majors spoke to reporters, Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo met with the press corps to discuss the hiring and the process that resulted in Baker being named manager.
There was plenty of drama surrounding the search for the sixth full-time skipper since baseball returned to D.C. in 2005.
Baker and Bud Black were reportedly the finalists after what was described as an exhaustive search.
Before Baker's hiring was announced, Bud Black was rumored to be the Nationals' choice, but in an odd, eleventh hour turn of events, the job ended up going to the former Giants, Cubs and Reds' skipper.
Rizzo said today that they were talking to and negotiating with both finalists for the opening before they finally went with Baker.
Multiple reports said the Nationals made a starting offer of a 1-year/$1.6M dollar deal that deeply insulted Black, and Rizzo acknowledged that they did talk contract with Black before deciding on Baker, though he didn't go into detail about the negotiations.
"Bud Black was one of the finalists," Rizzo said. "We definitely had financial parameters discussed with him and Dusty at the same time. At the end of the day, we decided to make Dusty our manager."
"It was a unique situation," Rizzo explained. "We uniquely had two extremely qualified candidates and we felt that was the best track to go by, because sometimes the negotiating process also tells you a lot about the people that you're negotiating with and as we discussed baseball in the interview process and parameters in the financial process we came to the conclusion that Dusty Baker was the perfect guy for us."
Baker, who talked to reporters last week about the disappointment of learning that he didn't get the job, said again today that there was a point last week at which he thought he was out of the running.
"I was a little bewildered as to why no one had told me that I didn't get the job," Baker admitted. "Then I found out later... now I know why, because they hadn't made up their mind."
Rizzo said though they did negotiate with Black, Baker was never out of the running.
"Dusty, in our mind, was never out of it," he explained.
"We kept in contact with him specifically through our Assistant General Manager Bob Miller who had a relationship with him with the Cincinnati Reds for years, so they know each other extremely well. They were in constant contact with each other. Bob was giving him the messages that I wanted him to give to Dusty that we were still interested and don't close the book on us."
Baker and the Nationals eventually agreed on what is reportedly a 2-year/$4M, incentive-laden contract. Rizzo was asked today if he was embarrassed by the way things played out in the media before the final decision was made?
"My thought is that it was an extremely unique situation where we came down to the wire with two extremely qualified candidates that we really thought could impact the ballclub," he said.
"But when things get leaked out and the media runs with it, there's not a whole lot that we can do about it, other than call each and every one that reported it and say, 'I would hold off and not say that.' There's not a lot we can do."
"At the end of the day, it did not come down to money, it did not come down to terms, it came down to who were we -- meaning the General Manager/President of the team and the ownership -- most comfortable with and Dusty was the right choice."