Mike Rizzo told reporters on Thursday morning that he admired Dusty Baker from afar for some time before hiring the 66-year-old veteran of nineteen seasons as a player and twenty on the bench as the Washington Nationals' sixth full-time manager.
"I loved the way he handled his players," Rizzo said during Baker's introductory press conference in the nation's capital.
"He's very close with several people I'm very close with," Rizzo explained. "So I kind of knew him indirectly and he was a guy that would really be a benefit to a veteran baseball club that we believe is ready to win."
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred praised the hiring this week, telling AP reporter Howard Fendrick in an email that he was encouraged to see Baker get the job.
"I am certain that the Nationals, like all of our clubs, hired the best person for the job. It is encouraging that in this case the best person turned out to be African-American," Manfred said.
"This is a positive step and I am intent on making continued progress on diversity in the managerial ranks going forward."
Rizzo told reporters yesterday that the fact that the Nationals were hiring the only African-American manager in the majors was not a consideration in the interview process.
"We didn't have that thought," he said. "We really chose Dusty for the resume he brings and the way he conducts himself and really the thing that put Dusty over the top was the trust factor that he had with not only me because I've known of him and we know so many of the same people, the trust factor with ownership was huge with this process."
Age wasn't a concern for Rizzo and the Nationals either, he explained.
"Never a deterrent," he noted. "Davey Johnson was one of the greatest managers that we've ever had here, was an older, experienced manager, I thought he did an extremely good job for us, Manager of the Year with us and one of the great managers of all time. Dusty falls in that same category. He's experienced. He's vibrant. He's energetic and he's a guy that from all the reports I've gotten from Jay Bruce and [Joey] Votto, Bryan Price and all the guys that have recently been with him, this guy is a ball of fire and he gets after it."
Asked if there were any concerns about the veteran skipper being receptive to stat-based analysis and new ideas in the game, Rizzo said they talked about all those things during the interview process.
"It was an extremely important part of the interview process," he explained.
"But more than that, we watched how he managed games and the input from a lot of the coaches on that staff, a lot of the players that played for him showed a man that was open-minded and open to chance and he's really come a long way in his recent past, especially those last couple of years in Cincinnati.
"The analytical part of it it's taken a lot of people time to adapt to that, but it's a tool for us, it's a weapon for us. [Dusty] is open-minded about it, he's used it in the past and he's used it very effectively. So, he's on board. He had spoken to people in our analytics department and he was extremely impressed by them. I think that there was a trust factor there built right off the bat and he's going to embrace it because it's going to help us win games and that's what he's all about."
Baker inherits a talented team that was expected to go a long way in the postseason in 2015, though they ultimately fell short of the goal of returning to the playoffs after a disappointing NLDS loss in 2014.
He's also the third manager being entrusted with guiding the career of the Nationals' 23-year-old, 2010 no.1 overall pick Bryce Harper, who put together an MVP-worthy campaign as a 22-year-old this season.
Baker said he was excited about the opportunity and prepared for it.
"This guy can play. I mean, he can really play," Baker told reporters. "And I love watching him, but the thing about it is, I'm not really intimidated or anything by stars because I was a star. I wasn't as bright a star as some of these guys, but I was a star and I don't care. I tell them, 'I don't care how much money you make. You're not going to give me any of your money, I'm not going to give you any of mine.'
"When the game starts, it's not about money, it's about whether I kick your butt or you kick mine. Simple as that.
"I'm looking forward to Bryce Harper... I've been fortunate, I'm talking I had Will Clark and Kevin Mitchell...
"I was thinking about it, Matt Williams, Willie McGee, Robby Thompson. At another point in time, Jeff Kent and Barry Bonds and then Ken Griffey, Jr. and Sammy Sosa, Joey Votto and now Bryce Harper. So, hopefully he can learn from me and he might have something that he can teach me."
"I wasn’t as good a player as Bryce Harper, but I came in the league, my first year, I came in the league and I hit behind Hank Aaron and I thought that I was the cat's meow at that time, and I got kind of jacked up a couple of times by older guys, one time I had somebody's hand around my throat. I was kind of real cocky too. But you learn.
"This game will sooner or later humble you no matter how good you think you are.
"So I'm hoping the game doesn’t humble him and I just hope that he keeps playing and making progress. He’s come a long way in a short period of time. Big time. This guy, he’s a player."