In a brief, rather straight-forward press release this afternoon, in which they thanked Dusty Baker for his service over the last two seasons in D.C., the 2017 NL East division champion Washington Nationals announced that the 68-year-old skipper would not return as the Nationals’ manager in 2018.
A search for Baker’s successor, the Nationals noted, would, “begin immediately.”
Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo spoke to reporters in a conference call this afternoon, shortly after the announcement was made.
In explaining the decision, Rizzo said, “... it was one of the most difficult decisions that the ownership group and myself had to make since we’ve been here with Washington.”
According to reporting all season, the two sides were discussing bringing Baker back to D.C. in 2018, but something changed between the end of the regular season and the end of another ultimately disappointing postseason run that ended with a loss to the Chicago Cubs.
What was it that changed?
“Dusty has been a great representative of the Washington Nationals for his tenure here, a class man, a Hall of Fame-type of manager,” Rizzo explained.
“I think that the one thing that happened from the regular season to the postseason is that we’ve come such a long way with the Nationals’ organization.
Jayson Werth: “Dusty is one of the best men I have had a chance to work with in baseball.”— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) October 20, 2017
“In 2009, we were hoping to improve our record from 2008. In 2012, we were hoping to make the playoffs. And now our expectations have grown to the fact that winning a lot of regular season games and winning divisions are not enough. Our goal is to win a World Championship and to that end, we made the decision late last night and alerted Dusty this morning.”
Dusty Baker told USA TODAY’s Bob Nightengale he was “surprised and disappointed” by the Nationals’ decision:
"They told me they would get back to me and I told them I was leaving town yesterday and they waited 10 days to tell me.
"I really thought this was my best year. We won at least 95 games each year and won the division back-to-back years but they said they wanted to go a different direction. It's hard to understand."
While Rizzo did not offer specifics about why they ultimately thought Baker wasn’t the right manager to take them to the next level, he said that the decision was a baseball decision, and not a result of negotiations gone wrong, or financial matters.
“This was a pure baseball decision,” Rizzo said.
“Our goal is to win a World Championship and to that end we’re going to create a manager search, but this had absolutely nothing to do with negotiations, dollars, it was not a negotiation with Dusty. We discussed it — I talked to Dusty this morning, and told him of our decision. He took the news with his usual class, and dignity, and professionalism, and we hung up the phone with a good taste in both of our mouths.”
Since 2010, when Jim Riggleman took over for Manny Acta mid-season, the Nationals have had a different manager every two years, with Davey Johnson taking over for Riggleman in 2011 and winning a division title in 2012, before a disappointing 2013 run ended his tenure, Matt Williams winning a division title in 2014 before things fell apart in 2015, and Baker winning back-to-back NL East titles in each of the last two seasons before he learned he would not be returning today.
The Nationals have won four division titles in the last six seasons, yes, but lost in the Division Series each time.
Rizzo was asked if he was worried about stability within the organization, and why, with multiple opportunities, they haven’t found the right manager for the job?
“I think we’ve hired managers in the developmental curve of this organization that fit for us at that particular time,” Rizzo said.
“At the infancy of the Nationals we hired managers that could help us build through this thing, and as we got better, and as our expectations grew, we went with managers we felt that could get us to the next level. And that’s always been our goal, that continues to be our goal, but as the managers came and went, they were indicative of where we were in the developmental curve in the organization.”
So what does the next manager have to bring to the table? “We’re going to open up the list of the managerial search and we’re going to do our due diligence and find the right person to get us to the next level and get us to achieve the goals that we’re looking to achieve.”