In the first year of his 2-year/$4M deal with the Nationals, veteran skipper Dusty Baker led Washington back to the postseason after a disappointing 2015 campaign in D.C. in which the Matt Williams-led squad failed to follow up on their 2014 NL East title.
Baker was a finalist for the 2016 NL Manager of the Year, and the 95 wins the Nationals collected were tied for the third most by any team the 67-year-old skipper managed in his 21 years on the bench.
If nothing happens in terms of an extension, however, his 22nd season as a major league manager could potentially be Baker’s last in the nation’s capital.
So-called “lame duck” managers have been uncomfortable in that position in the past, but when he was asked about his own status Tuesday afternoon, in his first meeting with reporters this Spring, Johnnie B. “Dusty” Baker didn’t seem too concerned about the future, though he said that he has given it some thought, and he would like to manage beyond this season.
“Yeah, but I don’t look too far in the future,” Baker explained.
“As a guy that had cancer — almost fifteen years ago — back then it didn’t look like I had a future, and then a guy that had a stroke five years ago, so, I just learned not to look too far into the future. I read these books about ‘enjoy today’ and stuff like that, so it’s like, I’ve been in this situation more times than any manager in baseball, almost, you know, and so I don’t even look at it as a lame duck, I’m past lame, you know what I mean, so I’m confident in my abilities and God leads my path and therefore I don’t worry.”
Baker spent two years out of the game between his final season in Cincinnati (in 2013) and the 2016 campaign in Washington. Having gotten back into the majors, however, he said he would like to stick around.
“At this point I think I’d like to manage some more,” he said, “but when I got sent home in my last job I was planning on managing some more too, so life was good during that period also. One thing, life goes on whether I’m here or you’re here or not. Time stops for nobody, so I’m just going to enjoy my time here. I feel very fortunate to be in this situation in this a new stadium with a lot of energy and excitement and a good team.”
It’s a team he knows well now, after having to get acquainted with the Nationals and the rest of the majors last Winter and Spring.
There are new faces this time around, but the defending NL East Champs are bringing back familiar ones as well.
“Last year I only knew a few guys here,” Baker said Tuesday. “And some of the other guys I had known from afar or I had know via somebody else telling me about them and most of them didn’t know me.
“Once you’re familiar with people, it makes it a lot easier to get understanding in the beginning and last year this unit really accepted me early because I’ve got a reputation — good or bad — but there were some guys that knew of me or knew me.
“This year, I know the personalities. I didn’t know going into last year which guys needed more work, needed more at bats, lesser at bats.
“These are things that come through time, or we started the season, I didn’t know which guys were back-to-back guys in the bullpen which guys are back-to-back-to-back guys or who needed a couple days off and all those things, and fortunately for us we got off to a good start while I was kind of experimenting with those things.”
“Mike Maddux didn’t know a lot of the guys,” Baker continued.
“It was fortunate that we had Bobby Henley that was here and we had Rick Schu [who] had been here to kind of give us a rundown on each player sort of, but until you lay your eyes on them and look in their eyes, you really don’t know.”
Though the roster is, barring injuries or moves this Spring, pretty well set outside of a couple battles on the bench and in the bullpen, Baker said he was open-minded when it comes to preparing for Opening Day.
He’s willing to let some of the players in camp surprise him and his coaches.
“Rarely do you go into camp with who your 25 are,” he said, “... because that kills the desire of whoever is trying to make it and kills the desire of young guys. I always like to have some room for a surprise person. I’ve always said that. Whether it’s a young kid or a guy that’s getting his act back together.
“We have some guys here that are young. We have some guys here that have been stars that are trying to rekindle that stardom.
“I would hopefully like to keep maybe one of the stars that’s trying to shine brightly again and somebody young who’s trying to shine for the first time.
“I’m excited about this group. We have some question marks like you always do, but that’s our job to try to settle upon whoever the question marks are that are going to be the best for this unit.”