Washington Nationals’ GM and President of Baseball Operations Mike Rizzo talked to reporters back on October 20th, nine days after the end of the Nats’ 2017 campaign, and the fourth NLDS loss in the last six seasons, to announce the decision to part ways with Dusty Baker.
Baker led the Nationals to 95 and 97 wins in his two years on the bench in the nation’s capital, but not to the NLCS.
“It was one of the most difficult decisions that the ownership group and myself had to make since we’ve been here with Washington,” Rizzo said.
“Dusty has been a great representative of the Washington Nationals for his tenure here, a class man, a Hall of Fame-type of manager.
“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.
“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.”
A few weeks later, Dave Martinez was hired as the Nationals’ seventh full-time skipper.
Rizzo talked on several occasions over the last few months about what Baker meant to the Nationals, but the players themselves, outside of radio interviews, television spots, or award broadcasts, were mostly quiet about the decision.
At WinterFest in the Walter E. Washington Convention Center last month, they shared their thoughts on Baker’s time on the bench in D.C.
Before things get going at Spring Training next month and before Martinez really puts his stamp on the organization, here’s one last look back at what the players had to say about the now-former Nats’ skipper.
“I really, really enjoyed my time with Dusty,” Daniel Murphy told reporters, after two seasons together in Washington.
“He was great. I truly enjoyed it. I thought he was great for our ballclub and for our clubhouse. I’d say my initial thoughts were I really wish I would have swung the bat better, because I do feel there’s an extent that if we were possibly able to win that first series, things could have possibly been different. I don’t want to predict the future, but I didn’t really play well in that division series, so it kind of frustrated me a bit, but again, I think the organization has proven time and again while I’ve been here that they have our ballclub’s best interest in mind and they felt it was the right decision to move on.”
Sean Doolittle, the Nationals’ closer, spent a few months getting to know Baker after he was acquired from the Oakland A’s last July. He said he was surprised by the news.
“I guess with Dusty once it got — I guess it was maybe like a week or two into our offseason, I thought there was a chance he was going to come back,” Doolittle said.
“But I think it kind of speaks to where this franchise is at, they wanted to mix it up, it’s the unfortunate nature of the business.”
Koda Glover came up to make his MLB debut late in Baker’s first season on the bench, and the reliever was injured for the majority of the 2017 campaign, but he talked with Baker throughout his rehab and developed a relationship with the manager.
“I understand that this is a business,” Glover said, “and you’ve got to do what’s best for the organization. Me and Dusty had a great relationship, I learned a lot from that guy and I wish him the best.”
Tanner Roark, who had an up and down season this past year, and was never used in the NLDS, said he was surprised to see Baker and the majority of his staff go.
“It was definitely a shock,” Roark said.
“We’re going to miss them and they were a great coaching staff and a manager. It is what it is, that’s how baseball is, and unfortunately that’s the way it went, so we’re excited to get the new coaching staff in here, and excited to have Dave [Martinez] as a manager.”
“It’s tough,” Nationals’ catcher Matt Wieters said, after spending one season with Baker after signing as a free agent late last Spring, “but I think we all kind of had that feeling in Spring Training that, ‘I think this team is a team that’s built for the World Series.’ So I think we all kind of took that on as a challenge.
“We wanted Dusty to be back because we wanted to be in the World Series.”
“I only played for him for one year,” Wieters continued, “but he was a fun manager to play for. It will be different. It’s part of the game that as you come along you kind of realize that changes are going to happen.”
Anthony Rendon, who’ll be playing under his fourth manager in six seasons when the 2018 campaign gets underway, admitted that it wasn’t too shocking to see another change.
“I don’t know, I guess not too surprised given I’ve only been here for five, six seasons and what is this, my third, fourth manager, so I don’t know any different,” Rendon explained.
“I had a good time with Dusty,” Michael A. Taylor said after having a breakout season under Baker in 2017.
“Great coach, taught me a lot, helped me out with a lot, so I was sad to see him go, but it’s part of the business, and so far, Dave has been great. First time I got to meet him as our manager, and talked to him on the phone a little bit, had a good conversation with him, so I’m excited moving forward.”
Nationals’ ace Max Scherzer, who took home back-to-back NL Cy Young awards in his two seasons with Baker as the Nats’ manager, said that things like this happen when you fail to meet expectations.
“Any time you don’t meet expectations, that’s what can happen to your manager, and it’s an unfortunate situation, but that’s just what happens,” Scherzer said.
“This is baseball. This is what happens when you play the game at the highest level, decisions like that can be made, but I think that Mike [Rizzo], and what he was able to do in finding a candidate like Dave, he assembled a staff that he feels that we can go out there and really compete and continue to grow.”
Adam Eaton suffered a season-ending injury in April, but he was in the clubhouse and on the bench with Baker, gaining an appreciation for the veteran manager’s work.
“I wasn’t there with them all the time,” Eaton said, “and again, I had a little different vantage point. I enjoyed my time with him for sure, I think him and I had a lot of talks on the bench during the game that I wouldn’t otherwise have with him from a managerial standpoint and really enjoyed them, and he’s a very smart man and thought five stages ahead of the game, so like I said, I enjoyed my time with him.”
Trea Turner debuted in the majors when Matt Williams was the manager in 2015, but spent two years with Baker.
“I think I really enjoyed Dusty as a manager, and just everyday conversations,” Turner said.
“He’s a great guy, and he did a great job for us, won 95 games I think back-to-back, something like that, it stinks, but we’re trying to win a World Series, and hopefully some of the experience that these new guys like Dave and Chip Hale and all those guys bring us hopefully gets us over the hump.”
Brian Goodwin, who made the most of a big opportunity last summer, filling in as the center fielder after both Eaton and Michael A. Taylor were injured, joked that he had an emotional reaction to hearing the news on Baker.
“I cried,” Goodwin said. “Nah, I didn’t really cry, but I was upset. You kind of get close to guys like that. He’s got a personality where he just connects with people, so it’s almost like you lost a friend or somebody like that.
“He’s just a great guy. You hate to see anybody like that, and kind of lose that presence in the clubhouse.”
Will Baker be back in an MLB clubhouse again? Will his 22nd season as a manager end up being the 68-year-old’s last?
What can the Nationals expect from Dave Martinez, in his first season as a manager at any level of the game?
Rizzo offered his take on the Nationals’ new skipper in an MLB Network Radio interview last month.
“I’ve known him for a long time,” Rizzo said of Martinez.
“I’m close with Joe Maddon, I’ve known him for years, and he’s spoken so highly of him over the last couple years, and I just think that from when we interviewed him a couple years back to today I thought he’s much more prepared to be the manager this time around. I think that going deep into the playoffs the several times he did over those couple years, winning a World Series, really gave him some crisis management on the top step of the dugout.
“Joe often refers to Davey as one of his co-managers on the team. You look at -- not many bench coaches are holding the lineup card in their hands like Davey did and he was given a lot of responsibility by Joe. I thought he was ready for it.
“Here’s a guy that played 16 years in the big leagues and kind of grinded through it, and can relate to — has handled superstar players like [Anthony] Rizzo and [Kris] Bryant and that group and kind of the blue collar type of players. So he’s well-versed for the job, he’s a guy that kind of has a street smart attitude, but a really intelligent thinker, he’s very analytically-based, and a guy that really has a good, big personality in the clubhouse.”
He’s replacing a big personality. Will Martinez take the Nationals where Baker and the managers who came before them could not?