On Thursday, Dusty Baker was introduced as the Washington Nationals' new manager. The 66-year-old former all-star outfielder was named manager of the year three times (1993, 1997, and 2000) with the San Francisco Giants (1993-2002), and then went on to lead the Chicago Cubs (2003-2006), and the Cincinnati Reds (2008-2013). He’s an old-school player, say Dusty fans, who became an old-school manager after a 19-year-long major league career (1968-1986) with 242 HRs, 1013 RBIs, and a .278 BA. They’re not hall of fame numbers but he was a terrific player and fun to watch. Also, as anyone who saw Baker do commentary during this past postseason can attest, he’s got an easy sense of humor and an even livelier feel for cool. Thus, it’s hard not to agree with bluesman, vinter and former Marine reservist Johnnie B. Baker Jr. that he is a “perfect fit” for the job. “The town. The diversity of the races. People from all over the world,” as Baker told the Washington Post. It sounds like D.C. locals might well expect to bump into the new skipper in a 14th Street restaurant behind a plate of tapas and a bottle of rioja.
Nationals’ players and broadcasters are certainly excited. “I'm looking forward to getting out to Spring Training," said Max Scherzer, one of the top pitchers in the game, and author of two no-hitters and a couple of near no-hitters this past season. “Welcome to DC skip!" tweeted Bryce Harper, baseball’s best player in 2015. Harper also recently reached out to Jonathon Papelbon to bury the hatchet after their year-end confrontation that sealed the fate of former manager Matt Williams. All in all, the club’s off to a great Hot Stove league start in hiring Mike Maddux as pitching coach, and Baker’s former Dodgers teammate Davey Lopes to coach first.
So, we, too, welcome Baker, congratulate him on his new gig, and wish him all best luck in bringing a World Series title to the capital of the free world. But the thing is, if everything looks so rosy, why do key parts of the local baseball community seem to believe that Baker’s hiring augurs bad things for the Anacostia nine?
No one it appears is worried about Baker’s reputation for overtaxing his pitchers, as he is believed to have done with the Cubs back in the 90s. He learned to manage his staff better in Cincinnati, say analysts, and besides, there are likely other reasons for the injuries that plagued Kerry Wood and Mark Prior. No, the concern is for the Nats organization as a whole, whose problems, say some, are highlighted by Baker’s hiring.