Many a great remembrance of Dusty Baker’s time will be written across the DC region this week. Rightfully so. Two winning seasons with two division titles in two tries is more than any other manager in our short history has done, and for that he will always be fondly remembered. Well, that and because Dusty Baker is simply an awesome person.
Many people who derided his hiring instead of Bud Black just two short years ago — myself included — were very much won over by the charming skipper. His quips, his casual but confident way, his soft, smooth voice when answering questions. And, of course, all the winning.
But success cuts both ways, and Mike Rizzo probably has the right of it when he says regular season victories and division titles are not the goal anymore. Pulling yourself out of your post-Game 5 malaise, even the most ardent fan can’t pretend like they are okay going on losing in the first round ad infinitum. Where the dividing line between Rizzo (or maybe, more rightly, the Lerners) and fans is who exactly is to blame.
The Lerner family has always been stingy with the manager position. Ever since Jim Riggleman walked out on the team and into Caddie’s in Bethesda, the story has been the front office won’t get overly invested in any skipper, viewing them as replaceable. And sure, we can make points that the Nats are “unstable” at the managerial position, but isn’t it kind of hard to argue with the brass when three different managers have had a total of six winning seasons and four division titles over the last six years?
I mean, if Matt Williams can manage to, uh, manage this team over .500 twice, who couldn’t? What exactly are these managers doing that is so great?
Of those six years, really only Matt Williams 2015 season constituted true managerial malpractice-and even he could point to the addition of one J. Papelbon as tortious interference with his duties by the top floor. So if only that level of awfulness could really derail this team, why bother getting overly invested in any one manager at all?
The 2017 team represents, probably, the most talented of the six winning Nats teams, and this is a credit to Mike Rizzo. I am not here to say he is blameless and constructs perfect teams, but his mistakes are few and far between (and often attributed to interference by the ownership group). If there is one constant over the successful years its his work. As such, with a team capable of a nearly bulletproof 88-win baseline, a theory of management may have been developed at Nationals Park not unlike the Hippocratic Oath.
First, do not harm. Second, you’re here for one reason only — to get us over the hump.
This isn’t to say that there isn’t lots of blame to go around about plenty of other things besides the manager. But you can’t fire injuries, you can’t trade untimely cold streaks, and you can’t send bad luck down to the minors. This team had talent up and down the roster and, except for a few places, it’s hard to pretend like they weren’t “good enough.”
But there were a lot of fair questions about decisions made during the NLDS that were nothing to do with talent or luck. The reluctance to use the bench, or move cold hitters down in the order, or put younger faster players in as defensive replacements for older slower players… the particulars are unimportant because only one person was in charge of any of those decisions.
So, you could hand another very, maybe even more talented team over to Dusty Baker and hope that there isn’t a key injury, or cold streak, or bad strike zone, or weird interference non-call that ultimately flips a decisive playoff game against you…
Or you could look for someone who’ll make better decisions in the 5-19 games a year that won’t be on autopilot, aren’t “get ‘em tomorrow” situations, and require surgical precision to navigate correctly.
Baker is a great guy and very good manager. But the path to championships is paved with great guys and good managers. It is not particularly nice, and it is a gamble, but sometimes you have to fire a Tony Dungy to find a Jon Gruden. If the Nats are serious about winning a championship, then now is time to ruthlessly go for broke.
World Series. Or Bust.Tags: Dusty Baker, Mike Rizzo, Nationals, Nats, Washington Nationals