The Nationals recently interviewed Diamondbacks third base coach Matt Williams to fill their vacant managerial position, according to multiple people familiar with the situation. Williams has long been expected to contend for the job because of his close ties to General Manager Mike Rizzo, who served as Arizona’s scouting director as Williams finished his decorated playing career with the Diamondbacks.
Williams joins Padres front office assistant Brad Ausmus as the two known outside candidates who either have or will interview for the job. Nationals bench coach Randy Knorr and third base coach Trent Jewett are also candidates.
Williams, 47, has coached for the Diamondbacks the past four seasons. Williams, like Ausmus, has no prior managing experience. But current Diamondbacks players and others close to him have raved about his potential as a manager. Players described him as welcoming, prepared and loyal.
Williams made five all-star teams, won four Gold Gloves and finished second in the 1994 MVP vote and third in 1999 over his 17-year career as a third baseman. Respected by opponents and perhaps feared by some teammates, Williams became known as much for his powerful bat and slick fielding as his simmering intensity.
Rizzo has declined to address the Nationals’ managerial situation. But one person close to the situation said, “Rizz has always been a big fan of Matt.” Rizzo has spoken in the past about his fondness for Williams. Rizzo said in the spring of 2010 that he wanted to build a team on fiery personalities and pointed to Williams.
“Like we did in Arizona — [shoot], the manager didn’t have to say a word,” Rizzo said then. “You screwed up, Matt Williams put you in a locker. And that was end of it. Mark Grace, Matt Williams, Jay Bell, Luis Gonzalez — those were the guys who gave the fines, jump peoples’ [rear], put a guy in a locker.”
During his interview, Williams may have faced questions about a thorny subject. Williams would become the first manager to have been named in the Mitchell Report, baseball’s first official documentation of performance-enhancing drug use in baseball. In 2007, the San Francisco Chronicle, citing business records, reported Williams bought $11,600 worth of steroids and human growth hormone from a Florida clinic in 2002. Then a broadcaster, Williams told the paper he tried HGH to recover from an ankle injury and stopped using it after he did not like the effect. Williams retired midway through 2003.
Williams did not allow the allegations to alter his ambition to remain in baseball. After two years as an Arizona broadcaster, he moved on to the Diamondbacks’ staff. He started as a first base coach in 2010, and in 2011 he moved to third base. He also works with Diamondbacks infielders.
“Anybody is lucky to get him in any role,” Diamondbacks second baseman Aaron Hill said at the end of the regular season. “We’d love to have him. But where he’s going in his career, he’s going to be a manager at some point, so he deserves every opportunity to get out and have an offer or at least interview. I know everyone here wishes him the best. You never hear a bad thing about him. He relates [to players] really well. He’s very even-keeled. You don’t see a lot of emotions get to him at a higher level. Communication is a big thing with him. He’s got a presence about him.”