But “available” is a key word, too. Joe McCarthy and John McGraw are temporarily incapacitated. Managing is an everyday, eight-month test of a whole personality and baseball intellect. Coaching just hints at the weight. Brains are great and patter with the press helps, but cracks in character are always revealed, as the Red Sox discovered in Bobby Valentine. It’s a tough job that can take some seasoning, even some personality growth and self-reevaluation after a few firings, like Baltimore’s Buck Showalter.
La Russa, Torre, Herzog, Bruce Bochy and 20 others like Casey Stengel all won World Series titles, but they didn’t even reach a Series until they had been fired by one or several teams elsewhere. So be happy the Nats have such an impressive fellow in the fold. But hold your breath — for him.
The measure of how highly Rizzo values Williams is that he wants to get him on board before someone else does and is willing to overlook the lack of managing experience. Can it work? St. Louis just tied the World Series, and Manager Mike Matheny never even coached in the big leagues.
A few weeks ago, after praising both Williams and Knorr, Rizzo said: “There are a lot of people who’d love this job. I think we’ll get the person we want, though maybe not on the terms [salary and years] that we want.” That’s when you knew Williams fit the description. Knorr, despite parts of 11 years in the majors and two World Series rings as a backup catcher to Pat Borders in Toronto, wasn’t going to be demanding “terms.”
How plum a job did the Nats feel they held? They didn’t interview Dusty Baker, 64, who has finished first five times and said he was interested. They didn’t call Cal Ripken Jr., who made aloof musings about managing. They didn’t wait to see whether Don Mattingly and the Dodgers get back to lovey-dovey — and Rizzo preferred Mattingly several years ago, but the Dodgers wouldn’t allow an interview. The Nats didn’t try to dissuade Charlie Manuel or Jim Leyland, who both have won a Series, that they should not say goodbye to the game for good.
The Nats’ only internal concern about Williams — and it was not minor — was whether his appearance in the Mitchell Report, where he was named among dozens of players who had used steroids, should be a major negative. After reports he had purchased $11,600 worth of human growth hormone, steroids and other drugs from a Palm Beach clinic in 2002, Williams later said he used HGH on advice of a doctor to treat an ankle injury. Williams probably will have more to say. If there’s a gaffe, the Nats will have to take it.
The bigger problem is likely to be one that can’t be solved. No gold-plated Cooperstown-bound in-his-prime manager is available. There almost never is. Every manager, including the greatest, has to have his first major league job somewhere. And that always entails unexpected challenges, periodic team crises and personal adaptation.
The window is open right now for a Nats team that is still learning. Is Matt Williams, a manager doing his own growing, prepared to lead it through that? He seems to be the best available choice. Will that be good enough?
For more by Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/boswell.