With their roster’s talent and their ownership’s willingness to spend, the Nationals will have no shortage of qualified candidates lining up to replace Davey Johnson as their next manager. They added another big name to that list this week.
Longtime manager Dusty Baker, whom the Reds fired late last week, contacted General Manager Mike Rizzo through his agent to inform the Nationals he is interested in the job. Baker said no interview has been schedule, and it is not clear if the Nationals have reciprocal interest in him.
“It’s early,” Baker said in a phone conversation. “A lot of stuff doesn’t really happen until the World Series is over. Right now, I’m in no hurry. I just let them know that I was interested.”
Baker led the Reds this season to 90 wins and the National League wild card playoff game, where they lost to the Pirates. Baker said the Nationals offer the quality any experienced manager would want: the ability to win big, and win right away.
“It’s a good team. It’s a very good team,” Baker said. “I’m about winning. My son told me – he was crying the other day – he wanted to play for the Reds. Then he told me, ‘Dad, if you want to win, you want to go to the Nationals.’
“I don’t have a whole bunch of years left, but I’ve got some good ones left. I want to take a team to the top.”
Baker, 64, is one of the most accomplished candidates available. He owns a .526 winning percentage over 20 seasons as a big league manager, and his 1,671 wins rank 16th all-time. Baker has made the playoffs with three different teams. Baker took the San Francisco Giants to the 2002 World Series, where they lost in seven games to the Angels. He left San Francisco and won a division title with the Cubs in 2003.
Baker, like any manager, has garnered criticisms. He has drawn ire for overusing starting pitchers and over-reliance on outdated tactics, such as frequent sacrifice bunts. But his teams win. Under Baker, the Reds made it to the postseason in three of the last four years, even if they failed to advance past the first round.
While the Reds initially portrayed Baker’s dismissal as a mutual parting, Baker reiterated he wants to continue managing.
“I don’t know why people think I’m going to retire,” Baker said. “I told them I’m a young 64. I’m better [physically] now than I was at this time last year. I feel younger now. I’m serious. I’m taking better care of myself than I was then. I’ll know when the time comes for me to go home. I’m not of those that refuses to face reality.”
Through a team spokesman, Rizzo said he will not be commenting on the team’s managerial search.
The Nationals lost one potential candidate this afternoon when Joe Girardi agreed to a four-year contract extension to remain with the New York Yankees.
Multiple people familiar with the Nationals’ thinking believe ownership seeks a younger manager to follow Johnson, who at 70 was the majors’ oldest. Baker, who was Johnson’s teammate for two seasons with the mid-70s Atlanta Braves, would be one of the oldest managers in the majors.
Baker rejected the idea that his age would be an issue. Baker suffered a mini-stroke last September before he returned to manage in the playoffs. He said the health scare prompted him to better take care of his physical condition. His wife is 12 years younger than him, and he has a 14-year-old son* and a 32-year-old daughter.
“I got a young wife, young son, young daughter,” Baker said. “They keep me young.”
*That would be Darren Baker, the adorable bat boy who nearly got run over at home plate during the 2002 World Series. Yup, he’s now old enough to be a high school sophomore. This has been today’s edition of, Wow, We Are All So Old.