Dave Martinez managed his 200th game with the Nationals on Friday, an unremarkable, arbitrary milestone that puts him in the same company as every Washington manager who preceded him since baseball returned to D.C. in 2005. That list of names is almost long enough to field a lineup, and if the Nationals continue to struggle, with their injury-depleted roster almost back to full strength, the list could grow by one sooner rather than later.
As the Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal noted last week, Washington’s next manager will be its seventh since Manny Acta replaced Frank Robinson before the 2007 season, not counting the three games that John McLaren managed after Jim Riggleman abruptly resigned and went to Caddies following a game in June 2011. As Rosenthal also mentioned, no manager has completed three full seasons in D.C. since the Lerner family purchased the team in 2006. The Nationals’ striking lack of managerial continuity puts them in a class of their own, not only in baseball, but across multiple sports.
From the start of the 2005 season, the Nationals’ first in D.C., through the end of last year, Major League Baseball’s 29 other teams have all employed at least one manager who kept his job for at least three consecutive full seasons. Sixteen teams have had two such managers, while the Dodgers, Rockies, Brewers have had three different managers manage for at least three consecutive full seasons during that time. The Blue Jays are in their own special category, as the only team with one manager (John Gibbons) who has managed two separate stints, each lasting at least three full seasons, since 2005.
Looking at it another way, the Nationals have had seven different managers on Opening Day since Robinson wrote Brad Wilkerson’s name atop the lineup on April 4, 2005. The MLB average number of Opening Day managers in that span is 4.07. The only other team with seven different managers on Opening Day over the last 15 seasons? The Marlins, who haven’t been to the playoffs since 2003.
The Mariners and Cubs are the only other teams with as many as six different managers on Opening Day since 2005, while the Angels have been the model of stability, with Mike Scioscia managing for 19 consecutive seasons before being replaced by Brad Ausmus this year.
The Nationals’ turnover at the top is striking, and not just in baseball. Every NFL team has employed at least one head coach for at least three consecutive entire seasons since 2005. The Redskins, whose owner isn’t exactly known for his patience, have had three such coaches over the last 14 years in Joe Gibbs, Mike Shanahan and Jay Gruden. Even the Browns gave Romeo Crennel four full seasons from 2005 to 2008, while Jack Del Rio survived three full seasons with the Raiders, who have had an NFL-most nine different head coaches since 2005.
What about the NBA, where the coaching carousel seems to be constantly spinning? Every NBA team has retained at least one head coach for at least three consecutive full seasons since 2005. That includes the Wizards, who have had four coaches meet that criteria, the most in the league. The Nationals’ lack of continuity at the manager position would stand out in the NHL, too. With the exception of the Vegas Golden Knights, who didn’t enter the league until 2017, every NHL team has employed at least one head coach for three consecutive full seasons since 2005. Former Capitals coaches Bruce Boudreau and Barry Trotz are among that group.
While other teams, including MLB’s Marlins, the NBA’s Kings and the NHL’s Senators have made more coaching changes than the Nationals since 2005, that means Washington manager is the least stable coaching job in professional sports by at least one measure.
Several factors have contributed to the Nationals’ instability at manager, including the relative lack of value the Lerners have put on the position. Riggleman, who replaced Manny Acta halfway through his third season in 2009, resigned two seasons later while making $600,000 on the final year of his deal. In late 2015, the Nationals wanted to hire Bud Black to replace the fired Matt Williams, but the former Padres manager was so offended by the team’s initial one-year, $1.6 million offer that negotiations collapsed.
Instead, the Nationals hired Dusty Baker to a two-year deal worth a reported $4 million, roughly half of what Baker, who had 20 years of managerial experience and a World Series appearance on his resume, made at his previous stop in Cincinnati. Baker signed for below market value, but figured to earn a raise if the team performed well. The Nationals won 95 games and a division title in his first season, but lost in the NLDS.
“I remember talking to Frank Robinson when he was here,” Baker said while managing the following season without a guarantee he would be back in 2018. “I remember his complaints to me. I remember Riggleman, which I would never do. I remember talking to Davey [Johnson]. But I think I’ve earned more than I’m being paid.”
The Nationals thought otherwise and didn’t renew Baker’s contract after a 97-win season ended with a second consecutive loss in the first round of the playoffs. In an unprecedented move for the Lerners, Martinez, Baker’s replacement, received a three-year contract that included an option for a fourth year. Now, with the Nationals eight games under .500 entering Tuesday’s game against the Mets, Martinez’s job security is being questioned less than halfway into his second season. If he doesn’t make it three full years in D.C., he won’t be alone.
Neil Greenberg contributed to this report.
Read more on the Nationals: