NASHVILLE — In his second official appearance as the Washington Nationals’ new manager, Dusty Baker displayed the candor for which he is known, and faced a backlash that required him to clarify some of his statements.
During a news conference at baseball’s annual winter meetings, the 66-year-old veteran manager answered questions about his team but provoked sharper reaction when discussing one of his former players, Cincinnati Reds closer Aroldis Chapman.
A woman told police on Oct. 30 that Chapman choked her, and a police report said Chapman fired eight gun shots inside his garage, according to the report, and his girlfriend hid in bushes outside the house. Chapman was not arrested, and no criminal charges have been filed.
Asked about Chapman, Baker said, “I’m not one to judge how the whole thing happened.”
He called his former player “a heck of a guy,” “a tremendous young man with a great family” and said, “I’ll go on record and say I wouldn’t mind having Chapman. . . .
“There was a couple times when I had to stop him from quitting or going back to Cuba because he was lonely for his family,” Baker added. “So I went through a lot of stuff with Chapman. I got nothing but love for the young man.”
Baker, who said that Major League Baseball’s new domestic abuse policy is a “great thing,” admitted he hadn’t read the police report or the news stories. He said he heard about the story from his son.
“Who’s to say the allegations are true, number one,” Baker said. “And who’s to say what you would have done or what caused the problem.”
Following an ensuing uproar on social media, Baker attempted to explain his comments.
“There’s no way that I would ever condone domestic violence,” Baker said during an MLB Network Radio appearance. “No way . . . We gotta stop it, big time. I’m hoping that [Chapman] is innocent.”
Baker also raised eyebrows talking about his roster, when asked whether there was any quality he would like to see added.
“You’re always in need of left-handed pitching, left-handed hitting, and in need of speed,” he said. “I think that’s the number one thing that’s missing, I think, in the game is speed. You know, with the need for minorities, you can help yourself — you’ve got a better chance of getting some speed with Latin and African Americans. I’m not being racist. That’s just how it is.”
During the rest of his media session, Baker addressed on-the-field questions. He met the Nationals’ scouts and the rest of the front office for the first time Monday in Nashville. He said he called only a few players, waiting for things in his own life and the roster to settle before talking to everyone.
Among the particularly pressing questions for the Nationals is who will lead off the batting order and who will play second base and shortstop.
“I don’t have the answers to yet,” he said. “We’re still in the process of determining that.”
The Nationals were hopeful Ben Zobrist would provide some answers, but the veteran utility-man agreed to a four-year deal Tuesday night with the Cubs worth $56 million (pending a physical). Zobrist will turn 35 in May.
Baker said he hopes to name a bullpen coach this week, which would complete his coaching staff. Bobby Henley, of whom Baker said the Nationals “thought very highly,” will return as third base coach, which means Chris Speier will be the bench coach.
“Right now, Papelbon is my closer,” Baker said. “I’m not one to foresee problems before they become a problem.”