The Washington Nationals introduced new manager Dusty Baker to the media Thursday morning and he wasted no time explaining why he coveted the chance to take over a star-studded team in the nation's capital.
He wants another one of those diamond-studded rings like the one he won in 1981 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, only this time as a manager. It's really the only thing missing from a terrific baseball career as a player, coach and manager, and Baker has had a couple of near-misses over the years.
"That's the exact void I want to fill," he said. "I haven't missed much in my life. Like I tell people, I signed out of high school. My parents got divorced, so I missed the chance to be a big man on a college campus, and I missed knowing my grandparents because they died before I was born, and the only thing else is winning a championship [as a manager]."
Baker inherits a ready-to-win team that features MVP candidate Bryce Harper, Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, closer Jonathan Papelbon, Ryan Zimmerman and a talented roster that entered 2015 as one of the favorites to win the World Series. The season ultimately ended in underachievement and disappointment, which is why Baker was sitting in front of the media Thursday at Nationals Park and Matt Williams is unemployed.
The 35-minute press conference had to endear Baker to the Washington media. He jousted amicably with reporters and delivered a series of quips that broke up the room and quickly differentiated him from the understated Williams, who never really got comfortable in his first major league managerial job.
"This is my fourth and final team and beyond compare this is the best talent," Baker said. "That's why I'm so excited about coming here. ... I asked a friend of mine — Al Attles with the Warriors — I said, 'Al, how come I always get teams and have to build them up?' And he said, 'Dusty, you do more with less.' And I told him that I was ready to do more with more. I’d like to try that.”
Baker managed the San Francisco Giants for 10 seasons and reached the World Series in 2002. But the Giants lost a big lead in what would have been a title-clinching Game 6 and ended up losing the series in seven to the Los Angeles Angels.
In 20 seasons as a manager with the Giants, Cubs and Cincinnati Reds, he has won five division titles and finished second six times.
No doubt, one of the things that made him attractive to the Nationals is his reputation for handling players and maintaining harmony in the clubhouse. He has a history of success managing dynamic and sometimes hard-to-handle personalities such as Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent, a talent that should come in handy on a team that recently featured a much-publicized September scuffle between Harper and Papelbon.
"There's always conflict at some point in time," he said. "My main theory is, you handle it like men. You talk about it and get it out in the open and you don't let it fester. That's the main thing."