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Nationals' managerial course correction is another capital head-scratcher

Nationals' managerial course correction is another capital head-scratcher
Former San Diego Padres manager Bud Black speaks with the media at the MLB Winter Meetings at Manchester Grand Hyatt. After reportedly being hired to manage the Washington Nationals this week, the club went in a different direction, hiring Dusty Baker on Tuesday instead. (Jake Roth / USA Today Sports)

For the past week or so, everyone has assumed that former major league pitcher and San Diego Padres manager Bud Black would be the next manager of the Washington Nationals. So, imagine the shock and surprise when the Nats announced today that they have hired Dusty Baker to replace the recently fired Matt Williams.

No disrespect to Baker, who has a long managerial resume that includes a World Series with the San Francisco Giants and a very famous near-miss with the Chicago Cubs, but it appeared the Black deal was done and even Baker had publicly congratulated him for getting the job.

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The reports that the Nats offered Black very short money in relation to what other major league managers are receiving -- if true -- leave room to wonder what was really going on behind the scenes. The last thing the Nationals needed was to give any impression that their new manager was an ambivalent choice, but that's exactly the way this is going to be perceived in some quarters.

The Nats obviously have a checkered history when it comes to hiring and firing managers. This is, after all, the same franchise that had a manager (Jim Riggleman) walk away in the middle of a season because of a contract dispute, and just fired the 2014 National League Manager of the Year after one disappointing season.

Still, if it seems a bit strange that a club that last winter spent more than $200 million for a starting pitcher might be so frugal when it comes to hiring a manager, well, it is.

Both Black and Baker would have been the right choice for different reasons. Black was a solid major league starting pitcher who acted as pitching coach under Mike Scioscia with the Angels before being hired as manager of the Padres. Though he did not have great success in San Diego, his managerial ability and pitching acumen are well respected in the industry.

Baker had a terrific major league career as an outfielder with several teams before building a long managerial resume over 20 seasons in San Francisco, Chicago and Cincinnati. He is known as a players' manager who puts a premium on team chemistry, but also as a guy who is able to hold together a clubhouse full of dynamic and volatile personalities.

He managed the Giants for a decade (1993 to 2002) in which he finished first or second in the NL West eight times with the likes of Barry Bonds, Will Clark and Jeff Kent occasionally grating on each other.

No doubt, his experience handling out-sized personalities played a role in his selection after the ugly dugout incident between young superstar Bryce Harper and fiery closer Jonathan Papelbon in September.

Baker's return to the dugout also is a big plus for Major League Baseball, which appeared to be headed into its first season since 1988 without an African-American manager.

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