Nov 6, 2015, 6:00 AM EDT
The mere mention of Dusty Baker’s name when candidates began surfacing in the Nationals’ managerial search brought strong reactions from all around. Many were thrilled at the news, pointing to his impressive record as a three-time NL manager of the year. Others, however, were not quite as enthused.
Criticism emerged of Baker being too old school: Is he averse to using analytics, which have become commonplace in today’s game? Is he simply too old to take on the challenge of restoring the Nationals to prominence?
Baker touched on all those subjects at Thursday’s introductory press conference, and so did general manager Mike Rizzo. You may be concerned about Baker’s ability to adapt and learn new tricks, but they aren’t.
“Well, I was pretty good before I got here. Adaptation is no problem for me. My friends call me a chameleon because I can adapt to any time and anywhere,” Baker said.
Baker’s affinity for music is well-documented. He currently has a book for sale that chronicles his time at the 1967 Monterrey Pop Festival and a later experience where he smoked a substance now legal in D.C. with Jimi Hendrix. And much like music can stand the test of time, so can Baker, according to the manager.
“I would like to think I transcend some generations like some musicians. Stevie Wonder still sounds good. The Doors might sound even better. I believe in old ideas but you have to translate them in modern ways so that they can understand,” he said.
Baker said his family helps keep him young. He has a 16-year-old son who in two years will play baseball for the Cal Bears. He has a 36-year-old daughter and a wife who he says is “50-something.” They are all younger than Baker and they all represent different generations.
“Sometimes you gotta listen to the young to keep a pulse on things,” he said.
Baker’s defense of himself was strong, but Rizzo took it up a notch. He went into extensive detail about how Baker gets a bad wrap that is unfair if you pay attention to the details of what he has accomplished in his career.
“He’s often described as an old school, dinosaur-type of a manager but yet was 13th in shifting in Major League Baseball in his last year as a manager,” Rizzo explained. “He’s famous for handling of players and handling of the clubhouse and that type of thing. But when you look harder and dig deeper and you watch the man navigate nine innings of a baseball game, it is truly something to watch when you’re really looking in-depth.”
True to form, Rizzo did his research. He spoke to former players of Dusty’s including Jay Bruce and Joey Votto. He relied heavily on the opinion of Reds manager Bryan Price, who replaced Baker when he was fired after the 2013 season. Price previously served as Baker’s pitching coach before getting promoted.
Rizzo and Price were minor league teammates and have remained very close friends. Price is one of the people in baseball Rizzo trusts the most and his review was very positive.
“[Baker has] always been a creative thinker, an outside the box thinker. He is certainly not a manage by the numbers type of manager, but he should get far more credit than he does for what he does in between the lines and in the dugout as he does for how he handles the clubhouse, which is impeccable,” Rizzo continued.
Baker may not manage by the numbers, but he will be receptive to data provided by the Nationals’ analytics department. According to Rizzo, Baker met with some of the Nats’ sabremetrics guys before the decision was made to hire him.
“It was an extremely important part of the interview process. But more than that, we watched how he managed games. The input from a lot of the coaches on that staff, the players that played for him, showed a man that was open-minded and open to change. He’s really come a long way in his recent past, especially in those last couple years in Cincinnati. The analytical part of it, it’s taken a lot of people a long time to adapt to that. But it’s a tool for us. It’s a weapon for us.
“He’s used it in the past. And he’s used it very effectively. So he’s on board. He had spoken to people in our analytics department, and he was extremely impressed by them. I think there’s a trust factor there that’s built right off the bat. He’s going to embrace it, because it’s going to help us win games. And that’s what he’s all about.”
Baker is confident he can continue to adapt with the Nationals as he moves forward as their manager. He pointed to Mets manager Terry Collins, who is the oldest skipper in the majors and just led his team to an NL pennant.
“I don’t think of myself as 66 years old. I don’t know how old I am. It really doesn’t matter. The way I look at it, not to sound cocky or nothing, but I don’t see a bunch of dudes out there who look better than me right now,” he said.
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