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Baker offers thoughts on dealing with conflict

Nov 8, 2015, 6:00 AM EST

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Whether there was purpose behind it or not, Dusty Baker shared a pretty interesting anecdote during his introductory news conference Thursday. Asked about Bryce Harper, the newly named Nationals manager offered up a story about his own days as a brash, young big-leaguer and an important lesson he learned.

“I wasn’t as good a player as Bryce Harper,” Baker said. “But I came in the league, and my first year I hit third in the league. And I hit behind Hank Aaron. And I thought that I was the cat’s meow at that time. And I got kind of jacked a couple times by the older guys. One time, I had somebody’s hand around my throat, because I was kind of a little cocky, too. But you learn. And this game, sooner or later, will humble you no matter how good you think you are.”

Hmm, remind you of any particular recent incident that took place in the Nationals dugout?

Baker pretty clearly wanted to mention that story, and he also clearly wanted to provide his philosophy on clubhouse conflicts. The man has been in this game long enough to know how often teammates get into confrontations with each other. (He saw Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent go after each other in 2002, a season that ended with the Giants in the World Series.) And he believes he knows how best to ensure those confrontations don’t devolve into something with longer lasting ramifications.

“There’s always conflict at some points in time,” he said. “From my military and Marines days, we handled it like men. We talked about it out in the open, so we don’t let things fester. That’s the main way.

“I remember I had a dispute with a teammate. I was upset with this guy, so somebody called him over and said: ‘Hey, Dusty’s got a beef with you.’ He told him what I said. I said: ‘Don’t tell him that.’ He said: ‘Well, you said it.’ It got out in the open, and we’re best of friends now. That’s how you deal with it. You don’t let these things … and you can sort of see it on the plane and the bus and with certain things. You have to deal with things as quickly as you can.”

The Nationals still must decide what to do with Jonathan Papelbon, who was suspended by the club during the season’s final week after choking Harper in the dugout. If the club chooses to keep the volatile closer, does Baker envision a scenario in which the two are able to coexist?

The new manager intends to start laying the groundwork for that, and for building relationships with all of his players, long before heading to Viera in February.

“It actually starts in the winter,” he said. “I’m going to contact the players and hopefully see some of them. That’s the main thing. …

“To tell you the truth, everyone wants to know what I’m going to say on the first day of spring training. And you know something? I really don’t know. It’s something that I have to feel, something that can’t be fabricated and can’t be faked. Guys can see that. I’ll talk to some of the guys and see what this team needs. But I really don’t know exactly what they need. Who knows, they may not need anything. I doubt it, but at the same time I’ll listen to some of the guys. The thing about great leaders, like Nelson Mandela said: ‘You have to listen as well as talk.'”

  1. ArVAFan - Nov 8, 2015 at 9:22 AM

    My two cents:

    I don’t want Papelbon back on the team. Not because he slammed Harper’s head into the back wall of the dugout, but because he’s the kind of guy who resorts to violence to “enforce” his interpretation of the unwritten rules of baseball (“violence” includes “headhunting” due to the risk of serious injury. How many games did Harper miss this year due to deliberate HBP?). Yes, I realize Pap and Dusty are both from that era, but as far as I’m concerned, that era needs to come to an end.

    I’m with Scherzer on bat flips and other “excessive celebrations” that violate those unwritten rules: if you don’t want him to hit a home run, don’t give him a pitch to hit.

    Yes, it’s sports, but it’s also entertainment. I am not offended by a guy admiring a home run for a second or two, or flipping his bat after a game-winning home run in the post-season.

    YMMV.

    • npb99 - Nov 8, 2015 at 9:37 AM

      I don´t understand why baseball players and fans are so sensitive about celebrating accomplishments. Look at other sports – football, soccer, tennis, basketball, etc. Players are allowed to smile, gesture, and celebrate scoring. In baseball players have to be stone-faced like bored office workers, otherwise they´re accused of ‘showing up´ their opponents and disrespecting the game.

    • virginiascopist - Nov 8, 2015 at 9:47 AM

      I admit I’m still really torn on this. I’m not defending Papelbon, but it’s not like he’s the first pitcher to try to enforce unwritten rules and be suspended by MLB as a result. Also, if his attack on Harper hadn’t taken place in the dugout in front of the cameras, there’s a chance (okay, albeit a small one) we might not even know about it. I place much of the blame for the incident on MW for not attempting to defuse the powder keg that was clearly brewing between Pap and Harper. Of course, he knew he was a lame duck manager by that point, so probably didn’t feel any need to do anything in that regard, but I have a distinct feeling he wouldn’t have done so even if it had happened a month earlier. I am hopeful that, as a “players’ manager,” Dusty will handle such matters very differently.

      As for what to do with Pap, I’m worried enough about the bullpen as is. Losing both him and Storen would be terrible and I don’t believe it’s feasible to keep both. I just hope that Rizzo can salvage something from whichever one he decides to trade (if not both).

      • ehay2k - Nov 8, 2015 at 10:01 AM

        I don’t think MW didn’t care, I think he was thinking so furiously about the 9000 possible things he could do next in the game that he was oblivious to what was going on around him. Call it “Super tunnel vision.”

      • letswin3 - Nov 8, 2015 at 4:18 PM

        Virginia, first, I sorry, didn’t mean to hit “report”. And no disrespect, but I’m convinced that the BP and the team will be improved with both of them gone … Pap, because he’s a powder keg of team discord waiting to happen … just look at his history. And Storen because he just can’t be trusted in stressful spots. If both are replaced with solid late-innings guys (there are some talented guy’s available), the team will be better off for it, imho.

  2. veejh - Nov 8, 2015 at 9:33 AM

    The thing about great leaders, like Nelson Mandela said: ‘You have to listen as well as talk.’”

    ….and right now, I’m in listen mode. (my favorite part).

    • ArVAFan - Nov 8, 2015 at 9:41 AM

      “Hear, hear!” (Pun intended).

  3. natsguy - Nov 8, 2015 at 11:38 AM

    Papelbon has to go, The Nats will lose my last shred of respect if they don’t get rid of that guy. I didn’t understand it when they got him. I just hope keeping him will not be related to MONEY. Storen’s confidence has been ruineed by this FO and for his own sake probably needs to find a new home.

    • jfmii - Nov 8, 2015 at 4:25 PM

      If you are on your “last shred of respect”…, why bother?

      • natsguy - Nov 9, 2015 at 8:48 AM

        Because I used to have a lot of love and respect for this franchise and I have hope they will regain it. Otherwise HTH is that any of your business. As the British say bugger off.

      • Steady Eddie - Nov 9, 2015 at 1:33 PM

        Jfmii asked an entirety legitimate question given your (natsguy’s) melodramatic “last shred of respect” comment. And it’s the gratuitously nasty tone of your response that contributes to making our generous host’s site a less courteous and friendly place for Nats fans who have more than a “last shred of respect ” to discuss the team.

  4. Doc - Nov 8, 2015 at 11:47 AM

    Baseball’s not hockey but it is still a sport of physical interaction.

    It Dusty can put Kent and Bonds together, he can mend fences with Papelbon and Harps.

    He’s gonna have to do it with some other players in the course of managing the Nats, and we probably won’t even know about it. He , was brought in to manage players, not just figure out when to drop down a bunt.

    • adcwonk - Nov 9, 2015 at 8:34 AM

      He , was brought in to manage players, not just figure out when to drop down a bunt.

      Ding. Ding. Ding.

      Exactly right. Well put, Doc.

  5. Section 222 - Nov 8, 2015 at 12:04 PM

    “Hmm, remind you of any particular recent incident that took place in the Nationals dugout?”

    Yeah, obviously. And though what the quote says about the 2015 incident isn’t entirely clear, it sounds as if he’s suggesting that it happened because Harper is still a little cocky. I sure hope that Dusty isn’t buying into that “Bryce is a little too cocky for his age, but he’ll learn” baloney.

    1. What he said about Pap throwing at Machado was absolutely correct and long overdue.
    2. How he ran out his pop up right before Pap started yelling at him was just fine given the circumstances of the game and the fact that there was a runner ahead of him.
    3. He’s about to win and MVP at age 22.

    If Dusty wants to play a peacemaker and see if he can keep Pap on the team, I’m ok with that. But Harp was entirely in the right in this series of events and Pap was entirely in the wrong, and making him feel respected enough to excel and stay in DC for a long time is job number 1. I sure hope Dusty gets that.

    • veejh - Nov 8, 2015 at 1:22 PM

      I think Dusty just assumes that Bryce is cocky because he said that he was cocky when he was young, and batting behind Hank Aaron.

      • Section 222 - Nov 8, 2015 at 2:04 PM

        Right. Like lots of other players, coaches, and fans who don’t know him, haven’t seen him in the clubhouse, or even watched him play that much, assume that. Lazy. Dusty seems like the kind of guy who won’t carry that assumption forward once he gets to know Bryce.

      • veejh - Nov 8, 2015 at 2:57 PM

        I’m not worried about it. I don’t think Bryce will have any issue with Dusty, and vice versa, once they meet and start to interact.

    • infideljack - Nov 8, 2015 at 1:28 PM

      I hope Rizzo and the Lerners get that.

    • letswin3 - Nov 8, 2015 at 4:25 PM

      I’m with ya deuces. Pap will explode again, either here or somewhere else … and Harper is more valuable than a dozen Paps. I’m convinced that Rizzo asked Dusty to make it sound like we don’t HAVE to dump Paps, just to maximize his value on the trade block if it sounds like he could stay around for ’16. The guy is radioactive … dump him.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Nov 8, 2015 at 10:29 PM

        Rizzo may have, I wouldn’t know, but I doubt Dusty needs to be told that sort of thing.

      • letswin3 - Nov 9, 2015 at 1:43 PM

        That too, Sofa.

  6. infideljack - Nov 9, 2015 at 12:09 PM

    Step #1 Get rid of Paplebon.

  7. natsred4dndc - Nov 9, 2015 at 1:17 PM

    I can’t really tell at this point if Harp’s talk with Papelbon and Dusty’s comments about conflict and Rizzo’s comments about Drew are presaging who’s on the roster on 2/15/16, or all part of a plan to make it seem like the Nats don’t NEED to move anyone and aren’t desperate for back-of-the-bullpen help. I’d bet on the latter.
    In the case of Pap, I hope it’s the latter so that the wife and I aren’t leaving the ballpark or turning off the TV going to the 9th inning with a lead.

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