Nov 9, 2015, 6:00 AM EDT
Despite their 83-79 record and well-documented failings in 2015, the Nationals’ managerial opening remained an attractive one this offseason. It’s a team that is just one year removed from winning the NL East and posting the best record in the National League.
They also have a pretty decent young player in Bryce Harper, who in less than two weeks is likely to receive the NL MVP award for his historic Age 22 season. Harper is a certified superstar and his career arc will be a central focus of new manager Dusty Baker’s tenure.
Harper doesn’t need much help from Baker, but the relationship between he and the Nationals’ skipper is an important one. Matt Williams saw both the positives and negatives of that. Williams should get credit for Harper’s development, but he also felt the backlash after a miscalculated benching early in 2014.
Now Baker will take his turn leading the Nationals and Harper, who has become a face of the sport.
“This guy is a player. He can really play. I love watching him play,” Baker said. “He’s come a long way in a short period of time.”
Baker comes to Washington with an extensive résumé of 20 seasons as an MLB manager. Along the way he has dealt with many superstars of Harper’s ilk.
“I’ve been fortunate. I had Will Clark, Matt Williams, Jeff Kent and Barry Bonds. Then Ken Griffey, Jr., Sammy Sosa and Joey Votto. Now Bryce Harper. Hopefully… I have something that I can teach him,” Baker said.
Managing players like Bonds, Kent and Sosa – and the egos that came with them – should prepare Baker for dealing with Harper and other Nationals players like Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. The 66-year-old manager can also draw from his playing days.
Baker was an accomplished player in his own right. He made two All-Star teams, won two Silver Sluggers and three times earned MVP votes.
“The thing about it is, I’m not really intimidated by stars because I was a star. I wasn’t the brightest star like some of these guys, but I was a star,” Baker said.
Baker, in fact, told a story from his playing days that was very similar to Harper’s late season dustup with closer Jonathan Papelbon.
“I wasn’t as good as Bryce Harper, but my first year in the league I though I was the cat’s meow,” Baker explained. “I got kind of jacked up by the older guys. One time I had somebody’s hand around my throat. I was a little cocky too, but you learn. This game, sooner or later it will humble you no matter how good you think you are.”
Handling star players is an inexact science, but Baker did share some insight into his philosophy as a manager.
“I tell them that I don’t care how much money you make. You’re not going to give me any of your money and I’m not going to give you any of mine. When the game starts, it’s not about money. It’s about whether I kick your butt or you kick mine. It’s as simple as that,” he said.
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
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As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
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SAT: 10:30 a.m.
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