Washington Nationals

Heyman | Firing Baker diminishes Nationals and MLB

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 10: Nationals manager Dusty Baker acknowledges the crowd during player introductions prior to game 3 of the NLDS between the Washington Nationals and the Los Angeles Dodgers on October 10, 2016, at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire)
(Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire)

Dusty Baker’s hip, one-line response to my text about his firing shows why he has the right mature, measured persona to manage a 25-man roster of egos. “Life is a trip!” Dusty wrote back.

Which shows you again, Baker is as cool as Washington Nationals ownership is panicky.

Hard to believe, with Baker’s ouster, the Nats will be going on their fourth manager in six years. Going back further, they have had more managers since moving to Washington than everyone besides the Marlins and Mariners, two organizations not nearly as successful, nor worth emulating.

The Nats diminished themselves with their nonsensical call to fire Baker, and they diminished baseball, as well. Whether they believe it or not at the moment, this is a Hall of Famer personality and person who made baseball – and the Nats – better.

The Nats look nothing short of ridiculous with this decision. Baker, a three-time Manager of the Year, won 95 games his first year in Washington, 97 in his second. There are managers going on endlessly in baseball who haven’t been in the playoffs in years.

Managers don’t get fired for winning 97 games (99 counting the playoffs), not when they lost so many key players to injury and not when they managed without a bullpen (and without complaint) for half a year.

The Nats lost Adam Eaton for the year. They lost Jayson Werth most of the year. They lost Trea Turner for a long spell. Same for Bryce Harper. The pen was the worst in baseball before general manager Mike Rizzo fixed it with a couple of trades. Once he did, Baker picked the right closer, Sean Doolittle, and the Nats were off and running.

Baker’s crime was a final-game, one-run defeat to the Dodgers last year when Clayton Kershaw came out of the pen for L.A., and a five-game defeat to the Cubs this year, when Baker called Max Scherzer out of the pen and somehow five runs scored with him on the mound.

“How could they possibly fire Dusty?” one rival GM wondered the other day, after the decision seemed to start dragging on.

Well, of course they could. The Nats have panicked before, and they probably will panic again.

They’ve always struck me as one of the most uptight organizations. That’s why Baker was so refreshing as their main voice.

FILE - In this Oct. 5, 2016 file photo, Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker watches baseball batting practice at Nationals Park in Washington. Instead of revamping their roster after yet another early playoff exit, the Washington Nationals head to spring training next week counting on a bounce-back year from Bryce Harper and a full season from Stephen Strasburg. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

Over the past couple of days, it started to become clear there was an internal debate going on. Baker, who looked spent right after the Nats were eliminated, made clear he wanted another crack it at it. But the ball was squarely in the Nats’ court.

He just waited. Then waited some more. Assuming the delay wasn’t just a ploy to make it look good (unlikely), there was real deliberation, and debate going on. Still, it’s hard to understand why they think they have a better answer.

Rizzo wouldn’t get into all that after the deed was done, saying only that they make their decisions as a group. But the belief is that it was ownership that had its doubts about Baker.

Rizzo was on the record many times saying he hoped and expected to get something done. Rizzo went to Baker with a month to go and let him know they wanted him back. They decided to talk after the season.

Obviously, the ending was painful for Nats people. But the moment after the Nats were eliminated, Rizzo said on TV that Baker was a “Hall of Famer,” which he had said all along.

There is wonder whether the press conference where Baker didn’t know what day Stephen Strasburg threw a bullpen, and said he was “under the weather,” made a difference. The reality is 1) anyone can misspeak once, 2) someone probably gave him the wrong info on Stras, and 3) saying he was “under the weather” didn’t look great at the moment, but if it had any effect on coaxing the right call and result out of the quirky Strasburg, it should be regarded as a positive.

There is word that a player or two wondered if Baker might be too “old school,” and if so those players are reading too much Twitter. In any case, there’s no good reason to let the inmates run the asylum, or kids have influence over organizational calls.

This falls on ownership, however, as the history suggests they simply can’t help themselves. They’ve run through quite a variety of skippers in D.C., but Baker was the best one they ever had.

The names out there now are mostly first-year types, which is all well and good because it’s hard to see anyone established wanting that chair now.

A few names have come out as potential replacements for Baker, and if some of the ones heard or speculated so far have any validity, the Nats are even nuttier than I suspect.

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