Dusty Baker Is Out as Nationals Manager After Two Seasons
After yet another early playoff exit followed another successful regular season, the Washington Nationals unexpectedly announced on Friday that their manager, Dusty Baker, would not return next season after two years with the team.
Baker, 68, who led all active managers in wins and was unsigned for next season, guided the Nationals to the first back-to-back National League East division titles in team history. Thanks to 95-win and 97-win seasons, Baker’s .593 winning percentage as manager is the highest in franchise history.
But the Nationals have not advanced past the first round of the postseason despite making the playoffs in four of the past six seasons. Three times now, they have lost a deciding Game 5 in a best-of-five series, including the past two years by one run in hard-fought, tense contests against the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Chicago Cubs.
The Nationals’ owners, the Lerner family, wrote in a letter to fans posted on the team’s website on Friday that after failing to win a championship, “we have decided to make a change in leadership.” They added later, “This was an incredibly difficult decision for us.”
And now the Nationals’ revolving door of managers spins again. Since the Nationals moved to Washington from Montreal in 2005, they have employed six managers, not including interim managers. The position has been especially unstable since the team rose to prominence in 2012: The team has had a new field boss just about every two years, undermining continuity.
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“This was a pure baseball decision,” General Manager Mike Rizzo told reporters. “Again, our goal is to win a world championship. This has nothing to do with negotiations or dollars.”
Rizzo told reporters he informed Baker, who flew home to California from Washington the day before, of the news by phone on Friday morning.
All season, Rizzo said publicly that he expected to complete a contract extension with Baker. Baker, too, stated publicly that he wanted to return, but had hinted at frustration over a lack of contract-extension negotiations and lower pay, and had heard of issues with past managers.
The Nationals’ owners are known to drive a hard bargain with managers. Jim Riggleman quit midway through the 2011 season over the absence of a contract extension. Davey Johnson was pushed out of the position after 2013. The Nationals’ initial offer and negotiation tactics unsettled Bud Black before the 2016 season. After failed talks with Black, the Nationals hired Baker, who wanted to return to baseball after two years away.
Baker replaced Matt Williams, a rookie manager who won a division title in 2014 but was dismissed a year later after managerial blunders in the playoffs and communication issues with players. Baker, who has managed for 22 seasons, is 14th on the career list with 1,863 wins.
Although occasionally criticized for his loyalty to veterans and clumsy in-game decisions, Baker is well known and respected for his people skills, and was able to manage the many star personalities in the Nationals’ clubhouse.
While some of Baker’s decisions backfired in the playoffs, the Nationals sputtered as a whole. More talented than the Cubs this year, the Nationals had perhaps their best chance of advancing for the first time in the playoffs. But when they had a lead in the fifth inning of Game 5, it was some of their veterans — pitcher Max Scherzer, outfielder Jayson Werth and catcher Matt Wieters — who helped blow the lead.
“Our expectations have grown to the fact that winning regular-season games and winning divisions are not enough,” Rizzo told reporters.
Baker joins John Farrell, who was dispatched by the Boston Red Sox this October after they lost to the Houston Astros in the first round of the playoffs. Farrell inherited the team in 2013, and it won the World Series that season. The Red Sox won American League East division titles in 2016 and 2017, but were bounced in the first round of the playoffs each time.
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