WASHINGTON — What began as a local conversation between two radio hosts critiquing the manager of a professional baseball team has transformed into somewhat of a national conversation overnight.
For what feels like months now, Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier have been railing against Nationals manager Dusty Baker for his lineup selection, for plugging inferior hitters into the second spot in the order rather than borderline MVP candidate Anthony Rendon, who Baker has batting sixth to protect Daniel Murphy in the lineup.
The club’s general manager, Mike Rizzo, even answered questions for his manager about it this week, explaining in part that Baker likes Rendon in more of a run-producing position than a run-scoring one, and that Rendon — who’s put up better numbers in his career batting lower in the order — may even prefer the sixth spot to the second.
On Wednesday, Paulsen took the Nationals up on what he says was an invitation by the PR staff, to take the opportunity to ask Baker in person, during a pre-game press conference, why he won’t allow Rendon to hit second.
That led to a several-minutes-long back and forth between the manager and radio host, during which, at one point Baker snipped at Paulsen, “When you’re the manager, you can make out the lineup,” causing rousing laughter from the room full of beat reporters also in the room.
The exchange has since been written about, here and in The Washington Post, crystallizing it as A Thing.
It was discussed on the Nationals’ TV and radio broadcasts, which led to some friendly Twitter banter, including an apparent jab at the radio duo by Nats PR staffer Kyle Brostowitz.
And others covering baseball outside of Washington, D.C. have taken notice.
This brings us to an awkward exchange on the radio between Paulsen and a 106.7 The Fan co-worker, Thom Loverro, in which Paulsen overheard Loverro criticizing him to Chad Dukes, so Paulsen called in to talk about it.
Grant: Thom, what did I do wrong exactly?
Loverro: What are we talking about, what did you do wrong? My point is that you guys don’t have all the information.
Grant: I have no problem with that. You said I shouldn’t have talked to Dusty in the press conference. You don’t have all the information.
Thom: No. No, I didn’t say that. What I said was, ‘If it was me, I wouldn’t have debated Dusty in a press conference.’
Grant: Okay. I heard Chad say that you said I shouldn’t have done that, or that you didn’t think it was the right decision.
Thom: No, no. No. I give you credit for going over there and bringing it up at a press conference. But the way I would operate at a press conference…
Paulsen then clarified he had made repeated contact with Nationals PR staff, in an attempt to arrange some sort of private discussion with Baker, because he didn’t to that point have any relationship with the manager and wanted to “know what he’s thinking.”
His preference was not to have that first introduction in a press conference scenario, he says, because he didn’t want to take time away from reporters who regularly cover the team, and Baker’s “not going to be able to coach me up or educate me in a press conference.”
“They told me that they wouldn’t give me an audience,” Paulsen relayed the message from Nats PR. “I said, ‘Okay. Well, I’m just going to come over and grab him.’ They said they didn’t want me to do that. I said okay.
“I said, ‘Can I get a one-on-one with him?’ They said he wasn’t available for one-on-ones. They said, ‘You should come over and ask the press conference.’ In fact, I actually had someone with the organization say, quote, ‘I’d respect you more if you came over and actually addressed this with him in a press conference.’
“So the reason I did it was because a lot of people said that they thought I needed to do that, because of how often I was, quote, unquote, ‘badgering the manager.’ Which, by the way, is interesting, because when you critique Jay Gruden ad nauseam about whatever issue I have with him, nobody seems to get offended, but when it’s Dusty Baker, for some reason it’s a huge deal if you take umbrage with something that he does.”
“I didn’t want to do it at a press conference for the same reason that you wouldn’t have wanted to,” Paulsen said. “I talked to both members of the Nationals’ PR staff, who have been annoyed for a few weeks by how often I talk about this, as is most of the people at Nationals Park, and most of the people in the media, who all, for the most part, think that everything Dusty says is correct.”
Loverro acknowledged he wasn’t aware of Paulsen’s tug-of-war with Nats PR, to which Paulsen remarked, “Again, that’s why I called you. I wanted to let you know that.”
“I didn’t criticize you for going to the press conference and asking the question,” Loverro said. “My answer was, if it was me, once I got the answer, I wouldn’t have gone back and forth with [Baker]. I mean, I would not have pursued it.”
“But then, what’s the point of me going over there?” Paulsen asked.
“Then you’ve got to figure out a way to get it another way,” Loverro said. “It’s just bad form.”
“Okay. I said this to them. I said, ‘Listen. This is not the right forum for what I’d like to do,'” said Paulsen. “By the way, if you would have stopped at his answer; his answer, initially, was terrible. Only because I went back did we actually have a better conversation, where we got to philosophically the fact that he wants to protect Daniel Murphy. Which, this is not necessarily binary, one or zero. He prioritizes protecting Murphy, that’s fine. I prioritize the top of the order where you have more at-bats. That’s a different philosophy and paradigm.”
“I made valiant attempts to talk to him not at [the press conference],” Paulsen went on to say. “I didn’t want MASN televising some back and forth. I wasn’t trying to make it about me. That was the best I could do if I wanted to have the conversation with him. Which, yesterday, by the way, I was taking heat from people because I hadn’t talked to Dusty Baker yet and I was just being a blowhard from the studio, so now doing it there is the problem. Bottom line is they should hit their better hitters at the top of the order, as far as I’m concerned.”
This is right about where the conversation veered back into sensational awkwardness.
Loverro: I still would say that once you got the answer that you didn’t like, then you’re gonna have to figure out another way to get to Dusty to do it.
Paulsen: Did you think I was disrespectful? I thought I was very respectful and showed good tact with him.
Loverro: It became about you. Is that right?
Paulsen: I don’t think it did, no. I don’t think it did.
Loverro: Well, I think you’re in denial if you don’t think it became about you. I think it did. And you never want that.
Paulsen: Okay. Well, I think I answered the questions he asked me. He asked me who should hit second.
Loverro: The manager shouldn’t be asking you questions in a press conference.
Paulsen: Well, he chose to! You tell Dusty that! He asked, ‘Who should be hitting second?’ I answered the question. I said, ‘I would hit Anthony Rendon second.’ Okay, who would protect Murphy? ‘Why don’t you move them all up?’ He’s asking me a question.
Paulsen: You’ve been in press conferences a lot. That’s not that abnormal, by the way. Mike Shanahan would do that in every press conference. When someone would question anything that he did, he would come right back at you and try to essentially put you in your place. And he welcomed that dialogue.
Loverro: I understand that, and the answer is, ‘I’m not the manager. I’m asking you.’
“The press conference was not the best place to do that,” Paulsen reiterated. “I think I was put in a bad situation. But the idea that I should have done something differently, I’ll disagree with you on.
“So I should have gone to the press conference, asked him a question I already knew the answer to, which was, ‘Are you thinking about moving Anthony Rendon up?’ His answer was, ‘Who should I hit second?’ And then I should have just said, ‘Well, that’s up to you, Dusty.’ And that would have somehow benefited anybody? I don’t know why I would have done that.”
“Well, I don’t know how this benefited anybody at this point,” Loverro said. “Except maybe you.”
Meanwhile, the Nats hit eight homers and blew out the Brewers 15-2 and the Redskins saw a whelming attendance to day one of training camp in Richmond.