WASHINGTON — After six managers in 11 seasons, the Washington Nationals need an old-school skipper like their first one in Frank Robinson.
The Nats fired Matt Williams on Monday after two seasons when the first-time manager lost the clubhouse. After earning 2014 NL Manager of the Year in his debut, Williams blew the playoffs and then won 15 fewer games this season. The clubhouse was sniping and Williams didn’t even notice a fight in the dugout between his reliever and MVP candidate.
Even Redskins owner Dan Snyder only went through five coaches in 11 years, though the sixth came shortly afterward and the seventh is now hanging on. The Nats need to find a seasoned coach who’s not afraid to command the clubhouse like Robinson when the Nats arrived from Montreal.
Robinson was unchallenged as the boss. That’s what the Nats need and why their first calls should go to Bud Black, Dusty Baker, Ron Gardenhire and Ron Washington.
Meanwhile, forget talk of Cal Ripken, Jr. How does Ripken rate the job given no managerial experience over Williams, who at least was an assistant? Ripken is the son of a steady Baltimore Orioles manager and a hall-of-fame player, but that really means little when choosing him as a manager of a team that could still contend next year despite changing several key players. Also, Ripken would want serious money to leave his other enterprises and the Nats owners won’t pay it nor should they to an unproven manager.
Black is really the first person the Nats should interview. He was fired on June 15 after eight-plus seasons with the San Diego Padres. The former 15-year Major League pitcher knows how to handle a staff, which is the core of the Nats future. Black is the perfect blend of past player and experienced manager.
Baker is an equally good choice, though a more controversial one. A 19-year major league outfielder, Baker led San Francisco to the NL pennant, while also taking Cincinnati and the Chicago Cubs to the playoffs. Then again, he oversaw some bad late-season collapses, too.
However, Baker says some wild stuff at times that probably wouldn’t go over well in Washington where anyone speaking their mind is often shouted down. Baker’s past comment of African-American and Latino players handling the heat better than white players is one example.
Gardenhire was with the Minnesota Twins for 23 years, including 2002-14 as the manager. He never made a World Series, but was named AL Manager of the League in 2010 and runner-up five times. And, Gardenhire is the second coming of former Baltimore manager Earl Weaver when it comes to arguing with umpires.
Former Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington should also be on the list. He led Texas to the 2010 World Series. Washington has endured some personal problems, admitting to an extramarital affair while being accused of sexual assault. But, sports is filled with redemption stories.
This decision is really more than Xs and Os. How many games per season does a manager really make a difference? Maybe five percent – eight games. Most likely the results are mixed with a 4-4 result. It’s just that Williams’ mistake cost the team a playoff game last season when lifting Jordan Zimmermann late against San Francisco, which turned the series to the Giants.
Still, the game really comes down to talent and how well the manager handles it on and off the field. The Nats need a good communicator, experienced game manager and overall leader.
Black, Baker or Washington could fill the need. The Nats should get one of them after learning rookie managers often aren’t the answer.
Rick Snider has covered Washington sports since 1978. Follow him on Twitter @Snide_Remarks.