Washington is Trusting Dusty Baker to Lead the Nationals to a Championship

By Rebecca Herman @TheBaseballPHD / MajorLeagueLeader.com
March 9, 2016

Dusty Baker by Logan Bowles, USA TODAY Sports
Dusty Baker by Logan Bowles, USA TODAY Sports

With the decision to hire Dusty Baker to lead the Washington Nationals, it became clear that they were seeking experience and a winning record. Baker has racked up 1,671 wins (.526) in his 20 years as a Major League Manager and is 17th all-time; second only to Bruch Bochy for active managers. Baker brings with him World Series experience both as a player – winning in 1981 with the Dodgers – and as a manager in 2002 with the Giants, although they lost in seven games to the Angels. Baker is also a 3-time National League Manager of the Year.

Baker takes over a team that has averages 90+ wins the past four seasons and a 2015 record of 83-79. During the off-season, the team added two pitchers (Shawn Kelley and Oliver Perez) and three position players (Daniel Murphy, Ben Revere, and Stephen Drew). They also subtracted three pitchers (Jordan Zimmerman, Doug Fister, and Drew Storen) and two position players (Denard Span and Yunel Escobar). These exchanges left current payroll at $142 MM (-$23.5MM) – 10th highest overall and the highest in the NL East – NY Mets closest with just under $125 MM.

As Spring Training games are underway in Florida, the Nationals are off to a good start with a 6-1 record. Their only loss thus far came against the Marlins. Overall, the team has outscored their opponents 43-23 during the first seven games. Everyone knows that Spring Training records really don’t foretell the upcoming season; however, Baker has to be pleased to see his team pulling together.

An important component of any leader’s role is respect and Dusty Baker is both respected and respects those around him. GM Mike Rizzo noted that the “trust factor” was incredibly important for the hiring decision. Baker has made it clear that he may seek opinions from others but will make the final decision himself – to do this he will be honest but expects honesty in return. He recognizes that this will be a learning process with the players but is already making headway. Bryce Harper has been quoted as saying, “We all have the respect for him and he has the right respect for his players.”

Cultivating relationships and demonstrating support for his players are each qualities that Baker is known for and has often been called a player’s manager. This will go a long way to speed up the new manager acclimation process and enable Baker to be effective more rapidly.

Much of the tone and direction is set through clear communication and Baker has certainly been clear about his vision and getting his message out to the team and baseball community – winning a championship. His aforementioned honesty also helps his message to be understood and accepted.

Great leaders must have knowledge and expertise in their industry – baseball is no exception – and Dusty Baker fits this bill quite nicely. He is a veteran of playing 19 seasons and managing 20 but he is also open to learning and often seeks the counsel of mentors. Numerous times, Dusty Baker has mentioned speaking with Bill Russell and Bill Walsh; how he learned from his manager, Tommy Lasorda, when he was a player; and how being on a team with Hank Aaron was invaluable.

The Nationals needed someone who could take a rather fragmented group of outstanding players and create a true and lasting team that exudes teamwork. Baker seeks to apply what he has learned from Bill Russell and Bill Walsh about creating a true brotherhood in the clubhouse. They told him that love for one another was key and Baker wants to see that happen starting with Spring Training and he has the experience of accomplishing this with both the Giants and the Cubs.

Together, all this has the ability to come together and create a winning culture. The Washington Nationals have the talent to win but needed to bring in a manager – a leader – who understands what it takes to win and has not only a vision but also a plan to get them to victory. All eyes are pointing to Dusty Baker to see if he is that person. He is at the helm and has the knowledge, skill, and ability to make it happen.

My favorite recent quote by Dusty Baker since his return to managing: “The Nationals, you know, they never had a championship,” Baker said. “So why not now and why not me?” And why not? Only time will reveal the answer.

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Dr. Rebecca Herman is a Leadership Professor, Best Selling Author, Keynote Speaker, and writes about Leadership & Baseball at the Major League Leader. Follow @TheBaseballPHD on Twitter.  This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Material from interviews, wire services, beat writers, bloggers, league, and team sources was used in this report. Additional, more specific sources include:

Baseball Statistics from Baseball Reference

MLB Salary Data from sportrac

Major League Leadership from Lead Me Out to the Ballgame


Brad Ausmus – Leading Detroit for the Third Season

By Rebecca Herman @TheBaseballPHD / MajorLeagueLeader.com
March 4, 2016

Embed from Getty Images

Spring Training is underway and Brad Ausmus has launched his third year as the Skipper of the Detroit Tigers. From an amazing freshman outing in 2014 with a 90-72 (.556) record and post-season berth, Ausmus struggled in 2015 as his team was plagued with injuries and a below expectations record of 74-87 (.460) with $162MM payroll, the 6th highest in MLB last year. The very near flip-flop of the win-loss record (-.096) had many calling for his job; however, Tigers’ GM, Al Avila, chose to stay the course with Ausmus. The 2016 year will be a true test of Ausmus’ leadership, especially with ownership investing in key players in the offseason to bolster depth of the starting rotation, bullpen, and outfield. The Tigers payroll is sitting at $192MM and is currently the 4th highest in MLB.

Brad Ausmus clearly has a passion for the game of baseball. Drafted in 1987, baseball has been a major part of his life, and his profession, for nearly 30 years. Ausmus balanced his love of the game with his yearning for an Ivy League education at Dartmouth. Not many people have the drive and persistence to balance a Yankees draft and subsequent Minor League assignment while attending college and graduating. This also was an opportunity for Ausmus to test the waters on coaching and servant leadership by volunteering as a coach and bullpen catcher for Dartmouth.

Leading by example is an important trait because others learn from watching the leader’s behaviors and habits. Ausmus regularly demonstrates positive traits of leading by example. Players, such as Ian Kinsler, have noted that he is extremely consistent and never gets out of control or too emotional. GM, Al Avila, has been impressed that Ausmus remains calm and stays the course even when things are going poorly.

To lead effectively, it is imperative that a leader has the respect of his team. There is a bit of respect that comes with title and position but that is often short-lived if actions don’t back it up. Coming into his MLB Manager role in 2014, Ausmus brought respect with him from his stellar playing career, experience in the front office for the Padres, and being known as one of the brightest people in baseball. That respect was tested in his second season when the Tigers faltered after numerous injuries. However, with Ausmus’ job was on the line, the players rallied behind him and did not give up. This seems to have been a key factor in Avila’s decision to retain Ausmus for 2016.

While leading yourself is the first step toward becoming a Major League Leader, leading others is the true pinnacle of leadership. Getting to know your people and cultivating meaningful relationships is a foundational requirement for successful leadership. Brad Ausmus is known to spend time with individual players and to take a very personal approach with each one. Through time spent with his players, he is able to solidify his role while understanding the individual more clearly and opening a window for getting the best out of each person.

When it comes to leading the game as a whole, Ausmus has a great capacity to demonstrate expert knowledge and share that with his team in a manner to produce results. As a Gold Glove catcher, Ausmus knows what it takes to be successful, how to effectively call a game, and how to communicate with the team. His GM is continually impressed with the amount of preparation that Ausmus puts into each day.

For Spring Training, Ausmus has stated that he is working to develop the Tigers into a great baserunning team. It is no surprise that he wants them to run “the bases intelligently” versus merely aggressively. Improving in this one area alone could have a very positive affect on game outcomes throughout the 2016 season.

In this pivotal year for Brad Ausmus, he needs to demonstrate that he is the right man to be the long-term leader for the Detroit Tigers. He has the knowledge, skill, and ability as well as the support of the front office and his players. Pulling the pieces together, overcoming adversity, and developing his own brand of a winning culture are his keys for success.

Subscribe to receive FREE email coaching on becoming a Major League Leader and updates about future publications.

Dr. Rebecca Herman is a Leadership Professor, Best Selling Author, Keynote Speaker, and writes about Leadership & Baseball at the Major League Leader. Follow @TheBaseballPHD on Twitter.  This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Material from interviews, wire services, beat writers, bloggers, league, and team sources was used in this report. Additional, more specific sources include:

Baseball Statistics from Baseball Reference

MLB Salary Data from sportrac

Major League Leadership from Lead Me Out to the Ballgame