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