The Washington Nationals had a decision to make. From various accounts, the candidates to become their new manager had been narrowed to Bud Black and Dusty Baker.
They made the decision, according to reports, to hire Black.
That meant they decided not to hire Dusty Baker.
That’s not good for baseball.
The Nationals had a choice between a manager who, after managing nine years in one place — San Diego, the only place he has ever managed — had a career record of 649-713 with just two winning seasons. One was in 2010, when he took the Padres, expected to be a last-place club, and won 90 games, though they blew a 6 1/2-game lead in the National League West in September to the San Francisco Giants.
Black, 58, won NL Manager of the Year honors that season. He edged out Baker, who, if he had won, would have been named manager of the year for the fourth time. As it was, this was the third time he would finish second in voting for the best manager in the league.
Baker, 66, has managed for three different organizations over his 20 years — the Giants, Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds — and compiled a record of 1,671-1,504 with five division titles and one NL pennant. He has more managing wins than Tommy Lasorda, Earl Weaver and Davey Johnson.
Yet the Nationals chose Black over Baker. Why?
It could be for a variety of reasons, all seemingly solid and legitimate ones. But when you chose Black over Baker, you had better be right, because, despite the rationalizations for Black’s losing record in San Diego, you are chosing a career losing manager over one with an elite managing record.
Baker doesn’t win in the postseason? He’s 19-25 in six postseason appearances.
Black? He’s 0-0.
One question in play not necessarily for the Nationals, but for all of Major League Baseball, is that unless the Los Angeles Dodgers hire an African-American manager, next season — now 41 years after Frank Robinson broke the dugout color line as the first African-American manager — will have no African-American managers in baseball for the first time in 29 years.
“We’re in a very dangerous situation, because people don’t really worry about what’s right, what’s wrong, or what’s fair,” Baker told USA Today.
“I’ve been talking about this for minority thing for 40 years, and I hate even talking about it now, because all it is, is talk,” he said. “Nothing’s changed. Who’s going to stand up and say anything about it now? Everybody is afraid to stand up knowing it could be costly to your job and family.”
Commissioner Rob Manfred told reporters last week that diversity remains a high priority for baseball.
“Obviously, field managers are high turnover jobs, and you’re going to have peaks and valleys in terms of representation within what’s a very small sample; there’s only 30 of them out there,” Manfred said. “Having said that, we are focused on the need to promote diversity, not just African-American, but Latino as well, in the managerial ranks.”
Obviously, if the Nationals had hired Baker, it would have gone a long way to signaling that diversity — an African-American manager in the dugout of the nation’s capital, a city with a strong African-American community and culture.
No one is suggesting the Nationals should have hired Baker because he was African-American, or didn’t hire him because he was African-American.
But the stark contrast in resume would seem to pose the reasonable question.
It’s a question that, based on the feedback I received from Nationals fans during the managerial search, is answered simply: The mob believes he is a lousy manager.
That’s what we’ve come to in the game today — a three-time manager of the year who has won more than 1,600 major league games in three different places can’t manage.
“He’s notorious for mismanaging and overworking a bullpen … he’s had talent and never won a World Series,” read one tweet.
“Please, no on Dusty Baker … this is a cruel joke, right?”
This was the best one: “The Bartman incident should disqualify Dusty outright. Horrible handling of player emotions that night.”
This is indicative of much of the response I heard to Baker’s candidacy — which is perhaps the worst indictment yet of the rule of the mob now. Those who sit in front of their computers and confuse information with knowledge and actually believe they know more about managing a baseball team than Baker.
This is hardly a new sort of fan behavior, but through the power of social media, the mob mentality has more influence than ever and now defines people.
Baker recognizes this. “It’s almost as if you played, it’s held against you,” he told USA Today. “Who better than to learn from than a guy who has been to war?’
“It just seems like everything’s about sabermetrics,” he said. “And if you don’t agree with 100 percent of everything being said, then you’re against it. But they don’t agree with everything we see either. We’re more open to what they bring to the table, than they are to what we bring to the table.”
Baker was run out of Cincinnati by an angry fan base that railed on a daily basis that he needed to go after a 90-win, third place finish in the NL Central.
“The Reds have fired Dusty Baker.” Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty wrote in October 2013. “You could argue the fairness in that, given the success Baker has had in his six years here. What you can’t debate is that fan dissatisfaction and ownership restlessness made the move mandatory.”
Since the Reds fired Baker, under manager Bryan Price, they’ve had two losing records and are 140-184.
Jerry Hairston played for both Black and Baker over his 16-year career, and had nothing to say but great things about both managers. But he ran into former Reds teammates Joey Votto and Jay Bruce recently, and here’s what they told him:
“I asked them, ‘What’s going on with you guys in Cincinnati? They said, ‘Jerry, we miss our captain. We miss Dusty Baker.’”
Hairston said he found it “bizarre” that Dusty Baker isn’t managing somewhere.
So do I.
• Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 and espn980.com.