The bulldozers and front-end loaders were digging up the dirt on the field at Nationals Park as new Washington Nationals manager Dave Martinez was introduced to the media.
Digging up a resting place for the new manager, already?
Sorry, but it’s hard not to approach the Martinez era with the attitude, “Welcome to Washington, Dave. Where should we forward your mail?”
He has a tough act to follow — two-time National League East division-winning manager, Dusty Baker, a respected and beloved figure both in the Nationals clubhouse and throughout baseball whose contract was not renewed by the Nationals owners, the Lerner family, who are now on their seventh manager in Washington.
Whatever Baker was — a three-time NL Manager of the Year with 1,800 career wins, taking four different teams to the playoffs — it wasn’t enough for the owners of the Nationals, who have made it clear that anything short of winning a World Series championship is grounds for dismissal.
Martinez clearly got that message. He repeated it several times Thursday afternoon in a press conference staged in the Nationals clubhouse. He said the goal is “to get to the next level and win a world championship in Washington.”
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And this: “The object is to win as many games possible. We’re not just here to win a playoff game. We’re here to win a World Series.”
That one drew applause from the Nationals employees and the Lerner family, who sat in the front row.
Make no mistake: It may have been a press conference, but the only person Martinez was really talking to was sitting eight feet away — Ted Lerner.
Someone has gotten into the Nationals owner’s ear and turned him into Ted, long-time-listener-on-line-three. The message of World Series or bust was repeated throughout the entire session, clearly for the benefit of the owners.
“After talking to the Lerner family and Mike (Rizzo, Nationals president and general manager) I think we have something in common and that is the desire and passion to bring a world championship to Washington,” Martinez said. “We’re going to get it done.”
And in case he wasn’t clear, Martinez repeated again his marching orders. “My message from here on out is to play the last game of the World Series and win,” he said. “That’s all we are going to concentrate on, that’s all we are going to worry about. How are we going to do that? By winning one more game each day.”
This, of course, is ludicrous.
Every team uses the same world championship rhetoric, but few — none, save for the old George Steinbrenner Yankees — have made it a job requirement.
The Lerners, in letting Baker go and with the words they chose to support their ridiculed decision, have done just that — made winning a World Series a requirement of the job to manage the Washington Nationals.
What happens to Martinez, who has a three-year contract, if they don’t even make the playoffs — like they failed to do with Davey Johnson in 2013 and Matt Williams in 2015?
Postseason baseball is as random as they come in competition — 12 different teams have won championships in the 21st century. To believe that you can mandate a world championship shows an alarming lack of sophistication and intelligence among the Lerners, who, you would think after owning a baseball franchise since 2006, would be smarter — not more foolish.
If they are getting advice from someone besides the head of their baseball operations — Rizzo, who remember, wanted to bring Baker back — it’s bad advice.
Whoever gave Martinez — Joe Maddon’s bench coach with the Chicago Cubs who has been passed over by at least eight other teams, including Washington in 2013, for managing jobs — advice before meeting with the Lerners, though, had it right.
Tell them World Series or bust.
“Like I said the ultimate goal is to win a world championship, to get that title for Washington and the fans who deserve it,” Martinez said.
Goal? I’d say it’s more than that. Goals have been buried in the dirt at Nationals Park, replaced by World Series demands.
• Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver podcast network.