Dusty Baker’s first year in Washington had a sour ending: two straight Nats losses to the Dodgers, a barrage of unflattering references to his own playoff history, and gloom about the franchise’s postseason failures.
But a week after it ended, Baker had extremely kind words about his latest coaching stop.
“I mean, it’s the best time that I’ve had since San Francisco,” Baker said on MLB on TuneIn Live this week. “I like the people there. I like the diversity. You have to almost listen to somebody talk before you know what nationality they are, because there’s people from all over the world. The educational level there is off the hook, and I really liked it a lot — an awful lot. A sophisticated town, but on the other hand, parts of it are kind of country, which is kind of how I am.”
Baker was talking to Holden Kushner and LaTroy Hawkins just moments after the Nats announced their entire coaching staff would return in 2017, and Baker said any other outcome would have been surprising.
“I mean, they didn’t do anything not to be invited back,” he said of his staff. “That’s one of the things that sort of bothers me in baseball, is that if a team doesn’t win or if the players don’t do what they’re supposed to do that are making millions, that they blame the coaches. Coaches coach and players play. And you can coach all you want to — my guys do a great job — but when you’re on the mound you’re there by yourself, and when you’re at home plate you’re there by yourself. I just sort of refuse to blame my coaches all the time.”
Baker also talked about Cleveland’s postseason success, immediately linking it to the Cavs’ recent title. He didn’t mention Washington in this context, but it was impossible not to think of the city’s collective championship drought.
“I was in L.A. when everybody in L.A. was good,” Baker said. “[The Dodgers] were good, the Angels were good, the Raiders were there, the Rams were there, USC and UCLA football were there. Then I was in Pittsburgh when they were called the city of champions, and they had football, and Pitt was good, and the Penguins were good. I don’t know how this happens, but now LeBron James and the Cavaliers, they won, and the whole city’s expecting to win. I think the whole city is thinking positive, because I’ve seen it go from city to city. I’ll tell you, they’ve got a good thing going over there in Cleveland.”
Baker was also asked about his comments following the NLDS about Dave Roberts’s handling of L.A.’s pitchers. Roberts turned to closer Kenley Jansen in the seventh inning of game 5, part of a new paradigm of bullpen usage. “It’s not a trend that I’d like to be a part of,” Baker said at the time. His explanation this week was a bit more nuanced.
“I mean, it may come back and bite ‘em now or it may come back and bite ‘em later,” Baker said. “I remember I was the victim of a lot of criticism [for overusing pitchers] in Chicago, and I didn’t even really know that these guys were hurt or anything happened until the next spring when you get to spring training. Jansen’s a free agent and [Clayton] Kershaw, they have him for a number of years. I just hope that this doesn’t happen to the Dodgers, and I certainly hope it doesn’t happen to Dave [Roberts] and his reputation, because he’s just starting out in the game as a manager.
“But everybody has to overextend at some point in time, because people are interested in you winning,” Baker went on. “And when I look back at [Madison] Bumgarner, was he affected by that? And I look at [Barry] Zito and I look at the whole staff over [in San Francisco]; where they affected by three or four championships? You look at Zito, you look at Lincecum. And so a lot of time that extra time that you spend, that extra month that you spend when everybody else is home resting and recuperating, you really don’t have that time to rest and recuperate like everybody else. And a lot of times that doesn’t show until next year.”