It’s the worst job in baseball.
You win, but you always lose.
They hire you, only to fire you.
The Nationals managerial gig opened up Friday, as Washington's baseball club was up to its old, stupid tricks.
They fired Dusty Baker.
The same manager who won 95 games a year ago, captured the National League East title and lost in Game 5 of the NL Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The same manager who won 97 games this year, won the NL East title for the first time in successive years in franchise history and lost Game 5 of the NL Division Series against the Chicago Cubs.
Baker stayed in Washington for nine days after the final playoff game, getting ready to sign a new two-year extension for at least $6 million, a press conference that would keep him in Washington, where he won his 2,000th career game, and perhaps a World Series title to go with it.
He waited. And waited. And waited. He finally went home to California on Thursday and was awakened with a phone call Friday morning in Sacramento.
They didn’t have the guts to fire him to his face, so they waited for him to leave town.
“They just told me they wanted to go in a different direction, that was it,’’ Baker told USA TODAY Sports. “I'm surprised and disappointed.
"I really thought this was my best year. We won at least 95 games each year and won the division back-to-back years.
“It’s hard to understand.’’
No, not really. It’s the Nationals.
They have a history of treating their managers like garbage and lived up to the reputation once again Friday.
This is an organization that has been in Washington for a dozen years, and their next manager will be their seventh. No manager has even made it to their third year under the Lerner regime. The only team in baseball that has hired and fired more in this span is the Miami Marlins, who haven’t had a winning season in seven years or been to the postseason in 14 years.
The Nationals, meanwhile, have had six consecutive winning seasons, reached the playoffs four times in the last six years and now will be looking for their fifth manager since 2011.
“Our expectations have grown to the fact that winning regular-season games and winning divisions," Nationals GM Mike Rizzo said on a conference call, “are not enough. Our goal is to win a world championship.’’
Wow, so maybe we should look for Joe Maddon to be fired any day since the Cubs won’t win the World Series this year. How is Terry Francona still around in Cleveland? If the Dodgers don’t win the World Series, is Dave Roberts out?
It’s absurd, arrogant really, to think that winning 192 games and back-to-back division titles two years on the job will get you fired.
Then again, why should we be surprised? This is the same organization that offered Bud Black its managerial job two years ago, only to tell him it was for one year. When he objected, they turned to Baker, who took a two-year, $4 million deal, which was only half of what he was earning in his last job in Cincinnati.
This time, there were no negotiations at all, just dead silence while Baker remained in town, even asking if he should renew the lease on his condo.
“This was a pure baseball decision,’’ Rizzo said. “This had absolutely nothing to do with negotiations, dollars.
“This decision was obtained like every important, major decision we make here. It’s a total group decision with a consensus at the end of it, and this was no different.’’
Rizzo isn’t necessarily lying, but it’s a coverup for his ownership.
Rizzo didn’t want to fire Baker. He tried to sign him to a two-year extension this summer until word leaked out, and the Lerner family told him to hold off until the end of the season. Rizzo spent the rest of the season telling everyone who’d listen that Baker would return and that his contract was a non-issue.
How, then, did Rizzo go from adamant to adios in regard to Baker?
This is on ownership, pure and simple.
It’s the only thing that makes sense, to leave a man hanging around in town more than a week after a draining season and not even tell him face to face that he’s no longer wanted.
“It was one of the most difficult decisions,’’ Rizzo said, “the ownership group and myself have had to make since we’ve been here with Washington.’’
Rinse and repeat.
The Nationals tell us they will immediately begin a search for a new manager, one with experience, leadership skills and preferably who has had plenty of success.
You know, kind of like the guy who was only the seventh manager to take his team to at least nine postseasons, with the other six in the Hall of Fame.
Good thing the Lerners didn’t own the Atlanta Braves all those years or they might have kicked Bobby Cox to the curb, scoffing at those 14 consecutive division titles and five pennants, demanding more than one World Series title.
Baker was driving Friday to Berkeley, to see his son, Darren, a freshman at Cal.
He’s hurting but will survive. He always does. He wants to keep managing and has no intention of retiring. There are still three managerial openings, even after Ron Gardenhire was hired Friday by the Detroit Tigers.
He won’t call the Phillies, Mets or Red Sox. If they want him, they know how to find him.
If nothing else, he proved in Washington that he’s still one of the best in the business. His teams have now won at least 90 games in five of the last six years, with four division titles and a wild-card berth. He’s not about to quit now.
“You know something, I thought this year was my best year,’’ Baker said. “I really did.’’
It just wasn’t good enough for the Nationals.
It never is.
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