Winter Meetings interview with Dusty Baker

Winter Meetings interview with Dusty Baker

Q. How nice is it to be back in this spot? Maybe not this spot, but opening day.

DUSTY BAKER: It's nice. It will be nicer once it gets here. But the few things I've got to do because I've been off for a couple years, a few things I've got to catch up on and then try to get ahead in life. But it's great to have another opportunity. Kind of not really turn the game off exactly, but I just kind of put it on the back burner, but I was still watching a lot of games, especially like a lot of San Francisco games and A's games, West Coast games, Dodgers, Padres, because it was just convenient for me. But it was getting difficult sometimes to watch a game from start to finish because some of those games get kind of long. It's not long when you're on the field, but it's just a little long when I was watching. So the break did me good. Got a lot of clarity in life. Physically, I'm in the best shape I've been in in years. Sometimes God gives you a break, and you don't really ask for it, or you wouldn't have taken it yourself. So it's prepared me for the next couple of years.

Q. Dusty, what's the biggest adjustment -- you're talking about things that you have to adjust to. What's the biggest adjustments that you have to catch up on since you've been gone?

DUSTY BAKER: I would probably say the biggest adjustment, because when I left two years ago, they hadn't enacted the replay rules yet. That's probably the biggest adjustment. You've got to know when to go out to argue because it looks like -- I didn't argue a whole bunch anyway unless I thought I was right. This will eliminate even more arguments, make less arguments now. That's probably the biggest adjustment, I think, learning about the replay situation.

Q. Dusty, is this the best team you've taken over?

DUSTY BAKER: Yeah, easily. Because when I took over the Giants, we were next to last. When I took over the Cubs, we were last. When I took over the Reds, I think we were last also. This is the best team I've ever inherited, and I'm hoping that we can sign the players that we have now and add to it. Yeah, it's going to be a tough fight. I think, looking at things, our division and central are really, really tough. Very tough. So it's going to be a good year. It's going to be a good year for baseball.

Q. What is it like coming into the situation that exists in Washington? You've had a lot of challenging situations, Dusty, but how big of a challenge is this? Not whether it's the best team you've taken over, but how big of a challenge is it?

DUSTY BAKER: I don't know. I'll know when I get there. To me, I don't see it as nearly as big a challenge as I had in the past. Like I've said throughout my managerial career, I've been fortunate enough and forced to try to do more with less. Now I always said I wanted to have a situation where I could do more with more, so I'm looking forward to it. I think our players are looking forward to it. According to the reports I've gotten, the city's looking forward to it. And there are a lot of people that are -- at least they've told me that they're glad I'm back in baseball, and there are probably a few people, hopefully a few teams that aren't glad that I'm back.

Q. Dusty, what's the process been like of getting used to the Nats? Do they send you a lot of film? Do you watch guys? Have you been able to talk to players? Have you made your way, rounds around to get to know them?

DUSTY BAKER: Not yet. I'll watch some film. I don't watch a lot of film. I rely on those that are there already, which is why you keep some of the players instead of getting rid of everybody when you come in. You've got to have somebody that's familiar with the surroundings and familiar with the people that are there, and you have to trust other people and not only your eyes and your ears. I've called a few guys, but I learned -- when I went to the Reds, I called everybody, and then I spent a lot of time talking to Josh Hamilton, and then Josh Hamilton was gone a couple of weeks later. So until you see who's going to be on your team, heck, I'm going to be with these guys every day. Like I said, there's a few things I had to get in order in my own life. I wasn't exactly like waiting around for baseball to call me for a job because I didn't get any calls. So why was I going to wait? So I had started a couple other businesses and things that I spent a lot of time and energy and effort and money getting these things together. I'm in the solar business. I'm in the wine business. So I've got to get that in order because, when I come out of this in a couple years, I'm hoping that my businesses will have grown, and I trust the people that I grew up with and put in these positions to take over while I'm gone.

Q. What do you like most about the roster as it stands right now?

DUSTY BAKER: Probably the pitching. That's where it starts. It starts with the pitching. We just have to -- I think we've got to get some guys hopefully have better fortune with injuries than we've had the last couple of years, and some of that's luck, and some of that's hopefully we can start training them early or training them differently in order to stay healthy because, let's face it, if I can keep my front line guys on the field more than yours, there's a good chance of our team winning. I look at their infield defense, they had everybody on the infield out of position, and that's tough to do.

Q. Is there anything that you've learned about the Nationals that's surprised you? You had Sammy, exceptional. You had Barry, off the charts. Now you have Bryce.

DUSTY BAKER: And I had Junior, and I had Votto. I'm pretty lucky.

Q. Similarities. Can you compare Bryce to them, or is he too young?

DUSTY BAKER: I would say at his age, I would probably compare him more to Junior than I would anybody because Junior came in, he came in scalding. Let's not forget Barry struggled -- I think he had .236 one year. Sammy wasn't Sammy when he first came up with the White Sox. So I would say Bryce is probably closest to Junior. I think Junior was with Nike, and Bryce is with Under Armour. Under Armour doesn't have a commercial where Junior throws a ball from New York to Seattle. Both of them -- I've been -- I mean, my son's extremely happy. He's the one that really kind of talked me -- because I didn't know, from being home, how it was going to be for him with me being away for a lot of the year. He told me this is the opportunity of a lifetime. I was like, I don't know where he got that from. He told me, he said, dad, I've been around Ken Griffey, Jr., Barry Bonds, and Joey Votto, and they're all left-hand hitters, and he's a left-hand hitter. So now he's excited about being around Bryce. Who knows? If things go well, he told Joey Votto and Greg Bruce that he was going to play with them. He has a better chance of playing with Bryce maybe because he's younger.

Q. Dusty, you've talked to Mike and people in the front office, is there anything that you've specifically said that you think you'd like to have on a roster that you don't necessarily have at the moment?

DUSTY BAKER: Yeah. You're always in need of left-handed pitching, left-handed hitting, and in need of speed. I think that's the number one thing that's missing, I think, in the game is speed. You know, with the need for minorities, you can help yourself -- you've got a better chance of getting some speed with Latin and African-Americans. I'm not being racist. That's just how it is.

Q. Dusty, you obviously saw a lot of the Mets in your role at TBS in the postseason. How do you feel about having to compete against them in the division?

DUSTY BAKER: Hopefully, they don't feel comfortable about competing against me. The Mets got a good team. They've got a real good team. They've got excellent pitching. It's not only the Mets, like I said, I picked the Florida Marlins to go to the World Series last year. I thought they had the best team in the league last year, if Hernandez is healthy. They've got Barry Bonds that's going to be directing their hitters. Giancarlo Stanton is healthy, hopefully. So this is going to be a very, very tough decision.

Q. Dusty, on that subject, how is Barry going to do as a hitting coach? How will that all play out? I know how much you think of him.

DUSTY BAKER: I don't see -- I was hoping he'd go to the American League. This guy can see things that only a couple players that I've played with have seen - Hank Aaron and Reggie Smith. They see things that people -- what's obvious to them is invisible to others.

Q. Did you guys think about trying to add him on your staff? Sort of what do you think of how your coaching staff has filled out? You've added some guys lately.

DUSTY BAKER: No. Rick Schu is my batting coach. Plus I don't think our organization is going to pay Barry or anybody else as much as they're paying Barry. Plus I had Barry for ten years. That's enough.

Q. Dusty, looking at your roster now, who do you kind of see as leadoff candidates?

DUSTY BAKER: I'm not sure, man. You're asking me, until I see them or until I work with them -- I mean, leadoff candidates? You don't know if Trea Turner is ready. I've asked questions. Mike Taylor, you don't know. You don't know if we might even acquire somebody. I mean, leadoff man is probably one of the toughest guys to find in the batting order. There aren't many Lou Brocks and Davey Lopes, and the all-time man. Shoot, I wouldn't mind bringing Ricky back, you know what I mean? A leadoff man is hard to find.

Q. Dusty, do you think Papelbon will be your closer next year? Do you see that situation as a distraction heading into next season?

DUSTY BAKER: No, I don't see it as a distraction. How am I going to foresee a distraction in advance? I've got to wait until I get there first. I don't even know Papelbon. I mean, right now Papelbon is my closer. I'm not one to foresee problems before they become a problem.

Q. Have you talked to him? Have you gotten a chance to talk to him?

DUSTY BAKER: No, I called him, but I was gone -- I just got back from Mexico. I was helping the team in Mexico. I already had a prior commitment with the Puebla Club down there. Before that, I was pheasant hunting. Like I said, I've been busy. I have plenty of time to see the guys.

Q. In the middle infield, who do you think will make up second for you guys and short?

DUSTY BAKER: You're asking me a bunch of questions that I haven't -- I want to answer, but I don't have the answers to yet. We're still in the process of determining that. I mean, if we had all the answers, we wouldn't really need to be here.

Q. Did your time away from the game, a chance to watch a lot of baseball, did it change your perspective on anything that you would do in the dugout?

DUSTY BAKER: Nothing. If I would do anything, I think I would encourage the hitters to be more aggressive because everybody's talking about get deep in the count. All that's doing is putting you in a better situation to strike out. And I see guys taking the first pitch like right there. I'm cringing sometimes. And I see them taking hangers. My son thinks there's something wrong with my neck because I'm like ooh [ gesturing ]. Every time I turn around, I'm cringing, you know what I mean? I believe in getting deep in the count, but there's a way sometimes that pitcher shouldn't know if you're going to take or swing, and that's where the game comes in with hitting. I'd like to see us really work on that, which is why we've got one of my best buddies, Davey Lopes, watching games. I saw a ton of mistakes, a ton of bad baseball, especially on the base running side.

Q. When we look at Washington, who currently has been peaking since Frank Robinson was there earlier in the season and the last couple years with the talent they had, is it fair to say that you're in a must-win situation with this team?

DUSTY BAKER: I've been in a must-win situation all my life. That's how I look at it. Other than one time out of 20 that I had more than a two-year contract. With San Francisco, the whole time I had two-year contracts. That's like I was at least in a must-win every other year. So it's like it's no big thing to me. People can apply pressure. I'm not going to apply pressure to myself. I don't think I must win. I think I'm going to win.

Q. Dusty, what about Stephen Strasburg? How have you assessed his career up to this point from afar?

DUSTY BAKER: That's a good word, "from afar". Some guys, it takes them a little while to see the -- I think potential is a very dangerous word because the more people put potential on you, no matter how well you do, then there's always they expect more. We'll see. I'm hoping that Mike Maddox and myself can help this young man get it together, really, really get it together, and take the word potential off of him. And being around Scherzer and some of the guys that can show him. I remember when Nolan Ryan was a .500 pitcher. I remember when Curt Schilling was under a .500 pitcher. I remember when Steve Carlton lost 25 games. There have been some guys -- very few guys come in, like Fernando and Mark Fidrych and those guys. It takes a while. We'll see.

Q. Dusty, is there anything you learned about the Nationals that surprised you?

DUSTY BAKER: I don't know. I haven't met everybody yet. No, nothing yet. You talk to me in May. I'm not being facetious. I just met all the scouts and everybody yesterday. So everybody's "dude" and "how you doing?" I don't know the names. I know a couple guys in there.

Q. I think you have one more coaching spot left on your staff. When do you think you'll fill the last bullpen spot? Who are you kind of looking at?

DUSTY BAKER: We'll fill that in the next couple of days. We'd like to fill it before we get out of here.

Q. Did you reach out to Matt Williams at all and ask him any questions?

DUSTY BAKER: That's a good question. I actually reached out to Matt prior to me calling the Nationals about this job because I didn't want Matt to think that -- Matt is one of my favorites, and I didn't want him to think that I'd done anything adversarial to get this job. Then I also asked Matt about the organization. I asked him about player personnel. Because I trust -- I trust Matt's judgment. It really wasn't fair to assess last year as how Matt Williams is because he still is the reigning -- or he was the reigning Manager of the Year, and he had bunch of injuries. I urged Matt -- he had asked me -- he was offered the third base job. Because you still lick your wounds, and your feelings are hurt when you get fired, especially when you get fired the first time. So I had urged him to take the third base job, and I see that he did.

Q. Dusty, you've got a good number of veterans on this team, especially position players, some of whom have dealt with injuries on and off over the last few years. How do you strike the balance between wanting those best players in your lineup every day and making sure they also get the time off to keep them fresh all year?

DUSTY BAKER: The best way to do that is to insure you have a good bench, that you don't lose a whole lot when you do give them days off. I know how to run this race. I know what it takes as a player and a coach and a manager, and it's a long race. It starts before you even get to Spring Training. You've got to train for the race. That's what we're in the process of doing. It depends on -- there's a fine line between when you overplay them in the spring and when you underplay them in the spring, to not have them ready or under ready. I've got to see -- I heard our travel is a little tough in Florida. So we just have to see. We have like a mini camp there, see how much -- see, when I had Barry Bonds with the Giants, I had to like sit Barry down because he was ready in like two weeks, and it might take this other guy -- and then Barry would go stale for the last two weeks, where another guy needed extra at bats. So it just depends on my assessment per person and how much I work with them.

Q. You had been deciding on Chris Speier for third base or bench coach. He'll be the bench coach, I guess. Why bring Henley back, and why put Chris at the bench and not on the field? What was the decision to do that?

DUSTY BAKER: I guess it depends on the organization. The organization thought very highly of Henley. I didn't know Henley. Like I said, you've got to trust somebody in the organization. I just don't believe -- nowhere I've been where you just go fire the whole everybody. And then after that happens and it takes you two months to learn the organization and learn about which guy's the true guy, which guy is the con man. It takes a while to learn people. So I got a couple guys -- like Rick Schu went to my high school after me, years after me. So I've been knowing Rick Schu for a long time. And Henley is a guy that can coordinate Spring Training. He's a guy that can help out in a lot of different ways.

Q. Dusty, who have your other con men been throughout your career?

DUSTY BAKER: I can't tell you that. No, I can't tell you that. I mean, baseball's a microcosm of society. There are users. There are givers. There are abusers. You know, whatever is in this room is on your team. It's just that God blew a whole bunch of ability into this particular guy here. Once you recognize who they are, that's the stuff, you know. That's not exactly how I would say it.

Q. Dusty, you had Aroldis Chapman when he broke into the majors. What was that process like? Were you surprised by the report?

DUSTY BAKER: I don't believe reports. Who knows why? I'm not one to judge on how the whole thing happened.

Q. What do you know about the guy?

DUSTY BAKER: Oh, he's a heck of a guy. I mean, a heck of a guy. I'll go on record and say I wouldn't mind having Chapman. No, no, he is a tremendous young man with a great family, mom and dad, and what he went through to get here and what his family had to go through to get here. I was with him through the whole process. There was a couple times when I had to stop him from quitting or going back to Cuba because he was lonely for his family. So I went through a lot of stuff with Chapman. I got nothing but love for the young man.

Q. Were you surprised by -- I don't know how much you read about the allegations.

DUSTY BAKER: I didn't read it.

Q. Are you surprised that this popped up?

DUSTY BAKER: I don't read most of the stuff you guys write. No, I don't.

Q. I believe you. I didn't know if you heard anything.

DUSTY BAKER: I heard it from my son. I mean, who's to say the allegations are true, number one. And who's to say what you would have done or what caused the problem.

Q. Dusty, do you believe that it's a good thing that baseball now has a domestic policy?

DUSTY BAKER: Yes.

Q. Domestic violence policy?

DUSTY BAKER: Yeah. I think it's a great thing. I mean, I got a buddy at home that's being abused by his wife. So I think this policy needs to go further than the player. I think the policy should go to whoever's involved. Sometimes abusers don't always have pants on. I think we need to get them both in a room and try to come up with something. It's a bad situation. That's the first thing my momma told me when I was a kid. Don't hit a woman, even my sister. Man, I was like you better leave me alone before I tell my momma. It's a bad situation. I learned that young, but a lot of people maybe didn't learn that.