Dusty Baker has learned over the course of his 67 years, and through his career spanning six decades in Major League Baseball, that just because you know you are good at what you do and have the wins to prove it, doesn't mean you are guaranteed anything in his business.
When he was fired by the Cincinnati Reds following the 2013 season, a year in which he won 90 games and one year after he won 97, Baker had a .526 career winning percentage through 20 seasons as a big league skipper. Only Bruce Bochy had more wins among active managers. Only 16 in MLB history have more victories and of those only four are not in the Hall of Fame. Bochy is one, the others are Jim Leyland - who recently retired - Lou Pinella and Gene Mauch.
Baker's résumé spoke for itself, yet he was out of a job for two full seasons following his departure in Cincinnati. Even the Nationals showed little interest before the 2014 season, when they instead chose his former player, Matt Williams, to coach.
It was a long two years, but now Baker is back where he feels he belongs. He's back in the majors, back in the dugout and back in the postseason ready to chase the one accomplishment that has eluded him for decades: a World Series title as a manager.
"This is what I thought I should be doing," he said. "When I was sitting at home, I was like 'I should be there' because I'm pretty used to going to the playoffs. So I'm very grateful and thankful that I have a good team. This is what we wanted in spring training this is what we wanted prior to spring training. We wanted to be in this position. So to me, this is kind of where I'm supposed to be."
Baker is happy where he's at, but there were some dark times during those two years. He spent much of that period in his own thoughts, at times having doubts about whether he would ever get a chance to manage again.
He made the most of his time, however. He married his daughter, he took fishing trips to Montana and Canada, he spent time with his teenage son. He started a wine business. He watched plenty of baseball and even spent time as a television analyst.
But Baker always knew he wanted to get back in the dugout. A desire to return burned inside of him. He wanted and felt he deserved one more shot.
"I was down for about three days [after getting fired] and I couldn't figure out why I was down. We had just lost the playoffs and a couple days after that I lost my job. But my dad used to tell me that it's ok to be down, just don't stay down. I was like 'man, is that what depression is?' I've never had depression, all I know is I didn't like that feeling."
He got over it, but that didn't make the phone ring. He waited and waited and waited, and to his surprise there was little interest from other teams.
"I was more bewildered than I was worried, and I wondered if I was on the blacklist or not. There's an unwritten list and sometimes your name is at the top as one of the unwanted, for whatever reason. I was sitting at home watching guys [get jobs] that hadn't done what I had done. In my last year I had gone to the playoffs again. That doesn't happen very often: a guy goes to the playoffs and all of a sudden he can't get a job."
Baker eventually interviewed with the Nationals last fall, but for a brief period believed he was passed over for the job. He did an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle and said he was displeased, in general, with the way African-Americans were being passed over for big league jobs. Baker's counterpart in the NL Division Series, Dave Roberts, is the only other minority among current MLB managers, a stat that does not accurately reflect the demographics among players.
"My mother taught me as a kid, as an African-American that you have to be twice as good to accomplish the same thing. So that's something that's been in my family ever since I was a kid," Baker said.
Baker knows this could be his last opportunity to win a World Series and if he does, he will vastly improve his case for the Hall of Fame. That, naturally, is another goal of Dusty's.
"Everyday in Cincinnati I was passing somebody [in career wins] that was in the Hall of Fame already. So yeah, I'd like to be the first African American in the Hall of Fame as a manager," he said.
"I think about it. I think about if I hadn't been out the last couple years I'd be close to 2000 victories. So there's certain things that you think about."
SCROLL DOWN FOR MORE NATIONALS STORIES