Whether there was purpose behind it or not, Dusty Baker shared a pretty interesting anecdote during his introductory news conference Thursday. Asked about Bryce Harper, the newly named Nationals manager offered up a story about his own days as a brash, young big-leaguer and an important lesson he learned.
"I wasn't as good a player as Bryce Harper," Baker said. "But I came in the league, and my first year I hit third in the league. And I hit behind Hank Aaron. And I thought that I was the cat's meow at that time. And I got kind of jacked a couple times by the older guys. One time, I had somebody's hand around my throat, because I was kind of a little cocky, too. But you learn. And this game, sooner or later, will humble you no matter how good you think you are."
Hmm, remind you of any particular recent incident that took place in the Nationals dugout?
Baker pretty clearly wanted to mention that story, and he also clearly wanted to provide his philosophy on clubhouse conflicts. The man has been in this game long enough to know how often teammates get into confrontations with each other. (He saw Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent go after each other in 2002, a season that ended with the Giants in the World Series.) And he believes he knows how best to ensure those confrontations don't devolve into something with longer lasting ramifications.
"There's always conflict at some points in time," he said. "From my military and Marines days, we handled it like men. We talked about it out in the open, so we don't let things fester. That's the main way.
"I remember I had a dispute with a teammate. I was upset with this guy, so somebody called him over and said: 'Hey, Dusty's got a beef with you.' He told him what I said. I said: 'Don't tell him that.' He said: 'Well, you said it.' It got out in the open, and we're best of friends now. That's how you deal with it. You don't let these things ... and you can sort of see it on the plane and the bus and with certain things. You have to deal with things as quickly as you can."
The Nationals still must decide what to do with Jonathan Papelbon, who was suspended by the club during the season's final week after choking Harper in the dugout. If the club chooses to keep the volatile closer, does Baker envision a scenario in which the two are able to coexist?
The new manager intends to start laying the groundwork for that, and for building relationships with all of his players, long before heading to Viera in February.
"It actually starts in the winter," he said. "I'm going to contact the players and hopefully see some of them. That's the main thing. ...
"To tell you the truth, everyone wants to know what I'm going to say on the first day of spring training. And you know something? I really don't know. It's something that I have to feel, something that can't be fabricated and can't be faked. Guys can see that. I'll talk to some of the guys and see what this team needs. But I really don't know exactly what they need. Who knows, they may not need anything. I doubt it, but at the same time I'll listen to some of the guys. The thing about great leaders, like Nelson Mandela said: 'You have to listen as well as talk.'"