Last week when media reports had Bud Black penciled in as the Nationals' new manager, Dusty Baker gave an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle at a book signing in which he lamented losing out on the job. The Nats had not spoken to him yet - which in hindsight perhaps should have been a clue to all of us - and he was down in the dumps about it.
His wife had alerted him of the story, which turned out to be premature. At the time, however, he did not know that and wondered aloud if his baseball managing career was over. It was a tough pill to swallow for the 66-year-old skipper, and not only because he missed being in the dugout.
Baker saw the Nationals job as the perfect fit for him, both on the field and off of it. On the field the Nationals boast a talented roster capable of going as far as they want in October. And off the field they represent a city Baker has long had a special admiration for. The demographics of D.C. as an international city have always impressed the man who grew up outside Sacramento, California.
"It's a perfect fit because of the culture here, the educational system here," Baker explained. "[Tuesday] night I went to the [Wizards] game and there were people from all over the country and all over the world... I'm used to diversity and this is probably the most diverse city and the most diverse town that I've been in."
Baker will now lead a baseball team in a city long known for its large population of African-Americans. He, in fact, will be the only black manager in baseball next season - barring something unforeseen with the Dodgers' hire - and only the second minority. If it weren't for the Nationals hiring Baker, there may have been no black managers in baseball for the first time since 1987.
It is an unintended statistic in baseball, but an unfortunate one. And Baker knows being the only one carries a certain weight.
"I've felt a sense of responsibility really the whole time I've been managing. There have not been many managers of color. I've had a central responsibility since I was a kid in different walks of life. My parents were heavily involved in the NAACP when I was a kid and I was in the junior NAACP. My mom always stressed education and pride in my family," he said.
GM Mike Rizzo was actually asked after Thursday's introductory press conference explicitly if race played a factor in the team's decision to hire Baker, who is a three-time NL Manager of the Year and was quite easily the most qualified candidate available.
"We didn't have that thought," Rizzo said. "We really chose Dusty for the résumé he brings, and the way he conducts himself. Really the thing that put Dusty over the top was the trust factor that he had, not only with me — because I've known of him and we know so many of the same people — but the trust factor with ownership was huge in this process."
The process of hiring him was not as smooth as the Nats intended, but Baker is grateful for the opportunity in Washington and happy to be back in baseball.
"There is a sense of pride. Hopefully I can make a difference. All the calls that I've had, people have said 'hey, it's better to have you in the game than not in the game.' I try to lead by example."