After a two-year trial with an unexperienced manager, the Nationals went far in the other direction this time around by hiring Dusty Baker, a baseball lifer of almost 50 seasons. He played 19 years, was an assistant coach, then managed 20 seasons before landing in Washington.
Baker has done so much in baseball that he's a man who needs no introduction. When he was hired by the Nationals, their players didn't need to Google who he was or what he had done. They already knew, either through their own experience of playing against him, or from word-of-mouth among MLB players.
"[His record] kind of speaks for itself," Jayson Werth. "When you watch him in the past and with him handling teams and superstar players, it speaks for itself. I think he's coming to the team at the right time and I think everyone is excited and we're looking forward to it."
Most veteran players crossed paths with him back when he coached the Reds, but several members of the Nats knew of Dusty long before they reached the majors.
"He probably doesn't remember this," Stephen Strasburg said. "But when I was in freshman summer ball in college I went out to ESPN and took a tour and I met him there actually. That was the first time I met him, but I don't think it was a memorable experience for him."
"I met him a few years ago. I just happened to run into him at a restaurant," Joe Ross said. "I know his nephew. He knows my dad. I've heard a lot of good things about him. He seems like a straight shooter. We'll have fun and get a long pretty well. It should be good to see what's going to go down in spring training."
Ross knows Baker's nephew because he was the scout credited with signing the right-hander to the San Diego Padres.
"I wouldn't say I was shy, but I was probably like 19. I wasn't going to go up and say 'hey, I'm Joe Ross. Nice to meet you.' I was trying to leave him alone, but of course my dad was first to go say something, so I had to follow behind and say hello. I think he remembered me from then."
After the Nats hired Baker, bench player Clint Robinson tweeted a picture of Dusty's book called 'You Can Teach Hitting.' It was the first hitting book Clint's father bought for him when he was six years old.
Baker saw the tweets and talked to Robinson about the book this past week when they finally met face-to-face.
"My dad bought it for me," Robinson said. "He was just trying to coach me up as a little kid and he bought me the Dusty Baker book. I've still got it at my mom's house. She's got it in a box somewhere. I went home for Thanksgiving and I couldn't find it, but she said she's got it. I'm going to try to get it from her before I go to spring training and maybe have him sign it."
Robinson hasn't read the book in decades, but he still recalls one of the lessons.
"There were a couple of things my dad and I still kind of joke about. There was a page in the book about hitting pigeon-toed, like each toe facing each other when you're in the batters box. I think that's more of a teaching tool for younger kids, but I always remembered the pigeon-toed part of that book."
Baker has been around the block and that was evident in his opening press conference when he name-dropped everyone from the President of the United States to Hank Aaron. Everybody knows Dusty.
"We actually got to hang out [at the Nationals Youth Academy] and spent some time together with each other and with the kids. He's awesome," Anthony Rendon said.
"He had a story for everything. Tal Alter, who runs the academy, he would name somebody he had an interaction with and Dusty would be like 'yeah, I know that guy. We did this and that together.' I'm like 'this dude has a story for every single person.'"
Some Nationals players did ask around about Baker after he was hired, and they didn't need to search far. Baker has played and coached long enough to know just about everyone in the game.
"I’m really excited," Max Scherzer said. "I’ve talked to a bunch of different players across generations now and everybody has just come back and raved about him. They’ve talked about how personal he is in the clubhouse. I’m really excited to get to spring training to see what he’s got and see how he can help our ballclub.
"[They all say ] how funny he is. How he keeps everybody loose in the clubhouse. And just his personality. It’s things like that. Guys just love playing for him and love what he does for the ballclub. Guys who were in the 1990’s, 2000’s … Everybody loved Dusty."