Dusty Baker returns to DC, faces old friend Davey Martinez

Astros manager Dusty Baker

Dusty Baker sat down in the third-base dugout at Nationals Park on Friday about two hours before first pitch, just across the field from where he sat as manager of the home ballclub for two seasons. Baker hadn’t managed the Nationals in nearly five years, but Friday’s game marked the first time he would face his former club since returning to baseball as manager of the Houston Astros in 2020.

“It’s just a little strange coming here, coming out of this side of the dugout,” Baker said to a throng of reporters from the back bench. “I haven’t come out of this side of the dugout in a while. But I had great memories here. The people were great. I enjoyed the town. Like I’ve said many times, I enjoyed the diversity, the educational level here. For a two-year period, this is probably as good of a period as I’ve had anywhere.”

From 2016-17, Baker led the Nationals to 95- and 97-win seasons, winning the NL East handily both years. He oversaw each of Max Scherzer’s Cy Young-winning campaigns in D.C. as well as All-Star seasons out of Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Daniel Murphy and Wilson Ramos. However, he couldn’t get the Nationals past the NLDS, losing the first-round series to the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs, respectively.

The Nationals opted not to re-sign Baker after the 2018 season — a decision he says didn’t come from GM Mike Rizzo — and instead hired one of Baker’s former players: Davey Martinez.


“It wasn’t awkward cause it wasn’t Davey’s fault,” Baker said. “I replaced Matt Williams, one of my former players, and it wasn’t his fault, either. I talked to Matt before I came here. I think I talked to Davey after he got here. Davey’s a great choice. Davey played for me. Davey was one of my favorite players. He learned a lot from being around Joe Maddon. Davey’s a very good manager, and he’s an excellent fisherman.”

Martinez only played two seasons under Baker while with the San Francisco Giants from 1993-94, but they’ve kept in touch over the years and shared passions for fishing and wine. The Nationals’ skipper, who led the club to its first World Series title two years after Baker’s departure, considers him to be one of his biggest influences from his years in baseball along with Maddon and Hall of Famer Bobby Cox.

“It’s actually a big deal for me too,” Martinez said. “He’s a great man, he really is, not only as a manager but as a person. I truly learned a lot from him, not only playing for him but over the years. We’ve always kept in contact. He’ll text me, I’ll text him, but he’s truly an unbelievable person. The record for a manager speaks for itself. He’s definitely a players’ manager but he understands the game very well.”

While Baker is still chasing his elusive first championship, the veteran manager did make history on May 3 when he clinched his 2,000th career win. He was just the 12th manager in MLB history to reach the threshold, joining a list that includes 10 Hall of Famers and the recently retired three-time World Series champion Bruce Bochy. The same night, his son Darren who’s an infielder in the Nationals’ minor-league system, recorded a walk-off hit.

“He just has a great understanding of what needs to be done to be successful at this level,” Nationals pitcher Erick Fedde, who played for Baker as a rookie, said of his former skipper. “When I was first coming up when I was starting he would be like, ‘Hey man, if you’re gonna go out there and throw your 100-some pitches you need to learn through it even if it’s your good day or your bad day,’ and that’s something that’s still with me to this point.

“Hopefully 100 years from now, when you think back of big names in the game Dusty Baker is one that comes up.”

Baker also entered Friday’s game managing a ballclub that still very much resembles the one that lost to the Nationals in the 2019 Fall Classic.

Though Washington (11-22) has overhauled its roster to focus on developing younger talent, the Astros (21-11) have won 10 straight games and sit atop the AL West. Names like Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yordan Álvarez and Justin Verlander highlight their roster. Meanwhile, the Nationals have only four active players on their roster who appeared in that World Series.


After the Astros reached the World Series again last season only to fall to the Atlanta Braves, the club is still trying to get Dusty his first ring. This season, their path back includes a three-game series in Navy Yard, a neighborhood Baker hardly recognizes anymore.

“It’s kind of strange,” Baker said. “They’re doing a lot of building around here. Man, I sure wish I was invested in a couple buildings. Or in some big cranes. I’m telling you, this has really, really picked up. I stopped by on the way here today to see a friend, and I’d been over there many times, and I couldn’t find it. They’ve certainly built this area up.”