Acknowledging the unique nature of the situation, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said Thursday the club was simultaneously negotiating contracts with both Bud Black and Dusty Baker to be their next manager, had not selected Black for the job and ultimately didn't make the decision to go with Baker instead because of a financial disagreement.
"It was a unique situation," Rizzo said shortly after the news conference to introduce Baker as the Nationals' sixth manager. "We had both of the candidates in the running here. At the end of the day, it did not come down to money. It did not come down to term. It came down to who were we — meaning the general manager, the president of the team, and ownership — most comfortable with. And Dusty was the right choice."
Speaking publicly for the first time since last Wednesday's reports that Black had been chosen for the job, Rizzo admitted the Nationals were deep in negotiations with the former Padres skipper but insisted Baker was never out of the running.
If that was true, Baker wasn't aware of it. After reading the reports of Black's expected hiring, he "resigned myself to the fact that I had to deal with another disappointment" and went to Santa Cruz, Calif., for a book tour.
"I was a little bewildered as to why no one had told me that I didn't get the job," Baker said. "And I found out later, and now I know why. Because they hadn't made up their mind. ... I got a very touching call from [Nationals managing principal owner Ted] Lerner. He told me that I was not out of the running and I had a good chance of getting the job."
Rizzo insisted the Nationals kept Baker abreast of the situation throughout.
"Dusty, in our mind, was never out of it," the GM said. "We kept in contact with him, specifically through our assistant general manager, Bob Miller, who had a relationship with him with the Cincinnati Reds for years. So they know each other extremely well. They were in constant contact with each other. Bob was giving the message that I wanted him to give to Dusty: We were still interested, and don't close the book on us."
It's not common practice for major-league clubs to negotiate contracts with two managerial candidates at the same time. Typically, a club would offer the job to one candidate, engage in contract talks and nearly always come to terms on an agreement.
Rizzo admitted the process in this case was not typical.
"No, it was a unique situation," he said. "We uniquely had two extremely qualified candidates, and we felt that was the best track to go by. Because sometimes the negotiating process also tells you a lot about the people that you're negotiating with. As we discussed baseball in the interview process, and parameters in the financial process, we came to the conclusion that Dusty Baker was the perfect guy for us."
One possible reason for the convoluted and confusing manner in which this saga played out was the significant role Nationals ownership held in both the interview and negotiating process. The franchise's board of directors — which includes several members of the Lerner family, other minority owners and Rizzo — was directly involved throughout the process.
"When we make these big decisions, they certainly have input and they are involved," Rizzo said. "And I think that's good for the organization. We learn from each other. We get input from each other. And at the end of the day, we come down to it with a singular voice and make that decision."
Lerner family members attended Thursday's news conference but left without speaking to reporters. Rizzo, who in his position as president of baseball operations and GM has final say on baseball decisions, was left to speak for the organization.
"When we make a decision baseball-related, I make the final choice," he said. "I'm the president and general manager of the baseball team. But when we leave that room, we are unanimous. That's what has happened with every major decision we've made, and it continued to happen with this decision."