Comments by GM indicate Cal Ripken Jr. likely will not be Nats' next manager
When Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo announced the long-expected dismissal of manager Matt Williams on Monday, he made it clear that the next manager up will almost certainly have previous managerial experience.
So, any speculation that the next Nationals manager will be Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. pretty much ended before it had a chance to begin.
"Experience is always helpful,'' Rizzo said on a conference call with reporters. "It always adds a layer of expertise to anybody's resume. We feel that where we're at in our timetable of winning a championship, we certainly would lean toward someone that has some type of managerial experience, especially at the major league level."
Williams, the 2014 National League Manager of the Year, was a combined 179-145 in his first two seasons as a major league manager, a record that is two games better than highly popular Orioles manager Buck Showalter over that stretch, but the Nationals entered the 2015 season as one of the favorites to represent the National League in the World Series and fell well short of the postseason.
It probably didn't help that a season of such promise was scarred by internal turmoil and the organization nationally embarrassed two weeks ago by a dugout scuffle between star closer Jonathan Papelbon and young superstar Bryce Harper.
"This entire season was a disappointment," Rizzo said. "It was not our best year. It wasn't Matt's best year. It wasn't my best year. As an organization, it wasn't our best year."
No doubt, there are a lot of baseball fans in the Mid-Atlantic region who think that Ripken would be the perfect antidote for what ails the Nationals organization, but he apparently will not make the short list of candidates to succeed Williams.
His name has come up in managerial speculation before. The Nationals contacted him two years ago before choosing Williams, but he indicated at the time that he wasn't sure he was ready to return to a full-time baseball routine. Since then, however, he has given hints that he would be more open to the possibility of managing a major league club now that his children are grown.
" I think the only thing different I said this time was that I was 55 and that's kind of relatively young,'' Ripken told The Baltimore Sun in early September. "Because people are thinking, 'God, you're getting older, you've got to do something.' I don't see it that way. If there was an opportunity or something that would come up, in any aspect of things, I would just be honest enough to think about it and listen to it and evaluate it."
He may get that chance at some point, but according to spokesman John Maroon, Ripken has not had any recent discussions with the Nationals about replacing Williams.
"Cal's been very consistent when asked about this in the past,'' Maroon said. "There's nothing to say about this because no one is talking to him about it. So, there's nothing to talk about."
Rizzo's comments about the attributes he would look for in his next manager seemed to reflect the belief that Williams did not have the necessary experience or managerial acumen to handle some of the negative situations that arose during the club's disappointing 2015 season, but there was plenty of blame to pass around.
It was the front office that created one of Williams' biggest headaches, acquiring Papelbon to be the club's new closer when Drew Storen was in the midst of a terrific season in which he had converted 29 of 31 save opportunities and had a 1.64 ERA in late July.
The scuffle with Harper seemed to be a carryover from the clubhouse dissension that surfaced after Papelbon threw twice near the head of Orioles third baseman Manny Machado during their September interleague series at Nationals Park. Harper appeared to side with Machado and got some choice words from Papelbon a few days later for failing to run hard on a popup.
Williams seemed oblivious to the fight, even though he was in the dugout at the time, and allowed Papelbon to continue pitching. The Nationals would later add a four-game suspension to the three games Papelbon received for plunking Machado.
Rizzo said Monday that no single event led to the decision to fire Williams.