The Nats are narrowing down the field of potential managers and it appears that Bud Black and Dusty Baker are leading the pack. This is fine. I do wonder if the Nats are doubling down on experience (no DeMarlo Hale interview?) but if you are going to double down on something "experience" is better than "tough Marine-itude!"
But given that these are also ex-managers it is of interest to know why they were fired and why the Nats would be interested in them.
Dusty has been a successful manager over his career. His first job was way back in 1993in San Francisco at the youthful age of 44. After a bumpy start (3 seasons below .500) he guided the Giants to 6 straight winning seasons 4 of them 90 wins or better. He would make the playoffs three times. The Giants would be swept in the DS his first time out in 1997 by the Marlins. They'd lose another DS 3 games to 1 to the Mets in 2000. Finally he'd break through in 2002 making it all the way to the World Series before losing to the Angels in 7 games.
That sounds pretty successful. What went wrong? Baker didn't get along with the ownership. He wanted more respect, meaning he didn't like the owner talking about replacing him (as he did early on), or about how the team failed (as he did after Mets series), or setting him up with the highest expectations (as he did before 2002). The owner, Magowan, didn't like how Baker himself used the media to note that he was interested in other jobs and unhappy with the ownership and also how the media fawned over and sided with Dusty.
So Dusty and the Giants basically agreed he would not come back and off to Chicago he went. He would take a young but talented squad and immediately make them winners, getting them to their first NLCS since 1984 and steps away from their first World Series since 1954. But it was not to be. Baker presided over a fantastic game 6 meltdown from which the Cubs would never recover. Over the rest of his short time in the Windy City, the Sosa era would end badly, the Cubs players would revolt against a broadcaster who they felt were too critical of the team and more importantly the Cubs went back to being terrible. They stumbled late in 2004 and missed the playoffs and wouldn't be good again. Certainly injuries to a questionable roster were the main reason the Cubs quickly became irrelevant again, but at the very least it was clear Dusty was not working in Chicago.
He would also at this time become a favorite target of the sabrmetrically minded. Dusty seemingly overused his young pitchers and broke them down and didn't appreciate the necessity of getting on base. The latter is almost certainly true. His teams don't take a lot of walks mirroring his own aggressive approach as a player. The former though is what sticks in most people's minds and is more of a half truth. He did use young arms for a lot of 100+ pitch games, but how much of their future was ruined because of that? Wood was driven hard before Dusty ever got there and already missed a season due to injury. Zambrano was ridden hardest and didn't break down until turning 30. Prior broke down nearly immediately and never recovered suggesting rather than overuse it was something inherent to his mechanics. Dusty probably didn't help the situation but wasn't likely the cause, and has since shown less proclivity for pushing the pitch count envelope. The league has changed, in some part thanks to the Wood/Prior issues, and Dusty adapted.
Dusty would go on to one more stop, managing Cincinnati from 2008 through 2013. The team would be generally successful during his tenure going from 74 wins in year one to a high of 97 wins in 2012. He would lose 2 division series and a Wild Card game during his time in Cincinnati. But again Baker didn't mesh with someone or something. This time it was new GM Walt Jocketty. They didn't quite see eye to eye. Jocketty looking for someone more in the LaRussa role of the tactician, and Baker looking for roster help that didn't come. When Baker basically said there was no reason to fire the hitting coach and put himself on the line out he went.
Bud Black is a much easier cover. He was hired to manage the Padres in 2007 and in 8+ seasons had two winning years and no playoff appearances. For the most part though, the Padres have been a competitive team under Black only twice winning under 76 games. Most analysts believe that he's done the best he could with a organization that produced few decent players under his watch.
There is some thought that that Black didn't help with that, as notable players such as Anthony Rizzo and Edison Volquez have developed stronger in other places after trials in San Diego. However, he did seem to have a knack for finding and using his bullpen arms and it's not like there are a flood of former Padres hitting stars out there. They did try to compensate for Black's apparent weakness in developing young hitters at the major league level, by furnishing him with a truck load of free agent bats this past winter. However they immediately failed and seeing the writing on the wall, which included either getting this current roster to immediately perform or failing that another rebuild, the Padres decided to go in a different direction. They failed to get any better with Pat Murphy helming the team.
The other knock on Black would be those 0 playoff appearances. He not only failed to get the Padres to the post-season, in two seasons he captained collapses. in 2007 they went 4-7 to end the season (0-3 in last three) to miss the playoffs outright and would lose a one-gamer to the Rockies to make the wild card. In 2010 they finished 14-23, losing 10 in a row at one point, and would lose the division by 2 games. But 2007 was marred by Hoffman blowing two of the last games of the year something no one hangs on Black.
My thoughts today
Reading through this, Dusty Baker seems like a solid motivator who might be overly sensitive to negativity. It can be the owner, the media, or the GM, but he clearly does not handle it well, in part because he does succeed. If he wins, why are people on his back? He has some notions about strategy that don't work all that well, but he's unlikely to abuse these arms (especially with Rizzo looking over his shoulder) and this franchise has never been one to care about OBP. He kind of fits in, in a way. He is as strictly regimental as Williams was (during his Reds days a complaint was underusing Chapman) but given his general success he probably has better intuition on who to use, and when to use them, although this has bit him in the playoffs. He does favor "his guys" a bit too much but he's going to work with what's given and let's face it, in 4 years of Nats have you ever seen a bench player that's been good enough to be wasted sitting there?
Bud Black seems like a prefectly vanilla choice. On the plus side he's very likely to be able to sort through the mess of relief arms to find a workable bullpen. Given the Nats overall strategy of "we don't spend on middle relief arms" that would work well here. He'd also almost certainly get along with everyone, having few player, management or media tiffs in his time in San Diego. That may be important following a manager that lost the clubhouse. On the flip side he doesn't seem to light a fire under any team. If he's relying on that to happen internally he may have to look elsewhere as the Nats don't really have boisterous clubhouse motivators. And while you can point to playoff collapses with Dusty, at least he got his teams there. Over the long haul of a season, Black may lack that necessary next level switch that many teams find necessary to turn on in September.