WASHINGTON -- During his introductory news conference last week, manager Matt Williams cited Dusty Baker -- his hitting coach from 1989-92 and manager from 1993-96 -- as his mentor, saying that Baker taught him how to be a professional hitter and that he considers him a great friend.
"I spent hours and hours in the cage with him," Williams said. "We talk often. In that respect, I try to take a little from Dusty in that he is the ultimate player's manager. He communicates so well with the players that -- you hear it all the time -- they run through the wall for Dusty. He speaks to them as men on the same level."
Baker was aware that Williams wanted to become a manager, and the two spoke right after the 2013 season ended, with Baker advising Williams as he pursued his dream.
"We go back. I was the manager [of the Giants] when he was a kid," Baker said on Wednesday via telephone. "I stay in contact with a lot of my former players, especially when they want to run something by me and they need me."
Even though Williams doesn't have experience as a Major League manager, Baker believes he will be successful as the leader of the Nationals. Baker also didn't have managerial experience when he became skipper of the Giants.
"Matty was a first-base coach and a third-base coach. He is far more advanced than I was as a hitting coach," Baker said. "A lot of it has to do with how you deal with other people. Matt is firm, but fair. He is not going to lie to you. He is a strong man. I think he is going to do a great job. I called him and congratulated him. He said if he had questions, he was going to run some stuff by me. I said, 'You can call me any time.'"
Baker, who was dismissed by the Reds last month, had his agent call Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo to put his name out there as a managerial candidate. Baker knew that Williams was the front-runner for the Nats post but expressed interest to let people know that he is not retiring.
"The word was out there that I was going to take a year off and that I was retiring," Baker said. "That's not how I wanted it. If you didn't show interest in the job that is available, people are going to assume that you are going to retire. I never said that."
Baker even called Williams to tell him that he wasn't trying to prevent him from getting the Nationals job. And if Baker had gotten the job, Williams would have been his "right-hand man until I was ready to retire," he said.
"I've been with him through marriages and kids and everything. Good times and bad times," Baker said. "You are glad that you might have had a positive influence on people and the players."
Baker hopes that Williams has coaches around him who are more experienced and whom he could trust. The Nats have retained most of the staff, with Randy Knorr remaining as a bench coach.
"You've got to have someone that is not a real threat and will not mandate things to you," Baker said.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashinNats.