Rizzo puts faith in first-time skipper Williams
Former All-Star's lack of managerial experience doesn't deter Nationals' GM
Mike Rizzo assumed the scouting director's job with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2000. His second and third seasons on the job, the D-backs won back-to-back National League West titles (2001, '02) and a World Series championship in '01 -- the franchise's fourth year of existence.
Arizona had a manager with no previous experience in Bob Brenly, who came down from the broadcast booth to the dugout in 2001, and a veteran third baseman in Matt Williams, who was at the tail end of a career in which he was a five-time All-Star, four-time Gold Glove Award winner and the NL's home run champion in 1994.
Rizzo never forgot.
And so as the president of baseball operations and general manager of the Washington Nationals, when it came time for Rizzo to mark arguably the biggest decision of his front-office career, he never wavered in hiring Williams to replace veteran Davey Johnson as the manager of the Nats.
The players wanted bench coach Randy Knorr. Cal Ripken Jr., threw his name out as a candidate for the job.
The message is clear: Rizzo's running the show, not the players.
There is a list of managers with impressive resumes on the open market, including Dusty Baker, Jim Leyland, Tony La Russa and Charlie Manuel.
Trying to lure one of them, or someone else with a resume that includes championships, would have been a safer route considering that these Nationals are a team considered primed to make a run at the NL East, the NL pennant and a shot in the World Series.
For Rizzo, however, there was only one guy for the job, and he wasn't afraid to make the move.
Those who know Rizzo feel he had his mind pretty well set on Williams since midseason -- if not earlier.
As Rizzo was quoted in the official announcement of the hiring, "In some ways, my interview with Matt began during our days together in Arizona, where his undeniable toughness, attention to detail and intensity established a foundation for a Diamondbacks expansion franchise that reached the postseason in its second season and won a World Series two years later. All these years later, Matt's preparedness for this position, knowledge of our roster, system and league set him apart. He is a fierce competitor with a progressive view of the game."
While Williams' only experience filling out lineup cards and making pitching changes came a year ago in the Arizona Fall League, he has been the third-base coach in Arizona under manager Kirk Gibson the past three years.
Besides, there is a growing trend in baseball to ignore tradition and take a shot on a manager with no managerial experience.
When Colorado, with Don Baylor, and San Francisco, with Baker, both made that move back in 1993 a few eyebrows were raised, but not anymore.
Joe Girardi, with the Yankees, and John Farrell, with the Red Sox, are in their second big league jobs. Both were originally hired -- Girardi by the Marlins and Farrell by the Blue Jays -- even though they had never managed in the Minor Leagues or big leagues.
While the managerial jobs with the Cubs, Tigers and Mariners remained open, eight of the 27 current big league managers never managed before getting their current jobs, including Williams and Bryan Price, hired earlier in the month by Cincinnati.
That list includes Mike Matheny, who in two years with St. Louis has guided the Cardinals to the NL Championship Series in 2012 and the World Series this season, Gibson, who managed Arizona to an NL West title in '11, and Don Mattingly, who took the Dodgers to the NLCS this October. The others are Walt Weiss of the Rockies, Bud Black of the Padres, Robin Ventura of the White Sox, Williams and Price.
Baylor did, after all, take the Rockies to the postseason in 1995 -- the team's third year of existence. Baker has managed his teams to the postseason in seven of his 20 seasons as a big league skipper.
Now, Rizzo is confident that Williams can add to the list of inexperienced big league managers who make an impact on the game.
It's the move Rizzo wanted to make. And he wasn't about to be taken in a different direction.
Rizzo is counting on Williams being able to get the Nationals into a territory the franchise has never explored in its first 45 years of existence -- the World Series.