Revered Washington Post baseball writer Thomas Boswell weighed in this week on the search for Davey Johnson’s replacement as manager of the Washington Nationals. The decision could come any time between now and mid-November, but likely soon after the World Series. Boswell focused on Baltimore Orioles Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr., who has given big hints that he’d “like to come back to baseball.” Boswell stated quite frankly, “Unless the Nats are confident they know him to his depths, not just his image, they should be careful.” Others said to be in consideration are Nationals bench coach Randy Knorr, who Nats insiders say is a favorite of team president Mike Rizzo; Dusty Baker, available and interested since being fired last week by the Cincinnati Reds after his team lost to the Pittsburgh Pirates in a wild-card game; and Arizona Diamondbacks third base and infield coach Matt Williams, a former star third baseman.
We asked The Sports Fix’s Kevin Sheehan, The Sports Junkies’ Eric Bickel, Nats Xtra’s Byron Kerr, and Nats Insider’s Mark Zuckerman to weigh in on the potential candidates.
Kevin Sheehan, cohost, ESPN 980’s The Sports Fix
Sheehan says Ripken is “the biggest PR bang,” but “is he ready, and are the Lerners willing to pay?” He says Knorr has “stability, respect and the right price,” and he’s “in-house.” Baker is a “regular-season winner [with] recent postseason misery” and he considers him a long shot. Out in front, Sheehan believes, is Williams, whom he calls “the favorite.”
Byron Kerr, cohost, MASN’s Nats Xtra
Kerr also cites Ripken’s fame and local legend status but points out he “has never managed at the major league level.” Knorr, he says, has been endorsed by “several players” and has that “in-house favorite” advantage. Williams benefits from a “positive connection” the Nationals have with the Diamondbacks, he says, including having previously managed Nats second baseman Anthony Rendon. Baker, he says, “has the pedigree, but do the Nationals prefer a younger candidate?”
Erick Bickel, cohost, 106.7 FM’s The Sports Junkies/Comcast SportsNet’s Table Manners
Ripken is Bickel’s “sentimental choice,” he says, but he thinks Rizzo “won’t make that move.” Of Knorr, he says “players love him” and “he even called out Bryce Harper for not hustling on a routine play.” Bickel considers Baker “solid” and “experienced” but worries there’s “a scent of retread to him.” He believes Williams has the edge if Rizzo decides to go with an outsider. “Rizzo likes him.”Mark Zuckerman, Nats Insider
And who would the experts pick as “dark horse” candidates? Sheehan put forth Tony LaRussa, a longtime MLB manager now without a team and a candidate for the Hall of Fame, a “major long-shot, but a team ready to win now might be attractive.” Kerr named Ray Knight, a familiar face to those who watch the MASN game broadcasts, where he cohosts the pre- and post-game with Johnny Holliday. He managed the Cincinnati Reds twice and has a “good rapport” with Rizzo. Bickel’s dark horse is Trent Jewett, the Nats’ third base coach. “If for some reason they don’t go to Knorr he could be the choice, and the players would support it.” Zuckerman picked Charlie Manuel, who was manager of the Philadelphia Phillies until he was fired in August after a losing streak. “Werth reveres him,” Zuckerman says. “At 70 years old, he’s basically another Davey Johnson, which would make his hiring a bit odd. But if the Nats truly want a guy who can step in and help lift a very good team to a championship, he’s got the credentials.”
Should there be more candidates? Boswell says that’s not really an option. “The pool of truly appealing managers has shriveled,” he wrote.