One thing seems nearly certain about the Nationals offseason: they’ll most likely hire a new manager. While many others in the blogosphere will pontificate on who would do the best job as Nationals manager, one thing is certain: none of them have a clue. If you happen to read a columnist or blogumnist –just made that word up, you’re welcome America–who posits that any manager who has never been a Major League manager would be better or worse than any other candidate without experience, they’re full of it.
The problem with managerial searches from a fan perspective is that, as fans, we just don’t know. I don’t know if Randy Knorr believes in sacrifice bunting with non-pitchers or if Matt Williams would insist on batting Denard Span first even though his OBP suggests he should hit 7th or 8th. I don’t know if Cal Ripken, Jr. would let Bryce Harper continue to play regardless of injury or Trent Jewett would still find a way to get his butt in every field level shot the way he did when he coached first base and 3rd base and earned the nickname “Rumpshaker” from my wife. Just don’t know.
If a managerial candidate did come out and say publicly that he opposes the use of sacrifice bunts in most situations, would bat his best hitters 2nd and 4th and would ignore micro-splits in how he used relievers, well, then I would begin to think that he would most likely be the best candidate. However, I wouldn’t know how he would get along with players or handle the media without actually talking to the guy at length; consequently, while his comments might give me a better idea, I wouldn’t know enough to have a strong opinion.
All of that being said, I hope the Nats hire Matt Williams. Nothing against Randy Knorr or Trent Jewett, but Matt Williams is special to me. When I was a kid growing up in California we had a low-A team where I lived. My best friend growing up was one of their bat boys and some times I even got to fill in, but all the time I got to be around the players. I got to play whiffle ball with Omar Vizquel and lots of others, played catch with Steve Howe and Leon Durham, even played homerun derby with golf balls and aluminum bats in a Single A park that looked like it was straight out of “Bull Durham.” (Hopefully the statute of limitations has expired on any legal repercussions that could ensue from that admission.)
Because we were close to the Bay Area, the Giants and A’s often sent players on rehab assignments to the Cal League. I got to see major league players when no one was looking. I learned that some guys like Jose Canseco weren’t as bad as I thought they’d be, that Jesus loves everyone, including Pete Rose, Jr., but everyone else thought he was a jerk and that generally big leaguers were pretty standoffish when no one was watching. It’s not that they were mean or rude, they were just preoccupied, sometimes with getting better, often with themselves, but usually preoccupied.
Still, we loved being around the game and all the free stuff that came with it. Foul balls were treasured, but somewhat commonplace. Back then, uniforms were too expensive for guys to give away, even big leaguers on a rehab assignment, but we collected batting gloves that had developed a small hole or two. Most guys would have been more likely to part with their girlfriend, than with their glove, but they’d sign just about anything we gave them from baseball cards to Little League uniforms. What we all really treasured though, was a cracked bat. If it was a minor crack, a lot of the Single A guys would just tape it up and use it for BP, finally passing it off to us if they had one with a smaller crack to replace it with or when it broke into pieces.
Through the years, I acquired a few cracked bats, usually from my friend who was the full-time batboy for the Spurs. One day, he gave me a Louisville Slugger with the letters MW written on the bottom of it. I thought I had hit the mother load, an actual Matt Williams cracked bat. Forget about Red Rider bb guns, this was way better, even adults would be impressed with this. I immediately started holding my bat a little higher and biting my front shirt sleeve in the box. I asked to move to 3rd base from 2nd because I wanted to be like Matt Williams who immediately surpassed Will Clark for second spot on my list of “Greatest Living Americans” right behind Joe Montana (who still holds that spot in case you’re wondering).
Eventually, I learned that there was another Matt Williams, a light hitting catcher from Oregon who had the genuinely tough luck of being in the Giants organization and having the same name as their All-Star third basemen. I was crushed. I was glad that my lack of an arm had precluded me being moved off of second base. I went back to trying to hit left handed and wearing eye black so I could be more like Will the Thrill.
Once the shock wore off though, I realized that I still really liked Matt Williams. Sure my cracked bat wasn’t from the same Matt Williams, but it was close. Even still, Matt Williams was a phenomenal player who was truly great defensively with extremely soft hands and the arm of a SS. Through a cracked bat that didn’t even belong to him, Matt Williams had claimed a special place in my heart.
So I’m rooting for Matt Williams to get the Nationals managerial job, thanks to a cracked bat from a kid who never made it, but got to ride a bus or two. I don’t know if he would be the best pick, but rooting for Matt Williams based on a cracked bat is probably just as good of a reason as someone who thinks that Randy Knorr should get the job because of his handling of Alfonso Soriano or someone who thinks that he shouldn’t get the job because of his comments about Bryce Harper. In the end, unlike hitting, fielding or pitching where we can watch the games and pour through the statistics, we just don’t have access to enough information when it comes to managers. So before you get too attached to any of the managerial candidates that we’ll probably be cussing come May, let’s agree we probably don’t know what we’re talking about on this one.