Williams, a former major league third baseman with the San Francisco Giants, Cleveland Indians and Arizona, has never managed beyond the Arizona Fall League. He takes the reigns from the retired Davey Johnson, and inherits a Nationals club that won 98 games in 2012 before falling to the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS, and then faltered amid increased expectations in 2013, winning only 86 games and missing out on the postseason.
In other words, the pressure to get Washington back to the postseason and make a deeper run will be on immediately, and it begs this obvious question: Is a first-time manager like Matt Williams a good fit for the Nationals.
As Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post wrote it, it's a bit of a leap of faith on general manager Mike Rizzo's part. Williams will be thrown into a situation where not only are expectations guaranteed to remain high, but competitive personalities like Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg will need to be managed and developed. That's a lot of responsibility, but Boswell also pointed out the importance of stability and pairing the Nationals young, fiery roster with a potential long-term solution at manager, not another win-now stop gap.
Williams, 47, looks like a strong choice to be a manager who grows right along with his team. He’s tough, but has a reputation for relating well to both stars and the less gifted. As a player, he was a bit menacing; for a century baseball has periodically picked these square-shouldered crush-your-knuckles types — the so-called Peerless Leaders (Frank Chance) — to be managers. Some, like Chuck Tanner, Joe Torre and Walter Alston, have done well because they understood the heart as well as the cold stare. One of Williams’ nicknames is The Big Marine. If there’s some Dutch Uncle in the mix, too, that can work.
It makes sense when you look at the big picture drawn by Boswell. The Nationals are clearly looking to establish a long-term presence, and it's just as clear that Rizzo got the man he's been envisioning for the role. In fact, Jon Heyman reported as far back as August that there was interest on Washington‘s side.
Of course, whether it actually works or not is another story that only time can write, but watching Matt Williams mix and develop with his young and talented roster in Washington is sure to be interesting. Very interesting.
How do you feel about Washington hiring Matt Williams? Good move, or do they need a more experienced man running the show?
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