The Washington Nationals rekindled an old flame of sorts this week, selecting Cal second baseman Darren Baker in the 10th round of the MLB Draft.
If that name rings a bell, it should. Darren Baker is the son of Dusty Baker, who managed the Nationals from 2016 to 2017 and currently manages the Houston Astros.
The Nationals drafting the son of a skipper they've dismissed isn't nearly as awkward as it seems. They've had eyes for Darren Baker for some time, even while Dusty was still in Washington. They've drafted Darren Baker before, selecting him out of high school in the 27th round in 2017.
"Obviously, you got bloodlines there, but he's a really good player," said Mark Baca, Nationals assistant director of scouting. "[He's] intelligent; you watch him play on the field. So that's a big trait. He [has] tools, is very versatile. We really liked the player. Everything about the way his clock works. Great instincts."
Believing Darren Baker is a good player with MLB potential doesn't mean everyone is willing to look past his familial ties. Audacy Sports MLB Insider Jon Heyman took Darren Baker's selection as an opportunity to point out that the Nationals "never should have fired Dusty Baker."
That certainly is a take, one to which Nationals fans would probably object. And many did... as did a few outside observers.
Heyman, to his credit, isn't backing down.
This serves as a perfect opportunity to review Dusty Baker's time with the Nationals, and explore whether they made the right decision to part with him.
First off, Baker unequivocally righted the Nationals' ship at a turbulent point for the organization, taking over for one of his former players, Matt Williams. Williams was fired as Nationals manager following a disastrous 2015 season, which began with Washington being World Series favorites, and ended with the club failing to make the postseason and Jonathan Papelbon's hands around Bryce Harper's throat.
It's worth reminding how horrific Williams mismanaged that incident, one of the more embarrassing moments in the organization's history. After Papelbon was seen, on a nationally televised game, with his hands around Harper's throat in the home dugout, Williams sent Papelbon back out to the field, in a lost season (they were eliminated from postseason contention days earlier), to finish the game.
If ever there was a time for Williams to break from his robotic logic...
That's the mess Dusty Baker took over.
Baker calmly guided the Nats to a pair of division titles, winning 95 and 97 games in 2016 and 2017, respectively, but failed to advance past the Division Series both years. The Nats were eliminated in Game 5 in each of those years, by the Dodgers and Cubs. The Nationals let Baker's contract expire after the letdown in 2017, opting not to renew him for another season.
The Nationals ultimately turned to a candidate they'd interviewed in the past, Dave Martinez, who at that point had been a longtime bench coach for the Cubs and Rays. And while they regressed in their first season under Martinez, failing to reach the postseason with 82 wins in 2018, they'd achieve ultimate success in his second season as skipper.
The 2019 Nationals, after starting out 19-31, rallied like never before in franchise history, making the postseason as a wild card with 93 wins, the single greatest turnaround in MLB history. They blew through the Brewers (Wild Card), Dodgers (NLDS), Cardinals (NLCS) and Astros to win the World Series, staving off elimination five times along the way.
Suffice it to say, Nationals fans would probably write history the same way, if they had the chance to do it over.
After two years away from the game, things seemed to have worked out for Dusty Baker, too, wh