When I think about managerial openings, I think a lot about what man fits a team's personality the best. This stems from my belief that the biggest work a manager does is managing players and his success in the clubhouse more than any other factor involved. A manager can and does make hundreds of game day decisions and maybe a handful of them make a difference in the game's outcome. So I do not see that as a huge factor. Besides, no matter who manages, there is a bench coach whose responsibility is to help the manager in those types of decisions. But it is the clubhouse and the personalities a manager has to manage that are a strong part of his job. Saying all of that, Bryce Harper seems to be a key personality on the Nationals to think about.
Saying as much might make it seem like I think Bryce Harper is a bad kid. I do not think that at all. I think this young Turk has a lot of the right stuff to play the game. He plays hard. He hustles. He wants to win and at least if you believe his MLB Network commercials, is very interested in bringing the Nationals to the post season.
But Harper is not a wallflower. While he has a lot of the right stuff and the right attitude and seems to play the game the right way, he is willful as many young people are. He gets in trouble with umpires. He sometimes gets in trouble with the other team. He willfully throws his body around on the playing field when such a tendency can shorten the effectiveness of careers.
To me, Harper is a key to the Nationals as a player. Yes, you have Werth, Strasburg, Zimmermann and others. But Harper is the guy who can shine the brightest. Therefore, he is a key when considering a manager.
This is all speculation here, and I will admit to you that I may not know a stitch about what I am talking about. But if I am somewhat on the right track about how I perceive Harper as a personality, then who the Nationals pick as a manager is a key to how that relationship is going to work with a willful young man.
My perception leads me to believe that Harper would need a manager he looks up to and respects. He would need a manager who can communicate in such a way that the good things about Harper can shine while the willful side can be mitigated as much as possible for the good of the young player. To me, this means that the Nationals' new manager would need to be someone who had a meaningful playing career, or a respected career as a manager.
One such guy out there would be Dusty Baker. But I don't know if the Nationals want to go there. Baker, at least to me, seems soft on players. He is perceived to be a players' manager to the extreme. What do I mean by that? Well, if all of your players love you, then that must mean that you are not always challenging them. I think Harper needs to be challenged (carefully) on occasion.
I happen to think that Davey Johnson was one of the best managers of our era. He was the kind of guy that a kid like Harper could blossom with. But even Johnson seemed to have his hands full at times. That said, I don't see this as a good fit for a career service guy who "paid his dues" learning how to manage in the minors. Most of those guys (who can make great managers, don't get me wrong) were fringe players who did not make a lot of money and earned their way forward through commitment and hard work. I don't see that as a fit using the criteria for Harper I have outlined here.
As I think on this more and more, Cal Ripken, Jr. makes more and more sense to me. No, he does not have any managerial experience. But his dad was a manager and Ripken served under some good ones over in Baltimore. He is a player that a guy like Harper could respect. Heck, who does not respect Cal Ripken, Jr.?
I also see Ripken as being strong-willed and that could be what is needed here. I also see Tony Pena as a good fit here. Pena has really needed a shot for a long time. I think he has the respect factor and he has had success in winter ball and others. He has had a front row seat beside Joe Torre and Joe Girardi, two managers I really admire.
The Nationals have a crucial decision to make here. I think they had a blah season with a really talented team. I think they are still talented enough to be a huge factor in the 2014 season. But the right manager will be important. And a manager that can bring out the best in Harper and mitigate the worst in him is one of the real important components of the decision.