Back in 2001, Matt Williams was manning third base for the Arizona Diamondbacks when they won the World Series. Mike Rizzo was the team’s scouting director at the time.
Now, 12 years later, it looks like the two will be reunited in Washington.
According to Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com, the Washington Nationals have decided on Matt Williams as their new manager.
The announcement from the team likely won’t come until after the World Series, as MLB prohibits teams from making any major announcements during the Fall Classic. But Rosenthal’s claim makes sense, considering that MLB.com’s Bill Ladson reported on Thursday that Williams was the front-runner for the job.
It’s also a move that makes sense. Rizzo, now the Nationals’ general manager, has a keen sense of what to expect from Williams from their days together in Arizona.
Williams enjoyed a 17-year career as a slick-fielding third baseman who slugged 378 home runs during his career. He also collected four Gold Glove Awards for his stellar defense at the hot corner.
Williams was in the Diamondbacks’ broadcast booth when he became the team’s third base coach in 2009. This is his first job as a manager at any level.
It’s certainly a trend in baseball lately—the St. Louis Cardinals turned to former catcher Mike Matheny to take over for Tony LaRussa at the start of the 2012 season. Matheny had no experience at the time as well.
What Williams brings to the Nationals are some intangibles that make him stand out. During his playing career, he played with such luminaries as Barry Bonds, Manny Ramirez, Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling. That will serve him as he takes over a team with superstars Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg.
Williams also won championships as a player. The Nationals won 86 games last year, but fell well short of expectations and missed the playoffs altogether. Williams knew how to experience winning as a player, and he can use that to his advantage as the Nationals’ skipper as well.
Williams was also given a ringing endorsement by former manager Buck Showalter, who managed the Diamondbacks from 1998 to 2000. Showalter told Ladson that Williams’ ability to adapt and learn on the job will serve him well.
"He's a sharp guy, but he's also a funny guy -- a lot of people don't realize the sense of humor he has," Showalter said. "It was a pleasure and an honor to manage him. I'm impressed with him at third base, he does a good job there. That's one of those guys that will figure out whatever he needs to figure out. He's a student, he'll be a good one."
Williams got a shot to manage at some level last year, guiding the Salt River Rafters to the finals in the Arizona Fall League last year. That fact wasn’t lost on Rizzo, either.
The Nationals are a team primed to contend for several years, with Harper, Strasburg, Ryan Zimmerman, Jordan Zimmermann, Jayson Werth, Ian Desmond, and several others that make up the core of the team. While they weren’t successful in bringing everything together under Johnson in 2013, it’s talent that will likely have them listed as favorites to win a pennant once again next season.
Sometimes, all it takes for a team with talent is to have the right man leading them. While hiring Williams certainly brings an element of the unknown, he has the intangibles that could help the Nationals take that next step and lead to multiple playoff appearances.