[Watch the Nationals introduce Matt Williams live at 2 p.m. on CSN]
Matt Williams is set to be introduced as the Nationals manager on Friday afternoon, his first official day on the job. What lies ahead for him would be a monumental challenge for any manager – expectations to compete for a World Series – much less one who has never been a major league skipper before.
Williams will be tasked with cleaning up a team that vastly underachieved in 2013 after winning 98 games the year before, the best record in baseball. So, what exactly do the Nats expect from Williams to get them back on track?
General manager Mike Rizzo just wants Williams to be himself.
“We just want him to be Matt Williams,” Rizzo said. “That’s the guy we hired, that’s the guy we wanted, the personality we wanted in the dugout. Be yourself.”
We will surely get to know Williams better over the coming months and years as he leads the Nationals, but we do have somewhat of an idea as to who he is. Williams played 17 years in the majors, made five All-Star games and won a World Series. He also brought an intensity few players in his era could match, a devout passion for the game that was evident every day he picked up a glove.
Rizzo was part of the front office in Arizona when Williams played for the Diamondbacks, and hopes that very same energy is still there. He knows age has mellowed Williams a bit, but the fire is what he covets for the Nationals’ clubhouse.
“In terms of Matt as a player and as a manager, I don’t think there is a big difference,” Rizzo said.
“Matt played with an intensity as a player but he also was a terrific teammate. You talk to the guys he played with and they swear by him. He was always team-first and self second. He was the consummate team player and a great teammate. He was a leader in the clubhouse, by example and also as a vocal leader.”
Regardless of his personality, the results speak for themselves. That World Series he won in 2001 shows he has been there on the biggest stage. He knows what it is like, at least as a player, to get where the Nats want to go very soon.
“He obviously put himself in a position to lead a ballclub to a World Series championship and to many playoff games,” Rizzo said. “He had that pedigree in him. As a manager candidate I feel he has the same fire, the same desire.”
Williams was a very good player in the major leagues, much better than many who become managers. As Rizzo put it, he didn’t have to go into coaching, he's already accomplished plenty.
“He put his apprenticeship in as a coach in the big leagues,” Rizzo said. “[His] ascension to the manager’s spot took a long time. It took a lot of stick-to-itiveness for him. Here’s a guy who made a lot of money as a player and doesn’t need to get into coaching or managing. But because his passion for the game and his love for baseball kind of feeds him, he wants to be in it.”
Williams will help Rizzo construct the roster for 2014, having input on the types of players he wants on his team. The Nats are also expected to retain much of the coaching staff in order to keep some continuity from their two previous winning seasons.
““We’re not going to have a lot of turnover and their familiarity certainly plays into it,” Rizzo said.
The pieces are in place for the Nationals to restore their status as an elite MLB team. Now it’s up to Williams to fulfill the promise Rizzo sees in him.