Matt Williams Press Conference Transcript

On Friday, November 1, 2013, the Washington Nationals officially introduced Matt Williams as the club’s fifth manager since the team arrived in The District. The following is a transcript of the press conference featuring Williams and President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo.

Mike Rizzo introduces new Nationals Manager Matt Williams.

Mike Rizzo introduces new Nationals Manager Matt Williams.

Opening statements:

Mike Rizzo

Thanks for coming, everybody, I’m going to keep it short and sweet. It’s an exciting, big day here in Washington Nationals land, the introduction of the Matt Williams era into Washington Nationals baseball. We are extremely pleased to have Matt at the helm. I’d like to thank the players and Randy Knorr for coming in today and showing their support. We feel like we’ve got the right man at the right time here in Washington, D.C. He’s a man that brings passion and intensity to the game, but also brings a communication style of eloquence and intelligence. We think he’s got the full package. I’ve known the man for a long time and watched him from afar for a while and then up close and personal for a while. He’s a man that – we’d like to emulate his demeanor and attitude on the field and his leadership qualities in the clubhouse. So, without further ado, our new manager, Matt Williams.

Matt Williams

Thank you, Mike.

First and foremost, I want to express how grateful (my wife) Erika and (daughter) Madison and I are for everybody’s support in welcoming us here, it’s been quite an experience.

I’d like to thank Mr. and Mrs. Lerner and the entire Lerner family for welcoming us into their family. I spent a little bit of time with them and these people have passion for this game, passion for this city and passion for this team. They want to win as badly as anybody, and I am certainly on board with that, as I know Mike is.

It’s not often that you get players to support somebody they don’t really know. So I’d like to thank Tanner (Roark), Ian (Desmond) and Jayson (Werth) for taking time out of their day to be here to experience this with me and I look forward to working with all of them.

There’s a special guy that flew in that was also a candidate for this job. Randy Knorr took the time and got here today to be a part of this. We’re going to spend some time together, for sure. He is going to be someone that I lean on certainly in the beginning and throughout this coming season and hopefully many seasons in the future to make this a winning club. So Randy, thank you for being here, I appreciate it very much. (Randy’s) going to come out and see me next week and we’ll start going on this thing. We can’t wait to get started. Thank you all for being here. I am honored to be the Washington Nationals Manager and I’m ready to go, so thank you very much.

Members of the D.C. media got a chance to meet Matt Williams Friday afternoon.

Members of the D.C. media got a chance to meet Matt Williams Friday afternoon.

Q&A with the D.C. Media:

Matt Williams on why he is the best fit for the Nationals and what kind of manager he expects to be.

I was asked that question in the interview: why you? I think the simple answer for me is that I bring passion to the game that I love. This game has given me a lot and I need to return that. In whatever aspect of the game we find ourselves in, whether it’s offense, defense, pitching, I’m going to approach it with passion, I’m going to approach it with enthusiasm and a sense of work that I hope will make me a good manager and make us a good team.

What kind of manager will I be? I think it will be fluid. I do believe that you bring your glove every day. And I do believe that with this club, and with the incredible young men we have on this club, we have a chance to win if we can do things right. I think it’s evident. Everybody in this room and everybody that’s watching on TV or listening knows this is a very talented group of young men. We’re going to refine some things and we’re going to take those next steps that we need to take to get to where we want to go.

Mike Rizzo on the intangibles that made Matt Williams the right fit for this ballclub.

My interview process started in 1999 when I first met Matt as a player with the Diamondbacks. From afar, I really was watching how he conducted himself. He played on a talented team there in Arizona and there were a lot of veteran leaders on that team. I recognized Matt Williams as a guy that led not only by example, but led vocally and by his performance on the field. He was always prepared as a player and was always a guy that would lead by example. He was more impressed by the name on front of the jersey than on the back. I think that’s the way he approached his work. As time went on, I recognized him as the Arizona Fall League manager. Several of our players loved playing for him and I watched the way he handled pitching staffs and bullpens. And then as a coach with the Arizona Diamondbacks, he really showed the backing he has of his players. The way they were prepared and the way that they got after it.

Matt Williams on when he first thought of managing as a possible career choice.

When I retired, I took some time off. I did the front office thing. I thought it would be nice to be in the front office, on that side of the game. If you know me, I don’t like suits very much. I didn’t like that part of it as much as I thought I would. I became a broadcaster and did some color work for TV and radio. I enjoyed that, but it still wasn’t fulfilling enough for me so I decided to get back on the field.

I was invited to Spring Training by Bob Melvin, the Diamondbacks Manager at that time, and started doing some work with the infielders and doing some work with the rest of the guys and really got the itch back. At that point, I thought, “I’ve played this game my whole life and it’s given me everything I have in my life.”

So at this point I needed to get to where I want to get to ultimately becoming a manager. At that point, I started thinking about it. It’s been an evolution. I’ve done a number of different jobs. The thing that I’ve come to conclude in this whole thing is that if you communicate and you can have a plan, then I think you’re ahead of the game. I hope to impart some of that here and help us on our way to win a championship.

Matt Williams on knowing the job was open since last year and when he started to seriously consider it.

I had a job to do as the Diamondbacks third base coach so I didn’t think about it very much. I knew there would be a possibility. Ultimately, it’s not up to me to decide. I was thankful and grateful to get the call from Mike that he wanted to talk a little baseball with me. During the season, and for the last year, it wasn’t up to me to decide if I wanted to interview or not, it was up to them.

Matt Williams on what needs fixing on this team.

What needs to be fixed? Davey Johnson is a Hall of Fame manager in my book. This is not a situation where you come in and clearly something is broken and needs to be fixed. This is unique, in that Davey decided to go in a different direction – get out of the dugout, do some other things – and the position was open. It’s not like you need to blow it up and start all over again. This is a very talented group of young men that play this game here. This is a great team on the brink of something really special. So, to be fixed? I don’t know, I can’t say anything needs to be fixed. I can say there are some things to refine. I think we can play smarter baseball, I think we can use the tools that are given to us a little better, without going into specifics. I know that one of the things that Ian told me this morning when we first met was, “I’d like to work a little bit harder.” I’m all for that man, let’s go. I think we can take all of those things and become a better baseball team. I’m here to guide that. They’re here to do it. They’re excited about doing it. So is everybody sitting in this room. I hope to be a part of that and guide that in the right direction.

Williams inherits a talented Nationals squad that averaged 92 wins over the past two seasons.

Williams inherits a talented Nationals squad that averaged 92 wins over the past two seasons.

Matt Williams on if he’s talked to Wilson Ramos lately, given an altercation between the two following a home run from a few years ago.

Thanks for that question, I appreciate it (laughs). There’s another guy that’s in this room who was involved in that altercation as well.

I haven’t spoken to Wilson since. But I can tell you this – on any given day, in any given city, at any given time, something like that can happen. I love that Jayson Werth stood up in the opposing dugout and yelled at me, because that means that he competes. I love the fact that Wilson Ramos was upset that a couple of their guys got hit and took exception. I love that fact. Does it mean I don’t like the man? No. That’s competition; that’s baseball; that’s the way we play the game. Just because Jayson’s yelling at me doesn’t mean he doesn’t like me. He plays for the other team. Now, I’m fortunate and I’m pleased that I’m on his team – and we’re going to have a lot of fun.

Matt Williams on if he views his lack of managerial experience as a challenge, and if so, how he plans on overcoming that.

I think there are a lot of different challenges as a manager and frankly as a bench coach, as Randy will attest. There are different things that present themselves every day. We saw it in Game 3 of the World Series ending on an obstruction play. We’ve never seen that. Those challenges, things like that in the course of the game present themselves. I don’t have 20 years of experience. I can’t claim that I do. But I do know I have a bench coach and a group of coaches that know these players and have experience and have had success. I hope to learn from them, I hope that they’ll learn from me, and I hope, collectively, we can go in the right direction here. It’s a really good team. I’m proud to be a part of it, proud to have them as fellow coaches, and I’m itching to go.

Matt Williams on if he plans to bring the whole coaching staff back.

It is our plan, with one exception. We’re going to make a change in the bullpen, and we’re going to add another coach, so we will have seven coaches. That will be Mark Weidemaier. He’s coming from the Arizona Diamondbacks organization. He is a defensive coordination advance coach, which I believe is really important. I believe preparation is the most important part of this game. He will do the defensive coordination and be our advance coach.

Matt Williams on how his former managers ingratiated themselves in the clubhouse, and how that experience will guide him.

It’s important to understand the player-manager dynamic. These guys go through 162 games during the regular season and 30-plus games of Spring Training. They’re training all year round in hopes that they get to the postseason and get to experience what the Cardinals and Red Sox got to experience. It’s very close to that here. It’s close. My job coming in is to make sure everybody’s prepared, and we need to make sure everybody’s healthy. It’s a new challenge – a new Spring Training, a new city, all of those things for me – but my job is to take care of these guys. I cherish that relationship. I protect these guys. I am the guy that they can come to, and hopefully Ian (Desmond) can come to me and say, “I’m having trouble with my backhand, let’s work on it.” Great, I’ve been there, I’ve done that. Jayson can go, “I’m having trouble doing this. Or I’m not driving the ball like I want to.” Here’s a thought. We want to drive a run in, “OK, let’s talk about it.”

I think the fact that I played gives me a little bit of authority, or knowledge, that I’ve been there, I’ve been that guy. I’ve struck out with the bases loaded; I’ve gotten the game-winning hit.  All of those things. I’m here to help them, as is our coaching staff. They’re going to play and they’re going to play well. We’re here to try to guide that and help them reach their capabilities, certainly. And eventually to be Hall of Fame players and be World Champions.

Matt Williams on what it means to have the support of Randy Knorr in attendance at today’s press conference.

As far as Randy goes, it can be a very difficult dynamic. Randy is certainly popular among the players – we’ve seen that they have given him their support during this process. I can’t claim to know them or know this team as much as Randy does, so I’m going to lean on him. And he’s been kind enough to say, “Lean on me, I believe in this franchise, I believe in this team, I believe in our chances and I want to be here.” He doesn’t have to be here. In our conversations, I trust that and I love that fact. I’m going to lean on him heavily. He knows the organization, he knows the game. He is a full-blown managerial candidate, just like all of us (who interviewed); otherwise Mike wouldn’t have interviewed him. He’s probably the biggest part of this staff in getting to know the players moving forward for me.

Matt Williams on his reputation as an aggressive third base coach in Arizona, and if he similarly envisions himself as an aggressive manager.

That’s funny, because I think a couple years ago, I led the league in getting guys thrown out at the plate. Which is good, I think! Now, the fans of Arizona may think differently, and I’ve heard those fans from time to time, but I think if you apply pressure, you have the advantage. That comes in many different forms. I think you can apply pressure defensively. I think if you’re in a bases loaded situation with nobody out, I think you actually can have the advantage defensively. That may be a weird way of thinking, but that’s the way I think. I will be aggressive. My natural tendency is to go. We saw that (when I was) coaching third. So I will rely on Randy to help me with that and the rest of the coaching staff to help me with that. I want to steal second base, I want to hit and run, I want to go first-to-third. Those are important to me. I think we’ve seen that if we can score that extra run, we can be really special. So yes, aggressiveness is key.

Matt Williams on the importance of defensive positioning shifts and scouting.

There’s so much information that is given to us these days and we can find it everywhere. Tendencies – this guy will throw this pitch in this count 25 percent of the time. It’s all out there for us to use as we choose to use it. The philosophy that Kirk, myself, Alan Trammell, Don Baylor and those guys in Arizona put together was, we can do all the shifts we want and play tendencies all we want, but we have to understand what our pitchers are going to throw. How are our pitchers going to attack opposing hitters and what can we do accordingly? Leading the league in fielding percentage is key. We had two guys on the field that won Gold Gloves this last year. That proof is in the pudding in that they are fantastic athletes. But we helped them be in the right spot. We helped them be in a position to make a defensive play that helped us save a run or won us a game. I think that is most important for us.

That being said, one of the reasons I wanted to bring Mark Weidemaier on board was that he’s an expert at that. He’s been an advance scout. He created our defensive advance reports with Arizona. He has scouted both leagues. He spent 175 of the 180 days of the season in a hotel room on the road. He knows what he’s doing. I think that will help us be a better team. We understand that there’s a very fine line between (averaging) 2.5 runs or 3.5 or 4.5 runs. I do understand also, that if we can cut one (run) down during some point of that game, we have a better chance of winning with the type of club we’ve got. That’s important. That’s going to be our focus as a coaching staff, and we’ll let the players know certainly that we expect that to be a focus of theirs moving forward.

Williams signed his contract earlier in the day Friday, officially making him the fifth manager in Nationals history.

Williams signed his contract earlier in the day Friday, officially making him the fifth manager in Nationals history.

Matt Williams on how he knew so much about the Nationals organization going into his interview.

I do have access to the internet (laughs). It’s out there for everybody. But I do know some of the guys because I got to manage them last year (in the Arizona Fall League).. I’m going to get a chance to hang with Randy in Arizona next week and get a little more information. I don’t know everything, but I know this team and this organization has done a fantastic job of scouting. Second, the player development side of this club probably doesn’t get enough credit. They develop these guys to be big league baseball players at the highest level, to become All-Star players. That’s important. The team being put together by Mike and Bryan (Minniti) and everybody at the big league level is phenomenal.

I do have some (first-hand) information, certainly. I was with Adam LaRoche in Arizona. I managed Anthony (Rendon), albeit him being a third baseman at the time. We’ll get a chance to go out and see Matty Skole – we had him last year in the (Arizona) Fall League – and Brian Goodwin. I haven’t seen the younger pitchers as much, but I’ll get a chance to see all of those guys and talk about all of those guys with Randy and get further in tune. There are 25 guys here at the Major League level, but there’s 250 men here that make up this club and make up this organization. We need to make sure we’re accountable for all of them moving forward.

Matt Williams on which of the managers he’s played for influenced him the most, and why.

I think I take a little bit from all of them. Dusty Baker is my mentor. He was my hitting instructor early on with San Francisco and later became the manager. I spent hours and hours in the cage with him. He taught me how to be a professional hitter and he continues to be a great friend of mine. We talk often. In that respect, I try to take from Dusty that he’s the ultimate players’ manager. He communicates so well with the players. You hear it all the time that they’d run through a wall for Dusty. That’s because he understands them and speaks to them as men on the same level. I value Jayson Werth’s opinion on something. That’s the kind of relationship I want to have with this club, with these guys. They can come to me with anything and I can go to them with anything, and it’s a conversation between men.

Buck Showalter was probably the most prepared manager I’ve ever played for. Three hours watching the game and everything that leads up to the game, and then another three hours in his office with the door closed watching the game all over again and sleeping at the ballpark at night. (He was) very prepared. I don’t know if I can do that, but I have to take some of that and make sure that on any given day, I’m prepared for what we may face during the game. Again, I have fantastic coaches that I’ll be able to lean on in that regard and say, “Randy, what do you think here?” But I have to be ultimately prepared for what I may face.

I played for Bob Brenly in our championship season in Arizona. He had a really veteran-laden club with guys that knew what they were doing. Frankly, (there were) a lot of guys at the end of their careers who were just trying to make it through and win a World Championship. I learned from Bob that sometimes it’s nice to take the reins off, especially with veteran guys, and allow them to lead that clubhouse. We have some veteran players on this team that have the ability and the willingness to lead this group of men. We need to allow them to do that. (We need to) give everybody a game plan and all of those things that come with it, but allow the veterans on this team to lead. Ultimately, the younger guys will fall in line because those are their peers. Those are the guys I lean on as mentors, and as examples, and try to take a little bit from each one of them.

Matt Williams on using analytics and advanced metrics.

It’s interesting how this is all a part of the game now. It used to be that we’d go out and throw some balls against the soft toss net behind the cage, take some swings, take some grounders and get ready for the game. Spring Training was, “Hey, let’s run through these three bunt plays and we’ll call it a day, then let’s go whack some balls and make sure that we’re ready for tomorrow.” It’s gotten a little more complicated these days.

I want to use all of it, but I want to use all of it in the right way. I want to get an example of what somebody is going to throw Ian on 2-0. Not necessarily how many sliders he throws him, but what he’s going to throw him 2-0, what’s he going to throw him 3-1, so he’s got an idea of what that guy is going to do if he gets ahead in the count. Or, what’s he going to go to if he’s trying to get him out when he’s behind in the count. We can have paralysis by analysis sometimes, so it’s our job as coaches to take all that information in, filter it, and give the guys what they need as opposed to trying to bog them down with too much information. So, I want to use all of it, but I want to present them with the right information on an everyday basis to make them as good as they can be.

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