SAN FRANCISCO -- Matt Williams is back home.

He's been back several times before, as a player and coach. But it never gets old. Even now that he's a rookie manager for the Washington Nationals.

Perhaps the only thing better would be managing a game at the old digs.

"Nothing like Candlestick," Williams said Monday before the start of a four-game series against the Giants at AT&T Park. "For those fans that came with their sleeping bags and their parkas -- and their coolers -- it was special. ... As a player, I loved it."

That sentiment is not surprising for Williams, whose Nationals entered play Monday with the third-best record in the National League. For 10 years, he owned the hot corner of the brick-cold stadium, earning three Gold Gloves and a hard-nosed reputation while hitting 247 home runs.

Washington Nationals manager Matt Williams takes a swing during batting practice before their game against the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park in San
Washington Nationals manager Matt Williams takes a swing during batting practice before their game against the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park in San Francisco, Calif., on Monday, June 9, 2014. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group) (Nhat V. Meyer)

Longtime Giants fans, those who remember the toughness and reliability Williams brought to their team, might not have pegged him to be a future skipper. He was too gruff of a personality, too tell-it-like-it-is. Too impatient to handle the underachievers and divas he'd assuredly have to manage.

Williams, 48, said running a club never crossed his mind during his days as a Giant.

"I was too worried about hitting the slider," Williams said, "and catching it."

But one of San Francisco's favorite sons might have been perfectly groomed for the role. He has the diverse experience that usually works well in a clubhouse.

He's been the star: five All-Star appearances and twice finishing in the top three in National League MVP voting (behind Chipper Jones and Jeff Bagwell in 1999 and behind Bagwell in 1994). He was the 1994 home run champ with 43.

He's made the big money: nearly $79 million in his 17-year career.

He's scuffled at the plate: His first three years, he failed to hit above .205 and was even sent back to the minors despite being a No. 3 overall selection in 1986.

"That's probably the roughest part of it," Williams said of having to send down a player. "But it is part of it. I've been that guy to get sent down. I understand what he's feeling. All you can be is as supportive as you can be."

He's gone through rough times: He's been traded, endured two divorces and got caught up in the steroids scandal.

He's dealt with the game's biggest stars: He's been a leader in locker rooms featuring Barry Bonds and Randy Johnson.

He's been on great teams and bad ones: He went to the World Series with the Giants, Cleveland and Arizona (winning in 2001); he's also been on 90-loss teams.

On top of his lengthy playing career, he coached first base and third base with Arizona.

Sure, he'll still shoot it straight. But you can tell there's some depth there, an understanding that's been accumulated over a baseball life.

"Most of the time, the best job a manager can do is just get out of the way," Williams said, explaining his approach as a manager. "Get out of the way and let him play. Because they're here for a reason -- they're really good. They control the game when they're playing it. So try not to interfere too much. Let 'em play."

Williams has choreographed a well-rounded career. It all adds up to a multifaceted perspective. It all has brought some wisdom and understanding to go with his love of the grind.

None of it means he will pan out as a manager. But it doesn't hurt.

As a manager, he is getting to show the other side many others knew about behind the scenes. Perhaps that's most evident in the deal he has with his players.

He said he will revive his famous Babe Ruth impression. He's left it on the shelf since it was caught on camera June 23, 1991. But he'll pull it out, pillow under the shirt and all, under one condition.

"I told the guys if we win 10 in a row, I'll do it," Williams said. "I haven't done it since that day."

Read Marcus Thompson II's blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/thompson. Contact him at mthomps2@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ThompsonScribe.