**(A little bit of gallows humor to take our minds off of recent 438 ft. events. This is satire. Similarities to actual people are purely on purpose.)
[Camera: Ohio maple trees rustle in front of Great American Ball Park viewed through the veil of a dream. Red and black smoke from Rozzi fireworks wafts through the frame. Music begins quietly, suggestive of 1975-76. Paul McCartney and Wings, Elton John and The Eagles.]
[Camera: Inside a private home in West Chester. A close shot, upside down of the stubble covered face of a young man. His eyes open…this is Bill. Bill continues to look up at a rotating fan in the ceiling. His MacBook Pro has web tabs open at FanGraphs, Baseball Prospectus and, of course, Redleg Nation.]
BILL (voice over): When I was home after the last game, it was worse. I hardly typed a word, let alone a comment. All I could think about was getting back to the ballpark. I’m at home now. Waiting for a mission. Every minute I stay in this room thinking about the Reds, I get weaker.
[Camera: Outside the home. An extremely middle-aged man, dressed in rumpled khaki’s and an authentic Joey Votto jersey, walks up and knocks on the door.]
BILL: Yeah, I’m coming.
BILL (voice over): I knew when this mission was over I’d never want another one.
Votto Jersey: I have orders to escort you to HQ, in southwest Virginia.
[Camera: Bill and Votto Jersey approach a civilian trailer. It is covered in Reds memorabilia and prison wire but still seems out of place near the courthouse. Inside is cool and comfortable. Autographed pictures of Sparky Anderson and Joe Maddon dot the wall, with full-size posters of Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench and Pete Rose, along with the full team pictures of the Big Red Machine from 1975 and 1976. The distinctive smell of Camp Washington chili, shipped in from Colerain Avenue, is mouth-watering.]
JAMES: Come in, Bill. Stand at ease. I’ll get right to the point. You’ve heard of Johnny B. “Dusty” Baker, manager of the Cincinnati Reds?
BILL: Yes sir. I’m a Reds season ticket holder, I’ve seen the sacrifice bunts.
JAMES: Listen to this tape, listen to it carefully, son.
Mr. Baker (on tape, voice over): I watched … a great hitter …take a walk. That’s my dream. It’s my nightmare. Clogging the bases, yet scoring … the horror of it. The pure beauty of swinging at the first pitch. The moral clarity of sacrificing outs.
JAMES: Mr. Baker was one of the most outstanding baseball players this country has ever seen. He had a career on base percentage of .347, with a dangerous combination of speed and power. He was a great man, with wit and humor. Excelled in every way. He even had a walk-rate of 9.5%. Silver Slugger. You know, he played with Hank A…”
BILL: Hank Aaron, yes sir. I’m aware of that. We all are.
JAMES: But then he became Manager and his ideas, methods, became stale and unsound. Unsound. He bats weak hitters at the top of the lineup. Uses inflexible bullpen roles. He disparages walks and plate discipline. There is quite a litany. Corey Patterson. Willy Taveras. Orlando Cabrera. Gomes against right-handed pitchers. Edgar Renteria. Pinch hitting Costanzo for Leake. It’s a very damning list.
BILL: Yes sir. And all those sacrifice bunts.
JAMES: That’s right. You see Bill, every year we learn more and more about baseball strategies. Things we used to believe have been proven wrong. Many managers have adapted to the new knowledge. But for some, power, ideals, the old morality, that’s all that matters. And that’s what has happened to Mr. Baker, he’s become unsound.
BILL: He talks wistfully of “RBI-guys.”
JAMES: Exactly. To make matters worse, out there at GABP, all alone with the Reds beat reporters, he must be quite tempted to become God-like. He’s created a cult where every employee is held strictly accountable for “their job,” except apparently, Mr. Baker himself.
Votto Jersey: Nothing is ever his fault. When something goes wrong, it always was the player’s job. Well, what’s his job?
JAMES: Sometimes the dark side overcomes what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature. Every man has got a breaking point. And Mr. Baker has reached his.
BILL: Willie Harris hitting lead-off, sir?
JAMES: Aroldis Chapman, son. Chapman has one of the best arms in all of baseball and he’s left-handed. Yet Mr. Baker uses Chapman in a small number of innings, often in games where any other pitcher could do the same job. It’s a colossal waste of talent. If the Reds want to win the World Series, they’ll need Chapman at the front of the starting rotation. It’s … insanity … for the Reds to use him this way.
[Bill looks from the General to Votto Jersey.]
JAMES: Not to mention that Chapman has never been a closer. He may not be suited for it. Mr. Baker could use Sean Marshall. I fear that Chapman has begun a downward spiral and must be rescued from this role. The Reds have to try him at starting pitcher, where he has the most potential value. But their management seems to be moving in the opposite direction. Do you agree?
JAMES: Your mission Bill, is to proceed from your home, south on I-75, through the traffic congestion and the road construction to downtown Cincinnati. You know the way?
BILL: Yes, sir. Very well, sir.
JAMES: When you reach The Banks, enter Great American Ball Park from below ground. Learn what you can along the way. When you find Mr. Baker, infiltrate his team by whatever means available. And terminate Mr. Baker’s command.
BILL: Terminate … Mr. Baker?
JAMES: Or talk some sense into him.
Votto Jersey: Terminate with extreme prejudice. Or talk some sense into him.
JAMES: He’s out there, still on the field, operating without any decent restraint, totally beyond the pale of any acceptable managerial conduct.
JAMES: You understand, son that this mission does not exist. And even though it is of vital importance it won’t be covered by the local beat writers.
BILL: We’re used to that.
JAMES: That’s right. Good luck, Bill. The Nation is counting on you.
[Camera: Close up on Bill, eating Graeter’s chocolate chip ice cream, in deep thought about the mission. "Strange Days" by The Doors plays in the background.]
BILL (voice over): Well, I wasn’t going to terminate Mr. Baker. But I had a plan.
[Camera: Fade to black.]
**Part Two, the conclusion, will post tomorrow.