Baseball people, and that includes myself, are slow to change and accept new ideas. I remember that it took years to persuade them to put numbers on uniforms. – Branch Rickey
I thought of this quote as I walked away from my seat at GABP on Sunday, a seat that, while 325 feet away from home plate, still afforded me a clear view of not only the back of Jay Bruce, but a collection of people that clearly are not pulling in the same direction. I was inside Citi Field a week ago Friday as the Redlegs easily handled the hometown NY Madoffs. As they did that night in Queens, the Reds have, at various times this season, made it look easy. In fact, Aroldis Chapman’s first half seems to be a microcosm of this team as a whole: dominating one moment, disappointing the next; young and full of promise, but unsure of roles.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I tell you I am no fan of Johnny Lee Baker. The obvious benefits of his “players’ manager” philosophy and the clubhouse harmony it produces have been far outweighed by his inability to mold his players into an entity that at the very least should be the sum of its individual parts on the field, if not greater. The Defenders of Dusty routinely fall back on an old baseball meme, declaring with certainty that “players win games, not managers.”
Also true is that few players on this roster are placed in roles that give them the best opportunity to perform at their highest level. Good managers do that, yeah? Our manager not only places his charges in sub-optimal roles when the game begins, but doubles down on those mistakes by holding his best remaining players back in crucial situations because they don’t occur late enough in the game to give him a comfort zone from his own inner doubts and the howls of those circling, second-guessing hounds, real and imagined.
There are many in Camp Baker who would rather see the focus shift to GM Jocketty, who in their opinion bears much of the responsibility of the current state of the Reds. All of which would be fair game except for one nagging problem:
We don’t know what we don’t know.
The jury is out on the Latos deal and will be for some time. We don’t know the role owner Castellini plays in the management of employee Baker. Does the GM believe that as long as the manager has support of the owner, his hands are tied? Has Castellini informed the GM that he’s happy with the job done from the dugout, thank you very much? Has decision-making on acquisitions of role players like Renteria, Cabrera, Patterson—and lately Harris and Valdez—been driven solely by available money or are they merely bad bets laid down by Walt? Were other players of similar value available to the Reds? I wanted the Reds to go after Melky Cabrera two years ago. Was he even willing to come to Cincinnati? The biggest question mark may be Baker and Jocketty’s working relationship. Is it constructive? Nobody’s saying.
Dusty Baker is out in the open. His moves lay there broiling in the hot sun of a 162 game season and under the harsh lights of those toothbrush light stanchions surrounding the baseball diamond. There’s nowhere for him to hide. Comparatively, Jocketty operates in the relative shadows. Until the daily ballpark tour admits access to Walt Jocketty’s laptop and email threads, we are left to guess at the true configuration of the power base at 100 Joe Nuxhall Way.
Meanwhile, the wheel turns and Johnny Lee Baker continues to call the shots as the lineup card is handed to the umpiring crew. Tonight’s another night at the ballpark. I’ll head down and watch. And judge with my own two eyes.
And wonder what the man behind the Ray-Bans is thinking. Not to mention the man behind the blinds in the owner’s box.