If you’ve read what I’ve written here the past few years, this post will probably surprise you. It surprises me to be writing it. This opinion will be controversial among members of the Nation. My butcher on Court Street this morning was adamant that the Reds have to fire Dusty. Since one of my live-longer rules is avoiding arguments with people wielding long, sharp knives, I waited to get home before saying this out loud.
I’ve come to the conclusion that the Reds should bring Dusty Baker back as Manager.
Not that my opinion matters more than any other season ticket holder. It certainly appears the Reds and Baker are on their way toward working out a contract extension, so this conversation is academic. My guess is that Baker wants to win a World Series before he hangs up his sweatbands and the Reds are the most likely vehicle available to him. It’s possible he’ll retire to be with his family and watch his son play sports. Maybe he and the Reds won’t agree on terms. But the odds seem to be mounting that he’ll be back.
The bottom line for me is really basic: The Reds won 97 games this season. Ninety-seven. They had the second best record in baseball and won the NL Central running away. They overcame adversity – serious injuries to Ryan Madsen and Joey Votto were devastating headlines. Dusty Baker kept the ship pointed in the right direction and the Reds improved by nearly 20 games from 2011. They’ve won the division twice in the past three seasons. Baker not only has earned a contract extension, but the Reds would be foolish to risk that trend line. Period.
Sure, aspects of Baker’s managing style drive me completely nuts. His lineups are awful, beyond any reasonable defense. He sacrifices too many outs at the altar of Old School. But I’ve said all along that I value the personal qualities he brings to the job and the city of Cincinnati. I pull for him to succeed. I’d love for the Reds to be successful with Dusty Baker as the Manager, and they undeniably are.
But what about last week? (Like most of you, I’m still raw.) Is there something about Dusty Baker’s approach to managing that puts the Reds at a disadvantage in the postseason? Did he cost us the Giants series?
My view is that the NLDS loss to the Giants is no more his fault than it is a dozen others. Scott Rolen’s error. Ryan Hanigan’s strikeout. Brandon Phillips’ running mistake. Mike Leake’s emergency start. Mat Latos’ wayward fastball to Buster Posey. Every player, even Homer Bailey, performed less than perfectly. And so did Dusty Baker. But are you ready to fire Ryan Hanigan because of one pitch? Release Brandon Phillips for that one play? No, obviously not. So let’s not evaluate the manager on individual calls, either.
Yes, there are legitimate complaints about the way he managed the series. (My biggest being that he handled it too much like the regular season, without the necessary urgency. Even to the point where we employed a “give away” approach to Game Four.) You can second-guess a number of his decisions, as you can with any manager.
But, if you’re honest about it, you have to admit that the players Baker had available to send on the field this week were not the same ones that produced the 97 wins. Crucially, it lacked pitching ace Johnny Cueto (who was lost at the most devastating time possible) and played with superstar Joey Votto ailing significantly. Where would the Tigers be if the same thing had happened to Justin Verlander, or the Yankees with the sudden loss of C.C.?
If the Reds had been at full strength, we’d be looking forward to beating the WLB tomorrow night.
Yes, the week was extremely frustrating. But it’s a measure of just how far the organization has come – with Dusty Baker as its Manager – that we are so heartbroken about a postseason series loss.
It’s not that I think Dusty Baker gives the Reds a huge edge. Or that there aren’t other managers who could potentially keep the Reds on track. But with the trajectory so positive, why jeopardize it?
My unsolicited advice to Walt Jocketty: Bring Dusty Baker back and work on the rest of it.