Sources: Dusty indeed has been fired. Not stepping down. Announcement soon.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) October 4, 2013
My first reaction to this firing was surprise. The Reds had signed him after last season to a two year contract extension and, well...he's Dusty Baker. After all, he is the man that had turned around the San Francisco Giants, then the Chicago Cubs and now, the Cincinnati Reds. Seconds after I saw the news on twitter, I realized something that I thought briefly after the Reds were significantly outplayed by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the recent Wild Card game...Dusty has to go.
I take no pleasure in seeing Dusty Baker fired and I'm sure that most baseball fans don't either. Dusty is a leader of men, he is a strong vocal figure, the face of any team that employs him as their manager. The players absolutely love to play for him. Over the years Dusty has solidified himself as perhaps the greatest "players manager" of all time. That is not an easy thing to do.
One might think that all you have to do in order to be a good player's manager is have their back at all times. That is certainly part of it, but only one part. There is always so much that goes on behind the closed locker room doors that the press doesn't see and that the fans certainly never see. Every manager has the delicate task of managing ego. The manager of a baseball team or any sports team for that matter, must possess the ability to lead in order to get an entire roster of players to play as one, working toward the one common goal...Championships.
There will always be players who feel that their own accomplishments outweigh the importance of wins and ultimately, Championships. Dusty Baker has proven over the years that he knows how to manage a group of men and get them to play as one. His first year as a manager, 1993 in San Francisco, is testament to just that.
Dusty took over a Giants team that was in shambles the year before. Between the last out of the 1992 season and the first pitch of the 1993 season the team had all but moved to Tampa Bay and was then saved in the 11th hour by a local group that came together with enough money to buy the team and keep them in San Francisco. That group wasn't done. They then signed the biggest free agent on the market, Barry Bonds and hired a new manager, Dusty Baker.
Baker had the task of turning around a losing team, he also had to manage the ego clash that was about to happen in the clubhouse. The team had belonged to long time Giant and fan favorite, Will Clark. Clark's clubhouse was suddenly invaded by the uber-egotistical Bonds.
Baker did a marvelous job that year, the team won 103 games and were eliminated from the playoffs on the very last game of the season, a game that they were never in, a game started by rookie pitcher Solomon Torres.
As I sit and think over the career of Dusty Baker this morning, wondering what it is that has kept him from reaching the pinnacle of the sport, I keep going back to the decision to start Torres on the final day of the 1993 season. No one could have known it at the time but that decision may be the first example of the reason that Baker has never gotten over the hump.
I have no real life knowledge of this. I have never met Dusty Baker and I have never travelled with a team in order to speak intelligently about his decision making style on a daily basis. That having been said, I do watch and follow baseball religiously and I do listen to what the experts who do follow and write about the game have to say.
It is one thing to get a team to play together at a high level for 162 games. The length of a baseball season tends to hide some deficiencies by players and managers as there is always tomorrow and players, managers and fans all move on from day to day. It is a completely different thing to manage in the post season. Aside from the necessary execution on the field all of the decisions being made in the dugout have got to be 100% right. There is no tomorrow in a short 5 game series so any mistake either physically or mentally is magnified significantly.
There are at least two examples in Major League Baseball today of great player's managers who are also tactically sound. These are two managers who the players all want to play for and who also are smart enough to make the right calls and/or smart enough to listen to their staff and trust their opinions. These two managers are Bruce Bochy of the San Francisco Giants and Joe Maddon of the Tampa Bay Rays. I'm sure there are others as well.
I am certainly not questioning Baker's intelligence. He has been in the game of baseball longer than I have been alive and I believe that if he allowed himself to make the decisions he would be right far more often than wrong. It is my opinion that what makes him so popular with his players also hinders his ability to make the right call on the biggest stage.
Over the years Baker has been stubborn to his gut feeling. The decision to start Torres in game 162 in 1993 when the whole season was on the line was Baker following his gut out of loyalty to his players. Over the years Baker has only built on that reputation as a loyal manager and it is possible that at times that loyalty has either kept him from doing what he knew deep down was the right thing to do or from listening to his staff who may have been telling him what the right decision was. Again, this is speculation on my part although I have followed Baker's career from afar ever since 1993.
Now I am left to wonder if he will manage again. What team would have the right situation for Dusty to step into. He has been a National League manager his entire career but would he move to the American League for the right situation. Perhaps if strategy is not his strongest attribute then a league requiring less strategy would better suit him? Personally I can't see him managing in the American League.
I am a big Dusty Baker fan. I hope that if he does still want to manage that he is selective. I hope that he waits for what would be the perfect situation for him to come available, even if it means sitting out a year or two. Dusty Baker is a borderline Hall of Fame manager today, if he gets that elusive World Championship he will make it for sure. I will be watching this closely and I will be rooting for Dusty Baker as I almost always do (just not against the Giants).