The Astros filled one of the gaping holes in the organization when Dusty Baker was named the new manager. There are a lot of reasons to hire a manager for any professional sports team and there is definitely a question on whether he was hired for the right reasons.
First of all, an opening at the helm of a team that made the World Series and came within a few outs of winning it is an unusual, but not an unprecedented situation. One of the most famous of these was Casey Stengel being let go by the Yankees in 1960 after his team lost 10-9 to the Pirates on one of the most famous plays in World Series history, Bill Mazeroski’s walk-off solo shot to start the bottom of the 9th inning of Game 7. Ironically, Stengel was basically forced out for turning 70 years old, the same age as Baker is right now. The Yankees did it again in 1964, removing Yogi Berra from the manager’s spot after losing a game 7 to the Cardinals. In 1997, Davey Johnson was the Manager of the Year in the AL, leading the Orioles to the ALCS and quitting before he could be fired by Peter Angelos.
So there have been plum jobs before that popped open, but never for the reason that the Astros dugout leader A.J. Hinch was let go. The cheating scandal and its aftermath has overshadowed everything this off-season. But filling that spot for a team that came so close in 2019 and is still one of the strongest teams (on paper) has been an interesting journey and begs the question – Was Dusty Baker chosen for the right reasons?
The Best Reasons for Picking Dusty Baker
- Has Faced the Media Circus Before – He was with the Giants when Barry Bonds went ballistic with the long ball and had to face that hailstorm of media hype. This also included having to face a lot of steroid questions as both Bonds’ and later Sosa’s manager. Also, with the Cubs he had to maneuver through the “Bartman” fan interference mess. In both Chicago and D.C. he had to deal with a lot of press scrutiny of his and his team’s work.
- Has Been a Consistent Winner – He has been to the playoffs in 9 of his 22 seasons in the majors. He’s won 53% of the regular season games he has managed and taken all four of his teams – Giants, Cubs, Reds and Nats to the playoffs. In his last four major league seasons, his teams won 97, 90, 95 and 97 games.
- Has a Good Reputation with the Players – Even though he is thought of as an old school manager, he is also considered a player’s manager and has consistently been loved by his teams. The Astros’ players will be getting plenty of negative vibes as they steer through the coming seasons with the Scarlet Letter “C” branded on their chests (at least digitally). They don’t need a manager kicking them when they are down and he should be someone they can rely on to have their back and probably their front when he steps up to the podium each game.
- Has Seen It All – He played in 19 seasons (15 as a regular) in the majors and then managed 22 more and has done both at a high level. There can hardly be any situation that he hasn’t had to handle or seen in more than 40 seasons in the big time. He should be a great sounding board for his team.
- Has Not Affected the Astros Future – He is only committed to 1 season as manager (2 if the team so wants that option). If it is not working or does not work out, Jim Crane can move onward quickly without him.
The Questions That Make One Wonder If This is the Right Hire
- What About the “Other” Scandal – While Dusty Baker has a sterling reputation when it comes to the electronic cheating scandal (rumor has it he can only operate a black and white TV with only 4 channels at home) what happens if the media sharks ask him about the “other” Astro scandal – the Brandon Taubman scandal tied to the Roberto Osuna domestic violence suspension and redemption. As friend of the blog Billy C. pointed out with this link….. https://nypost.com/2015/12/08/dusty-bakers-domestic-violence-drivel-confirms-worst-fears/ …..he might not have as smooth sailing with the press, if they ask about Taubman or about Osuna.
- What About the “Other” Part of the Season – You know the part that starts after you win 92 or 95 or 97 games. The playoffs. In his 9 playoff runs, Baker has won 3 series total – the NLDS in 2003 with the Cubs and the NLDS and NLCS in 2002 with the Giants. In seven other seasons his teams were one and done, losing one Wild Card Play-in game (2013) and six NLDS series (1997, 2000, 2010, 2012, 2016 and 2017). So his teams have played in two NLCS series (going 1-1) and one WS series (0-1). Just as a reminder, A.J. Hinch in his 5 seasons with the Astros has won 6 playoff series, won a wild card, won 3 ALDS series, won 2 ALCS series and won one WS. As the saying goes…. that would be more.
- What About His Reputation as a Pitcher Killer – This especially ties to Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, who he used like heck at young ages and whose careers both died in a flurry of injuries and unfulfilled promise. Would Lance McCullers Jr. be the next potential victim?
- What About His Reputation as a Poor In-game Manager (Especially in the Playoffs)? A beat reporter for the Washington Nationals was interviewed by Sports Talk 610 Wednesday and he basically said that for 21 hours a day, Baker is the greatest manager in baseball. It is only the 3 hours that they are playing the game where he falls down. And he laid the blame for both post-season failings (2016 and 2017) at Baker’s feet. Now whether he is kin to Evan Drellich and has a grudge about this I don’t know. But it does not make one feel very good about things.
- What About Using or Ignoring Analytics – My mom has a land line telephone and no computer. My father-in-law had a computer on his desk at work towards the end of his career that he never turned on. He now has a computer (because he loves playing the stocks), but he had a flip phone forever and even though he finally got an i-phone from one of his daughters, he uses it only for phone calls – not even texts. Older folks are not that inviting to “new” things. What will happen when the inevitable happens and he uses his gut in place of analytics that were ginned up by the laboratory that Jim Crane has put a lot of stock and cash into?
Yes, the argument is moot at this point. Dusty will manage the team at least for the coming season. Will he change his spots and his luck and catch that ride to his first WS title as a manager? A lot of people will think that he used up his luck in being able to take over a 107 win team from his couch.