To say that baseball fandom and team’s front offices are a bit fickle in their attitudes towards managers is a huge understatement. The Red Sox won ZERO World Series in the 85 seasons between 1918 and 2004.
Terry Francona led them to that 2004 win and then adds on another in 2007 and that buys him only four seasons of goodwill before he is sent packing after a 90 win season. The Chicago Cubs famously went from 1908 to 2015 before they won another World Series under Joe Maddon. And of course, Maddon was shown the door after three more winning seasons in Chicago.
The most famous of all fickleness happened more than 60 seasons ago. Casey Stengel had taken the Yankees to 10 World Series in his 12 seasons with the team, winning 7 of the 10. He had just missed his eighth championship when the Yanks allowed the Pirates to score six runs in the last two innings capped by Bill Mazeroski’s most famous walk-off home run that allowed Pittsburgh to win 10-9. The Yankees decided not to renew Stengel’s contract, which may have had as much to do with Casey having turned 70 years old a couple months before as with his performance.
By the way, Casey was a few months younger when he was let go than Dusty Baker was when he was hired by the Astros in January 2020.
Let’s face it, some of the problems with the fans’ acceptance of Baker as manager has to do with “IT”. If “IT” had not happened, the populace was perfectly fine with A.J. Hinch continuing to lead the local team. Heck, a lot of the fans would have been fine with a one-year sit-out by Hinch and a return in 2021 like Alex Cora pulled in Boston. The intriguing thing to think about is, let’s say Hinch had left for another reason, perhaps a health issue with himself or with his family. Would Dusty Baker have been hired to take his place? Perhaps, if they saw it as an interim position, caretaker spot, but perhaps not. The key here is that the owner (and perhaps in cahoots with MLB) saw Baker as a perfect fit for this spot after “IT”. He was a manager who has seen it all. He was someone with great respect within the sport. He was pictured as someone who could guide the young team through the tough times of hate after the scandal. And very importantly he was seen as a bridge to the next long term manager.
There has been a lot of grumbling about Baker’s style and substance as a manager, both when they were winning and more so when they have struggled. Let’s take a look at both sides of the sticky points with Dusty….
He’s too old and out of it – Yes, sometimes it is hard to tell if he is awake down there behind that mask in the dugout, but listening to his after game questions and answers, it is obvious that he is awake and involved in what is happening out there, even if he doesn’t give out controversial answers to questions. And how old is too old? Is pitching coach Brent Strom (8 months older than Dusty) too old for the game?
What’s with this coddling of players – Folks are a little hard on him for giving the regulars days off during the season. Why do 27-year-old kazillionaires need time off? Well, one thing that Dusty has on his resume that most of his critics don’t have is a 19-year major league career. He has lived the marathon of many a major league baseball season. He never played 162 games himself, topping off at 159 games and hitting 153 games twice. So, maybe he knows how a player reacts to both the physical and the mental stress requirements of a 6 month+ season.
Do these lineups make any sense – At times he has done some weird substitutions when giving players days off. Carlos Correa is out of the lineup and Robel Garcia is in his place, so he actually puts him in Correa’s spot in the lineup. I would get really upset if the team was not scoring 5.68 runs per game (0.6 runs more than the second-place Blue Jays). And as far as giving players days off, doesn’t that also tie into getting some starts for his bench players? The Astros’ bench is much better than in previous seasons and giving these other guys playing time may be helping with that.
He doesn’t have the (other) “IT” factor – This is his 24th major league season as a manager and he has as many World Series titles as the people making the complaints about him. He’s taken 5 different teams to the playoffs in 10 of those 24 seasons and has only one WS appearance to his credit. On the plus side, he has won the twelfth most regular-season games of all time. On the negative side, he has lost the 15th most regular-season games of all time. Would he be a better manager if he had won it all one of those seasons? Or this season?
- So, what are your complaints about Dusty?
- What do you like about him?
- Do you think it is up to him when he will leave the team?