As someone who struggles to understand the logic by which Dusty Baker became a bad manager simply by being given dramatically worse players than he had three years ago, I found Sunday's Cubs-Mets game extraordinarily instructive -- in the same way that I find people being burned to death by angry mobs instructive.
As in, "Man, that must smart."
Baker, and a portion of the nation eager to delay the start of ESPN's most ostentatious salute to itself as long as possible, watched the Cubs encapsulate their season (and probably their short-range future as well) by providing the Mets with an 11-run sixth inning that included:
- A blown 5-2 lead.
- 16 New York hitters.
- 11 runs.
- Two grand slams and a two-run homer.
- Two errors.
- Two pitching changes.
- 41 minutes.
- 70 pitches.
- Fans hurling garbage onto the field in an expression of taste.
- Repeated scenes of Baker trying to tear his own head from his body.
This was, I dare say, the worst moment in Cubs baseball in years -– maybe even a decade. And if there are Cubs fans out there who can top this one, they are encouraged to keep their opinions to himself, for this is my version of events and I intend to stick to it.
But however it ranks in Cub history, I would submit that this is the inning that proves that those who blame Baker for the absurd debacle that is Cubs baseball are whistling ... or perhaps even vomiting ... through their hats.
Baker went to Chicago three years ago full of hopes and dreams and positive vibes and helped lead them within an Alex Gonzalez error in the 2003 NLCS of actually realizing them. Then it got slowly but recognizably worse. A segment of the media turned on him for his role as a pawn in the town's issues of the Tribune Co.'s ownership of the club. Baker fretted too much about the criticism for his own good. The team's talent level deteriorated, either through attrition or the disabled list. Or, as they call it, "Kerry And Mark's Home Away From Home."
But it wasn't until this year that Cubs fans finally deduced that Baker wasn't impeding the Cubs from greatness after all. Whatever they might have thought of him (and some critics were too pot-committed to ever change their minds), they could see a talentless, uninspired, even dreadful team had been assembled for him to manage, and that was before more injuries.
And now they are stuck with their impotent rage, having to shift their stance to "Baker should be fired because no man should be made to watch this every day," or "Baker should be fired as part of a comprehensive franchise de-lousing like the one they just performed in Toronto," or "First you start with Andy MacPhail," or "Man, it sure would be good if Ozzie Guillen said something incendiary today."
And Sunday's sixth inning was the zenith for all those schools of thought, a tire fire of bad baseball so horrifying that whatever his long-term future in Chicago, Baker might actually deserve a raise just for not shooting someone after the game.
This theory will not sit well with those who believe that Baker must be sacrificed in the most gruesome way possible just to prove that they weren't wrong in 2004. Frankly, they thought the Cubs were his fault back then when the evidence clearly shows now that the team was being doomed from above, with the aid of bad luck and the corrosive quality of simple creeping Cub-ism. The question has stopped being, "What manager could win with this team?" because such a being does not exist, not even with Arnold Rothstein owning the other 29 clubs.
In a fair world, the Cubs would sign him to a new deal and say, "You stay until we get this right again." In a normal world, the Cubs would say, "Here's a bonus for having to watch this fetid blob of a team, and you tell us when and how you want to leave."
Neither of those scenarios will occur, of course, because the world is neither fair nor even normal. Baker will resign, or be fired, because blame must be delegated, and it is never delegated upward.
But at least the nation got to see the Cubs up close and personal Sunday night, and not one of them came away from the sixth inning saying, "A different manager would have prevented that." True, it isn't a raise or an extension, but Dusty Baker will always have that.
Ray Ratto is a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle.