Thanks to rather embarrassing conclusions to the 2002 World Series (as Giants manager) and 2003 NLCS (as Cubs manager), it seems that the overwhelming majority has long since decided that Dusty Baker is worthy of mockery.
Each time his team comes up short in the postseason, it's more "evidence" that he's some kind of failure who can't get the job done and should be fired. He's unfit to manage in the postseason, they cry.
These aren't people who would give Baker credit if his teams came through. No, there's confirmation bias in place before the postseason series even begin. If his team ends up advancing, it's in spite of Baker. If they lose, though, it's see! I told you he sucked!
Why? Because he thought Game 6 in 2002 was over before it was? Because he badly botched Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS (before Kerry Wood was lit up in Game 7, mind you)?
Those examples are 15 and 14 years ago, respectively, too.
I have no doubt everyone reading this makes the correct decision every single time in his or her job and further believe you that nothing has changed in the decision-making process for you in the last 15 years. Uh huh. Sure.
What does Baker actually do?
He wins in the regular season like almost no one else. He does it with all different kinds of rosters, in different climates, in different situations. He wins over clubhouses almost immediately.
Take this Nationals job. Yeah, this team has tons of talent, but they were 83-79 the year before he took over and previous manager Matt Williams had lost control of the team. Baker came in and won 95 and 97 games in his two years, respectively, with the team.
From 1996-2007, the Reds made the playoffs zero times. They only had a winning record once. Baker took over in 2008, going through two below-.500 seasons before winning the NL Central in 2010 and 2012, also taking a wild-card spot in 2013. He was fired after losing that game. Pre-Dusty, the Reds had made the playoffs three times since 1976. He made it three times in a four-year span. Since Dusty, they've won 76, 64, 68 and 68 games, respectively.
Now, the 2012 Reds won 97 games and lost in the first round. Of course, they lost their ace, Johnny Cueto, after just one batter in Game 1. Baker ended up using another starter, Mat Latos, in relief that game and slotted him as their ace next time that turn came around. The Reds would blow a 2-0 lead in the series. I've heard many Reds fans blame Baker, but I can't help but wonder what happens if Cueto doesn't get hurt. Remember, the Giants were the team that beat the Reds, and they won the World Series.
In his 22-year managerial career, Baker has a .540 winning percentage. That's a 162-game pace of 87 wins. In 22 years, his average season is 87-75. That's outstanding.
But hey, he's got the toothpick, wristbands, two major postseason embarrassments from 14-plus years ago and hasn't advanced past the divisional series round since 2003. That must mean he's terrible.
Surely Baker cost the Nationals the series against the Cubs this year, right?
Bryce Harper entered the series only 18 at-bats removed from a major knee injury. Max Scherzer injured his hamstring in his final regular-season start. The Nats as a team hit .186 in the series, Daniel Murphy and Bryce Harper hit .211. Anthony Rendon .176. Trea Turner only had a .217 OBP and one stolen base. Ryan Zimmerman hit .150. The team slugged just .335.
One mistake that stands out to me is in Game 3; with a 1-0 lead, Baker removed Scherzer in favor of lefty Sammy Solis to face Kyle Schwarber. Cubs manager Joe Maddon went with Albert Almora, who crushes lefties. Almora tied the game and the Cubs later would win.
Still, the Nationals only scored one run that game and it was unearned. How about Anthony Rizzo's go-ahead hit in the bottom of the eighth? No one could have made a diving attempt at that?
Maybe Baker should have run out from the dugout and made the catch?
I hated Jayson Werth batting second with Anthony Rendon sixth in Games 4 and 5, but there's not a manager in the league who regularly puts out lineups that draw no complaints.
For the life of me, I don't understand how a fair-minded person can look at that series objectively and claim the Nationals lost because of Dusty Baker.
We'll hear the same old tired tropes in response, though. Baker wears out arms. It's not a coincidence that his teams never win. Baker doesn't develop young talent.
On the arms thing, people still love to focus on those Cubs teams, but pitch counts weren't held in such high regard back then.(Cueto's injury in the playoffs was back spasms; his arm was fine).
On the "it's not a coincidence" angle, I think it is. Winning in the postseason is more often than not a crapshoot. The Indians were better all year than the Yankees and lost three straight in the ALDS this year. It happens every year. How many people think the 2014 Giants and Royals were the two best teams in baseball? C'mon. Hell, since so many want to keep talking about 2003, Baker's 88-win Cubs beat the 101-win Braves in the NLDS.
Maybe he used to be ruin young arms and not be a choker but now he's different -- even though many people think he's the same guy?
Sorry, I've just gone cross-eyed.
The "Baker doesn't develop young talent" people need to explain the following who grew up under Baker in his last two stops: Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Cueto, Edinson Volquez, Homer Bailey, Zack Cozart, Todd Frazier, Mike Leake, and Trea Turner. Michael A. Taylor took huge steps forward this season under Baker, too.
One of the biggest problems when it comes to judging managers is we fall victim to only looking at things in either extreme. If a manager makes a bad decision, he sucks. If he wins a World Series, he must be awesome. The problem is good managers like Terry Francona and Joe Maddon make mistakes. They make so many decisions, it would be foolish to believe they are immune from criticism.
Baker seems to have been slotted as a bad manager by many, so even when he makes good decisions or does a good job, there are excuses for that. Maybe he really has always had good talent, but he's never failed to cultivate that talent. The man wins over locker rooms almost immediately and racks up the wins. He's failed in the past in the postseason, but so have his players. At some point, there's only so much a manager can do in the playoffs.
Ever heard the phrase "it's better to be lucky than good?" This isn't true in baseball, and I hate talking "luck," but managers in the postseason need a lot of fortune on their side in order to win it all. Things have to break right and the players need to perform. Maddon had tons go right for him last season through some bad pitching decisions in Games 6 and 7 of the World Series. Baker just never got his.
Now the Nationals look for a new manager who will be successful, and it's gotta be a tall order to find one better than Baker.
Yes, there's a lot of talent here, and the Nationals should win the NL East next year. It's just that the Nats won 192 games in the last two years combined and that wasn't good enough. No, it's down to the crapshoot of the postseason with a loaded National League (Dodgers and Cubs aren't going anywhere, while several others are up-and-comers).
Keep in mind also that the Nationals missed out on Bud Black due to low-balling him and that's how they stumbled into Baker. Baker only got a two-year deal while many new managers get three or four years. Further, this will be their sixth(!) manager in the last 10 years.
Look closely at the roster for next year. Harper is in the last year of his deal. Murphy will be 33 next year and is in the last year of his deal. Are we sure Zimmerman's huge bounce-back year was legit? He'll be 33. Scherzer will be 33 with a lot of mileage on that arm. How much can we count on 30-plus starts from Stephen Strasburg? Gio Gonzalez's season seemed too good to be true before a bad finish and he'll be 32 with only one year left on his deal.
Maybe it works and the Nationals win the World Series next year. I'm not saying it can't work. It can. They're definitely good enough to win with any manager who doesn't actively sabotage the team throughout the season -- and, no, mindless Dusty haters, he most certainly doesn't do that.
It just seems to me giving Baker one more chance with this group was the right play, but hey, "Dusty Baker stigma," so it'll be praised in many circles. Good job on moving pieces around just for the sake of moving them around, I guess. Whatever makes the masses happy.