Saturday, October 5, 2013

Thoughts on Dusty Baker

Dusty Baker was fired by the Cincinnati Reds in the wake of their 1 game elimination from the playoffs by the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Apparently he was fired after he stood up for his batting coach after being informed by GM Walt Jocketty that the batting coach was getting the ax.  Dusty reportedly replied, "if you are going to fire him, why don't you fire me instead?"  Maybe Dusty didn't think Jocketty would take him up on the suggestion?  Maybe Dusty knew the comment would cost him his job, but said it anyway on principle?  Maybe Dusty was fed up with Jocketty after begging for a half-season for Jocketty to trade for Marlon Byrd who ended up on Pittsburgh's playoff roster and Dusty just wanted out?  In any event, if you are going to go down, might as well go down fighting for your guy.  Gotta give Dusty a lot of credit for that.

Dusty Baker has now managed 3 MLB teams for an extended period of time.  His legacy, as it currently stands, is that his teams have success in the regular season, but can't seem to get it done in the postseason.  I'm not sure that is a fair rap.  The postseason is, by it's structure, a series of small sample sizes and pretty much anything can and does happen.  Don't forget that the great Bobby Cox, who will likely be a Hall of Famer, only won one World Series Championship despite perennially taking the Braves to the postseason.  Is it really Dusty's fault that Felix Rodriguez could not get Scott Spiezio out in 2002?  Is it really his fault that Benny Agbayani went nuts in 2000?  That Mat Latos, who usually is death to the Giants gave up a grand slam to Buster Posey?  Is it really Dusty's fault that Johnny Cueto got shelled by the Bucs?  That all his best hitters bat LH and were sitting ducks for Liriano?  That Jocketty ignored his pleas for a full half season to acquire Marlon Byrd, who ended up on Pittsburgh's roster?

Managers tend to get reputations that are undeserved and difficult to overcome.  Fortunately for Bobby Cox, he won a World Series before a reputation as an underachiever in the post-season could gel and he was forever immunized against that rap for the rest of his career no matter how many times the Braves stumbled and fell on their faces.  For the longest time, Bruce Bochy had a reputation for making bone-headed calls on the field, mostly because of one incident where he lost his DH in a World Series game.  It wasn't until he ran circles around several managers with better game-management reputations in 2010 and 2012 that people realized 'Ol Boch was one very smart dude in the dugout.

To be sure, Dusty has had excellent personnel to manage throughout his career, but he has had sustained success with 3 different organizations, so he must be doing something right.  Here are some random impressions of Dusty that I found while rummaging through my memory bank of the years he managed the Giants:

He's a guy who both fans and players like.

He appears to love managing as though it is what he was born to do, even more than play the game.

He did most of his managing in the clubhouse and let the players play the game.  That is both a strength and a weakness.

His teams almost always outperformed their pre-season predictions.

His encouragement of players bringing their kids into the clubhouse and dugout contributed to a family atmosphere and made it a place players wanted to be.

His encouragement of players bringing their kids into the clubhouse on the dugout was a distraction that may have contributed to the 2002 World Series loss to the Angels.

He didn't like playing rookies, at all!

He does not really understand pitching and tends to follow a script to the bitter end.  That is both a strength and a weakness.  If you are going to deviate from your prepared script, you better be a magician out there and have a great feel for the nuances and body language of your pitchers.

He really has run into more than his share of bad luck in the postseason.

Giants fans and management didn't really understand Dusty's strengths as a manager until they experienced a few years of Felipe Alou who frenetically micromanaged the games but was a ghost in the clubhouse.

I know a lot of people will disagree with me here, but I would rate Dusty as the second best manager San Francisco era of the franchise.  My top 3 would be 1.  Bochy.  2.  Dusty  3.  Roger Craig.  I know some people would rate Craig #1, but Bochy has the two rings and Dusty has a better record.  Craig was a breath of fresh air when it was needed and re-invigorated the franchise, but his frenetic, hyperintense managing style ultimately wore thin.


  1. I'd concur. Even though Roger Craig presided over a re-awakening of the franchise, the marketing campaign getting borrowed by some blogger for his handle...

    Bochy knows how to handle the pen, and the pitching staff in general. Where is that blogger who had the idea that all the offensive success was credit to Baker, Sabean being completely clueless? I think he had to go into witness protection after the second WS win.

    It was ultimately frustrating, 2002 is still hard to think about, but I enjoyed the hell out of the Baker era. What a great core of players. Snow, Kent, Richie and Billy Mueller is still one of my favorite infields of all time.

    Here's a left field: First African-American manager, one fiery dude named Frank Robinson. Proof there is such a thing as a black guy who is also a red ass.

    1. Take it from one whose mind says 'get over Wheeler' and whose heart says 'give your mind a chance and don't forget this time,' get over that blogger whoever he is.

  2. I like Dusty, but I was ready to se him go after he blew 2002. He did not have the killer instinct I wanted, DHing Shinjo while playing Lofto in CF, for example.

    In my researches on managers he popped up high in both, showing why he has been highly sought. He was among the better manager at beating Pythagorean during the period that I looked at. He was among the leaders in finishing above 500 in one run games, too, I think Bochy was the only one better. So I would definitely give him props for being better than the average manager.

    And you cannot do that without being able to see talent, so I wonder if that label of preferring vets over rooks is much like Bochy, more angst over not seeing your favorite playing while a vet played. I would note that much like Bochy, he had no problems bringing in pitchers, like Rueter, Estes, Ortiz, and unproven guys in the pen all the time. Only Aurilia I was upset over not playing him sooner, but like with Bochy, there were not many position rooks who were strongly deserving, that I can remember.

    I like that order too, and I would put Frank Robinson fourth, he brought a spark of life to our team, my only regrets were that he did not last longer and that he did not get into a game as a player manager at one point.

    I would have liked Bochy best even without rings, even if both ended in first rounds. To win, I think a manager has to be able to put the team above the players. Dusty could not do that. Bochy did that, sitting down the high priced players who were not producing and somehow keeping them happy enough to produce later, with the leaving off Zito from playoff roster as the prime example, though the book end of that story is Zito being a key contributor to the second title, another manager probably could not get Zito to come back and be productive, and withou Zito who would we have, Loux?

    But Baker had a lot of great years, and turned the short term swagger we had with Robinson, then a bit longer with Craig, into a deep set notion that the Giants are good, period, deal with it, destroying the notion that they are going to screw up, again, and lose, returning the attitude that the team had in the 60's that they were winners. There are still fans that cling to that bromide and when they are older they will realize that they were wrong to doubt the Giants are back.

    They are back, and they are not looking back. Go Giants.

  3. My top 3 would be 1. Bochy 2. Craig 3. Dusty. I like all 3 managers. Bochy has 2 rings. I'll always like Roger Craig better then Dusty for his major part in turning around a 100 loss team in 1985 to a very exciting 83-79 team in 1986 who contended for the division title most of that season . The 1985 season was the most frustrating losing 100 games, there was no hope for the Giants, Roger Craig and his style of baseball was a breath of fresh air in 1986! Dusty had his strengths as a manager as mentioned and was likeable. I enjoyed most of his years too. I don't think he made a smart move handing Russ Ortiz the game ball in game 6 of the 2002 WS. I wondered if that might have fired up the Halos. That Steve Bartman game that Dusty was involved in was amazing too. Maybe Dusty is cursed by the baseball gods.


    1. I can go with the curse angle. I would offer up 1993 as a great example, his first season as manager, won the most games ever by a team that didn't make the playoffs. All because the Padres gave up McGriff for a bundle of lower prospects, the Braves had a lot more better prospects and they just gave him up without getting one of them because they were trying to save money with the trade, not get prospects. The Padres helped the Braves to their long stretch of dominance there with that gift trade.

      Or how about 2000's series against the Mets?

      Or Mr. Perfect Mechanics, Mark Pryor, breaking down physically?

      Or last year, just needs one game to beat the Giants, and the Giants swept the rest of the games?

      FYI, the Angels claimed that they gained no extra incentive from Dusty doing that with the ball, but I'm with you, he didn't make a smart move with Ortiz, both with the ball and also with taking him out. I appreciate that Nen gave out his arm that playoffs, but if the team knew that, particularly Dusty, he should have let his starter go deeper into the game, to eat up more innings.

      Plus, I would have throw Rueter instead of Livan, that's the guy you go with in an elimination game, not soft on the inside Livan. That was like Craig's mistake to start Hammaker over Krukow, also because of days of rest, and in both cases, they came in relief and helped but too late.

      Meanwhile, Bochy first sat down Zito in 2010 and Lincecum in 2012, and skipped over Bumgarner too before giving him another start. That decisive command helped us win both championships. If you are going to burn up Nen's arm in the playoffs, if Rueter is willing, and since he relieved, he would have, start him instead, that was the right move to do to win, starting Livan was the right move to placate the big fat baby that Livan could be at times (though I loved how he challenged the other pitchers to hit better). So Livan was happy and indignant that he would be skipped over, and we were sad sacked losers again.

    2. The 1993 season left me with a very bitter taste. While the Braves got McGriff, the best Giants acquisition was Jim Deshaies! Not Dusty's fault that the Giants GM didn't make a bold move. This led to Dusty going with Rookie Solomon Torres pitching game 162 and the season went down the drain. Sadly I read that Torres's baseball career stalled because he couldn't get over losing that game. Prior was never the same. Who knows if it was due to Dusty mishandling him or just bad luck?

      It wasn't Dusty's fault that Scott Rolan made that error in game 3 of the NLDS allowing the winning run to score.

      I agree that Dusty could have stayed with Ortiz for 1 more hitter since their was 2 runners on at the time. Felt even worse about the Giants losing the 2002 WS learning later that Nen's arm gave out during the playoffs. Rueter should have started game 7. Thanks to the 2 WS championships, Giants fans can bury the memories of 2002, 1989, and 1962!


    3. I should add that many Cubs fans blame Dusty's overuse of Mark Prior in 2003 for his injury problems. In 2002, he pitched a total of 167 IP (includes minors+MLB). In 2003, he pitched a total of 233 IP(majors+playoffs). Some feel this was too big a jump for a 22 year old young pitcher. Prior was never the same after 2003. Who knows if it was due to Dusty or just bad luck?


    4. Sabes has been pretty strong in his comments about Kyle Crick that the oblique injury that limited his IP this year will have a carryover limitation in how many innings they let him pitch in 2014 and thus delay the potential start of his MLB career because they do not want him taking too big a jump in IP in one season. So, at least Sabes believes in the Verducci effect.

    5. Pretty good article in The Hardball Times which can be found over at Fangraphs on Dusty's managing, particularly his handling of pitchers. The evidence is mixed.

  4. No love for Alvin Dark, strictly as a a manager? He at least won the pennant in 1962 and got us oh-so-close to a World Series title. He had great talent and never got the Giants back to the Series, but showed some managerial skill when he won with Oakland in 1974. One of the few to win pennants in both leagues. Not quite sure why he would rank below Frank Robinson. I'll go with Bochy #1.

    1. Sorry, I was only going by the years I followed the Giants, since 1971. I don't really know the managers before, so I didn't want to make judgement. What you say makes some sense, though how he did for A's has nothing to do with rating him among best Giants managers. One could counter that he had all those future Hall of Famers on his teams and yet didn't do more with that. Whereas Frank didn't have much of anything and did brought excitement to the team that had been missing for ten years or so.