If you want a manager to get you into the playoffs, Dusty Baker is your man. He has done it with all five franchises he has managed, unfortunately the previous four franchises all parted ways with Baker when the main objectives were not achieved.
As the current Houston Astros manager, Baker has been a baseball lifer, but his own stubbornness might be his ultimate downfall. Everyone loves Dusty until he wears out his welcome which he has done in every prior managerial spot. There are plenty of great stories about Dusty in San Francisco, Chicago, Cincinnati, and Washington, D.C., and he can share stories of Jimmy Hendrix, Hollywood celebrities, U.S. Presidents, and some of the greatest players of the game. The media loves him, and they have his back every time he loses. But each time he is fired from a job, he is mystified at what happened — as it is never his fault. Maybe he is right since he is not batting, fielding or throwing pitches, but he does hold the power of the lineup card and makes the pitching substitutions, and sends in the signals to put on plays. Sometimes managers are simply the “fall guy” and scapegoat for the general manager or even owners.
The 71-year-old has had good teams, and he has had great teams although he said after he departed from the Nationals that he was never handed a great time. That is debatable. Nats’ manager Dave Martinez took a lesser version of Baker’s 2017 team and won the World Series two years later.
The media rarely will get negative with Dusty, rather they play along even after a loss to ask fun questions or throw him creampuffs about the losses which it always seems to get attributed to bad luck. There is an old saying, “Sometimes you have to make your own luck.”
Every once in a while, a media pool reporter will ask Dusty a question that can catch him off-guard like before a 2016 NLDS game when he was asked why he sticks with shortstop Danny Espinosa, who continues to struggle offensively.
“Who else do I have?” said Baker in a sharp tone. “That’s my answer. I mean, you can give me somebody better, then I can play somebody instead of him. You know, certain times you have certain people on your team, and that’s what you’ve got.”
The bus ran over Espinosa and he was done with the Nats after he was non-tendered shortly afterwards. Let’s face it, you are not going to have All-Stars at every spot in your lineup.
Sure, baseball is based on skill and luck. An inch one way and you’re a hero and an inch the other way and you’re a zero. The best players have a skill set that sets them apart from the others. Baker attributes some of those zeros to a bad stretch before the “law of averages” goes your way, and any gambler will tell you that if you think you can’t lose ten hands in a row, think again. Same with baseball. Slumps can be cruel, and nobody cares what you did two months ago.
“I’ve been a villain most of my life,” Baker said last week.
Baker’s lifetime managerial record has been great based on regular seasons where he has won at a .532 record, but he has also managed some darn good teams that he adopted even though he said he never took on a great team. He had Barry Bonds in San Francisco, Kerry Wood and Mark Prior in Chicago, Joey Votto in Cincinnati, and a team of All-Stars in Washington with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Daniel Murphy, and others. In Houston, he got Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa and others.
Unfortunately, Baker’s career managerial record in the postseason is a very disappointing 28-36 which equates to a .438 winning percentage. He had three teams that were swept in the playoffs, and tonight it can be his fourth if he does not figure something out. You would think he would shake-up his lineup or sit a struggling player or maybe play the guy who has three costly errors in the past two games at designated hitter, but nope. Dusty is hoping the “law of averages” will turn his way.
In the first game of the ALCS with his team down by 1-run and bases loaded and only one out, Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash went to his bullpen in the 8th inning to bring in the right-handed Diego Castillo with the hope that Baker would not counter with a pinch-hitter. Baker stuck with Yuli Gurriel who was batting 6-for-65 since September 16 and through Game 1 of the ALCS prior to the 8th inning. I will help you with the math — that is an .092 batting average. Baker had the perfect opportunity to thwart Cash’s plan and bring in a pinch-hitter like lefty Josh Reddick. Baker did nothing and Gurriel swung at the first pitch and rolled into an inning ending doubleplay and Houston lost the game 2-1.
“Law of averages is on his side,” Baker said of Gurriel. “This guy is too good of a hitter not to (recover). Everybody in the dugout knew he was going to get at least a sacrifice fly or a base hit. It’s driving him crazy because he’s not used to struggling like this. We’ve just got to keep believing in Yuli.”
The ironic part is with bases empty in the 9th inning, Baker went to the pinch-hitter with Josh Reddick who singled against the same pitcher he would have faced in the 8th inning, Diego Castillo. That is how you make your own luck. The “law of averages” favored going to Reddick in the 8th inning and Baker did nothing to change the odds.
— BIG SARGE MEDIA (@BigSargeSportz) October 10, 2020
Two days ago, Jose Altuve had two awful lame duck throws to first base that were disastrous for the Astros leading to 3 unearned runs and the difference in a 4-2 loss. In last night’s game, Altuve was back at second base and committed another costly error allowing a run to score. The designated hitter for Baker was his backup second baseman, Aledmys Diaz who could have just switched assignments, and maybe you create your own luck that way. Tonight, Altuve is back at second base. Maybe he doesn’t have an error tonight, but why take that chance?
Did any media member ask Dusty why he did not pinch-hit for Gurriel or why he played Altuve at second base instead of DH? What about using Enoli Paredes as his first man out of the bullpen when had the more veteran Josh James.
It has to remind you of so many moves in 2016 and 2017 in the NLDS. Playing Danny Espinosa at shortstop in 2016 and Jayson Werth in left field in 2017. Using Sammy Solis as the first man out of the bullpen in the 7th inning to relieve Max Scherzer with a 1-run lead while Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Madson, and Sean Doolittle were all available. That was his “Law Firm” that general manager traded away key parts for to get Dusty the best 1-2-3 bullpen in the Nats history. Of course, Solis gave it up to the first batter he faced.
“[Managing] is a really thankless job,” Jayson Werth said. “It’s one of those things where Davey Johnson would say that players win games, managers lose games. That doesn’t really sound like the best job description. And he handles it really well.”
Werth is this year’s equivalent of Gurriel, a 36 year old who is regressing, yet Baker just calls it bad luck. Yes, there was a lot of bad luck. There is no doubt about it.
Lots of great Dusty-isms today in his pregame chat:
“Yesterday we had the 2-strike blues – because everything happened with 2 strikes.”
On how Altuve can “flush” the last 2 days:
“1) You have no choice. And 2) you can’t take yesterday into today or else it will continue.”
— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) October 14, 2020
The same Baker publicly laughs it off with his Dusty-isms. The private Dusty Baker did not have the support of key players in the Nats 2017 clubhouse. While Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth were supportive of him, the clubhouse was split on Baker. Werth’s vote of confidence never really factored in as he was not going to return to the 2018 team, and in fact, he would never play Major League baseball after that season. Key players like Bryce Harper would not publicly support Baker like he did two years before that for former manager Matt Williams. The same for Strasburg who said “no comment” when asked about Baker.
“Not boasting or being arrogant or anything,” Baker said before the 2017 NLDS. “… If anything, they expect me to win everything or else I’m going to be out of here — which isn’t fair, but that’s just how it is. So therefore, I won’t disappoint them — and I won’t disappoint myself.”
Well, Baker lost the last game he ever managed for the Washington Nationals and he foreshadowed his own departure in that quote, “win everything or else I’m going to be out of here.” The name of the game is winning.