"What's it take to call back and say, 'No, thank you?' " Baker vented to the San Jose Mercury News last week.
Cincinnati Reds GM Walt Jocketty said no thank you to Baker continuing in their managerial role last Oct. 4. Baker was fired despite leading the team to 90-plus victories in three of his six seasons, including back-to-back 97 and 90 win totals respectively over the past two seasons. That was the team‘s best two-year win total since 1975-1976 (210).
It seemed like an odd time for a firing... or a retirement... or any of the other suggestions Jocketty came up with to protect Baker's reputation.
At the time of their parting, the Reds suggested announcing it as a "retirement" or that Baker was "taking a year off."
"Why? That's not what I wanted," Baker said when reached at his Sacramento-area home this week. "I'll know when I want to retire. ... I said, 'Let's call it what it is' " — a firing.
So it shall be called, just as it shall be known that Baker is ready for another challenge.
It's not as if Baker’s managerial success begins and ends with his run in Cincinnati. He's currently 16th on baseball's all-time victories list. He's also one of three managers — with Bruce Bochy and Jim Leyland — to win at least 500 games for different two teams — with Cincinnati and the San Francsico Giants. And though he didn't reach that lofty mark during his time with the Chicago Cubs, they did come within six outs of the World Series in 2003.
Baker's record speaks for itself. You could debate some of his decisions along the way, particularly when it comes to his handling of pitchers. You can question the integrity of players he‘s managed — Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa come to mind — and how they may have influenced his success. The lack of a World Series championship as a manager is a mark against him as well, but he’ll make good with the roster you give him.
And no, the Tigers never returned his call, either.
It’s possible concerns over Baker’s health played a role in the reluctance of teams to put him on their short list. Baker missed a good chunk of the 2012 while recovering from an irregular heartbeat and a ministroke. He even admitted he wasn't sure if he'd be able to handle a full schedule in 2013, but got through it no worse for the wear.
And maybe it's as simple as teams looking for fresher perspectives and new ideas. Jocketty obviously felt that was needed in Cincinnati's dugout if they hoped to reach their potential and eventually pass the St. Louis Cardinals and even now the Pittsburgh Pirates. We've already seen rookie manager Bryan Price bring something new to their clubhouse, even if it was as simple as changing a facial hair policy.
Two other postseason contenders — the Tigers and Washington Nationals — also went with first time managers, hiring Brad Ausmus and Matt Williams respectively. That might clue us in on a developing trend that leans towards fresh faces over recycled veterans, or it could be a coincidence that those teams matched up.
Either way, Baker wants the world to know he's ready to give it another go. If you're interested, just call him. He's sure you have his number.
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