COMMENTARY | This offseason, the Cincinnati Reds gave manager Dusty Baker a two-year contract extension and, effectively, at least two more opportunities to win it all.
The story, obviously, starts well before the day Baker signed his extension. After a 97-65 season, the Reds were the no. 2 seed in the National League and faced the San Francisco Giants in the NLDS. In Game 1, Johnny Cueto went down with an injury, Mat Latos came in to pitch, and the Reds pulled out a 5-2 victory. In Game 2, the Reds held the Giants to two hits and won 9-0. I was nervous when the playoffs began, and I was nervous when Cueto went down. I wasn't nervous after the 9-0 win. I was looking forward to the NLCS. The Giants went on to win Game 3, 4 and 5, and the Reds' season was over.
I still have a bad taste in my mouth.
Four days later, Baker's contract was extended. The timing seemed insensitive, the decision seemed questionable.
The day of Game 2 of the NLCS, a playoff series that should have featured the Reds, the Reds front office turned their attention to the 2013 season. Had owner Bob Castellini forgotten the NLDS collapse?
"Collapse" is the best word to use. The Reds were up two games to none and hadn't lost three games in a row at home all season. How could they now? But they did. I could blame the players for not preparing well enough, the front office for having the wrong pieces in place, the fans for not cheering loudly enough, or Dusty for pulling the wrong strings.
I've followed the Reds for years, and I know all about "Dusty haters" -- those who feel Baker is holding the team back from its full potential.
This is the part where I really wanted to write about how great of an idea it was to re-sign Dusty, how great of a manager he is, how wrong Dusty haters are, and how he'll definitely lead the Reds to a World Series victory. But I don't know any of that. Truth be told, I know very little about what an MLB manager actually does. Before you read on, think about what you actually know about what a manager does. I know as much about what Dusty does as what my mailman does. I know my mailman drives a truck, carries the mail, and, if I don't get my mail, I have someone to blame it on (whether it's his fault or not). As for Dusty, I know that he sets a reverse-OBP lineup at the beginning of the season, chews on toothpicks in the dugout, and, if the Reds lose, I have someone to blame it on (again, whether it's his fault or not).
Now what we've heard about what Dusty does is a totally different story: He gets the team to play hard, the players love him, and he's often at the top of the Manager of the Year list. We've also heard that his lineups lose games, he always leaves pitchers in a few pitches too long, and he'll never win a ring.
I can't put a finger on what exactly it all means, and I don't think anyone can. How big of an impact do Dusty's or any manager's decisions (who hits where in the lineup, when to bunt, and so on) actually have on one game? On an entire season? On a five-game playoff series?
I don't know, and neither do you. The fact remains that the Reds won almost 60 percent of their games last year, and Dusty assuredly deserves some credit.
Andrew J. Roth studied journalism at Lehigh University and received his Master's from the University of Illinois. He has been following the Reds and Major League Baseball since he met Barry Larkin in 1993. For Reds and other sports tweets, follow him on Twitter @AndrewJohnRoth.