Despite the fact that their presumed leader, first baseman Joey Votto, has spent the last month or so on the disabled list, the Cincinnati Reds are perched in first place in the National League Central division and seem like a good bet to be playing in the postseason. That is probably why many Reds fans are starting to grumble about the ongoing lame-duck status of manager Dusty Baker, whose contract is set to expire after the season, and who is getting much of the credit for the team's continued performance. As rumors began to swirl this weekend about the team's molasses approach to extending their head man and Baker's growing irritation at the situation, I have to wonder how much of this club's success can be laid at the feet of Baker. Could it be that the Reds would be just as good, or better, going forward without Baker to guide them?
I have to admit that I cringed when the Reds hired Baker back in October of 2007. I thought then, and continue to think now, that they brought him on board because he was a "name" manager, having gained acclaim as a player with the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1970s and as a manager with the San Francisco Giants in the 1990s and early 2000s. He had some success with the Giants, landing in the World Series in 2002, and then turned in two winning seasons with the Chicago Cubs before the wheels fell off in 2004 and 2005. Of course, his Giants tenure was buoyed by Barry Bonds's historic seasons, and Baker's hand did little to steady the leaky ship that emerged in the aftermath of the Bartman incident in the 2003 playoffs.
i suppose my personal rankling against Baker comes down to different proclivities: While I grew up on the cusp of a statistical revolution, Dusty is an "old-style" manager who speaks of what his "gut" tells him and likes to fill his roster with steady veterans, professional hitters and any number of other trite baseball beings. Of course, you might argue that Baker's love of staid old baseball souls saved the Reds' collective hide this season, courtesy of Ryan Ludwick's strong performance, but Ludwick is a talented guy who has turned in big years in the past and run into some injury and luck issues during his career. Drew Stubbs, Wilson Valdez and Miguel Cairo are all examples, from this year's Reds, of the types of players that Baker likes to shower with plate appearances at the expense of younger guys. Experience has its perks, right.
Baker has done a decent job keeping the Reds on top of the standings in Votto's absence, but much of that success can be attributed to a healthy Ludwick and strong pitching by Johnny Cueto, Aroldis Chapman and others. If Dusty is gone after 2012, I hope the new guy will have the same kind of luck. Regardless of who it is, I'll be pulling for him, and the Reds. As always.
Adam Hughes was raised, and still lives, in rural Indiana. He has been a Cincinnati Reds fan since the early 1980s, when gods like Dan Driessen and Cesar Cedeno roamed the ethereally green Riverfront turf. He thinks that Dusty Baker is the anti-Davey.