Baker does the job, once again
Reds skipper leads with traditional, proven philosophies
CINCINNATI -- In the leather-bound binder sits a stack of chicken-scratch sheets of paper Dusty Baker has collected over the years.At this moment, Baker is attempting to locate the one he scribbled on after an encounter with NBA legend Bill Russell, an 11-time champion and five-time MVP with the Boston Celtics. "I asked Bill Russell one time, 'What was the key to the Boston Celtics?'" Baker recalls as he locates the note. "I thought he was going to give me some profound stuff from Red Auerbach. But he told me the key was to create an atmosphere to succeed. He told me his teammates' motto was to be kind and generous to each other and to your family so that we can be champions together." The above illustrates the two trademarks that have made Baker, whose Reds clinched the National League Central title earlier this week, just the ninth manager in history to lead three different Major League teams to the postseason -- his attention to detail, and his appreciation for empathy.
The third postseason appearance puts him in the company of Billy Martin, who led four different teams to the playoffs, and seven others who have managed three different teams into October, a group that includes Tony La Russa, Jim Leyland, Lou Piniella, Joe Torre and Dick Williams.Baker, for his part, has not won himself many fans in the Sabermetrics circuit. He has famously disputed the merits of on-base percentage, arguing that extra runners clog the basepaths if they can't run well, thereby causing spontaneous combustion among the statheads. He has been accused of damaging the careers of young pitchers and, like all managers, has made in-game moves that have drawn the ire of fans.
|Billy Martin||Twins, Tigers, Yankees, A's|
|Dusty Baker||Giants, Cubs, Reds|
|Davey Johnson||Mets, Reds, Orioles|
|Tony LaRussa||White Sox, A's, Cardinals|
|Jim Leyland||Pirates, Marlins, Tigers|
|Bill McKechnie||Pirates, Cardinals, Reds|
|Lou Piniella||Reds, Mariners, Cubs|
|Joe Torre||Braves, Yankees, Dodgers|
|Dick Williams||Red Sox, A's, Padres|
"A lot of guys love Dusty for the realness," second baseman Brandon Phillips says. "If you ask Dusty a question, he's going to keep it 100 [percent truthful] with you. You've got to be ready to hear his answer. He does what's best for the team and the player. He sees some things that a lot of people don't see."Plenty of naysayers don't always see what Baker sees. This year alone he has been critiqued for the patience he extended to outfielders Jay Bruce, Drew Stubbs and Jonny Gomes and reliever Nick Masset. Yet that patience has been rewarded each time. The current conundrum is the ongoing inconsistency of closer Francisco Cordero and the ensuing outcry for Aroldis Chapman to replace him. Baker, for better or worse, remains as loyal to Cordero as he was to the others. Whether that loyalty pays off as much as it did with the others is a matter that might be decided in October. "I'm not worried about what people say, because people go on who's hot at the time," Baker says. "I have to look at the overall big picture, the dynamics and the psychology of my ballclub." Baker's Reds have been psychologically sound enough to overcome the fifth-lowest Opening Day payroll in their six-team division, and that's a credit to his guidance. A weaker unit might have crumbled after the four-game sweep by the Phillies before the All-Star break or the three-game sweep at the hands of the Cardinals in August. But the Reds, a youthful unit, survived, thus damaging the long-standing critique of Baker as a manager who plays favorites with veterans. "He lets these kids play," owner Bob Castellini says. "They believe in him, and he believes in them. He gives them confidence. He's always worried about keeping their confidence up. He's terrific." As far as the belief that Baker ignores the statistical minutiae that explains so much in the game, shortstop Orlando Cabrera doesn't see it. "His preparation before every game is intense," Cabrera says. "You don't see that very often in a manager. This guy has the numbers on everybody. He's a really, really smart guy. Extremely smart. Of course, he's had a lot of success through his career as a manager, and people think it's because he's always had good players. But I really believe that guy has always made sure he puts the entire team in the best situation possible to win the game. "The camera will sometimes zoom in on those little green and yellow cards he keeps with him in the dugout. He has everything in there. When he makes a move, it's because those numbers are telling him to make that move." Those cards hold the keys to Baker's in-game moves, but the binder holds the lessons learned from the many sporting heroes he's encountered over 40-plus years in professional baseball. In the span of about 10 minutes during an interview this week, Baker cited not only Russell's words of wisdom but also pieces of advice he has picked up from San Francisco 49ers coaching great Bill Walsh and Japanese legend Sadaharu Oh. It was Oh who imparted upon Baker the philosophy of never feeling satisfied or reflecting on your career until it's complete. The career of the 61-year-old Baker appears far from completion, as he is reportedly nearing a contract extension. "Hopefully, he can come back next year and more years to come, because he deserves it," Phillips says. "Our team was not built to win when he first got here." Under Baker's guidance, the Reds won the NL Central for the first time in 15 years. Still, having fallen short of a World Series win in his two previous trips to the postseason as a manager, Baker has his eyes set on more. "That's what motivated me to come back," he says, "and what drives me to keep going." As he goes, he'll continue to collect criticism just as much as he collects philosophical hand-me-downs. The naysayers have followed Baker in all three stops in his managerial career. But then again, so has success.