Dusty Baker and Reds Part Ways

Cincinnati Reds and Dusty Baker part ways
Reds and Dusty Baker part ways after several failed playoffs
Chicago Cubs manager Dusty Baker
Baker loses NLCS with Cubs
San Francisco Giants manager Dusty Baker
Dusty loses WS with SF Giants

Dusty Baker and the Reds are parting ways. Reds fans have been calling for Baker’s head since 2010 but have been largely ignored by a Red’s front office that seemed to have Baker’s back 100%. So it is rather surprising that Baker’s out with a year to go on his contract. Whether it was the Red’s decision or Baker’s to part, it was the right move for both.

Sometimes I’m happy to see a manager get fired (yeah, you Bobby Valentine and hopefully you, Joe Girardi), but in this case, as vocal as I’ve been about firing Dusty, I have mixed emotions.

Let’s face it, Baker took a woeful, inept Reds team and, with the help of Walt Jocketty, reversed the current flowing through GABP. He’s gotten them into the playoffs three times in six years and has overseen the transitions of Joey Votto, Aroldis Chapman, Jay Bruce and Johnny Cueto into national stars. He’s done a world of good for our Redlegs.

Yet, on the big stage, his teams falter. Where was your World Series triumph in 2002, Dusty, when you had the most dominant hitter on the planet (who didn’t even win the MVP because the second baseman was so good) and a 3-2 edge over the Angels? Where was your NL championship in 2003 when you had the second most prolific homerun hitter of the era and a bevy of young arms? No, you can’t blame Bartman. And what happened to your playoff run in 2012 when you go on the road and win two games only to come home and lose three straight?

As I’ve said before, it’s a case of motivation. Over 162 games, staying level-headed and even-keeled is a good thing – keeps you from burning out. But come October, you need to dial it up, give your players an edge and light a fire in the clubhouse. But it’s not Baker’s style to raise a ruckus. He’d prefer to leave it up to the players.

But who do players take their cue from? The GM? The owners? No. They take it from the captain, the skipper, the guy who’s in the trenches with them.

In 2003 Baker let the Cubs get away with all kinds of blame-shifting. They had a chance to win after the Bartman incident, but like the 2002 Giants, couldn’t close the door. Then a decade later, the 2012 Reds couldn’t close the door on Baker’s former team, needing only to win one of three games at home. Finally, there’s the ignominious honor of bowing out of the playoffs to a team that hasn’t seen (let alone win) a playoff game in over two decades.

What do all these teams have in common? Talent, ability and a complete lack of urgency in the clutch. What can the manager control or influence? The mindset, the heart and the emotional fire that burns inside his players.

Team meetings and motivational speeches don’t win games. But they put the team in a mindset that gives them the best shot of winning. Baker’s track record clearly demonstrates that his players are not in the best mindset come crunch time. (Remember when the Reds hit .272 with a .436 slugging percentage as team in 2010, only to get no-hit and swept out of a Division Series where they scored four total runs in three games?)

And now, Baker leaves the Reds with minimal hardware, unmet potential and worse, a team without clubhouse leadership.

It remains to be seen how Jocketty and the front office will approach hiring a new manager, but for the sake of our storied franchise, let’s hope they hire a motivator, an inspirer, perhaps an orator, but most certainly a leader.

—Ryan Varney

PS – Fire Jacoby next.

2013 Reds Post Season Recap

2013 Reds post season recap
Lights out for the 2013 Reds

This article will be about as long as the Reds post season.

Last night, the Jekyll and Hyde Reds showed up to PNC Park in all their Mr. Hyde ugliness, falling to the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-2. The Reds post season lasted eight and a half innings and just under three hours and fifteen minutes.

**********

Actually, there’s more.

Everyone will want to second guess Dusty Baker for going with Johnny Cueto over Mat Latos, considering Cueto is still getting into pitching shape after missing most of the season. But it’s hard to argue with his logic. Cueto is (well, was) 8-2 with a 1.90 ERA at PNC Park, and Latos hasn’t looked his sharpest lately.

The fact is, Cueto simply didn’t come through. He wasn’t locating his pitches the way Francisco Liriano did. It appeared the constant, droning Cue-to, Cue-to, Cue-to chants definitely rattled him. (Note to Buccos fans: act like you’ve been there before – er, never mind.) Trouble was certainly evident when even Liriano slapped a hit up the middle. He only had three all year – for an impressive .064 BA. Then there was the long ball situation. While Marlon Byrd’s was forgivable, Cueto, along with Logan Ondrusek, also surrendered homeruns to a weak hitting catcher batting seventh in the order.

Russell Martin only batted .226 during the year with 15 jacks. Both his homers were soul crushing. Following up Marlon Byrd’s HR, Martin’s first bomb exploded the fact that Cueto was off his game. And then in the seventh, his second blast of the game pushed the run differential to five, meaning the Reds couldn’t even get back into the game with a four-run homer.

Congrats, fellas. You didn’t let McCutcheon beat you. Sure, he had two hits, two walks and a run, but he wasn’t the difference in the game.

Cueto’s inability to perform doesn’t let Baker off the hook, though. Part of a manager’s responsibilities falls outside the on-field strategies. Managers need to motivate.

Ask yourself, how motivated have the Reds looked in their past three post season appearances?

Not very.

The Reds have a ton of talent, but zero leadership. Not amongst the coaching staff and consequently, not amongst the players. This can be laid squarely on the manager’s shoulders. Pittsburgh clearly has less total talent than the Reds, but Clint Hurdle can light a fire when it’s needed.

So what now?

Moving Forward

Baker has exhausted his run as manager of the Cincinnati Reds. A change is needed and it starts with letting him go. In fact, the whole staff needs to go.

While I don’t have a suggestion for Baker’s replacement – other than “Please God, not Bobby Valentine” – I do have a suggestion for hitting coach: Dwayne Murphy.

To answer your question, Dwayne Murphy is currently the first base coach of the Toronto Blue Jays. And that job is actually a demotion for him. He was formerly the hitting coach for the Jays and is the guy responsible for making Jose Bautista the hitter he is today. Oh, and he turned Edwin Encarnacion into Bautista 2.0, something the Reds couldn’t do in all his time with them.

Imagine Todd Frazier unleashing the power we know he has to the extent that those two have. Devin Mesoraco, too. With Choo most likely gone and the uncertainty of Ludwick’s health, wouldn’t that be something of a nice surprise?

And the aggressive hitting approach Murphy takes could certainly help us remember why we ponied up a cool $225 million for Joey Votto.

Not trying to pour salt in the wound, but former Pirates slugger Ralph Kiner is said to have said, “Homerun hitters drive Cadillacs; singles hitters drive Fords.” Votto must’ve bought stock in Ford this year, because he’s buying up a fleet of them.

The Reds are sitting on a great wealth of talent and ability, from pitching to defense and even to hitting. But it needs to be brought to life, day in and day out – and especially in the clutch.

A change in the coaching staff is the best place to start if the 2014 Reds are to come alive and stay alive, all the way through October.

—Ryan Varney