Normally, I just root for exciting baseball, for late-inning drama and Game 5s and Game 7s, for unknown heroes and superstars strutting their stuff. OK, maybe I root a little harder for the underdogs or for the team that has never won the World Series, or at least not in a generation or four.
This postseason, I find part of myself rooting for Dusty Baker and after the Reds lost Game 4 to set up today’s Game 5, it dawned on me: This could be the last game Baker ever manages.
Baker’s contract runs out after this season. Reds GM Walt Jocketty has been noncommittal on Baker’s future, saying only the situation will be addressed after the season. Before the start of the series against the Giants, Baker told MLB.com: "This is my team, you know."
"I plan to manage," Baker added. "I'm not worried and, God willing, I'm going to manage some more because I think I'm getting better and I'm still enjoying it. As long as I'm enjoying it, and as long as my family doesn't object, I will be somewhere."
But Baker is 63 and if the Reds don’t bring him back, there’s no guarantee he gets a job somewhere, especially considering only the Red Sox and Rockies currently have an opening. His recent health scare would have to be a factor in his future employment as well.
Only Gene Mauch managed more games than Baker has without winning a World Series, but Mauch rarely came close -- the 1964 pennant race with the Phillies and the 1982 and 1986 playoffs with the Angels being the exceptions. Consider the disappointment Baker has gone through in his managerial career:
The 1993 pennant race, winning 103 games but losing the division on the final day to the Braves.
The 2002 World Series, handing the ball to Russ Ortiz in Game 6, only to lose that game and then Game 7.
The 2003 NLCS with the Cubs, the Bartman Game and then Game 7.
Three other playoff defeats.
Look, Baker doesn’t deserve to win a World Series any more than another manager or player deserves to win one, I suppose. He did win a World Series as a player with the Dodgers, so his long and distinguished career isn’t without a ring.
Does he deserve some sort of validation? Perhaps. Few managers bring as much division as Baker. I’ve mentioned that during my weekly chat sessions -- his name gets brought up without fault, in this season, usually for his lineup selections. Sabermetric analysts have faulted his fetish for veterans, yet during his five seasons with the Reds he has broken in Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Drew Stubbs, Ryan Hanigan, Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey, Mike Leake and, this season, Zack Cozart and Todd Frazier.
OK, so his batting orders at times have been questionable. Yes, he still gets criticized for running Mark Prior into the ground back with the Cubs. Many will say Barry Bonds carried him in San Francisco. There is truth in all of those statements. On the other hand, I never get the impression that Dusty Baker's teams underachieve. It’s hard to say the Reds could have done much better this year than winning 96 games.
I’m not even a Baker fan. (Can you really be a fan of managers, anyway?) I thought it was ridiculous when he had his 3-year-old son in the dugout back when he managed the Giants in the 2002 World Series, or later held his son on his lap during postgame news conferences when he managed the Cubs, which seemed a convenient way to deflect some tough questions.
But he has managed a lot of baseball games and lost a lot of big ones. If Baker hoists a World Series trophy in a couple of weeks, you can't say the man hasn't suffered to earn it.