Dusty – Ball Hog or Tugboat

I stumbled across this article on managing in the Bill James “1988 Baseball Abstract”

I quote:

A managers duties can be broken down into three distinct areas:

1. Game level decision making.
2. Team level decision making
3. Personal management and instruction

In best I can estimate, a manager makes about 70 game level decisions a game, or about eleven thousand a year.

Seventy a game, each a decision with multiple variables, more then most people make in a month of work.

With that in mind I tried to define the recent Reds signing of Dusty Baker as the manager, a choice that was evidently pursued longer then most knew about and in the end I see eye to eye on a statement that James makes regarding managers and the three areas of the game they encompass:

“Most managers don’t pursue all three areas with equal skill, nor do they get they always get the result that they are brought in for. Most managers are fired before they can leave on their own, often they are brought in for a reason and when that reason is fulfilled they have then often outlived their usefulness to the organization.”

In the case of Dusty Baker numerous complaints have been leveled at his hiring based on his performance as the Cubs manager and the ensuing arm maladies of Mark Prior and Kerry Wood and even Livian Hernandez (in fairness pitching is a business that is perilous even if God was the manager) I’ll agree that these are not specious arguments, nor is the Central Division ire he creates to those Reds fans fueled with an almost football team fandom hatred of all things Cubs Blue and stinking of Old Style, then again some of us remember him more as a Dodger or perhaps a Brave or a Giant or you AL fans he was an A too. It’s extremely likely that the Reds have hired Dusty as another layer of the change the organization is trying desperately to redo in the eyes of the players on the league and the fans around their broadcast area. Further fueling this bid to claim market status and more shelf space at the local area Targets has seen recent news out of Cincinnati that the Reds are reclaiming the rights for selling the advertising on their radio broadcasts. Which is a good thing, getting away form the mentality of the Trucker Bozo would be good for any organization in my opinion.

This Reds ownership group is more marketing savvy then the prior group, who placed Dan O’Brien and Dave Miley on the cover of the 2004 Media Guide in what might be the drollest photo in Reds team history.

Dusty Baker is a face, a successful one at that, he has the rings he’s managed the teams and the stars. He’s played with them, in fact as a player and a manger he has been attached at times to some of the most prolific home run hitters in the history of the game… some suspects sure… but that the era we have know isn’t it?

Among them Hank Aaron, Darrell Evans,, Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and now Griffey and Dunn.

Dusty Baker was hired to cover part three of James theory of what a manager must cover, that being personal management and instruction. He’s supposed to change the way the Reds act in the club house and on the field, but how they are perceived, Dusty Baker is a legitimate hire that buoys the idea that rebuilding isn’t in the plans, that money will be spent to try and succeed.

But why Dusty Baker?

Dusty Baker has a known touch with players, one he learned at the feet of the master Tommy Lasorda, he knows all his players names, interests and so on. His teams play active baseball, running on the count more then most managers and in turn pitching out more then teams do.

In an article I wrote last year on managers

I found Dusty to fit this mold..

Dusty Baker (Chicago Cubs)
Did he play MLB? – Yes
Position – OF
Organization – Braves, the Paul Richards Braves developed Dusty, however his style (if that’s what we want to call it) is very Lasorda.

Boswell Metric – Uncle Robby, some would like to call Dusty a Peerless Leader, but that would mean we might have a sense of what he was trying to do. Dusty in a player’s manager, leaving gifts for players on special occasions and smiling way more often then the Peerless Leader ever does.

Dusty is assigned with the task of changing the culture of the Reds clubhouse, or of shaping a more stable and professional clubhouse. He’ll be greasing the skids for the departure of Ken Griffey and he’ll be teaching young players like Edwin and Jay Bruce what he expects out of players in today’s game.

Almost forty years in the game and Dusty still is around, he’s seen the carpet game vanish and the slugging game reappear. He’s managed and played in extreme pitchers parks and hitters parks, he’s seen it all and is willing to take chances, an example of taking a chance is essentially the way Dusty got his first managerial job, when he managed in the Arizona Fall League in 1992. It was there that he met Dick Pole, and there their relationship blossomed, as well as Dusty’s cache as a manager. Bob Quinn the Giants GM (and last Reds GM to win the World Series) saw the opportunity to gather arising star and he took a chance in signing Dusty as the Giants new manager.

Taking a chance himself, Dusty added his new friend Dick Pole to the Giants coaching staff as the Pitching Coach. It was after the AFL season Pole said this regarding Dusty and pitchers.

“At the first part of the season we talked about a lot of pitching, mostly because it was his first year as a manager, a little later on he did it on his own, because he wanted to learn and the only way to learn is to do it.. He’s been around the game a long time and has a gut feeling about pitchers, I think he did very well for the first time handling pitchers.”

After he was hired as the Giants manager he called every player several times to get a sense of their mind-set and attitude, he admits he has the touchy feely attitude that Lasorda had with his players, Baker believes it fosters an attitude that says it’s us against you… and by the way we’re going to kick your ass.

I haven’t seen that attitude since Barry left the Reds, and it’s time that some semblance of it comes back.

Now of course many still ponder about those other two point that James mentioned, the game and team decisions. While Dusty is certainly not Earl Weaver, he’s also not Don Zimmer. Expect Dusty to have the Reds more active on the base paths, that does not mean stolen bases only, I’m thinking more runners in motion and more digging for extra bases. Not being a former catcher Dusty also has a habit of using the pitch out more then most of today’s managers. In the past he has infuriated fans and numbers crunchers with his love of the useless CF, well useless at the dish… Darrin Lewis, Marvin Bernard, Corey Patterson… he likes his fly catchers, this obviously is a decision that Dusty has an informed opinion having played CF for the Braves in the early 70’s.

Those of you who like the fiery Lou Pinella tantrums should not expect that from Dusty, he’s only been tossed 15 times as a manager and in comparison Lou has been tossed 59 times, so Dusty may be a leader but I get the sense he’s the leader that Howard Cunningham endorsed to Richie back on Happy Days.. “He’s a leader the men love”
To me I look at it like this, many want to claim that Dusty is a personality, one that doesn’t do much in the long run, except ruin careers and hog the spot light. He essence he’s a Ball Hog

Others look at the signing as an attempt to move forward and Dusty is supposed to be the leader, he’s what they would call the Tug Boat.

So what is it?

Ball Hog or Tug Boat?

If anything Baker is now a symbol, an indication that something is up, that something as crazy as it may sound is being done, sure it might not work, it’s baseball after all, but after looking over my shoulder at that 2004 Media Guide and seeing Dan O and Dave Miley back to back I at least can recognize that I’m no longer being played for a complete fool.

And that’s at least a first step in this journey.

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