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October 22, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Dusty Baker is dismissed as Nats' manager

The front office of the Washington Nationals announced on Friday that they decided not to renew the contract of Dusty Baker as manager for the 2018 season. The letter from the Lerner family reminded fans of the "One Pursuit" that governs all their actions: to win a World Series for Washington. The letter referred to Baker as "one of the true gentleman in our sport," which may be a backhanded compliment. How many "gentlemen" managers have won the World Series? For every Joe Torre there are at least two guys like Earl Weaver or Billy Martin. As Leo Durocher said, "Nice guys finish last." frown Then there are the guys like Tony LaRussa and Joe Maddon: cold, hard calculators, not warm and fuzzy grandfather figures.

The announcement came as a shock to me, in part since when General Manager Mike Rizzo was asked about Dusty' future soon after NLDS Game 5, he gave his unequivocal support. (That itself was somewhat of a surprise, since I figured there would be a few days of careful reflection before making such a verbal commitment.) This may mean that Rizzo's own job may be on shaky ground, which would be extremely disconcerting to Nationals fans. Who else could have pulled off the deals to acquire Max Scherzer and Daniel Murphy over the past two years, and then patch the gaping hole in the Nats' bullpen with three key acquisitions in the middle of the 2017 season?

Senior Washington Post sports columnist Thomas Boswell noted that the Lerners have been tightwads when it came to choosing managers: "All came inexpensively because they were out of favor or past age 65, such as Davey Johnson and Baker, or else rookies who craved a chance, such as Manny Acta and [Matt] Williams." As a people person, Baker was ideally suited to restoring team spirit after the Bryce Harper - Jonathan Papelbon fight at the end of the 2015 season. But Baker never pretended to be a brilliant tactician, and was merely very good at a time when top notch was required. As Boswell concluded, "Finding a manager better than Johnnie B-plus "Dusty" Baker probably can be done. But good luck trying."

Another Washington Post columnist, Barry Svrluga, is likewise ambivalent about the decision not to bring Dusty back. He writes that it "simultaneously makes some sense and is absolutely jarring." He points to the sky-high expectations placed upon the job candidates (World Series or else!) as perhaps too daunting.

The decision to release Dusty would make more sense if the Lerners were already close to getting a replacement manager. (Maybe they have??) The Washington Post listed six names: Brad Ausmus, Alex Cora, John Farrell, DeMarlo Hale, Dave Martinez, and Eduardo Perez. The first five are current or recent MLB managers or coaches, and Perez is an ESPN analyst.

To me, this is a case of the heart wanting one thing while the head points in a different direction. I have great respect and admiration for Dusty, and was very pleased when the Nats hired him nearly two years ago. (See November 3, 2015 and scroll down.) It is useful to recall that Dusty Baker was actually the second choice of the Nationals' owners after the deal with Bud Black broke down at the last minute.

I made no secret of my doubts about Dusty's judgment in both last year's NLDS and this year's. I was a bit apprehensive when he abruptly took Max Scherzer out in the seventh inning of NLDS Game 3 (immediately after which the Cubs tied the game), and I was extremely dubious when he put Scherzer on the mound as a relief pitcher in the fifth inning of Game 5. (Max proceeded to give up four fatal runs, though he was only partly responsible.) But what do I know? Managers are frequently in a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" position, and I try to be understanding.

Some of Dusty's sympathizers have argued that a couple clutch RBIs by Harper or Zimmerman in NLDS Game 5 would have changed everything, and that is a valid point. But I think the Nationals were substantially better than the Cubs in most respects, and they really should have won the series in four games at the most.

In any case, I can't express my gratitude to Dusty Baker strongly enough for leading the team to two straight division championships. He took on a thankless job, and gave it all he could. He will be remembered very fondly by Nationals fans for many years to come.

Dusty Baker

Dusty Baker, during the Nats-Pirates game on September 29.

Revolving door managers

The Nats have changed managers with such regularity that it's almost like a revolving door. What is remarkable is that the managerial succession has proceeded in a precise rhythm, with one manager serving exactly two years followed by one who serves two and a half years. If that pattern had continued, Dusty Baker would have continued through the middle of next year.

Year Manager(s) W / L % Final NL East standing Post- season * Departure circumstances,
2005 Frank Robinson .500 5th -- --
2006 Frank Robinson .438 5th -- Retired, age 71.
2007 Manny Acta .451 4th -- --
2008 Manny Acta .366 5th -- --
2009 Manny Acta* / Jim Riggleman .364 5th -- * Fired in mid-season.
2010 Jim Riggleman .426 5th -- --
2011 Jim Riggleman* / Davey Johnson .497 3rd -- * Abruptly quit in mid-season.
2012 Davey Johnson .605 1st lost NLDS Manager of the Year!
2013 Davey Johnson .531 2nd -- Retired, age 70.
2014 Matt Williams .593 1st lost NLDS Manager of the Year!
2015 Matt Williams .512 2nd -- Released
2016 Dusty Baker .586 1st lost NLDS --
2017 Dusty Baker .599 1st lost NLDS Released, age 68.

As this table indicates, the Nats have had two previous NL Managers of the Year: Davey Johnson (2012) and Matt Williams (2014). But how many people remember that Dusty Baker nearly won that honor while managing the Cincinnati Reds in 2010? The winner that year was the very same guy who was the Nationals' first choice to become their new manager in 2016 (see above): Bud Black of the San Diego Padres! He "barely edged Dusty Baker of the Reds, with 16 out of 26 first-place votes, and with 104 total points, compared to 103." See my November 18, 2010 blog post. Wow.

Dodgers win NL pennant

Well, at least the Chicago Cubs avoided being swept by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Upon returning to Wrigley Field for NLCS Game 3 on Tuesday, they took a 1-0 lead in the first inning thanks to a solo homer by Kyle Schwarber, but after that could only manage seven scattered hits (and no more runs) off of the Dodgers' pitcher Yu Darvish. The Dodgers won, 6-1. On Wednesday night, the Cubs won 3-2 thanks to two solo home runs by Javier Baez and one by Willson Contreras. Both Dodger runs came from solo homers as well. But Game 5 was an unmitigated disaster from the beginning, as Enrique Hernandez hit three home runs, tying an MLB postseason record. He only had 11 home runs for the entire 2017 season, and his batting average was only .215 -- What the heck??? Final score: Dodgers 11, Cubs 1. And thus the National League pennant returns to Los Angeles for the first time since 1988 -- 29 years!

Astros win AL pennant

For ALCS Games 3, 4, and 5 in New York, the Yankees capitalized on home field advantage in decisive fashion, taking a 3-2 ALCS lead and forcing the Astros into a desperate last stand back home in Houston. And the Astros in turn did what they had to do, winning Game 6 by a score of 7-1 to force Game 7 and then beating the Yankees 4-0 last night. It seemed like the Yankees would have a decisive edge with aging giant C.C. Sabathia on the mound against Charlie Morton, who had been roughed up in Game 3. (He gave up 7 earned runs in just 3 2/3 innings!) But in Game 7 he pitched the game of his life, giving up just two hits and one walk over five full innings. Thanks to solo home runs by Evan Gattis and Jose Altuve (of course), as well as a two-run double by Brian McCann, the Astros rose to the challenge and beat the Bronx Bombers 4-0.

In the American League Championship Series, all seven games were won by the home team, the first time that has happened in a seven-game series since 2004. (See my Postseason scores page.) That's when the St. Louis Cardinals took the National League pennant four games to three from none other than the Houston Astros!

I don't usually make predictions, but with the extra rest enjoyed by the Dodgers, and their utterly dominant performance up until now, I just don't see how the Astros can match them in the World Series. I think it will be over by Game 5.

Final match at RFK

The very last professional sporting event ever to be held at RFK Stadium took place today, and D.C. United lost to the New York Red Bull, 2-1. And thus ends the storied career of the very first dual-use "cookie-cutter stadium" from the 1960s. How long will that aging hulk be allowed to stand before the demolition crews arrive? frown I'm sure glad I was able to see a game there late last month.

Suzuki's birthday

Ichiro Suzuki turned 44 today, and he continues to work out at Marlins Park every day even though the season is over for his team. He says he wants to play until he is 50! Happy birthday Ichiro! See; hat tip to the Canadian baseball blog, Mop Up Duty (via Facebook).

Posted (or last updated or commented upon): 22 Oct 2017, 11: 12 PM

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