Dusty Baker: Where's the Love for the Cincinnati Reds Skipper?

Kyle Newport@@KyleNewportFeatured ColumnistJanuary 18, 2013

CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 28: Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker looks on against the Houston Astros at Great American Ball Park on September 28, 2010 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Reds won 3-2 to clinch the NL Central Division title. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Even after winning 97 games in 2012, Cincinnati Reds fans still refuse to warm up to manager Dusty Baker. After more than a decade of losing, why are the fans attacking the man who has helped lead this team to the postseason?

The manager has created a winning atmosphere in Cincinnati, and the players have gotten on board with his philosophy. When one player goes down with an injury, his replacement steps right in without missing a beat. This team has a great attitude and can never be counted out in a game.

Fans want to give the players all of the credit and direct the blame at Baker. He's the kind of manager that players love to play for. He defends his players and gives them chances to succeed.

Yes, he may have given former center fielder Drew Stubbs too much playing time last year. However, when Stubbs was getting on base, the team was unstoppable.

Baker has led the Reds to two postseason appearances in the past three years. To put that in perspective, that's more appearances than the franchise had from 1991 to when Baker arrived in the Queen City.

So why all the hate?

San Francisco Giants fans gave their former manager a great ovation when the Reds visited this past summer. That's after Baker nearly led the Giants to a World Series title until they collapsed.

Chicago Cubs fans have given him mixed reaction over the years. Everyone remembers how close the Cubbies were to the World Series before Steve Bartman "doomed" the franchise.

Baker had two pitchers, Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, who combined to be one of baseball's best duos. The manager has been blamed for ruining their careers by overusing them, but Wood went on to make an All-Star team after Baker was gone. Pitchers suffer injuries, and Prior just happened to break down.

That all leads us to Baker arriving in Cincinnati. In 2008, he inherited a young team that was ready to ship out veterans. Josh Hamilton, Adam Dunn and Ken Griffey, Jr. were all on the roster when Baker signed his first contract with the team. By September of his first year, all three players were traded.

Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey were prospects on the verge of being everyday players. Under Baker, they have turned into big-time players. He has the reputation of favoring veterans, but he took a team full of young talent and developed it.

Plus he doesn't like Tony LaRussa, so that should earn him some points in Reds Country.

Even after finishing one game behind the Washington Nationals for the best record in baseball, which gave the Reds their best record since the Big Red Machine, fans still haven't warmed up to Baker.

If fans really want to let him go, they can go back and compare him to some of the team's recent managers (since 1996, via baseball-reference.com).

  Games   W   L Win Pct, Playoff Appearances
Ray Knight    262 125 137   .477                 0
Jack McKeon    551 291 259   .529                 0*
Bob Boone    428 190 238   .444                 0
Dave Miley    289 125 164   .433                 0
Jerry Narron    337 157 179   .467                 0
Pete Mackanin     80  41  39   .513                 0
Dusty Baker    810 419 391   .517                 2

*One-game playoff in 1999

Some of those names bring back memories of losing teams. Most of those teams were one-dimensional. This franchise has turned the corner and is now a complete team. 

I admit that I questioned why he would put Wilson Valdez and/or Miguel Cairo in the lineup, but I ended up having to retract my criticism a lot last season.

Don't question his baseball IQ. You don't win three N.L. Manager of the Year awards and finish second twice without knowing what you are doing. Every manager makes mistakes, and Baker is no exception.

I understand the frustration of failing to make it to the NLCS last year, but I can't think of a single bad decision that the 63-year-old made in the NLDS. The Giants showed they were a good team and came back to win. That's baseball.

So before fans criticize Baker, look back at who the team's recent managers have been. If he gets blamed for losing, he deserves credit when the team wins.

At the end of the day, it's the players who determine the outcome of the game. In Cincinnati, the players love Dusty and have made the Reds legitimate World Series contenders.


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