The 2013 Cincinnati Reds won at least 90 games and participated in the postseason, the third such time each respective event had happened in four years. Three days after their season ended at the hands of the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Reds fired manager Dusty Baker, ending his six season stint at the helm and one of the most successful runs the club had experienced in twenty years.
Dusty was to enter the final year of his contract in 2014, the second year of the two-year deal he signed during the 97 win 2012 season that so nearly had the Reds back to being October winners. But when he and Walt Jocketty sat down to evaluate the state of affairs following the team's fumbles down the stretch, Baker refused to lay blame on his coaching staff and ultimately got himself fired, per reports.
Given the foibles exposed during the brutal, injury-plagued 2014 season and the sudden crash of team expectations going forward, I've begun to think that Dusty's firing was, for him at least, quite the blessing in disguise. He was hired prior to Jocketty being brought into the organization, and there were consistent rumblings that the two were never close, yet despite their apparent rift the team matured into a formidable force in the National League, twice taking the NL Central crown and thrice heading to the playoffs with a largely homegrown roster of stars. Then, in the first season following his departure, a squad composed almost entirely of the same players that Dusty campaigned collapsed offensively and stumbled to a 76 win campaign that featured one of the worst offenses in a generation.
Mitigating factors abound, of course, but from a purely objective view the succession of events stands thusly:
The 2013 Reds won 90 games.
Dusty claimed the iffy hitting in 2013 wasn't hitting coach Brook Jacoby's fault.
Dusty was fired.
The 2014 Reds spent half the season with easily the worst offense in all of baseball and the entire season as one of the three worst.
The 2014 Reds won just 76 games.
When Dusty was almost exactly a year ago, you could reasonably say he had some egg on his face. He'd fallen on the sword for his friend and longtime colleague Jacoby, feuded with a GM who had won a World Series and a thousand games in his career, and he'd just been bounced from the playoffs without a ring from the third franchise he'd failed to get over the hump.
Since that time, however, much of that egg has been wiped away.
Now, he's the veteran manager on the market, the guy who has won division titles with each of the three franchises he has managed in his career and the man who was fired for some reason despite leading the Cincinnati Reds to at least 90 wins and the playoffs in his last two seasons in charge. He's the man whose team fell apart after he was fired, the man who clashed with Walt Jocketty about decision making only to see Jocketty's own performance called into question after his series of questionable moves helped derail the 2014 Reds.
Dusty's 65 years old now, and he has repeatedly intimated that he'd like another shot at managing. By all accounts, he's the biggest name available on the market, and there are a handful of opportunities that have already opened up since the end of the regular season. He's being helped by the seasons had by a few of his peers, too. Both Buck Showalter and Ned Yost have been unceremoniously and questionably canned by franchises in the past in the midst of successful managerial stints, and they've now led the Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals to the ALCS, respectively.
There's nothing that Dusty could have done to prevent the Reds from overcoming the rash of injuries that torpedoed the 2014 season, but that's not really the point. What matters is that he had a great run in Cincinnati, clashed with upper management about the direction of the franchise, and came away from being fired looking in many ways like the guy who actually knew what he was talking about.
Dusty deserves another shot at managing, and he'll get one. Whether you're a fan of his in-game tendencies or not, Yost's bunts and Bryan Price's insistence on hitting a sub .300 OBP speedster first in the lineup show that there's still a preponderance of GM's who trust managers for more than just their annoying habits.
One year and two days ago, I wrote that cutting ties with Dusty was painful yet predictable in part because the franchise had reached a state of stagnation. With another year of observation under my belt, I'm beginning to think it wasn't Dusty that was the problem.