Sometimes, while I consider myself quite adept at avoiding this, I find myself overwhelmed with emotion in particular situations. No, I do not cry. No, I do not throw things, often. Typically, I sit around, dwell, and think. I do this even more often when I have a couple (or a few) adult beverages. I'm the type of person that spaces out because I think way too damn hard about things. I'm probably not special due to this, but, all the same, this is how my brain works.
Last night, I was sitting on my couch, by myself, drinking a couple (or a few) adult beverages, and watched the post-game show on TBS after the Cubs and Mets game. It was a great game; the Cubs lost. I really like the idea of a Royals and Mets World Series, by the way. However, I'm getting way off track. I found myself listening closely to conversations between Dusty Baker and Pedro Martinez. If you really think about it is there a better tandem for a commenting crew in baseball? They're both very awesome people and basically kings of baseball. However, beyond their awesomeness, I began to realize how much I truly missed Dusty Baker.
I'm not going to sit here and tell you two years ago at this time that I was upset with his firing. I understood the decision. I was downtrodden after losing so many games at the end of the 2013 season and finally losing to the Pirates in the Wild Card game. It's not so much that I blamed Dusty Baker, it was because I thought Bryan Price would be a progressive manager, and I wanted to see what he could do. While I do not feel that those expectations have been met, that's not the reason that I miss Dusty. I'm not calling for Bryan Price's head and reimplementation of Dusty-ball. I miss him because of who he is.
We like to run around and make a lot of jokes about grit. Basically, it's making fun of white people and stupid stereotypes. What we don't point out is that Dusty Baker is grit, it's just not fitting to that old trope. He can be rough around the edges and set in his ways, but there is ruggedness to him. He's the old way of baseball, but there is a fun, youthful exuberance to him. You can see he absolutely loves the games and the way it's changing, but he still holds on to some old beliefs.
Truthfully, I had a lot of problems with Dusty Baker as a manger. He had stupid rules for his lineup, and his bullpen management his laughable. There are also all the old misconceptions about him that float around. He favors veterans... he abuses pitcher's arms... he hates clogging the bases. Most of these weren't true with the Reds, and most it hasn't been true throughout his career. However, it's easy to bring up.
Again, what I miss about Dusty is that grit. He inspired his players to play for him, and more importantly play for each other. Players respect him. Players work hard for him. He's a guy that they want in his corner. You could tell in those teams, in the few seasons he was in Cincinnati, that the players looked up to him as a father figure. He always had their backs and they had his. He's that friend that stands next to you in what is about to be a one sided bar fight. This has been true for most of his career, even while bad people were leaving him turds in his dugout. I don't think I've seen happier teams than the 2010 and 2012 Reds when Dusty was leading. Winning does help, but winning with Dusty was better. Even losing with Dusty was better.
If you talk to an average Cincinnati fan today they miss Dusty Baker, even if they are largely responsible for his ouster. I bet you do too. He was a Marine, an above average baseball player (no great, not Hall of Fame), and he invented the freaking high five. He also gave Jay Bruce his shot, batted him lead off, and started him in center field. He put Joey Votto in the #3 spot in the order when he felt he deserved it, and handled Joey's time off with the kind of class and approach anyone would hope they would get from their boss. While we like to bring it up and complain about what happened to Aaron Harang but that wasn't all on Dusty. The four innings of relief were fine. It was the pitching again on short rest that was the problem. I'd be willing to bet when Dusty asked, Harang demanded the ball. When it comes to baseball I'm sure they have the same kind of mindset. Many players and coaches do. Dusty should have known better, but sometimes it is difficult to tell a player no when their competitive drive gets in the way.
We also like to gloss over the good things he did. He was the face of this team, and a smile that was always radiating from the dugout. He didn't get himself thrown out of games, but he was the first player off the steps to protect a player. He didn't yell at reporters, but rather had an open door policy with them. John Fay once said the working relationship he had with Dusty Baker was the best he's had in his career.
Dusty Baker put people first. Even what led to his termination was putting other people first. I'm a stern believer in taking responsibility for your actions. If you mess up be an adult, raise your hand, and take claim. After that dreadful loss to Pittsburgh in 2013, Walt Jocketty said that Baker's job was safe. It was only a few days later when he was suddenly fired. It wasn't for a lack of doing his job but for not agreeing with his boss and standing his ground.
Dusty Baker was fired for not terminating one of his coaches. He drew the line in the sand and said if anyone is to blame it's him. It is not his players fault. It is not his coaches' fault. It was his fault. That's bold. It's ballsy. It takes a lot of freaking gall to toe that line. This is what I miss the most about Dusty Baker. It was the fight. It's the standing nose to nose with Tony LaRusa, refusing to let his team be pushed around. It's the standing up to Walt Jocketty and Bob Castellini and telling them how it was. I miss him because I felt as if he would have taken a bullet for Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Johnny Cueto, Sam LeCure, et cetera, and I think they would have done the same in return.
By the way, I know what an ode is, and I realize this is not a poem. This is an emotional appeal to my own conscience and, hopefully, yours. Baker has every reason to retire. He can go fishing every day, keep making wine, and watch his son grow to adulthood. However, he still has time. He wants to talk baseball, he wants manage baseball, and by God he wants a team. I wouldn't give him a young team, but I see no reason a club wouldn't give him a group of talented players in their prime. Cough, cough, I'm looking at you, Washington.
He can still hack it. I think the energy is still there. If people could ignore the Dusty Baker myths for a moment, and realize all the good he can do for a team and the game, they'd give him one more shot. For all he's done for the game, and has the potential to still do, it would be a shame to see him not get one more chance. So, at the end of this word vomit I'm spewing, I guess I just want to simply thank Dusty Baker. He helped create some of the most exciting baseball memories of my young life, and I hope he gets to do that for a fan of another team. They won't regret it or forget it.