Baseball is a business. Dusty Baker knows that better than anyone. Sometimes, it’s personal, however.
The Reds announced the firing of Baker, 64, on Friday after a six-year run in which he established himself as one of the most successful managers in franchise history.
Talking to local writers on a conference call Friday afternoon, Baker appeared resilient, vowing he wasn’t done as a manager. When talk turned to his son Darren, though, you could tell this was no easy day for a man who has spent a lifetime in the game. Darren grew up around this team and spent many games in the dugout.
“My son cried when he heard the news,” Baker said. “That really affected me. He knew these guys from 8 to 14, which are very formative years for a young man. He became friends with Joey (Votto) and (Todd) Frazier and Brandon (Phillips) and Jay (Bruce). They texted each other. That’s why he was so sad we lost. He was going to come to St. Louis. He wanted to see them one more more time before school. He couldn’t get out of school. That’s who it will affect the most.”
Baker lamented that he would be judged by the last six games he managed with the Reds, not the six years he spent in the dugout. The Reds blew a chance to host the National League wild card game by losing the last five games of the regular season, three to the Pirates, and then lost 6-2 in Pittsburgh on Tuesday.
Baker was preparing to manage next season. He signed a two-year contract after last season and figured the Reds wouldn’t fire him with a year remaining. Then he said he had a conversation with General Manager Walt Jocketty on Thursday in which Jocketty said he was looking to replace hitting coach Brook Jacoby.
“I was like, ‘Oh no,’” Baker said. “Brook’s not doing anything in my mind that deserved that. I said, ‘Hey, man, if we get rid of Brook, we might as well get rid of me, too.’ I got called up the office, and I thought I was going to discuss Brook’s future, and I was told my services were no longer needed.”
Jocketty disputed the fact that the firing had anything to do with Jacoby. The last six games, especially the final one in Pittsburgh, had almost everything to do with it.
”It’s definitely a tough decision,” Jocketty said. “Dusty and I have been friends for quite a while. We looked at how the team had performed this year, especially in the last few weeks of the season. We just felt it was time to make a change.”
Baker said the explanation he received was, “the club didn’t finish very strong and we lost quite a few in a row. We made a poor showing in the wild card game. They were going to go in a different direction, and maybe the team needed a different voice.”
The Reds’ failures in October — 2-7 in postseason games — were the biggest marks against Baker in his six years. The Phillies swept the Reds in the National League Division Series in 2010. The Reds blew a 2-0 lead to the Giants by losing three games at home in 2012. This year, everything fell apart at the end.
“Not only did the batters go into a big slump, which makes you look flat if you’re not scoring runs,” Baker said, “but on the other hand, we weren’t pitching well either. We were in our bullpen every day. We were trying to preserve as much of our bullpen as we could for the playoffs. We didn’t play any phase of the game well that last week.”
This was Baker’s third managing gig in the major leagues following stints with the Giants and Cubs. He’s had only one year off (2007) since he started with San Francisco in 1993.
“I’m looking to the future,” Baker said. “I can’t do anything about (the firing). I appreciate my time with the Reds. Maybe the time was long enough. The years, the hate mail, maybe it was time for me to move on. (Former 49ers coach) Bill Walsh said maybe you should move every five years. Perhaps he was right.
“Maybe they can bring in somebody else who can do a better job. I’m not retiring. I’m not taking the year off as suggested. I feel better this year than I did last year at this point. I really take care of myself and watch my weight. I devoted all my energy to this team and to winning.”
A baseball man to the end, Baker closed the conference call by thanking the local media for their coverage and saying, “I’m going to watch the game now. I enjoy watching baseball.”
Dusty Baker’s Reds career
Year Record Win% Finish
2008 74-88 .457 Fifth
2009 78-84 .481 Fourth
2010 91-71 .562 First
2011 79-83 .488 Third
2012 97-65 .599 First
2013 90-72 .556 Third
2010 Lost 3-0 to Phillies in NLDS
2012 Lost 3-2 to Giants in NLDS
2013 Lost 6-2 to Pirates in wild card game