If Dusty Baker could read faces like a palm reader, he had to know his position was precarious if he looked in the stands in PNC Park on Tuesday night and saw the countenance of Cincinnati Reds CEO Bob Castellini.
As the Reds were getting mauled in the wild-card game by the Pittsburgh Pirates, Castellini’s face clearly said, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more.”
And he didn’t. Baker is out as manager after the Reds lost their last six games of the season and bowed out of the playoffs with a whimper.
While Baker had a year left on his contract for $4 million, it was a combination of his inability to lead his team to success in the postseason and the fear of a public relations backlash if he was permitted to return for 2014 that led to his dismissal.
With 1,671 career victories, Baker is second only to Detroit’s Jim Leyland (1,769) among active managers. But Baker has not won a World Series. Leyland has won one during his managerial journey through Pittsburgh, Colorado, Florida and Detroit.
Baker was 509-463 with the Reds and took the team to the playoffs in three of the last four years, including 90 or more wins in three of the last four years. But he couldn’t get the Reds past the first round in those three playoff appearances.
The last week of the 2013 season did him in. As the Reds began a three-game series with the New York Mets, they still had a chance to win the National League Central. After winning the first game, they lost the next two.
They still had a chance to win the NL Central with three games left with the Pirates in Great American Ball Park. And they had a chance to claim the home field advantage in the wild card if they won two of three. They lost all three and were forced to take a five-game losing streak on the road. And lost.
The Reds were stone cold that final week. The bats disappeared completely, making the team look lethargic and disinterested.
Castellini reportedly wasn’t please with the way Baker handled the incident in his office when second baseman Brandon Phillips verbally dressed down writer C. Trent Rosecrans. Phillips made disparaging remarks about Rosecrans and, on camera, Baker laughed and said, “This is between you two.”
The front office also was unhappy that Baker publicly said he had to fight to get Billy Hamilton called up in September, implying that some in the front office were against it.
And when Baker was asked before the last week of the season if the team felt a sense of urgency, he said no, noting that the team just needed to go out and play the games. While Baker was not saying that winning games was not important, his comment was misunderstood. Talk radio and the fan base were enraged.
Ownership clearly believes the Reds had the personnel to do much, much better. The starting pitching, top to bottom, was as good as it gets. The closer, Aroldis Chapman, was dominant. In Shin Soo-Choo and Joey Votto, the team had two on-base machines. And in Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce they had two players who were the best at their positions.
There are strong feelings that Baker, always known as a players’ manager, was not tough enough, was too low key, was not a fighter on the field with umpires. The thinking was that his laid-back demeanor permeated the clubhouse and the team had no swagger, no fire in their bellies.
So Baker is out and the Reds begin a search for his replacement. A good man has lost his job, but managers are hired to be fired. Even Sparky Anderson got fired.