“If (new Reds skipper) Dusty Baker (above) can be forgiven for his managerial sins and brought back into the fold,” argues the New York Sun’s Steven Goldman, “then Joe Torre shouldn’t even be on the hot seat.” Hands up, all Yankee fans who’d like to trade owners with Cincinnati.
Torre’s in-season management has reflected an awareness of what kind of team he has and the power-hitting era in which he lives. Though Torre has sometimes liked to present himself as a National League-style manager, he has not made a fetish of one-run strategies. He bunts, but usually not to excess. The Yankees run the bases, but at a good success rate. A manager who fancies himself a master tactician and then puts his team to tasks they can’t, or even shouldn’t, accomplish is far more destructive ” consider the maniacally one-run oriented Ozzie Guillen of the White Sox, whose base-runners were caught five times more often than the Yankees while stealing 45 fewer bases. Torre has his failings, but he knows how to stay out of his own way.
It’s not clear that Baker possesses the same knowledge. Baker won three Manager of the Year awards while in San Francisco, guiding his team to four postseason appearances. Yet it’s not really apparent that he understood what was happening around him. Between 1993 and 2002, the Giants rarely had pitching staffs that could claim to be more than average. In the seasons in which they contended anyway ” most of his stay ” it was because their offense, led by Barry Bonds, succeeded in getting on base and scoring enough runs to remain competitive. Take Baker’s 1999 Giants, a team that missed the playoffs. The pitching staff was miserable. The offense featured Bonds, J.T. Snow, Jeff Kent, Bill Mueller, and Ellis Burks, all of whom excelled at getting on base and hitting for power. The team wasn’t fast and it was just average when it came to batting average, but due to its power and patience it finished third in the league in runs scored. In an off year, the Giants won 86 games.
Yet in Chicago, Baker derided hitters who walked frequently as base-cloggers and purged the team of patience to such a severe extent that the team ranked last in the NL n walks drawn in both 2005 and 2006. In the latter season, the Cubs became just the 10th team since 1968 to draw fewer than 400 walks in a full season.
Baker’s brutal overuse of Mark Prior down the 2003 stretch has also become an object lesson for all of baseball. The “Joba Rules” would not have come into being without Baker’s example. Torre’s Yankees have blown some playoff series in recent years, but he’s never stood athwart his own success the way Baker has. Perhaps Torre’s killed the odd reliever, but relief pitchers are such a variable bunch that it’s impossible to tell where his handling ends and random variation starts.