A Baker's dozen reasons Dusty should be fired
June 27, 2006
BY CHRIS DE LUCA Staff Reporter
It's time to dump Dusty Baker. He was a good hire by the Cubs in 2002, coming off a World Series appearance and having a reputation for being a players' manager who won more than he lost. But he has been a disappointment since a surprising run that got him five outs away from the World Series in 2003.
Most important, Baker has lost some of the magic that made him so desirable.
Baker's career as a superstar manager was built on the ideal of protecting individual players. But in recent weeks -- as a contract extension that seemed firmly on the table has begun to drift away on a Wrigley Field breeze -- Baker has thrown his entire team and the front office under the bus.
The finger-pointing has been subtle, but not so much that it has gone unnoticed. Other managers overseeing dreadful teams usually point the finger at everyone, including themselves. ''We're all to blame,'' they say, even if they don't believe it.
Baker accepts no blame for a Cubs team headed toward its first 100-loss season since 1966. He repeats that he wants his healthy stars back and points out all of the youth on his pitching staff. The message is clear: He is losing with the team general manager Jim Hendry provided.
Asked Monday if he was satisfied with the job he has done this season, Baker was quick with an answer.
''I do the best I can every day,'' he said. "Am I satisfied with the results? No. Am I satisfied with what I try to do as far as preparing my team to be ready to play? Yes.''
If that's the case, it's not good enough and it's time for Baker to go.
Baker must play with the hand Hendry dealt, but even when overmatched -- a charge the manager has freely admitted -- he at least can motivate his untalented players.
How did he prepare his team the day before in Minneapolis, where the Cubs were charged with three physical errors but made many more mental miscues during an 8-1 loss to the Minnesota Twins? Let first baseman Derrek Lee describe his first game back after two months on the disabled list.
''To me, it's just a matter of coming to the yard ready to play every day,'' Lee said Monday. "And I don't think we showed up yesterday. Sometimes you lose, but you need to show up every day.''
If there was one game the Cubs should have been up for, it would be Lee's long-awaited return from the DL.
Baker's take: ''We didn't show up defensively. We didn't play well at all. We showed up. We made a lot of mistakes.''
We've heard much in recent seasons about how the Cubs have looked sloppy, missed signs and seemed like a rudderless ship. Doesn't the blame fall in the manager's lap?
''It boils down to everybody doing your job,'' Baker said. ''We are all paid handsomely to do our jobs.
''Our job, as managers and coaches, is to prepare them before the game. Once you cross the lines, you're on your own to play, other than designated plays that you put on -- hit-and-runs, those kinds of things.''
Baker told reporters Sunday in Minneapolis, before the debacle that completed a three-game sweep: ''Give me the horses -- and my horses stay healthy -- and I'll win.''
In other words, for the $4 million the Cubs are paying Baker this season, he can succeed under the perfect set of circumstances.
Big-money managers earn their paychecks by guiding teams through troubled times. Baker has spent the last two months quietly complaining about the loss of Lee and pitchers Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, bemoaning on a regular basis, ''I just want my team back.''
It seems that would send a message that Baker can't win with the 25 healthy players remaining. That kind of talk is counterproductive when trying to motivate players.
''No, I don't think that sends a message,'' Baker said. ''The players who are there aren't Derrek Lee. The young pitchers that are there, they realize they are not Mark Prior or Kerry Wood yet. I don't think that sends a bad message. That's an honest message. It's no slight against them.''
But it's ridiculous to blame the Cubs' collapse on the loss of one position player -- albeit the reigning National League batting champ -- and two pitchers who have a history of injury problems. Even the Florida Marlins, with 15 rookies and a payroll less than $15 million, have a better record than Baker's Cubs.
''That's not the whole reason,'' second baseman Todd Walker said of Lee's absence. ''I mean, Derrek went down and we had eight of the hitters struggling at the same time. Nobody was going 2-for-3 with a walk or 4-for-4. Everybody was going 0-for-4 or 1-for-3.
''I remember a time when somebody got a base hit and it was almost shocking. We were in San Diego and Jacque Jones got a line drive into right field, and you would have thought he had just hit a game-winning home run. That was the low point of where we were at.''
Maybe -- or perhaps the low point hasn't arrived.
Meanwhile, broadcaster Bob Brenly, who guided the Arizona Diamondbacks to a World Series championship in 2001, has stepped up his on-air criticism of Baker. A year ago, Brenly seemed terrified to say anything that would upset the overly touchy Cubs brass.
These days, he's on a campaign.
''I don't have a response,'' Baker said. ''Bob is doing his job. That's what he sees.''
If Brenly is doing his job, what is Baker doing?
''We're not playing well, for whatever reasons, but no alibis, no excuses,'' Baker said. ''We just have to get it done, simple as that. Please, no more 'Are you getting fired?' questions. That's really controlled by how we play.''
And that speaks for itself.