Part of me just has to admire the sheer chutzpah* of Dusty Baker. Iím not kidding. We all know that Dusty has over the years become the very essence of old-school baseball ó and all that those words represent.
*What a great word ó chutzpah.
We all know about Dustyís famous, ďClogging up the bases isnít that great to me,Ē statement when he was trying to make the point that he wasnít too crazy about on-base percentage. We all know that in 2003 and 2004, he had the comically awful Neifi Perez, with his .281 on-base percentage, either lead off or hit second in the lineup 65 times. And he has made numerous odd and not entirely rational statements through the years.
Still, itís this latest bit of Dusty magic that has me nodding my head in admiration. Seven times this year ó and twice in the last week ó Dusty Baker has led off his lineup with center fielder Willy Taveras and followed him, in the No. 2 spot, with shortstop Alex Gonzalez.
Thereís something awe inspiring about it. In case you are wondering whatís so special about this, well, Willy Taveras has a .279 on-base percentage this year. In case you are wondering, thatís the second worst on-base percentage in baseball (350 or more plate appearances), the worst being the always enjoyable Bengie Molina. Dusty is leading off with a player who makes outs 72 percent of the time he comes to the plate. His OPS+ is 49.
And then Ö he moves right to Alex Gonzalez who, almost unbelievably, is much worse. Gonzalezís on-base percentage is .250 and thatís really not out-of-line with his career numbers (.293 lifetime on-base percentage, and he had a .229 on-base percentage in 2003 with the Marlins). He has no power, no speed and he has walked 11 times all year. Itís not too good. His OPS+ is 39.
Now, you really donít want to have two players that weak offensively in the lineup at the same time. Maybe in an emergency situation. A day game after a night game. A second-game of a doubleheader. OK, look, I have followed bad baseball teams pretty much all my life, and I know that sometimes you just get caught in a situation where you have to play struggling players.
But to lead those two players off Ö well, that takes something more. And, hey, you canít say it doesnít work. Just on Monday the Taveras-Gonzalez duo scored two runs in the first inning in a Reds 6-4 victory. How did it happen? Taveras reached on an error. Gonzalez reached on a weak ground ball to third. And Brandon Phillips homered. Something you can count on.
There are many ways to manage a baseball game. And sometimes the illogical works. Sometimes the most strategic move fails. Sometimes a lineup pulled from a hat scores 10 runs and sometimes a lineup figured with mathematical precision gets shut out. Sometimes a manager wins even though his players hate him, and sometimes a manager loses even though his players love him, and sometimes itís exactly the other way around.
And part of me just is in awe of the fact that Dusty Baker is still Dusty Baker, even after all these years, even after all the mockery, even after all the oh-so-obvious flaws. The world may change, but Dusty endures ó heís still just an ex-Marine looking hard into the eye of the storm and saying, ďI donít care. I am who I am. And I am invincible.Ē