MLB: NL Wild Card-Cincinnati Reds at Pittsburgh Pirates

The Reds parted ways with their manager today, biding Dusty Baker adieu after six very successful seasons. It would appear there is more than one way to measure success, however, as Baker and his general manager (read: boss) butted heads for one last time in what looks like a very contentious exit interview.

Everybody has an opinion on Dusty Baker. He doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt like some managers, including those with resume’s that pale in comparison to Dusty’s history of success. Yet, in spite of all the success, Dusty Baker seems to wear out his welcome with alarming regularity, often right after trips to the postseason.

For all his wins and playoff appearances, there is an expiry date on Dusty Baker. He’s a baseball manager, it is a big part of the job. And now, for whatever reason(s), Dusty’s day are done in Cincy.

As always when a manager gets fired, the floodgates open and stories of spats and fights and disagreements come pouring out. Now we learn of Baker fighting with his general manager – about lineup construction and the use of his best player, Joey Votto. While Baker wanted Votto to drive in more runs, the Reds front office made their feelings on the matter very clear. They put their money where their collective mouth was – signing Votto to one of the richest deals in baseball history. A deal that dwarfed the extension signed by RBI machine Brandon Phillips.

If there was a philosophical schism within the Reds organization, Baker could well have fallen on the wrong side. Not that such a difference of opinion is a relationship killer. Managers and front offices mustn’t agree on the manner in which players are evaluated…provided those players are best put into position to capitalize on their skills and thrive in a way that produces results on the field.

There are questions about Baker’s willingness to address the second half of that equation. Many a “player’s manager” went down with the ship, playing Their Guys when their best days are behind them. The loyalty sword cuts both ways, you see. And when you see comments like the Walk Jocketty quote tweeted above, you have to wonder what a player’s manager has to offer if not the support and devotion of his charges.

Thom Brennaman is the Reds play-by-play voice. His father, Marty, is also the Reds play-by-play voice for many years. Thom Brennaman is a homer. His vocal and regular criticism of Joey Votto makes his father’s pointed comments about Baker’s stewardship all the more pointed (full audio of Brennaman’s interview here.)

Nobody, not even someone who is around the team every day like the Brennamans, knows what goes on in the clubhouse when the doors close. What happens on the plane and the discussions in the dugout. Anybody can say the Reds quit playing or there were divisions in the clubhouse or that Baker should have put together a better batting order. As is often the case with professional coaches and managers, teams are only as good as their players. There is only so much work that can be done from the sidelines – good, bad, or indifferent.

In the end, Baker was handed a very good team and produced very good results. His rise in Cincinnati coincides with the rise of Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and the career peak of Brandon Phillips. That is an enviable position for any manager (especially one who made his bones with Barry Bonds under his flag) and also creates a tricky chicken/egg situation, making it difficult to separate one from the other.

The Reds front office made a record commitment to Joey Votto and fired Baker less than one year later, so we have a good idea what side of the bread on which they`re buttered. But did Baker make the whole better than the sum of its parts or did he hold back an immensely talented team? It is never that easy to distill, unfortunately.

Whoever the Reds tip to replace him waltzes into a very desirable job (divisional rivals notwithstanding). If Dusty wants to keep going, he won’t have any trouble finding work either. Given his recent treatment, that is a bigger “if” than many of us might realize.