Dusty Baker, Reds sign a two-year extension

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Not all of today’s managerial news is carnage. Some of it is downright positive: like Dusty Baker and the Reds agreeing to a two-year extension, as the team just said in a press release.

It’s a deserved extension. Dusty led the Reds to their first playoff appearance and division title in 15 years, and their highest win total in 11. Despite his reputation for abusing young pitchers, he’s handled the staff pretty well in Cincinnati from what I can tell.

But maybe the thing that has earned him his extension more than anything is his rapport with his players. It has long been fashionable to bash Baker for various things, but his players seem to love him and respond to him.

I was particularly impressed by the way Baker handled Joey Votto’s struggles with anxiety disorder in 2009. Every statement Baker made about the situation came from an obvious and genuine place of empathy and concern for Votto the man, not Votto his first baseman. You can bet that Votto appreciated having a manager with the intelligence and sensitivity to understand his situation. You can bet that Votto’s performance in 2010 owes at least some part to the comfort he felt by having Baker in his corner and leading his team.

Yeah, we’ll all jump on Dusty in 2011 if he makes Aroldis Chapman a starter and throws him out there for 130 pitches on some cold rainy April night. But let’s cross that bridge when we come to it. For now, let’s congratulate the Reds for making the smart choice in retaining Dusty Baker.

Theo Epstein named The World’s Greatest Leader

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Fortune Magazine has put out a list of The World’s Greatest Leaders. Not the greatest business leaders, not the greatest leaders in a given industry, but the Greatest Leaders, full stop. The greatest according to Fortune: The Cubs’ Theo Epstein.

For some context, Pope Francis was third. Angela Merkel was 10th. Lebron James was the next greatest sports leader, ranked 11th. Take Fortune’s methodology with a grain of salt, however, given that it has John McCain above Merkel — what, exactly, does he lead now? — and Samantha Bee in the top 20.

So what makes Theo the world’s best leader according to Fortune?

The Cubs owe their success to a five-year rebuilding program that featured a concatenation of different leadership styles. The team thrived under the affable patience of owner Tom Ricketts, and, later, under the innovative eccentricity of manager Joe Maddon. But most important of all was the evolution of the club’s president for baseball operations, Theo Epstein, the wunderkind executive who realized he would need to grow as a leader in order to replicate in Chicago the success he’d had with the Boston Red Sox.

I don’t want to take anything away from what Theo has done — he’s a Hall of Fame executive already in my view — but I feel like maybe one needs to adjust for the fact that this is a baseball team we’re talking about. They’re the whole world to us and their brands are nationally and even world famous, but as an organization, sports teams are rather small. There are guys who run reasonably-sized HVAC companies with more employees than a baseball team and they don’t get the benefit of an antitrust exemption and a rule which allows them to get their pick of the best new employees if they had a bad year the year before.

Really, not trying to throw shade here, just thinking that being the spiritual father for 1.2 billion Catholics or running a foundation that serves 55 million needy children — like the woman who comes in at number 14 — is a bit of a tougher trick.

But this will make a great framed magazine article on Theo’s wall in Wrigley Field.

 

 

Marcus Stroman named World Baseball Classic MVP

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United States starter Marcus Stroman was named Most Valuable Player of the World Baseball Classic after helping lead the U.S. to its first ever WBC title on Wednesday night in an 8-0 victory over Puerto Rico. Stroman flirted with a no-hitter through six innings, but gave up a double to lead off the seventh before being relieved by Sam Dyson.

Stroman also pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings against the Dominican Republic in Pool C play on March 11. He struggled in Pool F play against Puerto Rico last Friday, surrendering four runs in 4 2/3 innings.

The WBC MVP award understandably goes to a player of the winning team. However, Wladimir Balentien of the Netherlands deserves special mention. In 26 at-bats during the WBC, he hit a double and had a WBC-high four home runs, 12 RBI, and 12 runs scored while putting up a .615/.677/.1.115 batting line. That’s MVP-esque as far as this tournament is concerned.