Craig Calcaterra

Dusty Baker

It’s official: Dusty Baker is the new Nationals manager

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The back-and-forth of the past 24 hours involving Bud Black, Dusty Baker and the Washington Nationals is now over: The Nats just announced that Dusty Baker is their new skipper. He has a “multi-year deal” according to James Wagner of the Washington Post.

Baker’s hiring comes after a deal with the club’s first choice — Bud Black — fell through due to financial terms and contract length, according to multiple reports. Black is an established manager who wanted a contract in the range which established managers get. The Nats, either because they were lowballing him or because they simply don’t understand the manager market, felt that a short deal — two years — and low money — $2 million — was sufficient. When Black backed out they went to Baker.

Which isn’t to say that Baker is a bad choice. And that’s the case no matter how much snark and joking has come to surround almost any mention of Baker over the past couple of years. He’s become something of a figurehead for old school managers who are no longer in vogue and became a target of baseball analysts who lament the days when managers didn’t pay attention to pitcher workloads and did not seem on the surface to be carrying out a front office’s plan as opposed to their own. And while there may be some truth to that as a descriptor of Baker, it’s pretty old and not really accurate conventional wisdom on the man or on the state of managing in 2015.

Baker got a lot of criticism for his handling of Mark Prior and Kerry Wood in Chicago. And it’s absolutely the case that they were worked harder than you would like to see young pitchers worked. But if we’ve learned anything in the past several years, it’s that any pitcher, even the ones whose workload is most closely monitored, can tear ligaments and break down. What’s more, Baker evolved as a manager when it came to his use of pitchers, particularly while in Cincinnati. To the extent you’re using the “oh no, Dusty is going to destroy pitchers” line of attack on him, you’re about a decade out of date.

More troublesome for one’s criticism of Baker, though, is that it ignores the fact that he has won everywhere he’s gone. He won a pennant in San Francisco, made the playoffs in Chicago and won a lot of games and two division titles with the Reds. His successors . . . tend not to do too well. This doesn’t make him some super hero — Baker has always benefitted from taking jobs with teams poised to do good things — but he has not underachieved either and he has not been an impediment to winning.

Ultimately, the value of Dusty Baker is his experience and his history dealing with his clubhouses. Specifically, he has a lot of the former and a lot of success with the latter, making him the anti-Matt Williams in just about every respect. The Nats should want that, right?

Bud Black is a good manager who is well-respected in the game. I think the Nats made a good call in offering him the job and made a mistake in lowballing him. But I also think that, even if the politics behind this managerial move are troublesome for the Nats, the ultimate result — getting Dusty Baker — is a pretty OK outcome. Going from Black to Baker will not be the difference between winning and losing in 2016 and beyond. And winning with Dusty Baker is something a lot of clubs have done in the past.

Terry Collins: “I let my heart get in the way of my gut . . . it was my fault”

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NEW YORK — Terry Collins’ decision to leave Matt Harvey in the game for the ninth inning last night will be long-discussed in New York. Maybe second-guessed by some though, as I said last night, it’s hard to second guess. Maybe there were good arguments against it and maybe those good arguments were right. But there was a lot of emotion and drama and gut instinct to it all as well. On the part of Harvey. On the part of Collins. On the part of fans watching. Everyone.

The first question asked to Collins in the postgame press conference was, not surprisingly, about that decision. And Collins, somewhat surprisingly given how managers tend to defend their pitching decisions, admitted that it was all about his heart:

I told him that we were going — that was enough. And he just came over and said, “I want this game. I want it bad. You’ve got to leave me in.” I said, “Matt, you’ve got us exactly where we wanted to get you.” He said, “I want this game in the worst way.” So obviously I let my heart get in the way of my gut. I love my players. And I trust them. And so I said, “Go get ’em out.” And he went out and the lead-off walk started it off.

But if you’re going to let him just face one guy, you shouldn’t have sent him out there. When the double hit, that’s when I said, I’ve got to see if we can get out of this with only one run. And it didn’t work. It was my fault.

You have to give Collins credit for not hiding behind “what [he] saw out there” or “matchups” or alleged inside information the Mets and their scouts had or some mildly condescending reason that, in some small way, would work to defend against criticism. We hear that kind of stuff from managers all the time and it’s right enough of the time to where we are, in effect, more hesitant to criticize.

I’m not going to second guess Collins. I think I would’ve done the same thing he did in his place. Kudos to Collins for believing in his pitcher and standing up for that belief after the fact, knowing that the less-enlightened segments of society would pounce on him and Harvey for it in particularly obnoxious ways.

The Indefatigable Kansas City Royals

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NEW YORK — It takes 11 playoff victories to win a World Series crown. Three in the division series, four in the league championship series and four more in the World Series. Simply getting into the playoffs is hard enough — even with expanded playoffs this isn’t basketball or hockey; only a third of the teams make it and fewer than a third get a guarantee of more than one game — and winning those 11 games is obviously baseball’s biggest challenge.

So what can we say about a team that gave themselves an added degree of difficulty in winning it all? A team which spotted the opposition a lead in eight of those 11 games they eventually came back and won?

Early in the postseason people settled on the word “relentless” to describe the Royals and their style of play. It quickly became a cliche and, not too long after that, became something of a joke. Walking around Kauffman Stadium and Citi Field in the past week a reporter might say “how ya feelin’?” to one of his friends and his friend would reply back, “relentless!” The word became so overused to describe the Royals that it lost its meaning.

To the extent the world retains its definition, it’s a world that you might use to describe a machine. The Terminator, maybe. Something that never tires, can’t be bargained with, can’t be reasoned absolutely would not stop, ever, until you were beaten. A word that talks about someone who is on the offensive and will not let up in its attack. But these Royals weren’t that as such. There were lots of moments when they were on the ropes themselves, actually, most notably tonight when Matt Harvey dominated them for eight innings.

Even in the ninth, after one run was in and the Royals were threatening, there was a chance for the Mets to win the game. All it would’ve taken was a straight throw from Lucas Duda on Hosmer’s dash home. There’s no excuse for Duda’s bad throw and, unlike the folks in the Fox booth, To claim that Hosmer either knew Duda would throw the ball offline or somehow forced Duda to do so is simply wrong. Afterward Hosmer himself said Duda’s arm didn’t even enter into it. He just saw David Wright take a bit of time to throw the ball to Duda on the force out and broke. Hosmer was impulsive, fast and lucky and Duda was surprised and screwed up. It was the classic situation in which a bad decision resulted in a good outcome. It was just a play that happened as opposed to one that was designed.

But it did happen and it was put in motion by a Royals player who, however out he should’ve been, didn’t seem to think he’d be out. That is, at least to the extent he thought much about it at all. It came from a player who certainly didn’t believe his team was beaten.

We never quit. Never put our head down. Never think about, ‘OK game is over.’

That was World Series MVP Salvador Perez describing this club after the game. I don’t think he is describing a team that is “relentless.” That term implies a particular certainty of success and perhaps even dominance these Royals didn’t really have about them. These Royals could’ve been defeated many times and weren’t. Maybe if you’re simply unbowed you’re relentless, but if you’re bloodied and unbowed, I think you’re more properly referred to as indefatigable.

The 2015 Kansas City Royals were doubted when the season began. They were untested for most of the regular season. But when the playoffs came, things got tough. Those eight deficits should never have translated to eight wins. Edinson Volquez, suffering the loss of his father, should never have been able to endure that, fly to the Dominican Republic and back in such a short time frame yet come out throwing high-90s heat like he did in Game 5. The Royals never should have been able to disrupt Matt Harvey’s storybook ending to this game which seemed all but written.

Baseball players will never admit that there were times when they just packed it in because they felt things were hopeless, but baseball players often do pack it in or, at the very least, become discouraged in the face of long odds or near certain defeat. And, up 3-1 in a best-of-seven series, these Royals could’ve done that on this night, knowing that a split in Kansas City on Tuesday and Wednesday was something that was totally attainable and possibly even likely.

But they didn’t pack it in. They never stopped, often even when they should’ve, like how Eric Hosmer probably should’ve stopped at third base in the ninth inning. They took some clean shots to the nose early in several games but never once got shaky and never once gave anyone reason to doubt their ability to come back.

That’s perseverance. That’s tirelessness. That’s indefatigability. That’s what made the 2015 Royals World Series Champions.