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Dusty Baker hired to manage the Astros

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Note: This was first posted yesterday morning. Now that it has been confirmed by multiple outlets, we are updating it.

The Astros and Dusty Baker have an agreement to make Baker the new manager of the Houston Astros. Baker’s hiring was first reported by Bob Nightengale of USA Today yesterday. Today his hiring was confirmed by Marl Feinsand of MLB.com, citing multiple sources.

Baker recently interviewed with Astros owner Jim Crane who, as you know, was in the position of having to find a new manager on the quick given the suspension and subsequent firing of A.J. Hinch in the wake of the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal. Crane also interviewed Brad Ausmus in recent days.

In Baker the Astros are getting a manager who needs no training and needs no introduction. He has won basically everywhere he has managed, taking the Giants to the World Series in three postseason appearances, taking the Cubs to the postseason once, taking the Reds to the postseason three times and taking the Nationals to the postseason in both years at the helm. In 22 years as a skipper he has a record of 1,863-1,636. His worst single-team winning percentage is .497 with the Cubs. He was a .593 manager in Washington, a .540 manager in San Francisco, and a .524 manager in Cincinnati.

Baker has a track record of taking over poor-to-decent clubs and, almost immediately, making them winners. He did it in Washington, he did it in Cincinnati, he did it in San Francisco and, though it was only in his first season before running into some bad years, he even did it in Chicago. No one has the market cornered on assessing manager skill and quality, but the fact that Baker has won everywhere he’s gone probably means that, if they do eventually figure out what the special sauce is, Baker will be found to have possessed a vat of it.

He certainly has an interesting challenge in Houston. Unlike his past gigs, he’s taking over a monster of a team, winners of 107 games and the AL pennant last year and, of course, winning the 2017 World Series. With the exception of Gerrit Cole, who departed via free agency, basically all of the players who took the Nationals to Game 7 of the 2019 World Series will be back in 2020.

Which makes figuring out the expectations we should have for Baker an interesting thing. On the one hand, when a team loses Game 7 of the World Series like the Astros did, all but one outcome is a step back. Given that winning a World Series is no guarantee, ever, there’s a chance that even if Baker does an amazing job in Houston he ends his tenure being cast, again, as some sort of disappointment. A guy who couldn’t get it done in the postseason.

On the other hand the Astros have just been busted in a massive cheating scandal and — if you believe they were still cheating in 2019, which some do believe — they will have lost an advantage they once had. Between that, the departure of Cole and the overall fallout of the sign-stealing scandal and the scrutiny under which the team will be in 2020, it would not be at all shocking if they take a step back regardless of who was hired to manage. Which means that if Baker does win it all with Houston, man, it’d be a hell of an accomplishment. Or he could fall short of a World Series win and still be considered a massive success by virtue of keeping a team with every reason to be distracted to stay focused and play good baseball.

No matter how this plays out on the field, however, the fact of the matter is that, in addition to winning everyplace he’s ever been, Baker has long been praised for his management of the clubhouse. For motivating players and keeping them on an even keel. For bringing calm to places where one might expect storms. Win or lose, that’s exactly what this team needs right now. It’s exactly why, in our view, Baker is the perfect hire for the Houston Astros.

Rob Manfred offers little insight, shows contempt for reporters in press conference

Rob Manfred
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Commissioner Rob Manfred spoke at a press conference, addressing the Astros cheating scandal and other topics on Sunday evening. It did not go well.

To start, the press conference was not broadcast officially on MLB’s own TV channel (it aired the 1988 movie Bull Durham instead), nor could any mention to it or link to the live stream be found anywhere on MLB.com. When the actual questions began, Manfred’s answers were circuitous or simply illogical given other comments he has made in the past. On more than one occasion, he showed contempt for reporters for doing their jobs — and, some might argue, doing his job — holding players and front office personnel accountable.

Last month, Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal broke a story about the Astros’ “dark arts” and “Codebreaker” operation, based on a letter Manfred sent to then-GM Jeff Luhnow. Diamond was among the reporters present for Manfred’s press conference on Sunday. Per The Athletic’s Lindsey Adler, Manfred addressed Diamond, saying, “You know, congratulations. You got a private letter that, you know, I sent to a club official. Nice reporting on your part.” MLB’s response to the depth of the Astros’ cheating ways was lacking and, without Diamond’s reporting, we would have known how deeply lacking that response was. It is understandable that Manfred would be salty about it, since it exposed him as doing his job poorly, but it was an immature, unrestrained response from someone in charge of the entire league.

Onto the actual topic at hand, Manfred said he felt like the punishment doled out to the Astros was enough. Per Chris Cotillo, Manfred said Astros players “have been hurt by this” and will forever be questioned about their achievements in 2017 and ’18. Some players disagree. Former pitcher Phil Hughes even suggested the players have a work stoppage over this issue.

Manfred defended his decision not to vacate the Astros’ championship, saying, “The idea of an asterisk or asking for a piece of metal back seems like a futile act.” The commissioner devaluing the meaning of a championship seems… not great? Counterintuitive, even? The “piece of metal” is literally called the Commissioner’s Trophy. Manfred went on to brag about the league having “the intestinal fortitude to share the results of that investigation, even when those results were not very pretty.” Be careful, don’t hurt yourself patting yourself on the back for doing the bare minimum.

Manfred said there was no evidence found that the Astros used buzzers and added that, since the players were given immunity, he doesn’t think they would continue to hide that when asked about it. He said, “I think in my own mind. It was hard for me to figure out why they would tell us, given that they were immune, why they would be truthful and admit they did the wrong thing and 17, admit they did the wrong thing and 18, and then lie about what was going on in 19.”

The commissioner expects the league to implement “really serious restrictions” on access to in-game video feeds for the 2020 season.

There has been some recent back-and-forth between the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger and the Astros’ Carlos Correa. Manfred isn’t a fan of the sniping through the media. He said, “I’m sort of a civil discourse person. It must be because I’m old. But, yeah, I think that the back and forth that’s gone on is not healthy.” The reason Bellinger and others are speaking publicly about the issue, attempting to hold the Astros accountable, is because the league did not do a sufficient job doing that itself. Bellinger wouldn’t feel the need to speak up in defense of himself, his teammates, and other players affected by the cheating scheme if he felt like the league had his and his peers’ backs.

Because the players involved in the Astros’ cheating scheme weren’t punished, some — like Larry Bowa — have suggested intentionally throwing baseballs at Astros players to exact justice. Manfred met with managers who were in attendance today to inform them that retaliatory beanballs “will not be tolerated.” He added, “It’s dangerous and it is not helpful to the current situation.” Manfred has done nothing about beanball wars in the past, but it will now give the Astros somewhat of an advantage since pitchers will now be judged closely on any pitch that runs too far inside on Astro hitters.

Manfred also spoke about the ongoing feud with Minor League Baseball and basically reiterated what he and the rest of the league have disingenuously been saying since it was revealed MLB proposed cutting 42 minor league teams. Manfred’s talking point is that MLB is concerned about substandard facilities being used by minor league players, but not all of the 42 teams on the proposed chopping block have anything close to what could reasonably be considered substandard.

Lastly, Manfred was asked about the Orioles and tanking, and more or less danced around the issue by expressing confidence in the club’s ownership. The Orioles have won 47 and 54 games in the past two seasons. Payroll dropped by more than $50 million. The Orioles saw over 250,000 fewer fans in attendance in 2019 than in ’18. The O’s also saw a decline of over 460,000 fans in attendance from 2017 to ’18. But, yeah, it’s going well.

All in all, this press conference could not have gone worse for Manfred. The press found it condescending and the comments he made rang hollow to the players. Manfred seemed on edge and unprepared addressing arguably the biggest controversy baseball has faced since the steroid era. This is a dark time for the sport.