Dusty Baker walks into a room. In this room are Nationals GM Mike Rizzo and owner Ted Lerner. The room is lit by a single lamp, hanging from the ceiling. Baker sits in a chair just under the lamp.
"Welcome to the interview. We have just one question. The answer will determine your fate."
A bead of sweat moves like a Slinky down the wrinkles on Baker's forehead. A Slinky from the commercial, not the dumb Slinky that never worked when you tried it in your own house. Baker squints, trying to see past the light, trying to see the faces of his interrogators.
"Okay, so, like, say you're managing a postseason game, and your pitcher is throwing really, really, really, really, really well. Like, just strike strike strike, out out out, right? It's the ninth inning, and you're up by one, and he lets a runner reach base with two outs. What do you do?"
Now they're smiling and eager. They seem nice. Baker pauses, silently runs the question through his mind, looking for tricks, then answers.
"You ... leave him in?"
Confetti falls from the ceiling. There are hugs to go around. It's the answer they were looking for. You leave the pitcher in. You do not bring in Drew Storen to face Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey. You leave the pitcher in. Everyone is thrilled.
Rizzo and Lerner leave the room, laughing. The don't notice Baker, still in the chair, muttering, "You always leave him in. Let him finish what he's started. Always. Leave him in. Leave him in. Way of the future. Leave him in. Way of the future."
* * *
And yet I have such fond memories of Baker. I was going to make a joke about bunts, but lookie at this 2002 team: Well below the league average for sacrifice bunts. Outside of the starting pitchers, David Bell led the team with six sacrifices. There were players with 100s of at-bats who didn't sacrifice at all, including Ramon Martinez and Marvin Benard.
Maybe Baker wasn't bunt-crazy. Maybe I was bunt-intolerant.
We know the players love him. Everywhere he goes, players rave about him and his even-keeled personality. He shows up in the postseason a lot, too. And that arm-shredding reputation? Probably out of date. He changed with the times, and seamlessly at that.
All that's left are the mind-numbing in-game decisions.
Probably not a strike and everything we know is built on a lie. However! Still a silly decision with limited reward for a high risk. And Baker was full of those easter eggs, playing speedy slap-weirdos over good players, and making sure his veterans were comfortable at the expense of logic. (Have I mentioned Tsuyoshi Shinjo at DH and Kenny Lofton in center this month? Probably.)
Baker is a weird choice for the Washington Nationals, built to win now. They are expecting to make the postseason. They hired a manager with a history of weird postseason decisions, and that's before you get to the regular season stuff.
Or is he a great choice? I can't tell! It's been so long since 2002 ... I think he was a net positive, really. I was okay with him leaving after the heartbreak, but that just lead to Felipe Alou, who was a clear, unmistakeable downgrade by that point. And looking through the lineups of 2002, there weren't a lot of bizarre, head-scratching choices to hit leadoff, other than the pre-Lofton games with Shinjo there. Heck, Bell even lead off, which was almost progressive, considering he was slow.
Give Baker a team without ambiguity, then, and he might flourish. Other than the weird moves, but then again, Ned Yost just won a championship. Baker can't be weirder than that dude, and he might be just as inspiring.
Aside from the wins and losses, though, I'm just glad that Baker is managing again. Always liked the guy -- especially the part where he wanted the Dodgers to eat hot death -- even if I was never excited about watching him make in-game decisions for my team. I was always a little bummed that his loss to the Giants was going to be one of the biggest reasons he was going to stay unemployed.
He's still afraid of walks, even though we're like 15 years past the point where everyone agreed that on-base percentage is a good thing, but I'm happy for Baker being back. Look at the NL East: Terry Collins, Don Mattingly, Fredi Gonzalez, Phillies Man. Baker might have his quirks, but can he possibly be quirkier than that bunch? It's at least a tie.
Which is all to say, welcome back, Dusty Baker. It's been too long. Welcome back, and I will pray for the toothpicks of our nation's capital.