I get asked often what I think about Bruce Bochy. At my frequent black-tie functions, at the salon, wherever there are Giants fans. My answer has been the same since Jose Guillen was left off the postseason roster: Give him an obvious lineup, and he's great. He's easily my favorite Giants manager of my lifetime. About every fifth time, the response is, "Wow, you like him better than Dusty?"
For these situations, I've trained and trained my eyebrow muscles so that I can raise one eyebrow verrrrrrrrry slowly. It's harder than you think, but it's also effective. A slow, slow eyebrow raise says much more than words possibly could. The people I'm talking to usually change the subject. As they should.
This comes up now because Dusty Baker is back in the rumor mill. Chris Cotillo is reporting that the Padres have interest in him (though he's since heard differently from another source). And earlier this morning, we were treated to this:
Casey Stern of MLB Network on our @BR_Radio show: good chance Dusty Baker winds up managing either Mariners or Dodgers next season.— Ric Bucher (@RicBucher) September 30, 2015
Edit: Well, uh, there's also this:
@mccoveychron Grant, hope you are well. Never said what you have in your article. That tweet was retracted. Not CLOSE to what i said. Thanks— Casey Stern (@CaseyStern) September 30, 2015
So take all this chatter with VW Buses full of salt. Still, it's fun to talk about.
The instant response from Baseball Twitter: No. Nope, no way, not going to happen, not the stat-friendly Dodgers, not the fresh-brained Padres, nope, nope, nope. Baker has a reputation for being stat-adverse, stemming from quotes like this:
"On-base percentage is great if you can score runs and do something with that on-base percentage," Baker said. "Clogging up the bases isn't that great to me. The problem we have to address more than anything is the home run problem."
Which is still an amazing quote and belief system, almost 10 years later. Baker also gets a bad rap for overusing his pitchers, which is probably a little overblown, considering baseball was in a transitional period when he managed, moving quickly from the old ways to the mollycoddlin' new ways. He probably wouldn't use Mark Prior like this because no one would. The instructions weren't explicit then for managers. They sure are now.
Hear me out, though. Maybe it's not completely bananas.
Managerial analysis is still imperfect, still filled with guesswork, but there's something of a consensus that the actual moves aren't really what you're hiring a manager for. Assuming there aren't managers out there who think I'M GONNA BUILD MY LINEUP OUT OF RELIEVERS, the differences between small-ball and saber-friendly managers are overblown over a 162-game season. What a team should want from a manager is someone whom the players respect. Someone who can keep a clubhouse together. Someone who can shepherd young players and wrangle the veterans.
Baker could convince someone he's the right guy for that part of the job. Which, again, might be the most important part of the job. If in an interview, the big brains say they're looking for someone who could take strategic cues from above, and Baker says he doesn't have a problem with that, that he's more comfortable being a manager of men anyway, it's not completely unreasonable. Just mostly unreasonable.
Think of it like this: Baker is like a starting pitcher who can throw 99 in the early innings before pootering out and losing command and velocity in the middle innings, which causes problems. Taking the strategy out of his hands would be like moving that starting pitcher to the closer's role. You just throw 99 and don't worry about stamina. Do what you're good at.
Where that division of labor wouldn't make sense is that it doesn't sound like Baker at all. For all his affable qualities, he doesn't seem like a manager who would quietly take direction for very long. He doesn't seem like someone to concede a point, especially when it's a battle between his decades of experience and a probability matrix. There would be tension. Which is why I'm wholly in favor of Baker coming back to manage a NL West team. Especially the Dodgers.
I mean, what if they didn't dictate his strategy at all? What if he got to do his thing, bunting so much that Don Mattingly would watch from home and say, jeez, slow down with the bunting? Gosh, that would be swell
As is, it's a fun rumor to talk about, even if it's completely unlikely. Dusty Baker, back with the organization that he's resented for so long, managing 18 games against the Giants every year? Goodness, that would be fun. Even if he's stripped of his bunting wand and strategic quirkiness.