This one could open some old wounds, so I'll be fairly brief. Most of you know I defended Dusty Baker far beyond the point at which it was reasonable to do so. I was wrong. Period. In reality, Baker should have been fired after the 2004 season, when he lost control of the team. The antics that occurred are well documented, and likely were a contributing factor in the loss of the wild-card spot that season, a playoff berth that team should have won easily.
I'm not even going to go through Baker's wacky quotes, ranging from his complaints about broadcasters to the famous "walks clog the bases" remark.
What I do want to focus on here is one incident, an incident that can be summed up in the photo that accompanies this post. It is from, as I am sure you remember, game six of the 2003 NLCS. You know what Prior is pointing at -- the incident where the foul ball was interfered with.
photo via chicago.cubs.mlb.com
We remember Prior as dominant in 2003, long before his injuries derailed his career. His 18-6, 2.43 season was one of the best in baseball that year, and he was breezing through the Marlins that night at Wrigley Field. The final score doesn't indicate how dominant he was on that October evening -- until the incident in the 8th, he had faced 29 batters and allowed two walks and three hits.
The look on his face and the way he was pointing reminds us, five years later, that despite his dominance, he was a 23-year-old kid who had just finished his first full major league season, and this incident had clearly rattled him.
And the manager sat in the dugout and did nothing. Dusty Baker could have done one of several things: first, he should have gone to the mound to try to settle his pitcher down, at the very least. And then, after Prior walked the hitter (Luis Castillo) who hit the foul ball, putting runners on first and second, he probably should have taken him out of the game; Joe Borowski, who was a solid closer in 2003, was warmed up and ready. Though Borowski had only five outings longer than an inning in 2003, if you win the game you're in the World Series and you have three days off! There's no doubt in my mind that Joe Torre would have called on Mariano Rivera in that situation. Or just about any other manager would have called on his closer to get those five elusive outs.
But Baker did nothing until Prior had faced three more batters, retiring none of them, and the game was tied.
You know what happened next, I don't have to rehash it here. Forget all the other stuff that happened under Baker's watch -- to me, this one was the most unforgivable, because if he had handled the situation the way a true leader would have, I am convinced the Cubs would have won the game and been in the World Series.
This will close the Can of Worms, as the season approaches. Oh, one more thing. Since so many of you seem interested in him, Jake Peavy has never lost to a team managed by Dusty Baker, going 2-0 with three no-decisions.