Baker's tenure with Reds comes to an end
Skipper led Cincinnati to three postseason berths in six years but didn't win a series
CINCINNATI -- The Reds have won at least 90 games in three of the past four seasons under Dusty Baker, but the slide at the end of this season has cost him his job.
Baker is out as manager of the Reds after six seasons, the club announced on Friday, three days after Tuesday's defeat in the National League Wild Card Game against the Pirates, which eliminated Cincinnati from the postseason. The decision was made by Reds chief executive officer Bob Castellini and general manager Walt Jocketty.
"We thought about it and it was something that we just saw the club the way it was trending and playing lately, that something wasn't right and change was necessary," Jocketty said. "We felt it was the right thing to do to talk to Dusty before he left town and not let him get home and call him or bring him back."
"It's always difficult to make a change after being together for so long. I just felt it had to be done," Castellini said. "Dusty is a good person. We had a good relationship. It's difficult to have a parting of the ways."
Baker was given the news during a meeting at Great American Ball Park on Thursday afternoon.
"I'm kind of numb," Baker said. "I just thought, especially with another year on my contract, especially after last year. I was thinking about just with the one [year], and they asked me to take a two [year contract]. How quickly things change, I guess."
Baker wasn't expecting to lose his job but things appeared to take that track when he said he was told by Jocketty that the team wanted to dismiss hitting coach Brook Jacoby.
"I was like, 'Oh, no, Brook's not doing anything in my mind as one of my coaches that deserved that,'" Baker said. "I wasn't giving an ultimatum but I said, 'Hey, man, if we get rid of Brook, you might as well get rid of me, too.' Next thing I was called up to the office. I thought I was going to discuss Brook's future and the rest of my coaches' future or whatever. I was told my services were no longer needed. I told them thank you for everything that transpired for me and my family."
Several players expressed surprise when they learned that their manager was out.
"It's obviously a bit shocking," right fielder Jay Bruce said in a text message. "I understand that it's a business and when teams don't accomplish what's expected of them there are changes, but any way you slice it, Dusty was an integral part of turning the organization around. The Cincinnati Reds became relevant again with Dusty at the helm, and that's something people should never forget."
This season, the Reds finished third in the National League Central, behind the Cardinals and Pirates, with a 90-72 record. The team battled injuries throughout, including those to ace right-hander Johnny Cueto and left fielder Ryan Ludwick. On Sept. 22, following a series in Pittsburgh in which they took two of three games, they were within two games of first-place St. Louis and were even with Pittsburgh for the first Wild Card spot, which would have meant home-field advantage in the single-elimination round.
But the season ended with six straight losses, including the 6-2 defeat in the Wild Card Game at Pittsburgh. The offense lacked life while scoring 10 runs in those six games, and the pitching staff did not perform well, either.
"I think it was disappointing," Jocketty said. "We won 90 games but we really controlled our own destiny at the end there. That one final playoff game may have been different if we ended up playing at home."
Baker had one year remaining, believed to be worth around $3.5 million, on his contract. There was no announcement regarding changes on the coaching staff.
"That will be determined after we hire a manager," Jocketty said. "Several of them are still under contract. Once we hire a manager, then we'll review the coaches with a new manager. Obviously we'll recommend some but you have to allow a new manager to hire some of his own coaches."
Jocketty gave no timetable for the hiring of the next manager but confirmed that Reds pitching coach Bryan Price and former big league skipper Jim Riggleman, currently the manager of Triple-A Louisville, were on the list of candidates.
Cincinnati has reached the postseason three times in the past four years, winning National League Central titles in 2010 and 2012 under the 64-year-old Baker, but was unable to advance each time.
"I did the best I could," Baker said. "Sometimes your best isn't good enough. I devoted all my energy to this team and to winning."
A manager since 1993 with the Giants, Cubs and Reds, Baker is ranked 16th all-time and second among active managers with 1,671 wins. But he has never won a World Series.
Baker is a three-time Manager of the Year who has guided his teams to seven postseasons, including the 2002 World Series with the Giants, who lost to the Angels in seven games.
Named Reds manager on Oct. 14, 2007, Baker was hired by Castellini when Wayne Krivsky was the team's GM. Jocketty inherited Baker and the coaching staff when he took over early in the 2008 season. Price was hired by Jocketty to be pitching coach before the 2010 season, replacing Dick Pole.
Baker had a 509-463 record with the Reds. He is ranked third in franchise history in wins behind Sparky Anderson and Bill McKechnie.
Anderson, McKechnie and Baker are also the only three managers in Reds history to guide their teams into the postseason multiple times.
In 2008, the Reds were 74-88 during Baker's first year and the team won 78 games the following season. The breakthrough came in 2010, when Cincinnati went 91-71, won the NL Central and reached the playoffs for the first time since 1995. The postseason wasn't one to savor, though, as the Phillies swept the Reds in the NL Division Series in three games, a series that included Roy Halladay throwing a no-hitter in Game 1.
A step backward occurred in 2011, when the Reds finished in third place with a 79-83 record. In 2012, Cincinnati went 97-65 to take the NL Central again. In the final weeks of that season, Baker missed 11 games in September after being diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat, and during his time in a Chicago hospital he suffered a minor stroke.
Cincinnati lost a heartbreaking five-game Division Series to the Giants after taking a 2-0 lead in San Francisco.
The frustration of again not being able to get deeper in the playoffs this year ultimately meant the end of Baker's tenure in Cincinnati.
"I think that's part of it," Jocketty said.
Baker has been criticized in the media and by fans for his "old-school" style of managing. There had been callings for his dismissal after the latest playoff shortcoming, but Castellini said public sentiment never figured into the decision.
"When things aren't working, you have to make a baseball decision," Castellini said. "It just wasn't working. A lot of different aspects go into it but you have to do what you feel is right with the club. Dusty Baker is a great manager and person."