11/17/10 2:56 PM EST
One point separates Baker from manager honor
Reds skipper narrowly beaten by Padres' Black for NL award
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
NL MANAGER OF THE YEAR VOTING
|Bud Black, Padres||16||7||3||104|
|Dusty Baker, Reds||13||12||2||103|
|Bruce Bochy, Giants||1||4||13||30|
|Bobby Cox, Braves||1||4||11||28|
|Charlie Manuel, Phillies||1||4||3||20|
|Brad Mills, Astros||-||1||-||3|
Although San Diego blew a 6 1/2-game late-season lead in the NL West, which included a 10-game losing streak, to finish in second place behind the Giants, many voters still supported Black.Baker previously won the NL Manager of the Year Award with the Giants in 1993, 1997 and 2000. He also finished in second place in 2003 after leading the Cubs to an NL Central title. "It's the second time I came in second after a narrow vote," Baker said. "In 2003, it wasn't this close but I lost to [the Marlins'] Jack McKeon. You're disappointed, of course, but we'll just have to come back next year and win the whole thing." The 61-year-old Baker, who completed his third season in Cincinnati, led his club to a 91-71 record and a division title with a five-game lead over second-place St. Louis. The Reds also were ranked first in the NL in nearly every key offensive category and had a league-fewest 72 errors committed on defense. A comfortable cushion at the end belied the challenges Baker faced, as many of his players experienced playing for a contender for the first time in the big leagues. "Dusty has done a fantastic job this year in a lot of different ways," Reds first baseman Joey Votto said in late August. "I know a lot of people give credit solely to the players. But we've seen the manager's hand on this winning season." On April 24, the Reds had a 7-11 record and seemed poised for a 10th consecutive losing season -- and third straight under Baker. A closed-door team meeting and thorough chewing out by the skipper helped Cincinnati find some traction. They won the next five games to finish the month with a winning record. In fact, the Reds had a winning record in each of the first five months of the season. There were other moments when an even hand was needed at character-building moments, especially as they swapped the division lead with the Cardinals 19 times.
During a devastating loss on May 20 at Atlanta, the Reds blew an eight-run lead and watched a grand slam barely clear the fence to complete a six-run bottom of the ninth. Cincinnati responded by winning seven of the next nine games. After being swept three games at last-place Seattle in mid-June, they took a sweep at Oakland in the next series and enjoyed a surge of winning 12 of the next 16 games.The first half ended with being swept four straight by the Phillies -- with three games lost in extra innings and another by a 1-0 margin. Baker held another meeting before the second half resumed, and his club went 6-0-1 in its next seven series. And most infamously in August, there was an embarrassing three-game home sweep by the Cardinals during a critical series from Aug. 9-11. The season's darkest moment became one of the Reds' finest hours, as they won seven in a row and had their best month with a 19-8 August record to secure first place for good as the Cardinals faded. Some of the young players -- such as outfielders Jay Bruce and Drew Stubbs -- endured some deep swoons. Amid criticism that both players should be benched or sent down, Baker stuck with them. Both wound up enjoying solid seasons and played significant roles in the pennant chase, especially Bruce, who was torrid down the stretch. After the season, Baker was rewarded with a two-year contract extension that keeps him with the Reds through the 2012 season. Baker spent Wednesday taking in the scenery of the mountains near his Northern California home. It's already been a difficult day for him, even before he learned the outcome of the award. "That's secondary to me," he said. "Today is the one-year anniversary of my dad's passing. That's what's been on my mind today more than anything. It supersedes baseball." Baker took solace in that the Reds' performance hasn't gone unnoticed. Three players -- Scott Rolen, Brandon Phillips and Bronson Arroyo -- won NL Gold Gloves for defense last week. General manager Walt Jocketty was named MLB Executive of the Year. Earlier in the month, Votto won the Hank Aaron Award for being the top offensive player. Votto is a leading candidate for the NL Most Valuable Player Award, which will be revealed on Monday. "We've already piled up quite a bit of hardware for this organization," Baker said.