Disciples of Doug Dascenzo

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Dusty Baker and "The Art of War"

This is just about the most boring time of year. Especially for me. College football is done. Baseball’s hot stove has cooled to a simmer, unless you’re actually interested in where Sammy Sosa will sign (Japan). The only college hoops team I care about is Illinois. The Bulls decided to suck again this year. After a wonderful year off, we have to put up with hockey highlights on ESPN again. I’m mildly interested in the NFL playoffs, but as a non-Bears fan in Chicago it’s somewhat disturbing to see everyone walking around the city with permanent wood. Basically, I can’t wait to hear pitchers and catchers are reporting.

Without even looking at the atrocious sports scene, this time of year is no fun in general. The festive rush of the holidays is over, and I find myself looking out on another 3 months of cold, dreary, filthy snow-filled weather with nothing better than Presidents’ Day to look forward to. Also, I’m stuck in Columbus, Ohio five days a week, where – I kid you not – the following was the lead-in for the news last night, “Creepy photo of a one-eyed kitten, up next at 11.” Needless to say, there’s not much going on around here. It’s gotten so bad that I actually found myself watching “Nanny 911” for lack of anything better to do.

But, despite the general malaise that typifies January and February, now is not the time to watch idly as the Cubs gear up for another triumphant run at .500 baseball. No sir, there is always news to dissect and moves to criticize. The latest out of the PR mill is that the Cubs will likely offer Jim Hendry, and subsequently Dusty Baker, contract extensions either in the very near future or sometime in early spring.

I don’t disagree with Hendry’s extension. This off-season aside, he’s made some wonderful moves for the Cubs over the past few years, and perhaps his hands are tied by the Trib more than we know in terms of making serious runs at big free agents. As much as I’ve criticized the direction he has taken over the past couple of months, there is something to be said for maintaining the same direction long enough to win. Switching general managers in baseball is a hard thing to overcome in the short-term because each individual has his own ideas of what makes a winning team.

On the other hand, re-upping Baker’s contract is a foolish mistake. While switching GM’s may be difficult to overcome, switching managers really shouldn’t be. Especially when your current manager consistently proves he lacks the mental capacity to successfully manage games or censor himself before making ridiculous comments about how the dark skin of Latin players suits them to playing day games. Let’s face it – the guy is a few balls shy of a full count.

Baker’s biggest selling point throughout his career has been his ability to relate to his players. Supposedly, people love playing for him, and we were assured free agents would flock to the Friendly Confines to bask in the glow of Dusty’s toothpicked brilliance. Three years into the campaign has he ever proven he can lure quality players to the North Side? Not so much. I concede that it’s not entirely his fault, as the Trib Co. consistently low-balls free agents in the belief that they would gladly take less money to play in the shrine that is Wrigley. Unfortunately, baseball is a business in which millions of dollars are involved. Not even Baker’s hippie-ish, “Dude, I’ll let you loaf on the base paths” attitude can overcome the profit-dominated bottom line that FitzSimons and Co. forces down Hendry’s throat.

This may all seem like a disconnected rant, but I assure you there is a point. The point is, Baker’s supposed deft ability to relate to his players and appeal to free agents is meaningless without the dollars and sense (pun intended) to back it up. If the Cubs aren’t going to acquire impact players, they need to make the most out of what they have. A half-baked hippie manager is fine for a team with enough talent to overcome his mental lapses and incessant double-switching, but the Cubs are not that team. This is a team that will need to squeeze out every last run and play fundamentally sound baseball for 162 games, but after three years, we know that is exactly not what to expect out of a Dusty Baker-managed team. As Sun-Tzu stated in The Art of War, “Every battle is won before it is ever fought.”* Unfortunately for the Cubs, the opposite is true as well. With Dusty at the helm, this battle has already been lost.

*OK fine, I lifted that quote from Gordon Gekko in "Wall Street." Sue me.


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