On flip side of baseball drama stands Mauch-like Baker
Published: Saturday, October 20, 2012 at 5:27 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, October 20, 2012 at 5:27 p.m.
In the hubbub of a postseason plethora of winners’ drama and euphoria in which baseball fans vicariously and rapaciously indulge, certain so-called losers are shoved to the background but still stand out like Shakespearean characters whose place of business happens to be a dugout instead of a stage.
Think of Ron Washington, the former Oakland Athletics coach who has managed the Texas Rangers to the postseason in each of the past three seasons, including two World Series, one of which, last year, his team was one out away from winning, twice, but has yet to be declared champion.
Think of Buck Showalter, who was fired by the Yankees in the mid-90s just as they were to re-establish a pinstripe dynasty in New York, who was fired by the expansion Diamondbacks just before they were to win a World Series at the start of the new millennium and who this year took the longtime dormant Baltimore Orioles to within a win of playing for the American League pennant but still hasn’t set foot in a World Series.
Think of Davey Johnson, who did win it all 26 years ago with the Mets, and who in the ’90s took the Reds and Orioles into the playoffs (and who was fired by Baltimore after a spirited run in 1997, when he was voted manager of the year), and who, this year, closing in on his 70th birthday, gave Washington, D.C., its first postseason team since 1933 but was denied a return to The Show’s biggest show.
But most of all, think of Dusty Baker.
It’s only natural that Giants fans quickly got swept up in the excitement of the National League Championship Series. It’s only human nature that Giants fans who considered themselves blessed to have seen the first World Series championship in the team’s more than half-century of history in San Francisco just two years ago lusted after another title, at Baker’s expense.
And it’s regrettable but understandable that the concern for Baker’s health seems quaintly more distant than just two weeks ago and empathy for his Reds’ stunning loss to the Giants in the first round of the playoffs lasted about the time it takes Aroldis Chapman’s fastball to reach home plate.
But think about Baker, whose remarkable longevity and success as a big-league manager might be overshadowed by his teams’ legendary failures, Baker whose career is approaching Gene Mauch territory, a land nobody wants to visit, let alone reside.
Mauch’s 26-year big-league managerial career included the 1964 Philadelphia Phillies, who blew a 6½-game lead in the National League with 12 games left, in the pre-division era in which only league champions went to the postseason.
Mauch’s career also included the 1982 Angels, who blew a two-game lead over Milwaukee in the best-of-5 American League Championship Series.
And there’s more. Mauch’s 1986 Angels were one strike away from winning the best-of-7 ALCS in five games over the Red Sox but never got that fourth victory.
Now look at Baker’s career.
In 1993, just before the advent of wild-card playoff teams, his Giants won 103 games, second-most in the majors, but found themselves on the outside looking in at the postseason.
In 2002, Baker’s Giants were six outs away from winning the World Series in six games over the Angels. Didn’t happen that day, or in Game 7 the next day, either.
Then his 2003 Chicago Cubs looked to be on their way to the franchise’s first World Series appearance since 1945, until Steve Bartman went from innocent bystander to guilty cluelessness in one momentous act of fan interference.
And then of course there is this year’s first round of playoffs, when Baker’s Cincinnati Reds beat the Giants twice in San Francisco and needed only one win at home to advance to the NLCS — and didn’t get it.
Baker, still beloved by Giants fans, survived a serious health scare late in the season but could be in the running for manager of the year. He’s a shoo-in, though, for the mythical Gene Mauch Award.
Baseball’s postseason already has had enormous, multiple dramas. But you can’t have heroic drama without tragic characters. Ron Washington, Buck Showalter, Davey Johnson all qualify.
But think of poor Dusty Baker.
Robert Rubino can be reached at email@example.com.
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