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Baker gets extension; Reds get stability

Retaining Dusty Baker is all about stability and leadership, says Hall of Fame writer Hal McCoy.

Bob Castellini stood at a podium on April 23, 2008, answering questions about why he fired general manager Wayne Krivsky just three weeks into the season, and one question struck him like a runaway boulder.

“When is this organization going to start showing some stability in its leadership?” Castellini was asked.

At that point, the usually mild-mannered CEO of the Cincinnati Reds almost turned into Nikita Khrushchev pounding a shoe on the podium when he said, “We are not going to lose any more.”

And he has become a man of his word. There is stability, and there is winning.

For the second time, the Reds have extended the contract of a winning manager, Dusty Baker. It was announced Monday that the team has extended Baker’s deal for two more years through the 2014 season.

A wise move? Indeed, it is. It gives Baker a chance to complete his mission of bringing a World Series championship to Cincinnati.

This year, the team crept closer than it has been to that goal since 1995. The 63-year-old Baker overcame setback after adversity after setback after adversity — including his own health issues — to lead the Reds to 97 victories. And he led his team to its second National League Central Division championship in three years — after the Reds hadn’t won the division or qualified for the postseason in 15 years.

Early in spring training this year, Baker sat in his clubhouse office eating a bowl of cereal, and he said, between bites: “We are going to have a lot of fun this year. We’re going to have a very good team, and we’re going to do some things.”

It wasn’t an hour later when he heard the news — closer Ryan Madson needed season-ending Tommy John surgery, robbing Baker of his closer.

And not long after that two other important bullpen occupants, Nick Masset and Bill Bray, reported pain in their pitching equipment.

Madson and Masset never threw a pitch in anger this year and Bray tried but was unable to produce and eventually joined Madson and Masset as unusable arms.

Rather than bemoan his misfortune and curse the baseball gods, Baker calmly adjusted. Adjusted? Despite that large hunk gouged out of the bullpen, Baker put together a bullpen that was the best in baseball.

Then, as the season progressed, veteran third baseman Scott Rolen was in and out of the lineup with shoulder and back issues. Second baseman Brandon Phillips and shortstop Zack Cozart missed considerable time.

Then there was an event that might have crushed lesser men. Baker lost his best player, Joey Votto, in late June to a knee injury that cost him nearly six weeks.

Baker never blinked. He made the necessary adjustments, tinkered and adjusted his lineup cards. And the Reds, under his positive influence, amped it up — a stretch of 22 wins in 25 games and a 36-12 record without Votto.

Would this have been possible under lesser leadership, under somebody who would have felt sorry for himself and used the issues as an easy excuse for the team to wither and die?

That’s the beauty of Dusty Baker. Baker’s photograph should be somewhere inside the cover of Norman Vincent Peale’s book, “The Power of Positive Thinking.”

Baker takes heavy abuse from fans who disagree with his lineups, his batting orders, his strategy and his pitching decisions or non-decisions.

But he has reasons for everything he does because everything he does is thought out ahead of time. No matter what he does, if it backfires and he is asked afterward by the media why he did it, he has an answer — an answer that makes his sense.

He is in his office early every day poring over scouting reports, statistical sheets and matchups, searching for any scrap of intel that might gain his team even an inch of an advantage.

Some fans hold it against him that he is 1-9 in postseason elimination games and that he and former manager Gene Mauch have the most wins in major league history without ever winning a World Series.

So much has to go right for a team to win a World Series, including a large dose of good fortune.

In Game 5 of the National League Division Series this year, the Reds were down two runs to the San Francisco Giants. In the final four innings, they had the tying run at the plate all four times but scored only one run.

Was that the manager’s fault? Of course not. Somebody, anybody holding a bat, has to come up with the game-deciding hit. It never happened.

Managing a baseball team is a lot like playing blackjack. A blackjack player can play every hand exactly by the book and lose the car payment and the mortgage payment. Why? Because he didn’t get the cards.

It’s the same with a baseball manager. He can make all the right moves, but his players — his deck of cards — have to fall the right way.

As Castellini said it best: “Dusty Baker is right man for this team. He's the right manager to continue the building process that will take us deeper and deeper into the playoffs in the future."

Baker, a three-time Manager of the Year, won’t be manager of the year this season, but for what he had to endure and for how he responded, he should win a Hand-Tied Manager of the Year.

Stability and winning — that’s what it is all about. And Baker is the right choice to bring the Reds both.