June 10, 1999
The Method to Dusty’s Madness?
Once again, the Giants are in a race
For the past few years, it's been difficult to write anything new about the San Francisco Giants. The same topics keep raising their heads: Brian Sabean, Barry Bonds, Dusty Baker and the new ballpark. A third of the way into the 1999 season, nothing has changed on this front.
Sabean has been relatively quiet so far, while Pac Bell Park continues to be the center of virtually all the team's promotions, including the season-long marketing theme, "Tell it Goodbye". In essence: "get yourself out to Candlestick one last time, because next year will be too late." Meanwhile the team spends more time selling season tickets for the year 2000 than they do selling tickets of any kind for 1999, the final series of the year being the only exception.
With the absence of Bonds due to an elbow injury, Pac Bell Park takes an even more important place as the most valuable player on the team, the only thing connected to the ballclub that seems guaranteed to get fannies in the seats, even if those seats aren't ready for another year. It's an odd way to promote a baseball team: "come see us next year!" wouldn't seem to be the best way to get folks out to the ballpark this year.
Bonds' stay on the disabled list has led to an unfortunately predictable response from the local media, many of whom are asking "is the team better without Bonds?" The Giants have played around .500 ball since Barry hit the DL, after playing a lot better than .500 ball for the last two-plus seasons with Bonds in the lineup. Of course, facts are irrelevant to those who have spent the better part of the decade attacking Bonds whenever possible. And so we hear about clubhouse chemistry, and the rise of young players like Armando Rios (who isn't even that young), and how this or that veteran is rising to the occasion, as if any of this offered proof that the team is better without Bonds. Meanwhile, the team's record since Bonds was injured is worse than it was when he played, which comes as no surprise to anyone except those aforementioned writers who aren't happy unless they get off a Bonds Sux essay every two months.
And still, the Giants are battling for the NL West lead. Pac Bell Park has nothing to do with their current success, Sabean is staying out of the way and Bonds hasn't played for quite awhile. Which leaves us, as has so often been the case since his arrival, with Dusty Baker. Dusty, The Best Manager In Baseball Who Doesn't Seem To Think Like a Stathead.
Dusty's managerial philosophy was neatly summed up during a series with the Arizona Diamondbacks at Candlestick Park. Arizona had been taking turns atop the division with the Giants, so this was an early "crucial" series for both clubs. The Giants' hopes were raised by the return of Bill Mueller, who broke his toe in the first inning of the season and had been disabled ever since. However, Dusty decided to sit Mueller on his first day back. You see, Dusty wanted to get Charlie Hayes into the lineup.
The scheduled Arizona pitcher was Todd Stottlemyre, who has never in his career allowed a hit against Charlie Hayes. Hayes is well aware of this statistic; apparently it gnaws at him, because during an April battle between the two clubs, Hayes flipped out and attacked Stottlemyre for no reason other than he just doesn't like Todd. Hayes was eventually suspended for a few games, which wasn't as bad as you'd think, even with Mueller's absence, because Hayes is struggling to hit .200 this season.
So Hayes is in the middle of a monumental slump, Arizona is pitching someone who has owned Hayes throughout his career and a team leader is making his return to the roster after a long stint on the DL. It would seem like the perfect opportunity to move Hayes to the bench. But Baker didn't see things that way. He wanted Hayes in the lineup because that's what men do: when they fall off a horse they get back on, and what happened in April between Stottlemyre and Hayes was going to inspire Charlie in May. Baker stated quite clearly that he felt Hayes was more likely to break out of his slump against the man he hated than he would be against any other pitcher, even when he had gone 0-for-13 lifetime against that gentleman.
The results were inconclusive. Hayes won a temporary victory when he drew a couple of walks off Stottlemyre, who left the game with an injury. The D'Backs won, Stottlemyre headed for the DL, and the next day, Bill Mueller was in the lineup where he belonged.
There is very little to be said in defense of Baker's decision to play Charlie Hayes in that game against Arizona. But I have argued before that the most difficult area of a manager's job to evaluate from afar is his leadership, that vague quality that is undeniably a part of the manager's duties. Ultimately, I don't care about Barry Bonds' "leadership qualities", but we should care about the manager's ability to lead his team. And when the Giants continue to perform better than many expect, the leadership of Baker must be considered as a potential factor.
Did Charlie Hayes contribute to a Giants' victory that night? No. Did Dusty Baker convey something to his players that night which will help them to play to the best of their abilities in future games? That, it seems to me, is entirely possible. And that is where Baker shines. It's very frustrating for a Giants' fan to watch, except when they win. And those wins come frequently enough.