SAVED FROM SHAQTIN’ By Arthur George-Special to BASN JaVale McGee is reclaiming...
Reds, Baker have deal through 2012
“I said, ‘Man, we’re going to the playoffs, dude,”‘ Baker related. “I want them all looking good, clean. And I want them believing that we’re going places.”
Two years later, the staff freed those snazzy suits from their protective plastic wrap. And the manager who picked up the tab got a two-year contract extension and a chance to make sure those suits get a lot of wear.
The Reds announced the deal Monday, a reward for the team’s first playoff appearance in 15 years.
“I think we got here sooner than a lot of people thoughtâ€”to the playoffs,” general manager Walt Jocketty said. “I think a lot of it is due to Dusty’s leadership.”
Baker is in the final season of his original three-year deal. The front office approached him during the season to talk about an extension, and the sides closed in on an agreement last week while the Reds were clinching the NL Central title.
The superstitious Baker wanted the deal to last two years. “I’ve had some of my best success on two-year contracts,” Baker said Monday. “I don’t know why.”
Baker’s coaching staff also was offered two-year extensions before the club worked out, attended a downtown rally and headed to Philadelphia. The Reds open against the defending NL champions on Wednesday.
The Reds were the biggest surprise of the division champions, winning the Central despite a young and inexperienced lineup and pitching rotation. Baker kept it together during one of the tightest pennant races in years.
The Reds and Cardinals weren’t separated by more than three games from mid-May to mid-August. The division title was a huge breakthrough.
Cincinnati hadn’t been to the playoffs since 1995, when Davey Johnson took the Reds to the NL championship series, then got replaced by owner Marge Schott, who simply didn’t like him. The Reds went through five more managers before hiring Baker, who presided over a quick rebuilding process.
The Reds traded Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn during Baker’s first season, beginning a change from power-dependent offense to one that can win by going from first-to-third on a single — a category in which they led the league this season.
“It was very difficult (in 2008),” Baker said. “You know that you’re rebuilding at that time. And then you’ve got to get new leaders, you’ve got to get a new face or two for the organization.”
The Reds brought in third baseman Scott Rolen last year and shortstop Orlando Cabrera in the offseason, adding two veterans who have been to the playoffs. They helped a core of young players pull off the unexpected championship, one that puts Baker in select company.
Baker led the Giants and the Cubs to the playoffs before coming to Cincinnati. He joined Bill McKechnie as the only managers to take three NL teams to the playoffs.
Nine have taken three different teams to the playoffs overall — McKechnie, Johnson, Tony La Russa, Jim Leyland, Billy Martin, Lou Piniella, Joe Torre and Dick Williams also did it.
Given the team’s young core, Baker thinks the staff is going to get more chances to look good in those suits.
“To me, this is just a first step hopefully in a long line of wins, in a long line of excellent years,” Baker said.