Ray Ratto

Dusty Baker's postseason agonies and his Hall of Fame candidacy

baker-dusty-head-down.jpg
USATI

Dusty Baker's postseason agonies and his Hall of Fame candidacy

Dusty Baker’s face tells a lot of different stories, but there is only one it tells in October.

Disappointment. Deflating, soul-crushing, hopeless disappointment.

With Thursday night’s National League Division Series defeat to the Chicago Cubs, the Washington Nationals have reinforced their place in the panoply of the capital’s legacy of failure.

But Baker’s agonies extend far further. His 3,500 games rank him 15th all-time, and only one manager above him, Gene Mauch, is not in the Hall of Fame. His 105 postseason games ranks seventh all-time, and his nine postseason appearances ranks sixth.

But his postseason record of 44-61 and no World Series titles curse him. He has been on the mailed backhand of eight series losses in 11 tries (plus a play-in game loss in 2013), and been marked by the media-ocracy as an old-school players’ manager who doesn’t wrap himself in the comforting embrace of statistical analysis.

He is now Marv Levy and Don Nelson – the good manager who can’t win the big one.

Only Levy and Nelson are in their respective halls of fame, and Baker probably won’t be. Having no World Series titles (his bullpen dying in 2002 being as close as he ever got) dooms him as it has doomed Mauch, although Mauch made his reputation as a brilliant tactician with bad teams.

But even if you take Baker’s worst metric – the postseason record – he still ranks in the 90th percentile of the 699 managers in the game’s history, though even then there’s the caveat of the 200 some-odd interim managers who you may choose not to count.

This is not to claim he should be in the Hall of Fame. This is to claim he should be discussed, if only to determine if reputations in the postseason are the only way managers are allowed to be evaluated. Because if that’s the case, Dusty Baker’s world-weary October face makes that conversation a very short one.

 

Golf is Tiger Woods, and the PGA Championship on Sunday confirmed that

tigerwoodspump.jpg
USATSI

Golf is Tiger Woods, and the PGA Championship on Sunday confirmed that

There are only 241 days of MegaTigerHype left until the 2019 Masters, which means 241 days for everyone on the PGA Tour to understand just how fully the sport they play.
 
They don’t play golf. They play Tiger. Put another way, America’s chosen prism reads Sunday’s PGA Championship as the day Brooks Koepka did well to almost match Woods, even though by the mathematics he actually beat him.
 
But you can’t hype Brooks Koepka, not yet. He is the younger Mike Trout still building his stage. Tiger is his own concert tour, and his own massive audience of golf fans, psychoanalysts and self-satisfied scolds.
 
And there is still big money in all those things.
 
It’s one thing to know something intellectually, of course – the old stove-is-hot lesson – but to see it and hear it is another thing. Golf is Tiger Woods, and the noise from Sunday confirmed that. Brooks Koepka is the new, young, not quite beloved Tiger, while Tiger is the avuncular, easier-mannered Nicklausian Tiger, and most of golfing America prefers what it’s used to seeing back in the good old days.
 
Tiger essentially did a medley of Tiger’s greatest hits on Sunday, and the album will sell millions. And after all, nobody breaks wallet locks quite like Tiger Woods.
 
Golf may be for the young athletically, but the audience is old and the audience wants to be told that what it believed 15 years ago is still true, no matter how youthfully the culture actually swings.
 
In that way, The Eldrick’s performance at the PGA Championship allows 40-Plus America to say, “See? See what I’ve been telling you?” And it also allows 20-Plus America to respond as it always does, by being in its room watching something else.
 
This, then, the real Tiger-ssance – the great instrument of change in golf getting his next star turn as the beating, money-churning heart of the establishment. He was the face of the next generation, but the next generation has been replaced by a new next generation, and that next generation has not yet decided what it feels about golf, let alone Brooks Koepka.
 
And let’s not forget that Tiger Woods was once a mightily polarizing figure himself, and that it took a decade of physical and emotional humbling for him to become the face of the good old days. Thus, at age 42, he has become not only a familiar face in new bloom, but an old and very familiar narrative point at the same time. He makes middle-aged people feel comfortable, which is the direct opposite of what he once did.
 
In short, Tiger Woods now understands the world’s infatuation with Jack Nicklaus when Woods was chasing his ghost. Not I-know-the-stove-is-hot intellectually, but in the most real way there is. Tiger Woods IS Jack Nicklaus, and that’s the weirdest sentence you will ever read 15 years ago.

Barry Bonds' number retirement actually matters a bit more than the usual marketing ploy

Barry Bonds' number retirement actually matters a bit more than the usual marketing ploy

Barry Bonds’ number retirement Saturday brings with it the usual rhetorical asterisks, most of them having to do with the one honorific he still doesn’t have and likely will never get.

But that is the Bondsian Paradox -- what do you get for the man who has everything except the thing he wants most?

The Giants have lavished him with awards specific to their franchise, as they should. He made a lot of people a lot of money in this town, and in a very cynical way that is the truest measuring stick of the modern world.

So with only one thing left to present him, the Giants have decided Saturday is the best day to retire the number 25, a number which, other than he and his father, has never brought much in the way of lasting memories to the franchise. Indeed, only one other Giant has worn that number for more than a decade, and that was Whitey Lockman while the team was still in New York.

So never mind the number. This is indeed about the name on the back, and how the organization’s gratitude for services rendered tends mostly to direct everyone’s attention to the elephant in the room.

The Hall of Fame.

Bonds has four years left in his quest before the task shifts to the far less forgiving Veterans Committee, which means that Saturday’s ceremony may be the highest level he reaches on the baseball honors list, as one of 199 players who have either had their numbers retired or initials commemorated in the pre-numeral days. For that reason alone, that may touch him in ways that it might not otherwise – that, and the fact that the Giants are re-acknowledging him for his contributions to the financial and reputational juggernaut that is this franchise.

(At this point, we take note of the fact that you may be shrieking “HGH!” at the top of your lungs in rebuttal, and you are certainly entitled to your righteous indignation; I just happen to have wearied of the argument. Hate him, like him, take little note of him, it matters not).

But Bonds’ path to the place he currently resides has been among the most tumultuous in modern sports/celebrity history, and he will be so regarded for the foreseeable future. As has always been true, his approval ratings diminish in concentric circles away from Third And King, and the nation seems less eager to reconsider his character than ever. He has been defined, probably for good, and barring different rules for Hall of Fame voting, so shall it remain.

Which is why his number retirement actually matters a bit more than the usual marketing ploy. The Giants can’t really immortalize him any more save a statue, which is almost certainly in the commissioning stage, or naming the field after him a la Rickey Henderson in Oakland, so this is probably the last stop for the Bonds honors train.

And he’s earned it all in the classically fiduciary definition of “earn.” The Giants are who they are in large part because of him, for good and ill, and while they cannot truly do enough to make up that debt, they may be out of ideas for how to do so.