CINCINNATI - Cincinnati Reds General Manager Walt Jocketty said it was “a very difficult decision” to replace manager Dusty Baker but a change was necessary “to move the organization forward.”
The final-week collapse sealed Baker’s fate, Jocketty said in an interview with 9 On Your Side Sports Director John Popovich.
“Basically it was something that we had been talking about - just the way the team had been playing the last few weeks,” Jocketty said. “There were a number of other factors involved, but it was after losing the last six games and losing that playoff game when the final decision was made.”
Jocketty said he went to Reds owner Bob Castellini with the recommendation to fire Baker.
“I discussed it with Bob and he gave me his thoughts and as the president and CEO of the club he makes the final decision,” Jocketty told Popovich.
When Popovich asked if Jocketty thought the Reds hadn’t played up to their capabilities under Baker this season, the GM replied:
"The one thing I want to make clear is we’re very appreciative of what Dusty was able to do here in the last six years and getting us into the postseason, but I think we felt it was time for a change and go in a different direction because we just didn’t feel like there was enough from the players the last few weeks of the season. I think it was evident a change was probably needed. I think there’s certainly enough blame to go around."
Right fielder Jay Bruce said the firing was “obviously a bit shocking. “
“I understand that it's a business, and when teams don't accomplish what's expected of them, there are changes, but any way you slice it, Dusty was an integral part of turning the organization around,” Bruce told MLB.com. "The Cincinnati Reds became relevant again with Dusty at the helm, and that's something people should never forget.
"From a personal standpoint, I'm thankful to have had Dusty there with me from the time I was 21 years old. He taught me so many valuable things about the game of baseball, things that have helped me become the player I am today, and I'm very appreciative of that. Aside from the on-field aspect, he took an interest in myself and the other players on a personal level that far exceeded the requirements of a manager."
Jocketty said pitching coach Bryan Price is a candidate to replace Baker and he would start interviews in a few weeks. The club did not announce any changes to the coaching staff.
Baker, 64, was relieved three days after his team lost the National League Wild Card game to Pittsburgh.
WCPO obtained an email from a minority owner of the team with the following message sent from Castellini at 7:48 a.m. Friday.
"Walt and I met with Dusty Baker and we, collectively, have decided it is time for Dusty to move on. We will begin the search for his replacement immediately."
Baker had one season left on a two-year contract he signed last October.
Baker guided the Reds into the playoffs three of the last four years, but they never advanced past the first round.
"We felt we had the talent to go further into the playoffs, yes," Jocketty said. "We had a lot of people outside the organization that felt we certainly did."
When Popovich asked Jocketty if Baker had lost control of the team, Jocketty replied:
“I think that could be a possibility. I don’t know if he lost control, but I think maybe the message just wasn’t clear enough to some guys ... They weren’t performing as well as they should.”
The Reds didn't seem as inspired as they should have been, either - not like the Pirates, Rays, Indians and other teams fighting for their playoff lives.
Other teams seemed to want to play for their manager, Popovich said, and Jocketty didn't disagree.
“I’ve seen that certainly with other clubs. I saw it here for a period of time. But I don’t think we saw it as much this year and certainly not toward the end,” Jocketty said.
Baker's health did not factor into the decision to replace him, Jocketty told Popovich.
“No, not at all,” Jocketty said.
ESPN baseball analyst Buster Olney said it wasn't just the quick playoff eliminations but also the front office's perception of the clubhouse and fears of losing ticket sales that contributed to Baker's ouster.
"I think there was a sense in the front office that the clubhouse had gotten staid, that there wasn’t enough of an edge to it,” Olney said on ESPN Friday morning.
The Reds had record attendance in Great American Ball Park this season and might have worried that keeping Baker would not inspire ticket buyers.
"There’s no question there was a lot of unhappiness in the fan base with Dusty as manager and I think when ownership decided to make this decision and to eat $4 million of his contract they probably had that in mind, too, whether Dusty was somebody they could sell to the fans going forward,” Olney said.
Cincinnati went 90-72 this season and finished third in the NL Central behind St. Louis and the Pirates. The Reds lost their final five games of the regular season and cost themselves a chance to host the Wild Card playoff elimination game, which they dropped 6-2 at Pittsburgh on Tuesday night.
Baker has managed 20 years in the majors with San Francisco, the Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati. His teams have won five division titles and he is a three-time NL Manager of the Year.
Baker took over the Reds in 2008 and revitalized them after more than a decade of missing the playoffs. He led Cincinnati to the NL Central crown in 2010, but the team got swept by Philadelphia. At the time, Baker became one of just six managers to win division titles with three teams, joining Billy Martin, Joe Torre, Tony La Russa, Lou Piniella and Davey Johnson.
The Reds won the NL Central in 2012, but Baker missed the celebration because he was hospitalized with an irregular heartbeat and a mini-stroke. He was admitted to a Chicago hospital during a road trip and missed 11 games.
Cincinnati then took a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five division series before losing three straight home games to San Francisco, the eventual World Series champion.