As critical as I have been of Baker, I actually am not yet ready to join the "Fire Him Tomorrow" crowd. I just don't see the failings of the 2006 Cubs to be Baker-induced. No Prior, no Wood, no Lee, no offense from Ramirez, Pierre or Jones - these things are not Dusty's fault. Murton (up until now) and Cedeno have played every day. I really don't get the argument that we are seeing the results of a team filled with Dusty-style players. Who are they? Lee? Ramirez? Walker? Barrett? Cedeno? Murton? Dempster? Zambrano? Maddux? Is Jones more
of a Dusty Player than Burnitz was? (Pierre over Patterson, sure, I'll give you that.) If anything, the fundamental play of the team has improved over last year while the number of seemingly random and innane managerial decisions has declined, at least from my vantage point.
Most fundamental, if we were to fire Baker tomorrow, who would replace him? Another Bruce Kimm? If we can't entice Bobby Valentine or Lou Pinella to take over, who is there that we could get, mid-season, that would be worth having? While we should have fired him last year, I don't think that firing Dusty now would accomplish anything more than a hollow, token gesture to fans demanding immediate but half-baked solutions to problems that extend wider and deeper than our choice of toothpick-tasters. Replacing Baker with Matthews, Rothschild or Clines would be meaningless.
And all that said, I don't want Baker around for 2007. With that in mind, here are the first 15 questions I would ask a prospective Cubs manager, before even bothering to entering into discussions about specific personel. What would you ask? How would you answer?
1. What sort of player would you rather have as your lead-off hitter: A Scott Podsednik style player who has lots of speed and can bunt, but doesnít have much power and doesnít have a strong on-base-percentage, or a Kevin Youkilis style player who has a bit of power and gets on base at a high rate, but canít bunt or run?
2. Should every player on your roster have a designated role, like the 8th inning guy, the closer, the first pinch-hitter off the bench, the starting left-fielder and the backup left-fielder?
3. What is your approach towards balancing the need to protect the health of pitchers, especially young ones, and the need to have your best pitchers on the mound as often as possible?
4. Roughly speaking, how long and how severely must a starting player be slumping before he loses his status as a starter? To what extent do you factor in the playerís previous record of performance? How about your teamís ìcloserî?
5. You are given a rookie with a track record of success in the minors and who displays some talent, but also is not a bona fide ìcanít missî star. How do you go about integrating this player into your major league club so as to best balance your teamís need to win games with the organizationís need to evaluate the rookieís future with the club?
6. How much autonomy should the Manager have from the General Manager over the following matters: roster and line-up construction, playing time, starting pitchersí workload, in-game strategies?
7. Give me three plausible scenarios where a bunt is the appropriate play, and three where it is not.
8. Which figure of each of these pairs best represents the managerís role in promoting team chemistry: The Sergeant or the teacher? The conductor or the metronome? The preacher or the counselor? Explain.
9. Continuing with chemistry: Under what circumstances, if any, is it the right decision to trade or release a productive but difficult, unpopular, insubordinate or controversial player? Under what circumstances is it the right decision to bench him?
10. To what extent should a major league manager be held responsible for his playersí ìfundamentalsî? If given a fundamentally unsound baserunner, how do you go about correcting him?
11. Go home and review the videotape of Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series. What does this game tell you about the psyche and the expectations of Chicago Cubs fans? What does this game tell you about the managerial strengths and weaknesses of Dusty Baker? What single event or decision do you think was of the greatest consequence in our loss? What, if anything, would you have done differently in managing this game?
12. Name three managers, current or historical, whom you admire. Why?
13. How many years away do you believe this organization is from being a regular, stable contender for a championship, and what remains to be done to get to that point?
14. What is the proper role of the beat writers following the Cubs? What are the Managerís responsibilities as the public face and voice of the Chicago Cubs, and by extension, a representative of the Tribune Company?
15. In one minute, without using your hands, a computer, puppets, clay models, mimes, or any other visual aids, describe the theory and practice of the double-switch.