Dusty Baker probably gets a bit too much credit for the Cubs' collapse in 2004. Managers, as a rule, can affect their teams in certain nebulous ways, but not nearly as much as most people think. They aren't like football coaches, whose supposed strategic complexities make them the be-all end-all of their teams' success or failure. In baseball, pretty much everyone manages the same way, and those that don't are often ridiculed for not doing things by "the book."
Still, there are things that managers can do to preserve the long term chances of their team's success, and one of those is how they approach pitch counts. For as much as old-timey baseball people deride it, it's been proven time and again by baseball statisticians: young pitchers who go over 100 pitches too often offer suffer breakdowns. (They also usually -- but not always -- suffer immediate dropoffs in velocity and accuracy in the same games. It's sort of creepy how often this happens.)
So Dusty Baker, for all the incoherent blame, does deserve to be hated in Chicago for one reason: He showed no mercy toward Kerry Wood and Mark Prior. Once the lights of the Cubs organization, Wood is now a revitalized closer (with significantly less on his fastball) and Prior can't even put a single mound session together. Baker shares some of the blame for that.
So what could be better than this, really: Dusty wants to re-unite with Kerry Wood in Cincinnati. Pains are shooting up and down Wood's shoulder as we speak:
"We have a closer already in [ Francisco] Cordero, who we have under contract for a few more years," Baker said Monday. "But somebody can use Kerry Wood. I am going to call him. I like Kerry Wood as a person, not just as a ballplayer, but as a person. I will give him a call and see what's up."
"We will probably address that while we are down there. It depends on a lot of stuff," Baker said. "I have to talk to Kerry first. He did a pretty good job for the Cubs."
Fortunately for Wood, the Reds just signed Francisco Cordero last year, so any signing of Wood would likely be as a setup guy, and basically the whole thing doesn't make sense. Also fortunate for Wood: It's pretty hard to force your closer to throw 130 pitches a game. But somehow, we trust that Dusty would find a way.