SPILLING INTO THE MAINSTREAM
Growing frustrations with Astros manager not lost on the national media
Daryl Morey was general manager of the Houston Rockets from 2007 to 2020. During Morey’s tenure, it’s true that the team never had a losing regular season record and won several division titles. But in the long run, the Rockets never won a Western Conference title or NBA championship while Morey called the shots.
Yet there was a saying around Houston media circles … “in Morey we trust.” Perhaps it was because Morey was a wisecracking quote machine, was always available for interviews, and knew how to work the room.
Now let’s have a look at Dusty Baker’s record as Houston Astros manager: three American League Championship Series appearances, two World Series appearances and one World Series championship (and aiming for another Fall Classic).
Yet nobody’s saying “in Dusty we trust.” In fact it’s open season for sniping and moaning about Baker’s stewardship of the Astros. Some sample comments from social media this past week:
“This Astros loss is squarely on Dusty Baker for putting out the stupidest lineup I have seen all season.”
“There’s a reason Dusty Baker has been fired four times in his career.”
“Another loss because Dusty Baker refuses to put our best lineup on the field.”
“Dusty Baker continues to set lineups like we’re in Week 2 of spring training.”
“Dusty Baker is the single worst decision maker in baseball. I’m actually speechless.”
“Goofy ass old man.”
Like I said, three Conference Championship Series appearances, two World Series appearances, one World Series title, and fans are still all over Baker’s butt. But why?
I’ll let Fox baseball play-by-play announcer Joe Davis explain why – straight from last week’s Fox national telecast of an Astros-Yankees game.
Davis said: “There may not be a wider gap in opinions of a player between a fan base and a manager than there is about Martin Maldonado. Astros fans are clamoring to have Yanier Diaz catch more. Dusty Baker is steadfast that Maldonado is his guy.”
You’ll never hear anything like that on a local Astros broadcast because Astros game announcers are employees of the Astros - and they’d like to remain employees.
But thanks to Fox and announcer Davis, now the whole country knows what’s been driving Astros fans batty all season. It’s Maldonado’s bat. He’s hitting an anemic .177 with lots of strikeouts and stranded runners. Diaz, a rookie, is hitting .276 with more walks, fewer strikeouts, more home runs and RBI than Maldy despite having fewer plate appearances.
Baker’s explanation: Yanier has trouble hitting lefties.
Astros fans might say that Maldonado has trouble hitting lefties, righties, pitching machines, tee ball, coed softball, whatever. His career batting average is .206 and he’s still having a down year.
For all the talk of Maldonado’s defensive wizardry, he’s leading the league in passed balls and the man they call Machete is below the league average in cutting down base stealers. So far he’s thrown out 13 of 67, or 19 percent, of steal attempts.
Diaz has no passed balls and has thrown out 10 of 28, or 36 percent, of potential base stealers in his limited action behind the plate.
But what about Maldonado’s genius for calling a game? Pitchers Justin Verlander and Framber Valdez love the guy.
Fans wonder, though, if Astros pitchers love watching Maldonado bat in late innings of close games and striking out with runners on base. As for calling a game, there’s no rule in baseball that says only catchers can call for fastballs and sliders.
In fact, when Roger Craig was managing the Giants to the National League pennant in 1987 he called pitches from the dugout. It’s not that rare, actually. You often see young or inexperienced catchers peering into the dugout for pitch selection. Maldonado could call the pitches from the bench.
Here’s one I’ll bet you didn’t know: One season late in his career Cal Ripken called pitches for some Baltimore Orioles pitchers from his infield position. Ripken knew opposing hitters’ habits and tendencies better than anybody on the O’s coaching staff.