The Pallilog

Now that he is officially hired, how will Dusty Baker work out for the Astros?

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Jim Crane going with Dusty Baker as the Astros' manager for 2020 drew out many Dusty Dissers. If you are one of them I'll call you Francis. As in Sergeant Hulka in Stripes: "Lighten up Francis."

Dusty Baker is a solid hire. Or, given his legal name is Johnny B. Baker, a good hire. Yes he's 70 years old. But Dusty won't be trying to score from second base on singles, or last six innings as a starting pitcher. He last managed in 2017. He's been out two seasons. Two. Not 12. The Astros become Baker's fifth different franchise to manage. He took the prior four to the postseason a total of nine times over 22 seasons, including the Giants to the 2002 World Series.

He's never been a master strategist. That's not critical (though can matter more in the postseason). Baker's handling of pitchers has fairly been called into question. Well, that is mitigated with Brent Strom remaining on staff as the pitching coach.

Where Baker has always impressed is as a leader of men. As I put it last week, I've always thought Dusty's teams took on his personality of upbeat and intense. The Astros have great talent. They're going to have to deal with season long fallout and derision from the cheating scandal. Baker has the temperament to helm the ship through some stormy seas. When with the Giants he dealt with Barry Bonds. When with the Cubs he dealt with Sammy Sosa and the aftermath of "the Bartman game."

Baker only gets a one season guarantee, with the Astros holding an option for 2021. I wonder how interesting A.J. Hinch finds that. The 2020 vision is clear: if the Astros don't have a highly successful 2020, Dusty Baker is a one and done manager. Borrowing from Bill Parcells, Baker isn't buying green bananas. His hire is a short play. If hugely successful and hence a longer play, win-win.

Texans disconnected

I think we all get why so many people are upset, or furious, or laughing, at Cal McNair cementing Bill O'Brien's power as Texans' Head Coach and General Manager. Over O'Brien's six seasons the other three AFC South teams have reached the AFC Championship Game. The Texans, not close. With the exception of Bill Belichick (and maybe Andy Reid and Jon Gruden) O'Brien is now the most powerful Head Coach in the NFL.

In McNair's press release statement celebrating the formalization of O'Brien's enhanced job title he claimed the 2019 Texans had "many thrilling victories at home." That's as ridiculous as the power Emperor O has amassed, and frankly feeds right into the belief of many that the franchise's quality standards fall lamely short. The playoff rally against the Bills and finally beating the Patriots again qualify as thrilling. The Texans other "thrilling home victories" came over the Falcons (finished 7-9), Jaguars (6-10), Raiders (7-9) and Colts (7-9). Cal omitted an adjective characterizing the home losses to the Panthers (5-11) and Broncos (7-9). And one for the third humiliating postseason loss of the O'Brien era.

At least one of the existing 32 franchises (almost certainly several of them) will not next win a Super Bowl until SB LXXXV at the very earliest. What percentage chance do you give Houston of snapping its 0 for all-time status with regard to reaching The Big Game?

Oh yes, the Super Bowl

Until kickoff Sunday the Chiefs last played in a Super Bowl 50 seasons ago (their lone SB win). The 49ers last reached it with Colin Kaepernick at quarterback. Seems like 20 years ago. It was seven years ago. A win gives the Niners a sixth Lombardi Trophy and ties them with the Patriots and Steelers for most ever. The Chiefs favored by a point or point and a half makes this just the fourth Super Bowl with a point spread lower than two. I lean Niners. They have the pass rush to disrupt Patrick Mahomes much more so than the feeble Texans' rush and the Titans' mediocre rush. For the Niners' sake they better disrupt. No secondary has enough good cover people to handle the Chiefs' weaponry.

Are the Rockets still here?


The general lack of interest in the Rockets is alarming, though not as much so as James Harden's shooting coma over his last 10 games. The Rockets' season to date certainly isn't bad at 29-18, but they just aren't that good this season. They enter the weekend tied for the 11th best record in the NBA. Meh. Tied with the Mavericks, against whom the Rockets catch a huge break Friday night with the absence of 20 year old superstar Luka Doncic thanks to a sprained ankle.

​Buzzer Beaters

1. More potent 1-2 punch: Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce during the Super Bowl, or Jennifer Lopez and Shakira during halftime of the Super Bowl? 2.Most important things in life, as reminded by Kobe Bryant's tragic death coupled with the loss of eight other lives: the people in your life, and health. 3. Best Baker songs: Bronze-Michelle Pfeiffer "Makin' Whoopee" in The Fabulous Baker Boys Silver-Gerry Rafferty "Baker Street" Gold-Anita Baker "Sweet Love"


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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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