Sometimes you can't really know what you're watching.When Earl Weaver's Orioles beat Sparky Anderson's Reds in the 1970 World Series, they barely had three years' managerial experience between them.There was no way to know they would distinguish themselves to the point of being among the 23 managers in the Hall
Sometimes you can't really know what you're watching.
When Earl Weaver's Orioles beat Sparky Anderson's Reds in the 1970 World Series, they barely had three years' managerial experience between them.
There was no way to know they would distinguish themselves to the point of being among the 23 managers in the Hall of Fame. But when you get highly experienced, highly successful managers opposing each other in October, you know you really have something.
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That's the case in the National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile between the Cubs and the Nationals. Joe Maddon and Dusty Baker, in some ways the yin and the yang of contemporary managers, will look to add to resumes that have both of them trending toward Cooperstown.
Maddon and Baker aren't longtime friends, but they probably should be. They have much more in common than it might seem from the surface, with a mutual love for baseball and people bridging the gulf between Baker's decorated career in the Major Leagues and Maddon's brief stay as a Minor League catcher.
Baker is 68 and still wears wristbands to work. He seems like a guy who might pinch-hit himself some time. Maddon is 63 and recently almost let a foul ball hit him in the head because he was preoccupied with a chart in his hand.
Both are incredibly smart and find ways to embrace new experiences while honoring their backgrounds and the people who made them who they are. They're fiercely loyal and protective of their players, who more often than not thrive under their leadership.
Maddon was an early adopter in his use of analytic data, but he's much more of a regular guy than a brainiac. He and Baker are both lovers of classic automobiles and music from the '60s and '70s. They both know how to order a fine wine (Baker has his own label; Maddon owns an Italian restaurant). They've both spent their share of time on beaches in California but never together, as their paths haven't crossed in a way that would connect them.
You know they'd have some great conversations if they ever got started talking.
"Strong opinions, opinionated,'' Maddon said about Baker. "I like that because I am, too. He's a strong guy.''
This intersection of two A-list managers is one more element that makes Cubs-Nationals as attractive as a preliminary round series can be. It has everything -- young stars like Kristopher Bryant and Bryce Harper, still-going-strong veterans like Ryan Zimmerman and Benjamin Zobrist, deep rotations including former Cy Young Award winners Max Scherzer and Jacob Arrieta, and also arguably the greatest road show in baseball history.
It's going to be interesting to see how much blue is on display in the seats at Nationals Park for Game 1 tonight. Progressive Field in Cleveland seemed split between Indians and Cubs fans for Game 7 of the World Series last November.
"When I was a kid, I always thought the greatest traveling band was the Grateful Dead,'' said TBS broadcaster Ron Darling, the former Mets pitcher. "Their ability to attract so many people from all over the globe who just love the Cubbies and can't wait to sing the song after a victory. I don't know, it's inspiring really, how loyal that fan base is. For them to win it twice, there would be more heart attacks in Chicago than ever before. But they've got a real chance.''
The Cubs have been in business since president of baseball operations Theo Epstein made a bold move, snatching Maddon away from the Rays three years ago.
Maddon had taken the Rays to the World Series in 2008, his third year on the job, after almost being hired to manage the Red Sox in '04, when Epstein hired Terry Francona. Maddon was 51 when he got his chance, having spent almost three decades working for the Angels in almost every capacity possible.
Maddon was Mike Scioscia's bench coach in 2002, when the Angels recovered in dramatic fashion to beat Baker's Giants in the World Series. Those losses in Games 6 and 7 forced Baker to continue to chase his first championship, in his 22nd season as a manager.
He ranks 14th all time with 1,863 regular-season victories, including 97 this season. He's been unlucky in October, enduring the Bartman game with the 2003 Cubs and the 97-win Reds' inability to put away the Wild Card Giants in a great NLDS in '12. But nothing was as unfortunate for Baker as Giants' closer Robb Nen blowing out his elbow in that World Series against the Angels.
Nen's velocity was down so much in Game 5 at Pac Bell Park that the Giants stopped showing pitch speed on the scoreboard. When Baker turned to him with a 5-4 lead in the eighth inning of Game 6, he gave up a two-run double to Troy Glaus on his fourth pitch.
"When Glausy got that hit to left-central, that wasn't [Nen's] typical slider,'' Maddon said. "We knew he was not 100 percent at that time. But then again, you never know. … I do believe if Nen had been Nen it might have had a different outcome.''
Maddon's first two teams in Tampa Bay lost 101 and 96 games. but he's had winning records in nine of the past 10 seasons, raising his career winning percentage to .529. He's 292-193 in three seasons with the Cubs, guiding them to the NL Championship Series in 2015 before breaking the franchise's 108-year championship drought last year.
Baker's trademark as a manager is a willingness to ride his top starters into the late innings. Nationals pitchers have thrown 115-plus pitches 13 times this season, and nobody else even reached 10.
Maddon has become known for a quick hook in October, playing the matchups out of the bullpen as early as the fifth inning even when the starter is staying clear of trouble. He was widely criticized for overusing Albertin Chapman against the Indians in the World Series, but seemed to enjoy the parade just fine.
Maybe this time the baseball gods will be on Baker's side. It's going to be a blast watching these two men work.
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com.