By Dave Wischnowsky–
It’s not easy being skipper of the Yankees. It’s no cakewalk coaching the Lakers. And when you assume the reigns of the Dallas Cowboys? Well, you can expect to catch a whole lot of heat in return.
But this week in an interview with Fox Sports columnist Jon Paul Morosi, former Chicago Cubs manager Dusty Baker made it sound as if being the leader of the Lovable Losers is the toughest job in professional sports.
So, is it?
“They turn over their managers pretty quick,” Baker, now the manager of the Cincinnati Reds, said about the Cubs organization. “They don’t stick with anybody for a period of time, because everybody’s counting – Year 100, Year 101, Year 102. There’s no such thing as a four- or five-year plan. It’s a one-year plan.”
Morosi pointed out that since 1972 only one Cubs manager – Jim Riggleman, oddly enough – has been able to survive inside the Friendly Confines for more than four full seasons. In fact, the Cubs gig has become so drenched in emotion, pressure – and curses? – that after a manager does get out at Wrigley, it’s been a challenge for him to get back in as a manager anywhere.
Don Baylor, who preceded Baker at Wrigley, still hasn’t managed another game in the majors since leaving the Cubs in 2002. Lou Piniella, who succeeded Baker, burned out and retired last season before the calendar even hit September. It’s highly unlikely Piniella will manage again.
Baker, meanwhile, spent one season out of baseball before returning in 2008 to manage the Reds. And this week, he laid into his critics in Chicago who said Baker doesn’t know how to handle pitchers. And he also complained that Cubs fans were too quick to dismiss how much injuries to Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee played a role in the poor performance of his last two teams in Chicago.
“It really hurt my reputation,” Baker told Morosi. “Ever since then, all of a sudden, ‘I don’t know how to manage. I don’t know how to handle pitchers. I don’t like young players.’ … They don’t even have a clue about it. I never heard that in San Francisco.
“I was one of the top managers around, supposedly, and then all of a sudden I don’t know (expletive), know what I mean? They (the critics) were always looking for something critical, ever since I went there (to Chicago).”
Now, I think Baker is largely remembering history in the way that he wants to remember it, and not necessarily in the way it truly happened. Dusty was embraced enormously in Chicago upon his arrival. But then he made his fair share of mistakes, and he deserved his fair share of criticism (even if he didn’t deserve to find human feces in the Cubs dugout, an incident that he claimed to Morosi occurred during his final season at Wrigley Field).
However, I also don’t discount that Baker had it tough on the North Side of the Winless City after the Cubs’ Game 6 implosion in 2003. In fact, I think that after that playoff failure against the Marlins, followed in 2004 by the Cubs’ late-September collapse and the Red Sox’s subsequent world championship, Baker’s job did indeed become the most difficult in pro sports.
Before Boston finally snapped the “Curse of the Bambino” in ’04, you could argue that managing the Red Sox was the toughest sports job in the country. And that was because of the mindset of the Boston fan base, which had always been far more fatalistic than their cheerfully cursed brethren in Chicago.
Until they finally won, Boston fans expected to lose, whereas Cubs fans hoped to win. That’s a big difference. But after the Bartman incident in 2003, the mood in Wrigleyville changed. Cubs fans became more frustrated, more demanding and less satisfied to just drink a few beers and catch some rays at Wrigley Field. They wanted to see wins, too – even if they didn’t really expect them.
Essentially, Cubs fans became Red Sox fans – or, what Red Sox fans used to be (they’re no different than Yankees fans now).
And since that mood swing, the pressure associated with being the manager of the Cubs has only intensified thanks to the playoff failures of ’07 and ’08. For baseball fans, it’s difficult to truly get mad when your team never makes the playoffs (see: Pittsburgh, Kansas City). But it’s easy to get mad when your team does make the playoffs and then totally flops, as the Cubs have done with regularity during the past decade.
Now, we’ll find out soon enough if the unassuming Mike Quade is the right guy to finally pop the balloon in Wrigleyville and relieve more than a century of stress. But until that happens (if it happens), I’ll leave the Cubs at the top of my list of the toughest jobs in sports.
Although, considering the February that he’s endured so far, Tony LaRussa just might beg to differ with me today.
Do you agree with Dave? Post your comments below.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com.