CINCINNATI — The Reds fired Dusty Baker on Friday, parting ways with the manager who led them to their best stretch of success since the Big Red Machine but couldn’t get them past the first round of the postseason.
The move came after the Reds lost the wild-card playoff in Pittsburgh 6-2 on Tuesday night, ending the season with their sixth straight loss. He had a year left on his two-year deal.
The final-week fade was a major factor in the decision, general manager Walt Jocketty said in a phone interview.
“Just the way we played lately was a factor,” Jocketty said. “But I think the way the season ended was kind of the final decision.
“The last six games certainly played a big part in this,” he added.
Fans at Great American Ball Park were rough on Baker and the players during that final, futile homestand. Outfielder Ryan Ludwick noted the lack of support, and Baker felt it, too.
“Maybe the time is long enough because I was starting to get quite a few jeers and some hate mail and stuff,” Baker said during a conference call. “So maybe it was time for me to move on.”
The Reds are the fourth team with an opening at manager. Davey Johnson retired after the Nationals’ season, Eric Wedge left the Mariners and the Cubs fired Dale Sveum after finishing last in the NL Central.
Baker took over a rebuilding team in 2008 and led it to three 90-win seasons and three playoff appearances in the last four years, their best run since Sparky Anderson managed the Big Red Machine to two World Series titles in the 1970s.
Cincinnati couldn’t get past the opening round of the playoffs, however, building pressure for change.
“We appreciate what Dusty did here for six years and getting us to where we were,” Jocketty said. “Although he’s the one that ran the club every day, there are a lot of areas we can look at that could be to blame here, including the front office, the players, the coaching staff. It’s not only just Dusty.
“We felt it was important going forward to provide new leadership, a new voice, whatever you want to call it,” he added.
Baker had expected to return for the second year on his deal. The firing surprised him.
“Maybe it’s something I said, maybe something I didn’t say along the way,” Baker said. “I know I had a conversation with Walt that they were going to look to replace (hitting coach) Brook Jacoby, and I was like, ‘Oh, no, Brook’s not doing anything as one of my coaches that deserved that.’ It wasn’t an ultimatum, but I just said, ‘Hey, man, if we get rid of Brook, you might as well get rid of me, too.’
“The next thing I was called up to the office,” Baker continued. “I thought I was going to discuss Brook’s future and the rest of the coaches’ future, and I was told my services were no longer needed.”
The 64-year-old manager didn’t get to celebrate the Reds’ last two playoff clinching wins. Last year, he was in a hospital in Chicago recovering from an irregular heartbeat and a mini-stroke when the Reds wrapped up the NL Central title in Cincinnati.
They decided not to celebrate when they clinched a wild card this year with a 90-72 record, hoping for that deep run in the playoffs. Instead, they lost their last five games of the regular season at Great American Ball Park to finish third in the division and lose out on home-field advantage for the wild card game.
Baker went 509-463 in his six seasons with Cincinnati, finishing third on the Reds’ list for wins by a manager behind Anderson (863) and Bill McKechnie (744). His 1,671 career wins ran 16th on the career list. He won three NL Manager of the Year awards.
His health is good and he hopes to manage again.
“I’ve got a lot to offer somebody,” he said. “I know it, and I think they know it, too.”
The former Braves and Dodgers star outfielder is one of only six managers to win at least 300 games with three different teams. He took the Giants, Cubs and Reds to the playoffs seven times without winning a World Series.
His closest brush came in 2002 with the Giants, who beat the Braves and the Cardinals before losing to the Angels in a seven-game World Series. He’s 19-26 all-time in the postseason.
His successor in Cincinnati will take the job with enormous expectations from the outset.
Baker led the Reds out of one of their worst stretches in franchise history. After Johnson led them to the NL championship series in 1995, the bottom fell out. They failed to reach the playoffs under managers Ray Knight, Jack McKeon, Bob Boone, Dave Miley and Jerry Narron, going 15 years without a postseason appearance.
They won the division in 2010 with a young lineup that developed faster than expected, and got swept by Philadelphia in the first round of the playoffs — a disappointment that was counted as a first step in building a championship team.
They won 97 games last year, the second-most in the majors and their highest total since the 1975-76 World Series championships. They won their first two playoff games in San Francisco, but dropped three straight in Cincinnati for a stunning exit.
Baker led the Reds to 90 wins again this season — the eighth time one of his teams won 90 — but the offense went into a deep slump in the final week. The Pirates swept a three-game series in Cincinnati over the weekend to clinch home-field advantage for the wild-card game, then finished them off at raucous PNC Park.
A rough ending to a tough season all around for a team with much greater expectations.
“We felt we had the talent to go further into the playoffs, yes,” Jocketty said. “We had a lot of people outside the organization that felt we certainly did.”
The Reds plan to compile a list of managerial candidates next week. Jocketty said pitching coach Bryan Price and Jim Riggleman, who managed at Triple-A Louisville, would be among the in-house candidates considered. The coaching staff will be retained until the next manager is chosen.
Jocketty teamed with Tony La Russa to win championships in St. Louis. La Russa retired after the Cardinals won the World Series in 2011.
“I don’t think he even wants to manage anymore,” Jocketty said. “I don’t think that will be a factor.”
Asked whether he had any interest in returning to manage, La Russa said by phone, “No. The last time I saw Walt, he said he’d had more than enough of me.”
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