"I find it difficult to believe any other first-place manager, in any sport, is as second-guessed as Dusty Baker."

"” Clear Channel sports talk-show host Lance McAlister

The 20-something brother and sister from Cincinnati were sitting in a hotel lobby near Malibu, Calif., drinking beers while decompressing from a cousin's wedding.

Naturally, the after-midnight conversation eventually turned to the Queen City's favorite topic "” why the Reds' Dusty Baker is a lousy manager.

This particular day, as it has been for two years now, the reason was his lineups. The complaints were familiar.

"How can he bat Drew Stubbs so high in the order? Why isn't Chris Heisey playing instead of Stubbs? Ryan Hanigan should be batting
second. Todd Frazier needs to play every day, even after Joey Votto comes back. Dusty should move Jay Bruce to center field and play Frazier in right."

If not heard over beers or in backyards over brats, the sentiments are as close as the nearest radio, computer or cellphone.

Never mind that, at that moment, Baker's Reds enjoyed the largest lead in the standings and the second-best record in Major League Baseball. Baker had guided them masterfully through two of their most challenging stretches. Cincinnati went 32-16 without Votto, who owns one Most Valuable Player award and was in line for another when he was injured, and 22-12 over a grueling run of 34 games in 34 days during what are known as the "dog days" of August.

Baker, 63, already had led the 2010 team to the National League Central Division title, the franchise's first championship of any kind in 15 years, and its first winning record since 2000. In his fifth season, he was likely to pass Pete Rose for sixth place in career wins by Cincinnati managers by the end of the season. By every measurement, he'd done a pretty good job.

Introduce that evidence to the chat, and the response is predictable.

"Yeah, but ..." That should be the manager's nickname — Dusty "Yeah, but" Baker.

Yeah, but there's this: That the Reds are seen by many to win in spite of Baker and lose because of him doesn't matter to him. Baker knows he's never going to convince critics, so he doesn't waste his time.

Dusty's Not Worried

"You aren't going to get it, so I'm not worried about it," he says. "If people want to find fault, they're going to find fault. I do the best job I can do every day. I work hard. I'm as straightforward as I can be. I tell my players the same thing. You don't have to satisfy anybody but God, family and myself. Those are the three entities you can't fool."

Folks inside the Reds organization wish fans could see the work Baker puts into his lineups "” the scouting reports he studies and personal observations he records in notes of tiny handwriting while juggling injuries, who needs a day off, who is hot or not, whose batting strength does or doesn't match up against the style of that day's pitcher, what kind of defense his starting pitcher needs, and on and on. His players would like critics to get to know Baker off the field.

"It's unbelievable what he does, off the field and on the field," pitcher Bronson Arroyo says.

"Bringing food to guys. 'You're sick, I'm going to give you this.' Sending flowers to somebody's mom wh'™s not feeling well. It's ridiculous. To me, that part that other people don't know about — he's far and away the greatest guy I've ever been around in the game.

"The other stuff he gets criticized for is the type of stuff everybody gets criticized for "” par for the course. At the end of the day, when it comes to just the baseball stuff, you should be measured by wins and losses, and we're having an unbelievable season. There shouldn't be one bad thing being said about him in the social media, period."

Blame Facebook

Baker might be as much a victim of technology as anything. Reds Hall of Fame broadcaster Marty Brennaman isn't convinced that fans are more critical of Baker than they were of any other manager in his 39-year tenure. That is, those not named Sparky Anderson or Pete Rose. Brennaman does allow for the possibility that irate fans seem louder and their numbers larger because of talk radio, Facebook and Twitter.

"The thing that always bothers me is people who support you are less inclined to call or write than the people who have a problem with you," Brennaman says..

Clear Channel talk-show host Lance McAlister, who has programs on two local radio stations, hears it as much as anybody.

"I find it difficult to believe any other first-place manager, in any sport, is as second-guessed as Dusty Baker," McAlister says. "He is about to become the first Reds manager since Sparky Anderson to take the Reds to the playoffs twice, and yet, I get calls, emails and Tweets that he should be fired for his lineup?

"I've never seen anything like the daily 'Lineup Angst' this fan base goes through. It seems like some fans are ready to pounce with complaints as soon as the lineup is released. What's funny is that I've heard complaints before all 137 games, yet I don't recall any lineup complaints, or even compliments, after the 84 wins."

Toughened by Chicago

One reason Baker can shake it off here is what he's experienced elsewhere "” specifically Chicago. In the first of his four seasons as manager of the Cubs, he had them five outs away from their first trip to a World Series since 1945. Despite that, he'll forever be remembered as allegedly ruining the arms and careers of pitchers Kerry Wood and Mark Prior. That's unfair, according to long-time Cubs beat writer Carrie Muskat.

"I never understood why fans and some media fell out of love for Dusty so quickly, considering what he did with the team in '03," says Muskat, who works for mlb.com. "Wood, for sure, would tell you he'd run through a wall for the guy."

"I got used to being blasted every day, all day," Baker says. "Whatever's happening here, this is nothing compared to what I've been through."