Wednesday, October 25, 2006 Updated: October 26, 12:08 PM ET
Dusty is perfect for San Fran
By Jeff Pearlman Special to Page 2
This will never happen.
That's the first thing one must say. The San Francisco Giants will never, ever, ever, ever, ever rehire Dusty Baker as their manager. Not if Baker promises to bring Albert Pujols, Johan Santana and Jose Reyes to the Bay Area. Not if Baker is named Genius of the Decade by Mensa. Not even if Jesus himself appears at Peter Magowan's bedside, commanding him to "Return Dusty and restore goodness to our world!"
Baker's tenure with the Cubs ended ugly.
There are simply too many hard feelings left over from Baker's 10-year tenure; too many petty he-said, she-said lingerings to resolve.
But it should happen.
I know I know. Dusty Baker did a pretty damn miserable job with the Chicago Cubs, a team that went 66-96 this past season despite being picked by many (me, ahem, included) to challenge for the NL Central title. In his four seasons at the helm, Baker won one divisional title -- otherwise finishing third, fourth and (yikes) sixth. His teams seemed listless and indifferent; a group of million-dollar ballplayers all too willing to tune out their manager.
But wait. Please, wait. Truth be told, Dusty Baker was to Chicago what Sacha Baron Cohen is to Huntsville; what a Geo Metro is to a Lexus dealer. He just didn't fit, and it was obvious from the get-go. The Windy City is a Wham! Bam! Pow! sort of town, where terms like "chill" and "take it easy" get beaten down by men with rumpled Butkus jerseys and oozing cigars. It's a place where criticism hits harder than the first blizzard; where columnists unload on managers with unbridled vigor. Baker might have looked the part in Cubbie blue and white, but he was doomed from the first time he picked up a copy of the Chicago Sun-Times and saw himself ripped to shreads. You see, the men
who make it work in Chicago are, for the most part, men who don't put too much emphasis on what's said/written. Mike Ditka. Lovie Smith. Phil Jackson. Dallas Green. And so on and so on.
Baker, on the other hand, has the skin thickness of a garter snake. By the time he left town, he seemed to hold a grudge against every player, executive and member of the media in town. In some cities (Milwaukee, Phoenix, Seattle, etc.), that sort of attitude can fly. But not in New York or Philadelphia, and certainly not in Chicago. It's the kiss of death.
Baker in happier days with the Giants.
San Francisco ain't Chicago. It's a relatively mellow metropolis that began adoring Baker the minute he was named skipper in 1993. Unlike others in his profession, in San Francisco, Baker was able to balance being both one of the guys and the man in charge. Like players, he wore wristbands. Like players, he did time in the back of the airplane. Like players, he bragged and talked trash and made himself accessible to any member of the club -- whenever, wherever. During his 10 years managing the Giants, Baker won three division titles and came just short of winning the 2002 World Series. With rare exception, it is impossible to find a Giants player who didn't like working for Baker. With rare exception, it is impossible to find a Giants beat writer who didn't enjoy covering Baker.
He was the perfect manager for that team. Still is.
Unfortunately, life never imitates utopia. The Giants are owned by Magowan, a man who likes to give credit -- just, well, not that much credit. By the end of the 2002 season, those close to the former Safeway CEO said that he was fed up with Baker receiving so much praise, that the man who put the $ in Giant$ felt he was being overlooked and underappreciated. As a result, Baker's final days in San Francisco were filled with rumors and bitterness and backstabbing. Suddenly, the genius who managed the Giants back to respectability was easily replaceable. Dusty? What Dusty? We've got Felipe Alou!
Well, here we are, four years later, and the Giants are a mess. San Francisco won 151 games total the past two seasons under Alou, and a roster once bubbling with talent now reads like an old-age home (Barry Bonds? Check! Matt Morris? Check! Ray Durham? Check!)
The Giants don't need a hot young managerial prospect, or a stern disciplinarian such as Buck Showalter or Don Baylor. No, what they need is a man who has done this before, who knows how to take the Giants and turn them into winners, who is San Francisco.
They need Dusty Baker.
(But don't hold your breath.)
Jeff Pearlman is a former Sports Illustrated senior writer and the author of "Love Me, Hate Me: Barry Bonds & the Making of an Antihero."