Time to bury the hatchet

Originally Published: April 29, 2003
By Ray Ratto | Special to ESPN.com

The Giants already had a forced reunion earlier this month, and it went somewhat less seamlessly than the marketing department would have liked.

Jeff Kent came back to San Francisco as a Houston Astro, and as a Houston Astro who did not leave on cheery terms. His former employer, Peter Magowan, offered pointed rebuttals, and the predictable wave of bad feeling ruined what by rights should have been a thanks-for-the-memories fest.

AP Photo/Eric RisbergKeep Dusty Baker away from the bats when Peter Magowan takes his seat at Pac Bell Park.
So one can only imagine how the Giants will screw up Dusty Baker's return Tuesday night. After all, Magowan didn't like Jeff Kent. His relationship with Baker was far more toxic, by his own design and choosing. He should be a lot more ashamed of himself than you know he will be.

The question of how bitter Baker should be upon his return, though, is more complicated than a simple, "Wouldn't you?"

For one, it wasn't as though Baker didn't have a fallback position. Granted, it wasn't the one he might have chosen first (Baker is, after all, a West Coaster by birth and disposition, and Chicago is a long way from the Bay Area in more ways than anyone from either part of the country can possibly know), but it wasn't as though he ended up jobless. In fact, he ended up on his feet, nearly doubling his salary and being handed a potentially A's-like starting rotation.

For two, he got 10 years in the same town, in an industry where three years is average and five is an endorsement.

For three, he got to work with a superb general manager in Brian Sabean, with whom he developed a pointedly successful working relationship that elevated both men.

And for four, he had stayed about as long as he could, or should. He'd succeeded, more than anyone could have dreamed when he was hired and more than anyone would have thought possible after the playoff loss to the Mets in 2000, and yet there was always room.

It had been clear for the better half of that decade that he and Magowan were visceral antagonists, and that even common sense would not serve to repair a relationship needlessly ruined by misplaced ego.

And in fairness, Baker could get and keep his back up for years at a time. He and Magowan grew to distrust each other as early as 1996, and he might have been fired after 1997 if not for the playoff appearance the Giants attained that year, or in 2000 if they hadn't won the division title. Even really good managers are still employees, after all.

But baseball is also remarkably egalitarian, in that personality issues are almost always superceded by performance.

So in sum, Magowan started grousing about Baker, his managerial style and his penchant for drawing praise. Somewhere in 1996, Baker got wind of it, because with the Giants, there are no secrets, and Baker is a man anyone can cross ... once.

Five years with a boss you dislike and who dislikes you is plenty. In fact, woe betide those people in that situation who don't have Baker's options.

So bitter? Maybe down deep. Baker was blamed by the Giants' Marching Chowder and Dancing Sycophant Society for ruining the World Series, and for not winning approximately 30 more games per season with talent that won more often than its statistical coefficients would suggest was reasonable.

Dusty Baker fans
Cubs fans have been quick to show Dusty Baker the love Peter Magowan never would when Baker was the Giants' manager.
On the other hand, bitterness is almost by definition self-defeating. Baker and Magowan both went their separate ways, and both seem content with the results so far. The Giants lead the NL West again, and the Cubs are off to their prototypical fast start. So who's complaining?

Maybe it's just the silly waste of it all. After all, managers who consistently win actually are not stacked up six-deep at Costco, and general manager/manager/player symbiosis is something that happens maybe once in a career.

The beauty of baseball, though, is its egalitarian nature. Almost no mistake can't be rectified, almost no act of foolishness unrepaired. Stupidity with a receipt for easy return ... if only the rest of life came that way.

So Dusty Baker can be as bitter as he likes. He just doesn't need to be.

Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com

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