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Cubs, skipper Baker part ways after 66-96 season

10/4/2006 - Chicago Cubs

CHICAGO -- Dusty Baker ducked into the small, cave-like
interview room underneath Wrigley Field for a final time. As usual,
he was reflective and philosophical, even on the day he learned he
was out as the Chicago Cubs' manager.

"I wish we could have gotten it done, but we didn't," Baker
said. "I guess all things must come to an end and all things come
to pass."

Baker's four-year run ended Monday when the team declined to
renew his contract, ending a tumultuous span of less than 24 hours
for a franchise that hasn't won a World Series since 1908.

One day earlier, team president and CEO Andy MacPhail resigned
after 12 years.

Baker figured to be the guy to end the talk of curses and bad
luck. After 10 years managing the San Francisco Giants, a trip to
the World Series and three Manager of the Year awards, he had the
background, the experience, the success and the respect of players
that many thought would finally bring a championship to the team
long known as the lovable losers.

"I'm not a miracle man. I don't know if it will take two or
three years or whatever, but we're dedicated to winning," Baker
said when he was hired nearly four years ago.

He was laid back and often used "Hey man," to kick off his
thoughts. His office featured soothing music, pleasing aromas and
pictures of his successful career as a player and manager.

But after his first Cubs team collapsed in the 2003 NL Championship Series, when the World Series was a mere five outs
away, he couldn't get them back to the playoffs.

Even though he led the Cubs to their first back-to-back winning
seasons in more than three decades, his final two years turned into
losers, including an NL-worst 66-96 mark this season.

"Obviously, history was almost changed for good in '03,"
general manager Jim Hendry said. "It's gone down a slippery slope
the last two years and we all deserve a big part of the blame, not
just him."

Injuries were a huge part of the team's slide -- the Cubs were
without often-sidelined pitchers Mark Prior and Kerry Wood and 2005
NL batting champ Derrek Lee for most of this season. It got so bad
that rookie pitchers were forced to start 78 games this year. But
there were also fundamental lapses in fielding and baserunning and
Baker heard it from the fans, who booed him in Sunday's season
finale even when it was obvious he wasn't returning.

"It just didn't work and you have to make a change and move
forward in the best interest of the organization," Hendry said.
"He's a very special guy. It's been hard to watch him go through
some of the things he had to go through."

Baker called his days with the Cubs a learning experience, said
he would resurface in the game in some capacity and wished everyone
well -- players, Hendry and reporters.

He didn't answer questions during a brief appearance,
explaining, "you know there's really no answers right now."

Then he had to pack, one of his least favorite activities. And
this time he was taking everything with him.

"It's something that is very emotional while you're doing it,"
he said. "You can see four years come to pass very quickly in
front of your face as I'm going through everything."

Known for his toothpicks and wristbands while managing from the
dugout, Baker was popular with players, many of whom expressed a
desire to play for him.


And he was the most popular man in Chicago in 2003 when the Cubs
beat the Atlanta Braves in the division series and then had a 3-1
lead over the Florida Marlins in the NLCS.

With Prior on the mound in Game 6 and Chicago still leading the
series, 3-2, the Cubs blew a three-run lead in the eighth inning.

The Marlins scored eight times, helped when Cubs fan Steve
Bartman touched a foul fly ball before Chicago left fielder Moises Alou had a chance to catch it. It will easily be the
most-remembered inning of Baker's tenure in Chicago.

The next night, the Cubs lost Game 7 with Wood pitching.

They came back the next season, led the NL wild-card race by 1½
games late, only to stumble again on their final homestand and not
make the postseason.

The 2004 season also marked the end of Sammy Sosa's stint in
Chicago. Sosa left the clubhouse before the end of the season
finale, and the fading slugger later accused Baker of blaming him
for the club's failures. Sosa was subsequently traded to Baltimore.

Injuries to Prior and Wood dogged the Cubs the last three
seasons. Nomar Garciaparra tore a groin muscle and missed much of
the 2005 season as the Cubs fell to 79-83, Baker's first losing
season since 1996. Baker finished with a 322-326 record with the
Cubs.

Hendry, who still had to meet with Cubs coaches on Monday,
promised an extensive search for Baker's successor.

"I'm hiring the best guy whether he's got a lot of big league
experience managing, some, or is a rising star," Hendry said.

Hendry is the lone man standing with Baker and MacPhail leaving
what appeared to be a promising situation just four years ago.

"I take no solace that they're leaving and I'm staying,"
Hendry said. "Maybe if I'd done a lot better, it wouldn't be this
way."