Cubs, skipper Baker part ways after 66-96 season

Updated: October 4, 2006, 12:42 AM ET
Associated Press

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.

Chewed 'Em Up, Spit 'Em Out
Chicago Cubs
The team long known as the lovable losers were, well, just plain losers in 2006. The Cubs were a National League worst 66-96. Time to sift through the wreckage following team president Andy MacPhail's resignation Sunday and manager Dusty Baker's departure on Monday. Here's how the dreadful Cubs stacked up categorically this season against the majors' 30 teams.
  Team Finish
Average .268 17th
Runs 716 28th
Slugging pct. .422 21st
On-base pct. .319 29th
Walks 395 30th
ERA 4.74 24th
Starters' ERA 5.19 27th
Walks allowed 687 30th
Complete games 2 T-26th
Saves 29 29th
"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."

Baker Done In Chicago
 Dusty Baker
Dusty Baker suffered through his worst season in his 14-year managerial career in 2006 as the Cubs stumbled to a 66-96 record. A look at Baker's managerial career:
Record Div. Titles World Series Awards
1,162 wins, 1,041 losses ('97 & '00 with S.F.; '03 with CHC) (2002; Giants lost to Angels) NL Manager of Year ('93, 97, 00)

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.

Elias Says
Felipe Alou
Dusty Baker
Dusty Baker and Felipe Alou were each let go by their teams Monday. Both managers reached the postseason in 2003, their first season with the Cubs and Giants, respectively, but neither returned to the postseason in any of the next three seasons.

Over the last 50 years, only one other manager made the postseason in his first year with a team but then managed that club for at least three more seasons without making it back to October baseball. John McNamara won the NL West with the 1979 Reds, but they were swept by the "We Are Family" Pirates in the NLCS and then did not return to the postseason with the Reds, who let McNamara go in the middle of the 1982 season with Cincinnati 34-58.

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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."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press