Baker excited to be back calling the shots again
Originally Published: February 16, 2008By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com
SARASOTA, Fla. -- The new manager of the Cincinnati Reds is never going to be confused with John McNamara. Or Jack McKeon. Or even Sparky Anderson, for that matter.We say this for many, many reasons. But we say it primarily because the new manager of the Reds -- a former ESPN employee you might have heard of, a guy by the name of Dusty Baker -- is a man who uses expressions like this: "What's up, Big Daddy?" It's hard to think of any set of circumstances that ever would have caused, say, Vern Rapp to utter those words. Or Dave Miley. Or, most certainly, Russ Nixon. But those words spilled out of Baker's mouth Saturday as routinely as "one day at a time" spills out of the mouths of most managers. Those words were just Baker's way of saying hello to his new players. No more. No less. Just hello -- in Dusty-ese. "That," laughed his new first baseman, Scott Hatteberg, "is why there's only one of him." Yeah, there's only one Dusty Baker, all right. But what the heck is he doing here? That's the question. Yes, what the heck is this man doing managing in Cincinnati, Ohio -- a town located 2,000 miles from his home in Northern California, a town that ranks as America's 34th-largest media market, a town where the local baseball team hasn't had a winning season since McKeon exited the city limits eight years (and five managers) ago? Fascinating question. One of the most fascinating questions of spring training 2008, actually. But for Baker, it's an easy answer. "Hey," he said Saturday, the day his pitchers and catchers reported to spring training, "this is where I'm supposed to be." Baker came to that conclusion in October, after much thought, reflection and conversation with people whose judgment he trusted. Men such as Joe Morgan. And former NBA coach Al Attles. And Cito Gaston. Baker even reached deep into his memory bank to recall a conversation he once had with the late, great Bill Walsh about Cincinnati. The Reds wanted him. And after thinking about it, Baker realized he wanted them, too. Needed them. Needed them to complete the "unfinished business" in his 14-year managerial career.
"I need to satisfy what's inside me," Baker said Saturday, in that deep, almost evangelical tone that also can spill out of his mouth at any given moment, "which is a couple of championships. I can't go home losing. Anybody who knows me [knows] I don't take losing too kindly. I can't go home not winning again." There's a whole lot of winning on Baker's résumé, too: Four playoff teams as a manager. Four more as a player. A .527 managerial winning percentage that includes eight straight winning seasons at one point. Three trips to the World Series as a player. One more (with the 2002 Giants) as a manager. But we know how that 2002 World Series ended. No need to rummage through that attic. We also know how the 2003 National League Championship Series ended, after a 3-1 Cubs series lead somehow morphed into Steve Bartman's worst nightmare. There might not be a manager in history who endured back-to-back Octobers any more painful than those two. But when Baker was asked Saturday whether he was driven by what happened those Octobers, he shook his head. He has moved past that pain, he said, "just by thinking, studying, being thankful for life and thankful for what you have had, versus what you didn't get. Or what you haven't had yet. How long can you live in pain? You do that, that's not living. So just go forward. "You can't live in the past," Baker went on, at his philosopher-king best. "You've got to live today, be prepared for tomorrow and hopefully you learn if you ever get in that situation again. And sometimes, it wasn't meant to be, you know? And you realize everything isn't necessarily in your control, in your power, like you think it is." He is 58 years old now. And he has learned those profound lessons of life and baseball -- lessons that have brought him to this time, this place, this franchise. He was a popular, almost revered figure in San Francisco, his first managerial stop. But he was a controversial, often polarizing figure in Chicago, his most recent dugout address. As the years wore on and the reality of what happened to the Cubbies in 2003 set in, life in Chicago turned into one big Dusty-bashing mess. The Bartman Collapse. The throbbing arms of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior. The descent of the Cubs to those losingest-team-in-the-league depths of 2006. It became All Dusty's Fault. All of it. Sometimes with reason. Sometimes, however, because that was convenient, one-stop excuse shopping. For a long time afterward, Baker spoke openly about the "wounds" that lingered from that experience. But by the time he arrived in spring training Saturday, he was ready to announce that those wounds had healed. "The year off helped me," he said. "Helped me realize the game stops for nobody, No. 1. The game is like the clock. It doesn't stop. It stops for no one. The game goes on. You can't carry those wounds around." He held up his right hand. Looked at it. Looked at his audience.
AP Photo/Al BehrmanDusty Baker takes over a Reds team that hasn't finished with a winning record since 2000.
I need to satisfy what's inside me -- which is a couple of championships. I can't go home losing. Anybody who knows me [knows] I don't take losing too kindly. I can't go home not winning again.
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