ST. LOUIS — Not even a stroke could scare the unflappable Dusty Baker.
Hospitalized for an irregular heartbeat nearly two weeks ago, Baker was moments from being released when he suffered a mini-stroke. And the timing may have saved his life.
After missing 11 games, the Cincinnati Reds manager returned to the dugout Monday night for the team’s game against St. Louis, which the Cardinals won 4-2.
“It wasn’t scary because I didn’t feel like it was my time to go,” Baker said. “When you go in the hospital and you’re leaving the hospital, it’s not your time to go. You know what I mean? I wasn’t worried at all. I didn’t like the fact that I was having a stroke, but at the same time, how many people have been in the hospital when they had a stroke? It wasn’t my time to go yet.”
The 63-year-old Baker felt sick when the club was in Chicago for a series two weeks ago and was taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital on Sept. 19. He suffered the stroke two days later just before he was released.
“I was shaving and I was getting ready to put my clothes on, and the lady asked me to say my name and I couldn’t say my name,” Baker recalled. “All of sudden, she called the doctor back in and said you have to come back in and see him. Imagine, I could have been on the plane in five minutes or 10 minutes or on a highway or something. That’s why I said it’s not my time to go yet.”
Baker led the Reds to their second NL Central championship in three seasons and figures to be on most ballots for NL manager of the year.
Cincinnati went 7-4 while Baker was gone. But the Reds enjoyed two significant milestones without their skipper. They clinched and celebrated their division title, and pitcher Homer Bailey tossed the club’s first no-hitter since 1988.
Asked how hard it was to miss both moments, Baker said he hoped there would be plenty more celebrations for him to take part in before the season ends.
“The way I look at it, the big one is to come,” Baker said. “That’s how I look at it. I called Homer and told him what a great job he did in that game. I was sitting there on the edge of my seat. It meant a lot to me, but I’m fine now. I’m not 100 percent, but I’m pretty close.
Baker returned to Cincinnati last week and stopped by the clubhouse to address the team. He stayed in contact with bench coach Chris Speier and told him which lineup to use and other pertinent information.
The veteran manager said that his daughter has made him start healthier activities, such as having breakfast and eating turkey burgers instead of regular burgers. Baker said doctors likely will inform him of more precautions he should take in the coming weeks.
For now, however, he hopes to lead the Reds to their first World Series appearance since they won it all in 1990.
“It just feels great to be back with my team here,” Baker said. “I’m still on some meds, but I’m feeling better. . . . I always had a pretty good perspective on things, but now it just makes me more appreciative of what I’m doing and makes me feel more appreciative of my family.
“I feel truly blessed. To be in the hospital when you have a mini-stroke, you can’t get any more blessed than that. The way I look at it is it’s our year. We have a great support staff here, and my guys did a great job while I was out. I just feel like this is going to be the topper for us to win this year.”