CINCINNATI – Dusty Baker learned a lesson a long time while playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He learned it from a pretty good source.
“I was told a long time ago don’t start looking at your accolades,” said the Reds’ manager. “Don’t look until you’re through.”
Baker got the advice from Sadaharu Oh, the man who has hit more home runs than any other professional player on the planet. Oh and his Tokyo Giants were training with the Dodgers. His hitting prowess was well known and respected despite not playing in the Major Leagues.
Even with the Reds’ 7-4 loss to Atlanta Monday night at Great American Ball Park, Dusty Baker is one win away from reaching 1,600 wins as a Major League manager. He is tied with Tommy Lasorda, his former manager with the Dodgers, for 18th place on the all-time list. He knows this only because Reds clubhouse manager Rick Stowe told him.
Baker isn’t looking at his accolades but he understands their meanings.
“I never dreamed I’d be in this position,” said Baker, now in his sixth season with the Reds and 20th overall. “I never dreamed I’d be managing. It just shows you what life’s turns give you sometimes.”
For a manager who, if one were listening to fans, can never seemingly get any decision correct, Baker has had plenty of success. His teams have a .525 winning percentage. He’s taken five teams to the playoffs, including the Reds twice, and is one of just six managers to ever win division titles with three different teams – San Francisco, the Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati. He’s also just one of six managers to have won at least 300 games with three different franchises.
“He’s been successful because he’s had the benefit of having a great career as a player, playing under some good managers and probably took some things from guys like Tommy Lasorda,” said Reds general manager Walt Jocketty. “I think he’s always been considered a players’ manager. He communicates well. If there is a problem, he sits down and works it out without letting things get too far advanced.
“He’s got some leadership qualities that he learned from his time as a player from guys playing like Hank Aaron that he’s used in his managerial career. He knows how to communicate with our guys and know how to get the most out of them.”
Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez, who coached under long-time Braves manager Bobby Cox, said there is a common thread to a successful life in the dugout.
“I think sticking with your players, trusting your players and sticking with them,” said Gonzalez. “Bobby, to this day couldn’t tell you any of that stuff. He would shy away from personal accolades and milestones. He didn’t want no part of that. Wanted no part of that.”
When Baker’s 19-year playing career came to an end after the 1986 season – a career that included 242 home runs, more than 1,000 RBI, three World Series appearances and one title – he didn’t stay in the game. Living in Southern California, Baker got a job a stockbroker. The job wasn’t in his blood, though. It wasn’t what he really wanted to do and when his personal life went through the upheaval of a divorce he knew it was a time for a change.
Former Dodgers general manager Al Campanis appeared on ABC’s Nightline news program on April 6, 1987. During the interview, Campanis made his infamous remarks that black men “may not have some of the necessities to be a field manager or, perhaps, a general manager.”
It was a confluence of events for Baker.
He had gone to Big Bear Lake to pray and think about his situation, on the advice of his father. San Francisco owner Bob Lurie was staying at the same hotel. Lurie surprised Baker with a tap on the shoulder and a job offer.
When Al Rosen, then the Giants’ general manager, asked Baker what he wanted to do, Baker told him he wanted to be Rosen’s assistant.
“He said ‘I’ve got an assistant and you’d be better suited for the field,’” said Baker, words that didn’t come off quite as welcoming as Rosen meant them given the comments of Camparis.
Rosen meant Baker would be better suited to be a field manager.
Baker gave himself five years. If he was in the same situation after that time, he would find something else to do.
Five years later he became the Giants’ manager.
For all of the criticism Baker takes, he’s got the Reds (18-15) three games over .500 and in second place in the NL Central, three games behind St. Louis. He’s not thinking about any accolades or criticism.