Nationals manager Dusty Baker (Photo by KK Ottesen/For The Washington Post)

Washington Nationals Manager Johnnie B. “Dusty” Baker Jr., 67, began his major league baseball career 48 years ago as a player with the Atlanta Braves and then the Los Angeles Dodgers, where he won two pennants and one championship . He previously managed the San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds.

A lot of people describe you as an “old-school” manager. Is that a term you identify with?

Not really. I don’t consider myself old or young. I mean, I know I’m not young. ...

Oh, I didn’t mean an “old” manager —

No, no, no, I’m going to explain. People want to give it a name and a terminology. But is there “old music” and “new music” — or just “music”? I mean, there’s only one school: the right school.

You’ve played with some of the greats. Who were particularly influential?

Hank Aaron, Orlando Cepeda and my AAA manager, Clyde King, were very influential. Guys like Mickey Vernon, Preston Gomez, Danny Ozark, Bill Lucas, and the late Jim Gilliam. See, I was a September call-up in the big leagues at 19, so I was always the youngest; I couldn’t even go out to drink with the guys on the team and had more in common with some of the batboys! So I was always called “The Kid.”

But people looked out for you?

Oh, yeah. Hank Aaron promised my mom when I signed that he would look after me as if I was his son. Which I needed — but didn’t really appreciate. Like, Hey, man, I’m grown now. I don’t need you telling me when to go to bed or get up. And my roommate with the Braves, Ralph Garr, was from Louisiana. He taught me how to function in the South, because I was from California and was having a little trouble.

Yeah, I bet.

Especially back then: 1967. That’s when peace and love were big in San Francisco, hanging out in Golden Gate Park, seeing Timothy Leary, Joan Baez. My best friend in life at that time — he still is — was white. I grew up as the only black guy in the school, me and my brother. And then I went straight to the South, at 18, 19, where we had Lester Maddox and George Wallace. I remember seeing that first Klan newspaper. It was a confusing time. But I wouldn’t change it for anything. I got to meet a lot of the black civic leaders of our time through Hank Aaron. Because I was always around and everybody wanted to meet Hank because he was about to break the record. I mean, we would go and see Andrew Young and Jesse Jackson. Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, you name it.

Did that relationship help you relate to younger players as a manager?

Big time. Like I tell our guys: You don’t know what’s going to help ground you and mold you as a person later. After playing, I was actually going to quit; I didn’t want to manage. But my dad, he said, “The Lord wouldn’t have put you around all these great people, with them giving you their knowledge, for you to take it and run to the woods with it.” ■

I’ve heard you were one of the inventors of the high five — is that true?

That’s what they say. Well, it was my teammate, Glenn Burke, who invented it, really. I had just hit a homerun and he had his hand up there – What am I supposed to do? – so I just reciprocated what he did.

For those of us who grew up later, it’s inconceivable that that gesture didn’t always exist.

I know, but you know something? I really like the fist bump better. It’s more sanitary.

More sanitary?

Yeah, you don’t have to worry about, you know, how often people wash hands.

So what would bring it all together for you?

Winning two championships. I always said, if I win one, I’ll win two, back to back.


To follow in the footsteps of one of the guys that really took care of me my first year. Cito Gaston was one of my teammates, and I remember once I dropped a ball and these dudes were over there calling me a bunch of names — some good ones — and I started crying; I wanted to go home. So he said, “Hey, man, come with me, I’ll take care of you.” Cito was the first African American to win the championship as a manager. He did it in Toronto. Twice.

Got it. Think this could be the year?

Yeah, that’s why I’m here.

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