That’s how Dusty Baker’s friend Elvin Bishop, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and original member of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, describes the first-year Nationals Manager’s uncanny tendency of being in the right place at the right time during his nearly 50-year career in pro baseball.
Baker smoked a joint with Jimi Hendrix on the streets of San Francisco in 1968. Six years later, he was in the on-deck circle in Atlanta when Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record. In 1977, he was on the receiving end of what many consider the first high-five from Dodgers teammate Glenn Burke.
Those oft-told tales and many more are documented in “MLB Presents Dusty: A Baseball Journey,” which premieres Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET on MLB Network.
“We had always been intrigued by the depth of his life and career,” senior coordinating producer Bruce Cornblatt said. “Once he was hired by the Nationals, not only was there a past, but there was a future.”
You’re bound to learn something new about Johnnie B. Baker in the 45-minute documentary, which features interviews with Baker’s brother, childhood friends, former teammates and players he managed, including the man he’s replacing in the Nationals dugout, Matt Williams.
Baker is candid about the influence that racism, his military father and his teammates had on his life and career. He recalls the “For Sale” signs that appeared in front of homes in the almost exclusively white community near Sacramento where his family moved in 1965. The signs would disappear after Baker scored four touchdowns in his first high school football game. Baker says Aaron “meant everything” to him in his baseball career and credited Dodgers Manager Tommy Lasorda for helping turn his career around after he was traded to Los Angeles in 1975.
Baker doesn’t shy away from discussing the low points of his career, including rumors of drug abuse while with the Dodgers in 1983 and the crushing Game 7 losses he experienced in consecutive seasons as manager of the Giants and Cubs, the first coming in the World Series.
“We could probably create a ‘Part II’ out of the stuff on the cutting room floor,” said producer Tony Ferraiolo, who met with Baker for two 14-hour days at his home in California. “He is extraordinarily comfortable with everything that comes his way. There wasn’t a question that he didn’t answer or didn’t feel comfortable talking about. His attitude is, I am who I am. He’s very honest and open and I think that’s going to play well with the Washington players.”
Before the Nationals job became available, Baker kept busy by tending to his vineyard and managing his solar energy business. Now, the three-time manager of the year is back in baseball, with another chance to chase a World Series title. Managing Bryce Harper and the Nationals could prove to be the latest example of Baker being in the right place at the right time.
“It’s been a great, great ride,” Baker says of his career to date. “Has it been up and down? Oh heck yeah, it’s been up and down. But, when I look back, I wouldn’t trade anything, and I know the best is yet to come.”