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Dusty Baker on life after the Nationals: ‘This was the toughest wound’

Dusty Baker smiles before a game against the San Francisco Giants in 2017. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

Former Nationals manager Dusty Baker has found plenty of things to do since Washington decided not to extend his contract after the 2017 season. He’s a special adviser to the San Francisco Giants, whom he managed from 1993 to 2002. He runs a family winery and solar panel business. He has a plot of land in Hawaii that he’s looking to develop. His son plays college baseball for California and spent his summer playing ball on Cape Cod.

And amid it all, Baker still finds time to ruminate on baseball and life, and how the two dance together and apart. As the Nationals sink out of the pennant race, players have texted him, “Hey, Bake, we miss you,” he told the Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal. As players’ old, offensive tweets get dredged up, baseball’s contemporary leaders look to Baker, an elder statesman and one of baseball’s preeminent minority luminaries, for guidance.

Rosenthal published Friday the transcript of a 1-hour, 15-minute interview with Baker that discusses Baker’s life away from the game, away from the Nationals and away from baseball’s contemporary issues. Here are the juiciest bits:

On Baker’s life one year removed from baseball

I figured out that the times I was out [of the game], I was at the top of the salary scale. You figure, I lost $10 million to $12 million, with no supplemental income. This is the first time a position was made for me. Most guys when they get out of the game, especially white guys, they come up with “assistant to this or that.” Then you’ve got supplemental income. You might not be making what you were making before. But you’ve got something.
Every once in a while, it gets a little tough, because you miss the competition. You don’t miss pre- and postgame at all. What you miss are the guys and the competition of playing. I’ve been competing forever, my whole life. Now I’m competing in a different world, which is kind of fun. But it’s not as scrupulous as sports is, not nearly as honest. If I thought there was some B.S. in baseball, there is some big B.S. out in the business world.

Dusty Baker made his own sort of peace with Nationals exit, and still doesn’t care what you think

On whether he wants to manage again

I don’t know. I was thinking: Every team I inherited was a bottom-dwelling team, except Washington. Most of the time you’re not going to inherit a first-division team. You’re going to get a losing team.
I don’t know how much time I have to bring another team back, or if I have the desire to do so. I look at my situation on a small scale kind of like Barack Obama’s. He wouldn’t have gotten nominated for president unless we were in a bad way. We were in a terrible, terrible way. It’s the same way in baseball. Most minorities inherited bad teams.
Dave Roberts inherited a great team. I inherited a good team with D.C. Cito Gaston inherited a good team in Toronto. Other than that, all the teams I had, all the teams Don Baylor had, all the teams Hal McRae had, all the teams Lloyd McClendon had, you look at all the minority guys who have been hired, it’s always a bad team that you’ve got to bring back. And then, when you bring ’em back, if you don’t bring ’em back all the way, you’re construed as a loser, not a winner. I refuse to let anybody tell me I’m anything but a winner. I’ve been at it my whole life.

On the state of baseball

The game is getting so slow. And it’s not exciting. What happened to the triple? Scoring from first on a double or a long single, running 3-2. I think the game is going to come back.
It has to come back . . .
It’s been killing me to go to these minor league games. I’m seeing bad baseball. I see bad base running, no bunting when they need to bunt. An excessive amount of pop-ups. Strikeouts. Almost a no-hitter every day until the sixth inning. No first-to-thirds. It’s terrible.
I went to a minor league game and saw this one team taking batting practice. I bet if they had 100 balls, 50 of ’em ended up near home plate. They were all hitting the top of the cage. This one guy hit the top of the cage like five times, and this one coach goes, “Good BP.” What? Good BP? That’s the worst BP I’ve ever seen in my life!

On the Nationals in decline

I haven’t talked to anybody. I haven’t talked to any coaches. I’ve got some guys who text me, “Hey, Bake, we miss you.” I don’t want to open … this was the toughest wound for me to close.

Is it vindicating to see the team struggle?

My dad used to always tell me, “If you feel vindication, then you’re feeling it against the same guys you were in the foxhole with.” You’re not pulling for the front office. But it’s hard to pull against them without pulling against the players. You try to be neutral in the situation and not give a s—, but you do.

On how he’d handle players’ old, offensive tweets

Well, I’d talk to ’em about it, find out why. What the circumstances were. How old were you at the time? Have you changed, or is that really you? See, some of these guys, it’s really them. Baseball is just a microcosm of society. Some guys change, because they had never been around Latinos or blacks.
A couple of players, I had to talk to ’em: “I know you’ve never had a black manager. I know you’ve never had a black principal. Your daddy probably never had a black boss, depending upon which part of the country or what line of work you’re in.” I even had to ask a couple of players that I played with, “Why are you so prejudiced?” A couple of ’em are my buddies now — big-time. They would say, “I was raised that way.” I’d say: “That’s fine. I bet you were. But now you’re old enough to make your own choice.” You hope some of these guys might have changed.

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