After two decades of this managing thing, Dusty Baker knows what he is saying. He knows what people like to hear and what they don’t. He also knows when people are listening. Baker is taking his fourth different team to the playoffs after winning his fifth division title. People are listening.
Tuesday, during his first news conference in front of the navy blue National League Division Series backdrop, Baker shared opinions, hopes and old fears. He wants to be the first African American inducted into the Hall of Fame as a manager. He wondered if he was blacklisted by teams in those two years when he could not get a job. He thinks Davey Johnson, who won 394 fewer games than Baker, is a Hall of Fame manager. He thinks Lou Pinella, who won 69 more, is too. He thinks Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts is a great guy, but “he’s in the way.”
Start at the beginning, with the fact that Baker has such a forum at all. He lost his job with the Reds in 2013 after winning 90 games but then losing the wild-card game. No one would hire him.
“I wondered if I was on the blacklist or not. Sometimes there’s an unwritten list that sometimes your name is at the top of … I was sitting at home watching guys that hadn’t done what I had done,” said Baker.
“… I was down for about three days, and I couldn’t figure out why I was down, and because we had just lost the playoffs and a couple days after that lost my job. My dad used to tell me, ‘It’s okay to be down, just don’t stay down.’ And I was like man, is that what depression is? I’ve never had depression. All I know is I didn’t like that feeling.”
Baker admitted he wonders what might have been had he managed in those two seasons. He is 17th all-time with 1,766 wins. Had he managed two more seasons, he might be closing in on 2,000. As it stands, he is second only to the Giants’ Bruce Bochy in wins among active managers.
“I thought about [the Hall of Fame] when I started passing guys that were already in the Hall of Fame,” said Baker, who has won more games than Hall of Famers such as Tommy Lasorda and Whitey Herzog. “… Yeah, I’d like to be the first African-American in the Hall of Fame [as a manager]. So yeah, I think about it, I think about if I hadn’t been out the last couple years I’d be close to 2,000 victories. So there’s certain things that you think about.”
As Baker waited for a chance, several managers with little or no experience got jobs. Asked why experience no longer seems to be valued by baseball executives, Baker deflected.
“You’ve got to ask them that. I’ve got my opinions, but that’s okay,” Baker said. “It’s not the time to talk about it.”
One of those young managers will be in the opposite dugout Friday. Roberts, a first-year skipper and the only other African American manager in baseball, will try to lead the Dodgers past the Nationals in the NLDS. Baker said he does not know Roberts well, though he is familiar with him as a friend of his former Giants shortstop Rich Aurilia. All three of them are involved with wine companies.
Roberts “is where I was 20 years ago. I’m happy for him, big time,” Baker said. “… He’s always a pleasant guy, he’s a very bright young man, but he’s in the way.”