Wednesday afternoon, in the midst of his wide-ranging daily media session, Dusty Baker was asked about being traded to the Dodgers. Normally, Baker sits back when asked a question, starts with a sigh or “well”, or a “that’s a very good question.” Wednesday, his eyes lit up, he moved closer to the microphone, and repeated the question as if grateful to hear it spoken again.
“What was my reaction?,” Baker said. “Man, that’s what I wanted.”
What followed was one of Baker’s best-told stories of a season full of them. Whatever he does as a manager on the field, he has provided an endless supply of anecdotes off it, and Wednesday’s might have been the most amusing of all. Below, find his story, word-for-word, with a few historical notes added for context.
“I didn’t like losing,” Baker began. “[The Braves] had traded Hank Aaron, that winter of ’75.
(The Braves traded Aaron to Milwaukee in November 1974, so before the 1975 season.)
“I didn’t know the business end of baseball at that time,” Baker said. “They traded all of us at the same time, and then sold the club to Ted Turner. They traded Ralph Garr to the White Sox, traded me to the Dodgers, traded Darrell Evans and Marty Perez to the Giants.
(Turner bought the team before the 1976 season, by which time Garr was gone and Evans was a few months from being traded.)
“My reaction was, I went in and I asked [Braves GM Eddie] Robinson. I wanted to be traded back to California because I was tired of being in the South at that time, and I was tired of losing. And his reaction to me was: Had I ever been to Cleveland? So I called Hank [Aaron], and I asked Hank: ‘How come every time I ask them to trade me, they ask me have I ever been to Cleveland?’ Cause Cleveland wasn’t Cleveland as you see it today. Cleveland’s a good town. But back then they played in old Browns stadium. That was like where you sent the bad actors.
“So I went in and I told them: I’m getting out of here. And I packed up my, I had a 914 Porsche. I had sold Fords. I sold my Thunderbird to my mother-in-law. And then I packed up my Porsche, built a little rack on the back, and like Route 66: Across America, going to California [after the 1975 season].
“They didn’t have cell phones, so I stopped in Carlsbad Caverns. I stopped at the Grand Canyon. To see things I hadn’t seen. And that night I was going to bed. I always wanted to be a Dodger, because I heard the Dodgers had the best athletes, the pretty uniforms, the good bodies. And I was like, shoot, you’re talking about me! That’s the way I thought. I’m serious…you asked me what I thought.
“So then I’m watching the news, and they showed like four players: Jimmy Wynn and (Tom) Paciorek and (Lee) Lacy and Jerry Royster. And I was like: ‘Dang, who’s this bad dude they just traded for?’ And then I saw my picture come up, myself and Ed Goodson.
(Those were, indeed, the players in the trade.)
“I called my dad. He said: ‘We’ve been looking for you for two days. You’ve been traded to the Dodgers.’ Eddie Robinson did me a favor, traded me to where I wanted to go. And I think Tom Paciorek had worn No. 12, one of the guys I was traded for. So they had No. 12 waiting for me when I got there.
(Paciorek wore 17, but 12 was available anyway, the number of Baker’s former favorite Dodgers, Tommy Davis)
“My first year there, I had a bad knee. I hit a home run my first at-bat, and I didn’t hit another one until July 4. That’s when I quit reading the newspaper and watching the news and stuff. Because I was like, man, I’m being crucified. So why should somebody else control my self-esteem? So I quit reading it.”
(Baker did not hit another home run until July 15, and finished with four. The next season, he hit .291 with 30 homers, his best of eight seasons with the Dodgers.)