Dusty Baker spends quite a bit of time in front of microphones answering questions as part of his job as the Washington Nationals’ manager, and he tends to dip into his own history in the game on a regular basis when he speaks.
“He's always got a great story for you, somehow, some way,” Nats’ starter Max Scherzer told reporters during his pre-start presser this past weekend.
“He keeps everybody loose, everybody laughing.”
He keeps everybody on his team laughing, and often the reporters he speaks to on a daily basis.
With 19 seasons as a player on his resume, and 22 seasons as a manager, Baker, who’s in the midst of his ninth postseason run on the bench, has worn many hats, literally, so he has some grudges. For example, he’s playing the Chicago Cubs he managed from 2003-2006, and the path the World Series goes through Los Angeles, with the Dodgers that Baker played for from 1976 to 1983 waiting for the winner of the NLDS between the Cubs and Nats.
BAKER ON PLENTY OF ENEMIES:
“Yeah, there's always extra emotion,” Baker said of going up against his former teams.
“I've got a couple former teams in the way, and you get to the World Series, and I got some extra motivation against the Yankees, too. They beat my team when I was a kid, the Dodgers, and they beat me when I was a manager. Oh, yeah, I've got motivation with a few teams.”
BAKER ON SCHERZER:
Returning to Scherzer for a minute. Baker and the right-hander have a bit of a mutual admiration thing going, as we learned when the Nationals’ skipper was asked what he knew about the right-hander before he came to Washington, and what he has learned about the two-time Cy Young award-winner in their two seasons together.
“Since I've had him, you know, he's a very likable guy,” Baker said. “He's the same guy Sunday to Sunday. He's very -- same personality guy, very intense, highly motivated.
“Trains probably, you know, like some of the guys I played with. You know, he's a runner, because when I played with like Tommy John and [Don] Sutton and Dave Stewart and [Rick] Sutcliffe and these guys, they would run. While the modern guys don't run quite as much, they depend on, you know, some machine or something to train by, but you know, he's an old-fashioned runner.
“I remember I had Spring Training in -- where was that -- with the Texas Rangers in Pompano Beach, and Ferguson Jenkins ran line to line for nine innings. And I kept looking back behind me, and he would stop and get a glass of water and he would -- he ran the whole -- and people wondered why he pitched 300 innings, four, five, six years in a row, whatever it is; he was a runner. Max reminds me of that.”
POWER OF POSITIVITY:
Baker’s a believer in the power of positive thinking, and he also said going into this series that he knows there’s a championship coming one day.
“It's already written. All you've got to do is believe it and then act it,” Baker said.
He also believes in the power coming back in a game has to affect future events, as he said after the Nationals rallied lated for a 6-3 win in Game 2 of the NLDS with the Cubs.
“Well, you know, when you come back and win a game late, that gives you more, I think, positive energy than crushing the team or at any other time,” he explained.
“Because when you come back, you're going to have to lean on that powers of coming back again and again. And most of the World Series champs that I've seen, you know, they have had their backs to the wall a few times and end up coming back and winning.”
“I told my guys, ‘You're going to have to dig deep and come back at some point in time.’ I don't know if that happened to the Cubs last year. I'm sure it did, you know, during this whole playoff run. You've just got to have a never-say-die attitude.”
That advice and attitude could come in handy in Game 4 of the NLDS in Chicago today, with Washington on the brink of elimination.
PUBLIC SCRUTINY, SECOND-GUESSING, ADVICE FROM FAMILY:
If things don’t go the Nats’ way today, Dusty Baker’s decision to lift Scherzer in Game 3 vs the Cubbies; his decision to use Sammy Solis after Scherzer, and to keep running his lineup out there through four games while his offense struggled; and surely more of his moves will be second-guessed and scrutinized. They already are being scrutinized, in articles by a variety of outlets, and in real time on social media, before, during, and after games.
“The reality of it is, is that the only judge of -- it's only correct if it works,” Baker said before Game 4 was postponed. “But that's not how it really is.
“And so you know, you can't control the outcome; all you can do is try to put people in a position to succeed. As far as the scrutiny and as far as social media and this and that, everything, I don't -- I don't read it. The best thing that I told -- I have to really stress that to my mom and my wife, you know, because they read everything and I don't read anything.
“I learned that a long time ago as a player when I was traded from the Braves to the Dodgers, and it was a big trade and I was the focal point of the trade from the Braves to the Dodgers. I hit like -- I hurt my knee playing basketball — I hit [.242] that season. I think I hit 3 or 4 home runs, ended up on the bench, and I was booed every day.
“I mean, once I stopped playing, and then I was like -- you know, I wouldn't come out of the dugout; I would run to home plate so I wouldn't have to hear the boos because it's a long walk from the dugout to home plate in Dodger Stadium. Then they broke some lamps out at my house; they scratched my car, and people were very disgruntled over the fact that they even traded for me.
“You know, I would go to the grocery store, like, oh, yeah, you're that guy we traded for. So what happened was, I had an operation, worked out that winter, and I hit 30 home runs the next year; we went to the World Series, end up making the All-Dodger team, and so then I learned not to let anybody control my self-esteem or my opinion of myself. Because I went from being the scorn of the town to being one of the heroes of the town.
“And so I just want to remain in-between and not have anybody control, you know, my self-esteem. And so therefore, you know, it doesn't matter to me; people can say what they want to say and think and write what they want to write, because I know what I'm about, and I have supreme confidence in myself.
“It is tough. But hey, the only thing -- I've always learned, the only thing you have to satisfy is God, family, and yourself, and those are three entities that you can't fool.
“Because you know if you did the right thing, it might not have turned out right. You know, I'm sorry that my kids are grown now because it was easier when they were young and you just go home, ‘That's all right, Dad.’ You struck out three or four times, ‘Dad, you're still the greatest.’ You know what I mean?
“Now it's a little different,” Baker added with a laugh. “My son has suggestions, my wife has suggestions. My son repeated something to me today that, man, I mean, for a teenager, to listen to your parents and quote you verbatim, I think I've done a pretty good job at home. And he texts me, of course, and he said, ‘Dad, this is already written. All you've got to do is believe it.’”
"I'm like, man, that sounds kind of like me. Yeah, life's still good.”
Trea Turner is 0 for 12 with five Ks in three games against the Chicago Cubs in the NLDS. He hasn’t reached base yet.
He’s not the first player to struggle at the plate in a Postseason series, obviously.
“I remember Orlando Cepeda, he was an MVP and he had an extremely tough playoff. I remember Dave Winfield had an extremely tough World Series,” Baker said, explaining that he’d shared his thoughts on the matter with Turner.
“It's not the first time that a guy has had a tough playoff. I had a tough playoff. I got in a fight the day before the World Series and hurt my hand, and I couldn't swing. But [Tommy] Lasorda told me that they needed me on the field, and I needed to be on the field. I remember that like it was yesterday, and we won the World Series; and I had to eat it and couldn't tell anybody.”
Baker went 4 for 24 (.167/.192/.167) with a walk and six Ks in six games of the Dodgers’ win over the New York Yankees in 1981, in what was Baker’s third, and ended up being his final, trip to the World Series as a player.
“And then my dad, you know, I had to call him. That was the toughest call I had to make, and he goes -- and I thought my name was ‘Hard Head’ until I was about 15 years old — so he says, ‘Hard Head, I told you about doing all that fighting.’"
“I said, ‘But Dad, you know it wasn't my fault.’ You know how fathers are; it's always your fault. It's all good.”