The first spring training I ever attended was in 1999. Our Giants beat writer at the time, Joe Roderick, had some personal issues to take care of, and a couple of weeks before camp started, I was tapped on the shoulder and told I was the guy for the first 3 weeks. I had a little experience as a back-up reporter, but as an everyday guy, I was still awash in “What do I do?,” and I was more than a little wide-eyed.
Second day there, I was watching one of the early workouts at Indian School Park, a primitive workout facility that really was no different than the diamonds you see at your local park. Dusy was sitting on a folding chair on a type of elevated platform behind the home-plate fence at one of the fields. He saw me standing there, and I’m sure sensing my trepidation in asking him for a one-on-one interview earlier that day, invited me up. For the next hour, he explained to me what he was trying to see in the workouts, broke down each player with a brief scouting report (strengths and weaknesses), asked about my family, my baseball background, my interests, etc. It remains to this day one of the highlights of my career.
It also explains why I sometimes seem so blindly loyal to his managing ability, and the truth is, he’s not perfect. He could probably handle pitchers better, his in-game strategy sometimes leaves something to be desired, and it was a mistake to hand Russ Ortiz the ball when he took his starter out in Game 6 of the 2002 World Series. But the brief glimpse into his personality that you’re getting here explains why players would go to the end of a cliff for him, and if I’m running a team, that’s what I want more than anything.
My experience with Ken Macha is different. He was a bench coach during my first year on the A’s beat, and I was a bit more seasoned and not quite as wide-eyed. Still, Macha took every opportunity to answer any baseball-related questions I might have and was always bluntly honest about what he was observing. His people skills might not be on par with somebody such as Dusty, but he, too, would make plenty of bosses happy with his ability in the dugout. Personally, I look forward to the day when they both get a chance to manage again.
For now, both will be analysts, Baker for ESPN and Macha (as soon as his studio deal is official) for New England Sports Network. Baker got his feet wet during the playoffs last season, and he should only improve. He gave honest, forthright opinions on a variety of topics during a conference call the other day. Here are a few of them.
(On Barry Bonds’ pursuit of Hank Aaron): “I see him handling it with class and dignity. I’m looking forward to it even though we’re not at that point yet. The closer it gets, more notoriety it will get. Unless people talk about potential problems that are out there for Barry, it should be great.”
(On whether commissioner Bud Selig should attend): “I hope so. Bud will do the right thing. I hope he’s there.
(On whether Bowie Kuhn should’ve attended the night Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run and surpassed Babe Ruth, a moment Baker witnessed from the on-deck circle): “Now, that I look back. Probably so. Don’t know what happened with the fact that he wasn’t there. That was one of major events of all-time. Might be even bigger than Barry breaking Hank’s record … So yeah, looking back, think he should’ve been there.”
(On Sammy Sosa’s big spring. Baker managed Sosa during his stint with the Cubs): “I’m not surprised. Quite frankly, I talked with Ron Washington and told him that I anticipated and expected Sammy to come back strong. He’s had a whole year to get body back together. Whatever was injured, he had time to strengthen that part of his body. I’m sure he been hitting the whole time. Sammy’s a hard worker. So I’m not surprised. In the old days, guy might not have been given chance to comeback, but in modern baseball, with the modern facilities … I’m not surprised. Being out a while, gave him a chance to get that hunger again. I anticipate he’ll have very good year.”