CHICAGO — Whatever happens at Wrigley Field this week, whether his team reaches the World Series or not, Dusty Baker already has posted a huge victory for the Chicago Cubs.
He’s managed to get them to shed their longtime image as baseball’s lovable losers.
Cute cubby bear on their sleeves? Friendly Confines? Warm and fuzzy feel?
Watch Mark Prior and Kerry Wood buzz a batter, even if it’s Barry Bonds. See Kenny Lofton knock down Florida pitcher Mark Redman with a loose elbow. Listen to Baker shout out Tony La Russa.
More like grizzlies than baby bruins, these Cubs.
“What we’ve been fighting here all year long,” Baker said yesterday, a day before the Cubs played Florida in Game6 of the National League Championship Series. “Everytime you lose a game, somebody conjures up something negative in history that happened before.”
Ahead 3-2, the Cubs can wrap up their first World Series trip in 58 years with a win tonight. Prior will start against Carl Pavano, with Wood set to pitch Game7 if necessary.
A win would give the Cubs a chance to claim their first Series championship in 95 years.
Baker wants to keep the focus on the field, though he knows a lot of fans will be thinking about the Cubs’ past.
“Most of these guys in 1984 — Kerry Wood in 1984 — what was he, like 8?” Baker said. “Half of this stuff doesn’t apply to them. They can’t help the fact that they are playing for the Cubs, Dodgers or A’s or whoever they are playing for, and they can’t help what happened in the past.
“I was watching a game the other night and in between innings this goat kept running across the street. I thought that was the craziest thing I ever saw in my life …” he said. “You either don’t pay attention to it or you laugh at it. Those are the two choices you got.”
Baker guided San Francisco to the Series last year, losing in Game7 to Anaheim, and then took over a Cubs team that had gone 67-95. This season, Chicago went 88-74 and won the NL Central.
Baker admitted he did not think the turnaround would be so swift.