There has been a lot of heat coming out of Chicago involving Cubs manager Dusty Baker, which has led some to speculate that it may be too hot there for Dusty — despite his comments more than two years ago that black people can handle heat more than white people — and that he is looking for someplace with a little cooler temperature.
The Los Angeles Times recently quoted a source saying Baker wants to manage in Los Angeles if Dodgers manager Jim Tracy doesn’t come back next season and “would love the Dodgers to come calling and then hope the Cubs would let him go.”
Baker has denied any such notions and last week told re porters he is not considering moving on before his contract runs out in 2006.
“I didn’t sign here for four years thinking about going somewhere else,” Baker said. “I signed here for four years because I thought it might take that long, Number 1, and Number 2, because I wanted to make sure we saw this thing through. L.A., that’s kind of out there. Sources, there’s always a source saying something. It seems like I’m in more rumors than somebody in Hollywood.”
Well, here’s another Dusty rumor, only this one emanates from the Hollywood of the East — Washington — another place where Baker wouldn’t mind managing.
The Cubs manager has told associates he would like to come to Washington, professing his fondness for the city, and believes it would be a more friendly confine than Chicago.
The thing is, there may not be a job available in Washington for several years. When asked yesterday, Nationals manager Frank Robinson said he wants to manage here not just next season but beyond that if the club’s owners-to-be want him.
“I want the focus to be on the players and on the job on the field,” Robinson said. “I don’t want any contract issues coming up, and I don’t want them to think I am focused on anything but on the field. But I have let it be known that if management would like to have me, I would like to come back and manage next year and maybe three or four more years. Now, I know that depends on the performance of the ballclub. But if my health can hold up, I would be interested in doing it.”
Robinson, who will be 70 on Aug. 31, likely will be back for any number of reasons. He has earned it with the team’s performance this year, occupying or battling for first place in the National League East, and for the two out of three winning seasons he had in Montreal — all accomplished under the thumb of ownership by Major League Baseball. He earned the right to manage this team with an independent, committed and deep-pocketed owner in place.
Plus, let’s be realistic here. He is Frank Robinson, a baseball legend and an icon in the black community as the first black manager in major league history in a city and region with a strong black community. Any new owner taking over would be risking a huge public relations blow by cutting Robinson loose.
But if Robinson were to become part of an ownership group and have some responsibility in “shaping the future of the ballclub” — something he would welcome — perhaps there would be an opening, putting into play the Baker scenario.
Robinson made it clear he is not talking about the general manager’s job, saying, “We have a general manager [Jim Bowden] and a good one. I think he deserves first consideration for whoever winds up owning this team. I think he should be retained.”
The Baker rumors have been fueled by the falling out in Chicago that is taking place between the three-time National League Manager of the Year and the media and Cubs fans.
Baker criticized the Wrigley faithful for their booing of former Cubs pitcher LaTroy Hawkins when the Giants visited Chicago recently, and also the booing of the Cubs’ lackluster play of late. Baker told a reporter that booing at Wrigley Field could hurt the chances of free agents wanting to play for the Cubs down the road.
Responding to the booing directed at Hawkins, Baker said, “I understand [booing] but not to that magnitude and that intensity and degree. It’s something I heard didn’t go on here much before. Why now?”
Those comments stirred criticism of Baker from Chicago Sun-Times columnist Jay Mariotti, which in turn was criticized by an ESPN columnist named Scoop Jackson (a name so ridiculous I am embarrassed to even write it), who wrote that the Baker rumors that he wants to leave “come from certain members of the 312 area code media who quietly would like to see someone else at the helm of the organization that best reps America’s national pastime. Someone who looks and acts more like them.”
Jackson criticized other columnists for not defending Baker. “Not that they’re supposed to, but … they ain’t we,” Jackson wrote. “They don’t feel your struggle, Dusty.”
It doesn’t sound like this is going to end well for Dusty Baker in Chicago, and he may be looking a new beginning — maybe in a city where being a long-suffering baseball fan doesn’t mean your team hasn’t won a World Series since 1924. The pain here has been not having a team to root for through 33 seasons, a pain that tends to numb the displays of dissatisfaction that Baker finds so offensive in Chicago.