- The Washington Times - Monday, October 6, 2003


From the first day, Dusty Baker never bought into the “Lovable Losers” image of the Chicago Cubs. He spoke of it with anger and disdain.

So while last night’s 5-1 clinching victory by Chicago over the Atlanta Braves in Game 5 of the National League Division Series might have come as relief and even surprise to Cubs fans, it was what Baker has been preparing for since spring training opened in Mesa, Ariz., back in February.

It is what Baker always prepared for, both as a player and then as successful manager — three-time Manager of the Year — with the San Francisco Giants. He took the Giants to the World Series last year before taking over the Cubs this past winter.

“The way I look at it, I was made to be here,” Baker told me this spring.

Losing? That’s for losers. The Cubs were losers. Baker was a winner. Something was going to change.

Turner Field became Wrigley Field South again last night, drawing many Cubs fans as they did here for Games 1 and 2. They helped fill the ballpark with a record crowd of 54,357, many of them chanting “Kerry, Kerry” during the game for Cubs starter Kerry Wood.

Wood held the Braves to one run over eight innings, on five hits and two walks. He struck out seven for his second win in the series.

Aramis Ramirez hit a two-run homer and Alex Gonzalez hit a solo shot off Braves starter Mike Hampton. Moises Alou opened the scoring with an RBI single in the first inning and Tom Goodwin closed it with a pinch-hit RBI double in the ninth.

When former Oriole Joe Borowski closed it in the ninth by striking out Andruw Jones, Baker joined his players celebrating in the middle of the field what he had preached all year to anyone who would listen — victory.

The win was the first time in the history of the franchise it has won the deciding postseason game. The Cubs usually don’t get that far in a series to play in a deciding game, and the two times they have, in 1945 and 1984 — the last time they played in the NLCS — they lost. When they won the World Series in 1908, they did so in five games.

Now they will face the wild-card Florida Marlins — a very good team that upset the NL West Division champion San Francisco Giants in their division series— beginning tomorrow in Chicago. It will be one charged-up city — not necessarily the typical Cubs atmosphere.

When I spoke to Baker during spring training I asked him what was his perception of the Cubs from afar, as an opposing manager. “It seemed like there was sort of a feeling of people accepting losing,” he said. “I hear it now, a lot of negative thoughts, a lot of negative energy.

“We hit three ground balls the other day and I overheard someone say, ‘Same old Cubs.’ We’re not going to be the same old Cubs if I have anything to say about it.”

He had plenty to say about it. All season long, when it appeared the Cubs were about to fall short, Baker would speak out for his team and angrily denounce the notion that these were the “same old Cubs.”

They survived the “June swoon,” Sammy Sosa’s corked bats, injuries to key players and working in new players through the trade that probably saved their season. They acquired Kenny Lofton, Randall Simon and Aramis Ramirez from Pittsburgh near the end of July. They went 34-21 in the last two months of the season, won the National League Central Division, and, as they advance to the NLCS, are the hottest show in baseball.

Lovable? Yes. Losers? No.

“I’ve never been around a manager even close to what Dusty does,” Cubs pitcher Matt Clement said. “It’s all positive. Players respect him for that and they follow the positive energy he puts out. You take it on the field and into the dugout.”

You apparently take it with you even after Baker is no longer your manager.

“Dusty is so good at knowing you, and what’s going to make you perform at your highest level,” said Atlanta pitcher Russ Ortiz, who played for Baker in San Francisco. “He will get to know you as a person, and that’s what makes him such a great manager and great motivator.”

That is what has helped make Dusty Baker a winner. He knows his team.

Cubs fans may not recognize them, though. Today they are winners.

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