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Sunday, September 17, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Dusty Baker is a baseball lifer — nearly 50 years in the game, as a player and manager.

When you spend that much time in the game, you’re going to be a traveling man, wearing a lot of uniforms along the way. Some, though, will mean more than others.


Some uniforms become your identity.


AUDIO: Former MLB pitcher Ron Darling with Thom Loverro


This weekend, the Los Angeles Dodgers were in town for a three-game series with the Washington Nationals. Baker wears a Nationals uniform, but the Dodger blue across the field has special meaning to him.

It was as a Dodger that Baker was a two-tine All Star. He got his World Series ring in 1981 and went to four postseasons in Los Angeles. He spent eight seasons wearing a Dodgers uniform — after spending the first eight years of his playing career wearing an Atlanta Braves uniform.

I asked Baker who does he identify with more in his playing career — the Dodgers or the Braves?

For Baker, it’s a dual identity.

“I’m from Sacramento and Riverside (California),” he said. “I was born in Riverside and moved to Sacramento when I was 16. I lived in Sacramento most of my life, but I can never forget where I was born.

“I was born with the Braves (he came up to Atlanta the first time in 1968) and I matured as a man with the Dodgers. I was with both of them for an equal amount of time, and I identify with both for different things and changes that happened during those years.”

His connection with the Braves is strong. Spending six years as a teammate of Hank Aaron will do that.

“Those are my formative years around Hank Aaron and Rico Carty and Ralph Garr and Orlando Cepeda, when I was 19 years old — there’s no substitute for that, Phil Niekro and Joe Torre,” Baker said. “Then I went to the Dodgers, and that was my childhood team. Tommy Davis was my childhood hero, he wore number 12 and played left field. I ended up wearing his uniform and playing left field and batting third sometimes just like my hero. How many kids get a chance to do that?”

For those who are uninformed, Tommy Davis won the batting title in 1962 with the Dodgers with 27 home runs, 153 RBI, 120 runs scored, 230 hits and a .346 batting average — a remarkable season. He followed that with another batting title in 1963, batting .326.

Davis had as sweet a swing as you would ever see, only to have his career derailed by an ankle injury in 1965, and though he would go on to play 11 more seasons as a productive player, he was never the same.

Like playing with Aaron, growing up watching Davis play would have an impact on you.

Baker played 19 seasons in the majors, finishing up with the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland Athletics.

He has spent 22 years as a manager — a different job with a different identity.

Baker has managed in San Francisco (10 seasons with the Giants from 1993 to 2002), Chicago (four seasons with the Cubs from 2003 through 2006), Cincinnati (six seasons with the Reds from 2008 to 2013) and is now in his second season as the Washington Nationals manager.

The job that had the most impact on him was the Giants — his first managing job, the one where he spent 10 years and won a National League pennant. That is the managing role Baker identifies with the most.

“Probably my managerial career I identify with San Francisco — and now with the Washington Nationals,” Baker said.

The Nationals could still prove to be the place and time that Dusty Baker will identify the most when all is said and done— if he is able to lead this team to a World Series championship.

I think Baker is a Hall of Fame skipper, with or without a World Series on his managerial resume. He has led four different teams to the post season, and his teams got better with every stop.

Baker has 1,855 career wins — 14th on the all-time managerial winning list, with a .532 winning percentage. I believe he will have a plaque someday in the Hall. But a World Series ring as a manager leave no room for debate.

His identity as the Washington Nationals manager could pave the way for Baker to Cooperstown.

Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver podcast network.


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