Q&A: Baker sounds off on all things Astros

February 4th, 2020

At a media luncheon hosted by the Astros on Tuesday, manager Dusty Baker spoke with reporters about a wide range of topics ahead of his first Spring Training with the club, only a week after he was hired by owner Jim Crane:

How do you start to build a relationship with James Click, who was just introduced as the new general manager?

You start with trust. You start with honesty. You be as straightforward as you can, with all situations. You don't sugarcoat anything. If you're asked a question, you answer to the best of your knowledge and ability. There are some things that I can learn from him. There are some things that possibly he can learn from me. It's like dealing with my son. I call him when I'm stumped on my computer, when I'm stumped on my cell phone, how to transfer this and that. These are areas where I can improve. There are areas [Click] wants to improve on. We'll enhance each other.

Have you heard from any Astros players?

A couple of them. They said, basically, "Welcome. We're glad you're here." We haven't had a lot of conversations. But the fact that they reached out, the fact that they're glad I'm here so far.

Have you met bench coach Joe Espada? How much will you rely on him this year?

I talked to Joe this morning. [I'll rely on him] a lot. I'm a big planner, especially during Spring Training. I like things sharp; I like things organized. I don't like a lot of standing around -- a bunch of dead time. He doesn't either. I'm relying on him quite a bit. He knows the players. He knows who works hard. He knows who might not work as hard. He knows who comes in early, who comes in late. There are some guys who work too hard where you might have to tell them to back off a little bit. He's giving me some insight into the team and to the players.

How has your philosophy as manager changed over the years? Will you do anything differently this time around?

I don't know, I think I did pretty good my last couple times around. I just do much of the same. Just rely, especially in this situation, where you're new, you haven't had a lot of time to study. This is kind of a whirlwind situation. I've had five or six days longer than James Click has.

I don't know what I'm going to do differently. I have to first get in there and see what the mood and the personnel is like before you can just go to changing stuff. I prefer to not to have to change anything, and just do much of the same. It was good before I got here. I've got my eyes open. I'm always looking for a surprise when I go to Spring Training, someone that you don't always count on. It's happened many, many times in my career as a manager where a kid you didn't count on all of a sudden figures out how to throw his curveball over, or finds his control, or finds his coordination, or something. Did some mental skills training over the winter and therefore got mentally stronger. I'm looking for a surprise that possibly none of us are counting on.

You are wearing "Baker Jr." on your uniform. Is that the first time you've added the "Junior"?

Yes. You try to learn from the youth. I've seen a lot of younger players, especially in football and basketball, have it. I just thought of it in the middle of the night. I thought about my dad. This is the 10th year [since he died]. A lot of people don't know I'm a Junior; they just know me as Dusty. My brother passed eight months ago. My son will be 21 next week. My grandson is almost three weeks old -- my first grandson. It's important to me to show my family. My [siblings], they like the respect I'm giving my dad.

Your general thoughts on using an opener?

I really don't know. You know something -- it's just a different name. Instead of the opener, we called them bullpen days. This is nothing new. You guys have different names for some of the same stuff we had names for before. It depends on the shape of your bullpen, the shape of your starting pitching and how many consecutive days you're going to be playing without days off. I'll be relying heavily on [pitching coach] Brent Strom, because Brent knows this team. He knows this pitching staff. I've got to rely on him.

You'll be managing the All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium, where you played a large part of your career. Your thoughts on that?

That's kinda cool too, ain't it?

The last All-Star Game I managed, I went to the World Series with the Giants [in 2002], but then I left and went to the Cubs and I had a Cubs uniform on at the White Sox park [at the All-Star Game in '03]. Now, here I am, coming back to Dodger Stadium. I had been asked before this job; I was going to manage the Futures Game. Now I'm managing in the real game.

As the Astros prepare for the season under unusual circumstances, how do you help move everything forward?

Have an open heart to forgiveness. That's probably one of my worst traits. I know it is. My auntie used to tell me, "You have to forgive." I just couldn't. Now I'm trying to learn how to and also make sure the players stay together. [Former 49ers head coach] Bill Walsh used to always tell me, "Make sure the players stay together." I talked to [Celtics Hall of Famer] Bill Russell about how they won so many games. He said they loved each other.

The Astros' pitching lost a lot over the winter, both in the rotation and bullpen. How do you feel about the state of the pitching heading into the season?

Guys have to stay healthy. We need [Lance] McCullers [Jr.] back badly and have him a full year. I'm sure he's raring to go and hopefully will make it to a full year. We've got a couple surprises in the bullpen, the Minor Leagues, which we don't know yet. And this club always does something at the [Trade Deadline] to try to shore up. There was [Justin] Verlander a couple years ago, and then there was [Zack] Greinke. The Astros, I have to give it to them, they will go out and get the necessary pieces they don't have. So we'll see. I want to get off to a good start like everybody does, but you have to realize it's a long, long year, too.