PITTSBURGH -- Nationals manager Dusty Baker always admired Chuck Tanner from afar. So to receive an award with Tanner's name on it Saturday night was no small honor for Baker.
Baker was named the Chuck Tanner MLB Manager of the Year at the Rivers Club in downtown Pittsburgh, part of the 10th annual Chuck Tanner Awards Banquet presented by the Rotary Club of Pittsburgh. In his first year with the Nats, Baker led Washington to a 95-67 record and National League East title, while being named a finalist for the Baseball Writers' Association of America's Manager of the Year award.
• Vote for Best Manager in the Esurance MLB Awards
As a player, Baker was close with a number of players managed by Tanner, the native of nearby New Castle, Pa., who passed away in 2011. Baker's teams would come to town and he'd hang out with Willie Stargell, Al Oliver or Gene Clines. During those visits, he'd hear about and eventually meet Tanner.
"It means a lot. I like Chuck Tanner a lot. I liked his team a lot," Baker said before the banquet began. "He had a wild team, and he let them be themselves. I've taken a lot of tips from Chuck Tanner about letting people be themselves."
Baker's experience, leadership and reputation as a player's manager led the Nationals to hire him last offseason. After going two seasons without a managerial job, the 67-year-old skipper helped the Nats improve by 12 wins and get back to the postseason in his first year.
"I'm just proud of how the guys collectively pulled together as a unit, even though we had some guys that had subpar years," Baker said. "You find a way to win in spite of things, that's probably what I'm most proud of. And, I think, I put a feather in the cap for elderly people, as they call us. But I don't feel elderly."
Baker left his home in Sacramento, Calif., for Saturday's banquet, his first offseason trip to Pittsburgh since attending Stargell's charity bowling events in the 1980s. But the city has long been special to him.
Baker reeled off a list of Pittsburgh-related acquaintances that included Basketball Hall of Famer Connie Hawkins and several Pittsburgh Penguins. He remembered cutting the sleeves off his high school jerseys -- and having to pay for them, as a result -- to more closely resemble those worn at the time by the Pirates.
"Pittsburgh's been in my heart a long time," Baker said. "As a kid coming up, you loved the diversity that the Pirates, Dodgers and Giants had. That resonated all the way to the West Coast."
Several other prominent baseball figures were recognized at the awards banquet. Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli was named the Chuck Tanner Memorial Award winner as an individual who made "the most exceptional contributions to Pittsburgh baseball" this year.
Kim Ng, Major League Baseball's senior vice president for baseball operations, was honored with the Sally O'Leary Distinguished Women in Baseball Award. The award was introduced in 2013 to recognize women in baseball, and the first recipient was O'Leary, a longtime member of the Pirates' front-office staff who passed away last month.