Baker keeping busy, hoping for return to baseball
Former manager enjoying time off but has more to contribute to game
I'm sorry, but Dusty Baker has no business in his Sacramento hometown doing anything right now other than preparing to leave for Spring Training in Arizona or Florida as somebody's manager. If nothing else, he should be just a phone call away from joining the front office of a Major League team, which brings me to the bottom line: He's a gifted baseball lifer.
Instead, Baker is spending his retirement age of 65 in an active yet restless state away from the game of his soul.
In 2014, Baker wasn't involved in a Major League season as a player, coach or manager for just his second time since 1968. The two-time All-Star outfielder with the Dodgers and three-time Manager of the Year with the Giants was dismissed as Reds manager following the 2013 season. He was fresh from leading Cincinnati to a third trip to the playoffs during his six years in town.
Within days, Baker said he was urged by baseball folks to take a lengthy sabbatical from the game or to stay retired. He said they were worried about his history of heart-related issues. In September 2012, he missed several Reds games after he was hospitalized with an irregular heartbeat.
So much for old news. As for the new, Baker said over the phone the other day from his Northern California home that he never has felt better. That's why, after managing the Giants for a decade through the 2002 World Series, and after leading the Cubs for four years that nearly included their first National League pennant since 1945, and after making the Reds a consistent force in the NL Central, you've guessed it: Baker said he wants another chance making decisions for a Major League team.
"But, hey, it's all good, man. Life's good," said Baker, who, among other things, has more time these days to bond with his son, Darren. Yep, I'm talking about the instantly famous Giants bat boy who isn't 3 years old anymore. He's 16. During that 2002 World Series, he nearly was trampled at home plate for his father's team until he was yanked away at the last second by J.T. Snow.
Anyway, the older Baker and the younger Baker went to the national championship game of college football last month, and they journeyed to the Final Four last year.
"This [free time] is giving me a chance to do things that I wanted to do but couldn't do if I was still involved with baseball," said Baker, who refused broadcasting offers after his Reds dismissal from ESPN, MLB Network and the Dodgers' TV team. "Really, it was just too soon for me to do any of those things, and I'm looking at it as a blessing."
Consider this: In addition to joining Darren at more sporting events, Baker has been able to see his son play in them, including a trip to Vancouver for Darren's youth baseball team in Vancouver. They've gone fishing together in Montana, and back in Sacramento, Baker is a long ways from the wide-eyed slugger who was in the on-deck circle for the Braves when Hank Aaron became baseball's all-time home run champion in April 1974.
Baker is sprinting deeper into the wine business, and he has vineyards throughout his massive property to prove it. Not only is he the president of "Baker Family Wines," but of "Baker Energy Team," which promotes the storage of solar energy. After he attended a slew of conferences on the subject, he decided to start the solar-energy business with several of his old elementary, high school and college friends. And, yes, his home is solar powered, complete with a solar well, solar pool and solar hot-water facility.
Then there is Baker's garden. It's huge. The same goes for the leaves from the mustard greens that grow freely around his property, along with everything from grapes to onions to beets.
"Really, at this point, I just have to slow it down, because things are going at such a fast pace," said Baker, adding that he also had the opportunity to join his wife, Melissa, in watching their daughter, Natosha, get married in the backyard of their Sacramento home. "Even though things are going at a fast pace, they are all things that are fulfilling. I mean, a lot of the things I'm doing, like solar energy, are helping people have a better life."
That said, Baker is a baseball guy.
He'll always be a baseball guy.
"No question, I'd like to have another chance to manage, because the only thing lacking in my career is [a World Series championship]," said Baker, who nevertheless won 53 percent of the time during his 20 years of calling the shots in Major League dugouts. "There are a lot of very good managers and football coaches who never won that big one, and it eats at you. That's why I'd love to come back, but you can't hire yourself.
"Ideally, I'd love to land somewhere where people would listen to me and use the knowledge I've acquired over 47 years to help build a team. Somebody who wants an independent thinker. I know how to put together the necessary ingredients of a winning team. I've got a pretty good idea of what you need to win: balance-wise, speed, power and defense."
What if Baker doesn't get another chance in baseball? What if this manager who was known for smiling as well as for dangling a toothpick from his mouth has to settle on functioning as just a husband and a father -- you know, between operating as a superstar of wine, solar and gardening?
Without pausing, Baker said, "Even though I had to make myself not miss baseball, I have a higher yearning. I have a yearning for life."