Saturday, November 16, 2002

Cubs hire Baker as manager

By Rick Gano
The Associated Press

CHICAGO - Dusty Baker went to the World Series and now he's going to Wrigley Field. After running one of baseball's most consistent winners, he'll be managing one of its biggest losers.

It's a tough assignment, one that many have confronted before, only to fail. Baker says he's ready.

"I love baseball, No. 1. I love challenges, No. 2," Baker said Friday night as he accepted the formidable assignment of managing the Chicago Cubs.

"I'm not a miracle man. I don't know if it will take two or three years or whatever, but we're dedicated to winning. A number of players have indicated that they would like to come to Chicago and possibly play for me. They are dedicated to bringing in the best players."

Baker, a three-time National League Manager of the Year, agreed to a four-year contract, a deal thought to be worth between $14 million and $16 million.

Cubs president Andy MacPhail said Baker was general manager Jim Hendry's first choice, his second choice and his third choice, even though he interviewed several other candidates.

"We're very thrilled to have him," MacPhail said. "His record speaks for itself. He's an enormously popular manager with his players. As result, the field of players that would like to play for the Cubs has increased with tonight's announcement by a large amount."

In fact, the Cubs might now actively pursue Jim Thome, who hit 52 home runs for Cleveland last season. They've already acquired catcher Damian Miller from Arizona in a trade.

Baker becomes the second-highest paid manager behind Joe Torre of the New York Yankees. The sides began negotiating Tuesday and on Thursday agent Jeff Moorad said the Cubs needed to dip deeper into their pockets to get the deal finished.

"They dug a little deeper," Baker said. "We were creative and came up with ways to make it work for both sides to be satisfied."

With the hiring of Baker and Bob Melvin by Seattle earlier in the day, all 10 openings for major league managers have been filled.

Known for his dugout toothpick and his ability to relate to players, Baker spent 10 seasons with the San Francisco Giants before departing last week following differences with owner Peter Magowan, largely over who deserved the most credit for the franchise's success.

Baker replaces Bruce Kimm, the interim manager who was fired at the end of the Cubs' 67-95 season. Kimm had replaced Don Baylor, who was fired July 6 as Chicago got off to a horrible start and went on to its third 90-loss season in four years.

Hendry also interviewed Bob Melvin, Ken Macha, Buck Showalter and Fredi Gonzalez, but it was no secret Baker was the man the Cubs wanted and that's why they waited, to see if he would leave the Giants.

"I thought we had a good list that we were comfortable with, but we felt Dusty was the guy," Hendry said. "We felt he was worth waiting for."

The Cubs will be Baker's biggest managerial test. They haven't won a World Series since 1908 and have made the playoffs only three times since 1945, their last World Series appearance.

Since 1945, they've had only 16 seasons at .500 or better. They haven't even managed back-to-back winning records since 1972.

But Baker is well aware of what he faces. Asked about baseball's lovable losers, he's said the manager who got the Cubs to win would be "the mighty man of Chicago."

And if anyone can get the Cubs winning on a regular basis, it could be Baker. He went 840-715 in 10 seasons with the Giants and over the final six seasons his teams averaged 91 victories.

Among active managers, only Atlanta's Bobby Cox had been with his club longer.

"It might take some time, but the name of my game is progress. Once your start seeing that, you can determine how far away you are," Baker said earlier.

Baker's a favorite of players and fans alike. In San Francisco, he'd always take time to sign a few autographs before each game at Pacific Bell Park. And he successfully handled a variety of personalities in the clubhouse, including Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent, who got into a dugout shoving match last season.

After handling Bonds, now he gets to deal with another superstar and his ego, Sammy Sosa.

Baker said one of his first tasks would to talk with Sosa and other current players and hire a coaching staff.

He also plans to chat with former Cubs like Ernie Banks, Andre Dawson and Billy Williams and find out their opinions on the effect afternoon baseball - the Cubs play more than 60 home day games - has on players and performance.

"I want to get rid of the stigma that the Cubs can't win and that they can't win playing daytime baseball," Baker said.

Baker is not expected to have his son, 3-year-old Darren, as a bat boy at Wrigley Field. Baseball is likely to set a minimum age for bat boys next season, somewhere in double digits.

Baker said he might stay in Baylor's former Chicago condo until he finds the place he wants to live.

Baker's father, Johnnie, was enthused about the move.

"I'm ecstatic. It's a big change, but I am thrilled to death that he got what he wanted," he said from Sacramento, Calif. "I think Chicago will be a good place for him to work. They've got some good ballplayers and good players in the minor leagues. It should be a good challenge for him.

"I'll be there quite often I hope, to see what's going on with him and how he's working out, which I hope will be very satisfying for everybody involved," he said.

The only knock on Baker had been his lack of success in the playoffs. But he answered that this season as the wild-card Giants beat Atlanta and St. Louis to reach the World Series.

San Francisco had a 3-2 games lead and was ahead 5-0 in the seventh inning of Game 6 before Anaheim rallied to win the series in seven games.

Baker apparently felt slighted that Magowan would point out everybody else's contributions when reporters asked what he thought of Baker's role in the Giants' success. Baker also was angered when Magowan said in spring training that this was the best Giants team in his 10 years as owner, thinking that put too much pressure on the players.

The Giants and Baker parted ways last week and San Francisco quickly named Felipe Alou to the job.

Baker said he's happy to be coming to Chicago for several reasons.

"You got to go where you are wanted," he said.

Baker has also dealt with some financial burdens. A report surfaced that he owes more than $1 million in back taxes and penalties due to some bad investments he made in the early 1980s.

The Cubs did not consider that as a major issue in bringing Baker to Chicago.

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