Thursday, June 19, 2003

New manager Baker making Cubs believers

By Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Dusty Baker, who managed the Giants to a World Series appearance last year, is building a winning attitude - and team - with the Cubs this season.
( Associated Press photo)
| ZOOM |
When Dusty Baker took over as the manager of the Chicago Cubs, he immediately began to try to develop a sense of camaraderie. For a team with 14 newcomers, it was the first order of business under a new manager.

A close second was dispelling the image of the Cubs as America's lovable losers. They haven't won a World Series since 1908 and haven't played in one since 1945.

"He said things have changed," said second baseman Mark Grudzielanek, one of the new faces. " 'I'm here now and we're going to change. Whatever is the reputation of the club, it just changed. We are going to win, and that's the bottom line.' "

No doubt many Cubs managers before Baker took the same aggressive approach in trying to wash away the Cubs' losing past. But so far Baker is succeeding.

As the season nears its halfway point, the Cubs are eight games over .500 and in first place in the National League Central.

"We've been very consistent," said Baker, who managed the San Francisco Giants to the World Series last year. "We haven't lost a whole bunch of games in a row and we haven't won a whole bunch of games in a row. We've already improved quite a bit. We won 67 games last year. If we win 67 games one year and go to the World Series the next, we'll be the team of two centuries. Not one century, but two."

The Cubs are still a long way from serious consideration for the World Series, but they have a pitching staff that entered Wednesday ranked second in the National League with a 3.60 ERA, an offense that has been more potent than expected and a manager who knows how to create a winning atmosphere.

"Somebody made the comment the other day that they've never seen a manager suit up like he's going out to play on the field," said Cubs ace Mark Prior. "He suits up with wrist bands and everything. He's into the game on every single pitch.

"It goes a long way as far as the respect we have for him and his credibility. The guy is awesome."

Baker is regarded as a players' manager, which, in baseball parlance means he lets his players do their jobs, stepping in only when he finds they haven't fulfilled their responsibilities.

"He treats you like an adult," Prior said, "like you should be treated. In his eyes, everybody's the same. You know what your roles are. You know what your jobs are. He wants them to get done. If for some reason they're not getting done, then he'll say something to you. But we're on our own, and I think that's how a lot of guys like it."

Baker is proud to point to the change in attitude his club has realized in just a few months.

"You can't say the Cubs don't play hard," Baker said, "that they're not exciting or that they give up. That was not the Cubs' reputation before."

And Baker believes the Cubs have yet to play their best baseball.

"It's the middle of June and we haven't hit our stride yet," Baker said. "Somebody is going to get hot. It might as well be us."

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