New Nationals manager Dusty Baker was the subject of MLB Network’s one-hour documentary, “Dusty: A Baseball Journey,” which aired Tuesday evening. The show details Baker’s early life growing up in Riverside, Calif., and then eventually moving to Sacramento, Calif., where he experienced racial divide in the mid-1960s.
Baker, a gifted athlete from an early age, and his friends eventually found an outlet in music. After attending the famous Monterrey Pop Festival in 1967, the group briefly ran into the Jimi Hendrix on the streets of San Francisco.
Having some marijuana to share helped the young Baker approach the legendary guitarist.
“I was like, ‘Hey man, I really like your music,’” Baker recalled. “And you know how Jimi talked: ‘Yeah man, it’s groovy-groovy. It’s melodic.’”
“Smoking a joint with Hendrix, that’s pretty cool,” said Elvin Bishop, a musician and friend of Baker’s. “It’s Dust-iny. He’s at the right place at the right time for a lot of things.”
Baker quickly found himself in the presence of another icon when the Braves selected him in the 26th round of 1967 amateur draft. A year later, at 19, Baker made his major league debut, playing alongside Hall of Famer Henry Aaron.
“I realized that Dusty, you could tell he had major league star written all over him,” Aaron remembers on the MLB Network feature.
Then, in 1974, there was Baker in the on-deck circle as Aaron smacked his 715th career homer, breaking Babe Ruth’s all-time record.
After the 1975 season, Baker was traded to the Dodgers where he was named an All-Star twice, won two Silver Sluggers and a Gold Glove. He was the MVP of the 1977 National League Championship Series and appeared in the Fall Classic in 1977 and 1978 before finally winning a World Series with the Dodgers in 1981.
“I’ve always said there are two things, style and class,” said Steve Garvey, a teammate of Baker’s in L.A. “Dusty had both of them.”
In L.A., Baker caught the attention of his manager, Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda.
“He’d say, ‘Why’d you do this and what are you gonna do here?’ So I thought, this guy is pretty good,” Lasorda says on the MLB Network program. “He’s asking questions. He’s probably thinking about one day when he would be manager.”
Baker’s 1,671-1,504 managerial record in the majors ranks him as the 17th-winningest skipper in baseball history. The 66-year-old has been awarded National League Manager of the Year three times (1993, 1997, 2000). Baker guided the Giants, Cubs and Reds to the playoffs, but advanced to the World Series only once, losing with San Francisco in 2002.
“This would be the icing on the cake,” said Baker. “The Nationals, they never had a championship. So why not now and why not me?”
Baker’s managerial philosophy has been debated in each of his stops in the majors. He has especially dealt with friction in the current world of analytics taking over the strategy of the game.
“Everybody says new school and old school, but I don’t see a whole bunch of this new school dominating and doing a whole bunch of winning,” says Baker. “I mean, they’re talking about you shouldn’t bunt and you shouldn’t do this. Well, there’s only one way to play baseball: You play it correctly. And there’s a time to bunt and there’s a time to go for the three-run homer. And there’s nobody that’s gonna convince me that the way I was taught to play this game by some of the baddest dudes to ever play baseball, that we were playing this game wrong. The new school is about doing the same thing that we were doing except they put names on it.”
Baker gets the opportunity to manage reigning NL MVP Bryce Harper in Washington, the latest in a line of premier players under his tutelage. Barry Bonds played for Baker in San Francisco, Sammy Sosa in Chicago and, most recently, Joey Votto in Cincinnati.
“I was a star,” Baker said with a smile. “I wasn’t as big a star as some of these guys, but I was kinda like a mini-star for a little while. To me, it isn’t really about the money. I don’t care how much money you make. When the game starts, it’s not money versus money. It’s me versus you and let’s see who’s the best - and who has the most endurance because it’s a long race. And I know how to run this race.”
Baker is one of just six managers in major league history to win a division title with at least three teams, joining former Nationals skipper Davey Johnson, Billy Martin, Lou Piniella, Joe Torre and Tony LaRussa.
“It’s been a great, great ride,” Baker said. “Has it been up and down? Oh, heck, yeah, it’s been up and down. But when I look back, I wouldn’t trade anything, and I know the best is yet to come.”
Check your cable listings for replays of “Dusty: A Baseball Journey” throughout the month.