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Raising the Roof
Spotlight: Dusty Baker
By Marc Connolly
ABC Sports Online


"The only people I ever felt intimidated by in my whole life were Bob Gibson and my Daddy.
-- Dusty Baker

That's exactly the type of statement you'd expect from Dusty Baker, a man who has helped break racial coaching barriers as the only African-American to win Major League Baseball Manager of the Year honors three times as the skipper of the San Francisco Giants.

Actually, one of the reasons Baker's squads have thrived during his eight-year reign has to do with race. His ability to blend men of different racial and ethnic backgrounds into one cohesive unit has been marveled by past and present players. Perhaps it's his easy-going style of managing and his "one of the boys" mentality. Or perhaps it's his broad-range interests, which include riding a Harley, listening to everything from Van Morrison to Tupac, and speaking Spanish to help him relate to so many of his players.

Dusty Baker
Dusty Baker won his third N.L. Manager of the Year Award in 2000 after leading the Giants to the National League crown.

Though his philosophy is to let each of his players' cultural heritages shine through on an everyday basis, Baker is the first to admit that he wasn't always so open-minded about such matters.

Shortly after starring in multiple sports at Del Campo (Carmichael, Calif.) High School in 1967 and a stint at American River (Sacramento, Calif.) College, Baker embarked on what would be a 20-year playing career in professional baseball in Atlanta's farm system. While in Richmond, Calif., from 1969-71, Baker wasn't allowed to live in white neighborhoods, but in depressed areas that he said were filled with "pimps and prostitutes." He didn't believe his team cared for him, and admits developing an angry persona as he came up through the ranks. In fact, the only reason he didn't join the Black Muslims was because his father wouldn't let him.

But oh, how his views would change.

Baker's greatest learning tool came from one simple rule that has always prevailed in all walks of life: a divided team cannot be a successful team. After being traded to the Dodgers from the Braves in 1975, his teams experienced a multitude of successes. Baker appeared in four League Championship Series (1977, 1978, 1981 and 1983), including the Dodgers' World Championship-winning run in the strike-shortened '81 campaign.

A two-time All-Star outfielder in those years and a key cog in Los Angeles' deadly lineup that included Steve Garvey and Ron Cey, Baker was at his best when it counted. In LCS play, he posted an astounding career average of .371 with 13 RBI in 17 LCS games. He also won LCS MVP in L.A.'s four-game sweep over Philadelphia in 1977 when he hit .357 with 2 home runs and 8 RBI, including a grand slam.

After stints in San Francisco and Oakland in the mid-'80s, Baker called it quits in 1986 with impressive career totals of 242 home runs and 1,013 RBI with a .278 average. His eight years of dominance in Dodger Blue was enough to garner him a spot on the All-Time Dodger team voted on by L.A. fans during the club's 100th anniversary celebration in 1990.

Retirement was short-lived for the smooth swinger. From 1988 to 1992, Baker returned to the Giants as a first-base coach and ultimately as a hitting instructor under Roger Craig. After five seasons as an apprentice, Baker took over managing duties and ignited the baseball world in the Bay Area by transforming the Giants, who were 72-90 in 1991, into one of the best in the Major Leagues behind a 103-59 mark. It was the most games won by any rookie manager in N.L. history and earned him AP Manager of the Year honors.

Since his rookie season at the helm, Baker has blossomed into one of the most respected managers in the game, both for his baseball mind and for being the ultimate "player's manager" because of his easy-going nature. Despite a continued lack of big-name players, Baker has continued to keep the Giants a force to be reckoned with season after season in the N.L. West, including their division-winning season in 2000. Once again, his talents were rewarded after San Francisco went 97-65, by being named N.L. Manager of the Year to go with his trophies from 1993 and '97.

Just 52, Baker has already made history on several accounts, but claims his enormous success in a mere eight seasons hasn't satisfied his competitive appetite.

"Not until we have a championship in San Francisco," he said.

When asked to comment on his most recent award, Baker goes back to the lessons he learned about a team's cohesiveness early on in his long career on the diamond, and preaches to his ever-diverse group of players today.

"These guys believed in me, and I believed in them and they believed in each other," Baker said. "Without them I wouldn't be sitting here."

Marc Connolly is a senior writer for ABC Sports Online.

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