CHICAGO – Dusty Baker ducked into the small, cavelike interview room under Wrigley Field for a final time. As usual, he was reflective and philosophical, even on the day he learned he was out as the Chicago Cubs’ manager.
“I wish we could have gotten it done, but we didn’t,” Baker said. “I guess all things must come to an end, and all things come to pass.”
Baker’s four-year run ended Monday when the team declined to renew his contract, ending a tumultuous span of less than 24 hours for a franchise that hasn’t won a World Series since 1908.
One day earlier, team president and CEO Andy MacPhail resigned after 12 years.
Baker figured to be the guy to end the talk of curses and bad luck. After 10 years managing the San Francisco Giants, a trip to the World Series and three manager of the year awards, he had the background, the experience, the success and the respect of players that many thought would finally bring a championship to the team long known as the lovable losers.
“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,” Baker said when he was hired nearly four years ago.
He was laid-back and often used “Hey, man,” to kick off his thoughts. His office featured soothing music, pleasing aromas and pictures of his successful career as a player and manager.
But after his first Cubs team collapsed in the 2003 NL championship series, when the World Series was a mere five outs away, he couldn’t get the Cubs back to the playoffs.
Even though he led the Cubs to their first back-to-back winning seasons in more than three decades, his final two years turned into losers, including an NL-worst 66-96 mark this season.
“Obviously, history was almost changed for good in ’03,” general manager Jim Hendry said. “It’s gone down a slippery slope the last two years, and we all deserve a big part of the blame, not just him.”
Injuries were a huge part of the team’s slide. The Cubs were without often-sidelined pitchers Mark Prior and Kerry Wood and 2005 NL batting champ Derrek Lee for most of this season.
Giants not sure if Bonds will return
SAN FRANCISCO – If Barry Bonds is back with the San Francisco Giants next season, and that still seems to be a big if, owner Peter Magowan said the slugger would not be the centerpiece of the roster any longer.
“I think we need to go in a new direction,” Magowan said Monday after the club announced manager Felipe Alou’s contract would not be renewed.
“We have for a long time had a strategy that has worked well until the last two years, when it hasn’t worked so well. The strategy has been one of having a great player – maybe the greatest player in the game – at the centerpiece and filling in with veteran players.
“For a long time that worked well. It caught up with us the past couple of years. Now we do need to get younger and healthier.”
The Giants have 11 potential free agents and were still in the process of evaluating whom they might want to retain – and Magowan made it clear No. 25 wouldn’t be wearing a Giants uniform in 2007 just to attract fans at the team’s waterfront ballpark.
“It’s a tough decision, but the decision’s going to be made on what gives the Giants the best chance to win,” Magowan said. “It’s not going to be made on what gives the Giants the best chance to fill up a ballpark on some marketing situation. I feel the best marketing is to win.”
The 42-year-old Bonds’ $90 million, five-year contract is up with San Francisco, though he has said he would like to return to the Giants for a 15th season – 2007 would be his 22nd in the big leagues.
Bonds has 734 home runs, 22 from breaking Hank Aaron’s career record of 755, and is eligible for free agency after the World Series. After missing all but 14 games in 2005 following three operations on his right knee, Bonds batted .270 with 26 homers and 77 RBIs in 367 at-bats in 2006.
Blalock has surgery
ARLINGTON, Texas – Texas Rangers third baseman Hank Blalock had arthroscopic surgery on his sore right shoulder Monday.
Blalock’s shoulder started bothering him in July. He didn’t start at third base after Sept. 14 because it hurt when he threw.