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Baker Decides It's Time for a Non-Giant Step

November 07, 2002|Thomas Bonk | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — Dusty Baker, you just managed your team in the World Series, where are you going to go now?

Chicago, maybe. Possibly ESPN.

Just don't say Pacific Bell Park. The San Francisco Giants called a hastily arranged news conference late Wednesday afternoon and announced that Baker isn't coming back for his 11th year as manager.

Less than two weeks after guiding the Giants into the World Series, where they lost to the Angels in seven games, the three-time National League manager of the year is looking for a job. Baker, 53, whose contract expired Wednesday, had been dropping some not-so-subtle hints that managing the Giants another day wasn't in his plans.

Maybe that's why Giant General Manager Brian Sabean didn't sound surprised when he announced the Baker Era with the Giants had come to an end.

Sabean and Jeff Moorad, Baker's agent, talked Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. Sabean came away convinced there could be no deal.

"It has become increasingly apparent that Dusty's interest in exploring opportunities elsewhere is paramount in his mind," Sabean said. "There remained noncompensation issues that he seemed reluctant to embrace."

In other words, it wasn't about the money, although Baker's two-year deal with the Giants was worth an estimated $2.5 million annually. Yet almost from the moment he signed his last contract in 2000, there have been reports that Baker was at odds with the Giants' managing general partner, Peter Magowan. He had told friends that he was indeed upset with Magowan as well as chief executive officer Larry Baer, largely over a perceived lack of respect.

He also told insiders before the playoffs began that he did not intend to return to the Giants. Baker was also intrigued by the possibility of working as a network analyst for ESPN's baseball telecasts and made discreet inquiries.

The relationship between Baker had been tenuous for some time. Sources said that on the flight to San Francisco after the Giants had been eliminated by the New York Mets in the first round of last year's playoff, Baker was disturbed that Magowan made no effort to compliment him or the team on an otherwise successful season.

Baker also felt that Magowan put "undue pressure" on him and the team this year by saying in the spring, at a time when Baker was recovering from prostate cancer surgery, that this was a World Series-caliber team, a team with no holes.

In addition, while Baker had acknowledged that there was an agreement with Magowan in the spring that his and Sabean's contracts wouldn't be negotiated until the Giants were done playing, sources said that he felt his 10 years with the club and three manager-of-the-year awards deserved an earlier offer than the one finally discussed Tuesday night.

Amid a Bay Area perception that Magowan was envious of the credit Baker received for the Giants' success, Baker, in turn, admitted in recent interviews that he had grown weary of being blamed on Bay Area talk shows when the team came up short, as it did in the World Series.

"I think he ended up at the end of the day taking things personally," said Sabean, who added, "We felt slighted that for whatever reason Dusty was more comfortable talking up other situations. I couldn't understand that. We were never sent the message that we were still the right organization for him.

"I couldn't differentiate if they wanted an offer to use as a springboard elsewhere or as a fallback in case elsewhere didn't work out."

So where will Baker wind up? The Cubs have not interviewed anyone to replace the fired Bruce Kimm, and they do not seem to be flinching at a potential Baker salary of $5 million a year for at least three years.

The Seattle Mariners have interviewed nearly two dozen candidates to replace Lou Piniella, but Wednesday night they said they are not interested in Baker.

Moorad said it was possible that Baker would take time off rather than return to the dugout next season, but "his preferred option is to continue managing."

As for who's replacing Baker, Sabean said he would soon have a short list of candidates.

Chances are, whoever takes over for Baker will have a hard act to follow. Baker's record was 840-715, and he was named manager of the year in 1993, 1997 and 2000.

The Giants' World Series appearance against the Angels was their first since 1989 and only their second since 1962.

Baker is the first manager to leave a World Series team since 1973, when Dick Williams managed the Oakland A's to the championship then retired. The Angels hired Williams in 1974.

Jim Fregosi, a former assistant general manager under Sabean, is a candidate to replace Baker.

Ron Roenicke, who was the Giants' triple-A manager before joining the Angels' coaching staff three years ago, said he's interested in the San Francisco job.

"It's obviously a great team," Roenicke said.

Roenicke, the Angels' third-base coach, interviewed for a major league managerial job for the first time Tuesday, with the Mariners, though he was not included among their four finalists. General Manager Pat Gillick said he had a "mystery candidate" to replace Piniella.

Apparently, it's not Baker.

Meanwhile, Angel pitching coach Bud Black, who withdrew from consideration for the Cleveland Indian manager's job, also is believed to be interested in replacing Baker. Black played for the Giants from 1991 to '94.

Times staff writers Ross Newhan and Bill Shaikin, the Chicago Tribune and Associated Press contributed to this report.

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