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Baker Unsure About Future

October 18, 2002|Ross Newhan | Times Staff Writer

The World Series is starting Saturday, and Dusty Baker, three-time National League manager of the year, can't be certain whether this will be his final assignment for the San Francisco Giants.

Will Baker have his expiring contract extended? Does he want it extended? Could he be moving to the Seattle Mariners as Lou Piniella's successor, or to some other venue where the outdoor options aren't as plentiful as in the Bay Area or Pacific Northwest?

The media portrait is one of a deteriorating relationship between Baker and Peter Magowan, the Giants' managing general partner. The widespread reports touch on Baker's admitted belief that Magowan created "undue pressure" with his spring boast that the Giants were a World Series-caliber team and the best Giant team in the last 10 years. They theorize Magowan is resentful and envious of Baker's acclaim and success.

In a phone interview, Magowan insisted that "Dusty and I are not in a contest for credit" and said his manager's uncertain status should not be a World Series distraction.

He pointed out that it was agreed to in spring training that Baker's situation, along with that of General Manager Brian Sabean, would not be addressed until the final game has been played.

"It should be no surprise to anybody that those were the ground rules," Magowan said. "A lot of people are writing with very little information. They can speculate all they want, but this has nothing to do with being envious of Dusty. I don't want any credit and don't need any credit. But when people write about the Giants and all they write about is Dusty Baker and Barry Bonds, I don't think that is reflecting what has made us as successful as we are.

"We've had a consistently good team, the second-best record in the National League over the last 10 years, and nobody writes that story. The public perception is we've got a team with the best player in the game and nothing else, and that's just false.

"All I have ever tried to do was be sure our players got the credit for being as good as they are, our general manager got the credit for putting these players here and our fans got the credit for giving us the support and revenue that allows us to bring these players together.

"I'm not trying to knock Dusty Baker. I hired him when he was a coach and I rehired him when we were in last place. He's the second-highest-paid manager in the game [next to Joe Torre]. This does not reflect an owner who doesn't like the performance of his manager. If people want to write that they think that's the case, be my guest, but all I'm saying is that Dusty and Barry have gotten their fully deserved credit, that I'm glad for their success and proud of them, but I want to see the other elements get the credit they deserve as well."

Magowan is walking a public-relations high wire, faced with a fan backlash if it is perceived the popular Baker has been forced out.

The manager chooses his words carefully. His focus and energy, he insists, is on the World Series, and he doesn't make personal decisions any more without consulting God, without a divine answer in some form.

In a phone interview before the Giants arrived in Anaheim on Thursday, Baker said: "I haven't been offered anything, it's getting late, and I've been here a long time, 15 years with the Giants, 10 as manager. In every contract situation, people point to this problem or that problem, this guy or that guy, but sometimes there doesn't have to be a problem.... I was offered a four-year contract last time and I changed it to two because I don't want to wear out my welcome. Understand what I'm talking about?"

If Baker seemed to be saying that his welcome is wearing thin, he refused to elaborate.

"Everybody wants to make this the focus, but right now the focus is the World Series," he said. "I'll worry about me in 10 or 12 days and that's the God's truth. Right now I'm the same guy who was on the Dodgers. It's about us right now. In any manager or player contract situation, if you win, everything about your own situation turns out all right. That's the order and preference I'm taking."

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