Thursday, January 26, 2012

#320 - Dusty Baker

Dusty Baker gets a shot at Shea and a "10" card for his sophomore season. He had a good year and while he didn't hit 40 homers like a few of his teammates, he did score 101 runs, get 99 RBI's, and hit .288. Following up a .321 average his first full season, Dusty was thought by many to be the heir apparent to Hank Aaron, at least in the average department. That was not to be but despite a couple off seasons Dusty would have a pretty solid career and be around baseball for a long time after this card.

Dusty Baker hailed from California and was drafted out of high school - in the 26th round! - by the Braves in '67. Despite his late pick he played that summer in Double A but not too much. The next year he missed time for his military hitch and then hit .325 between two Single A stops. In '69 he had a mediocre year split between Double and Triple A, but then in '70 and '71 he hit .325 and .311 - but without too much power so I still don't understand the Aaron comparison - at Triple A Richmond. All those seasons he also missed some playing time due to his reserve commitments. He got in some at bats in Atlanta each season from '68 to '71 but with guys out there like Hank Aaron (his brother Tommie was on the team then as well), Rico Carty, Felipe Alou, and Ralph Garr all hitting .300 he couldn't crack the lineup.

In '72 things were pretty messy at first base with Orlando Cepeda's crash and burn. So despite the return of Rico Carty from injury, Hank Aaron had to spend most of his time at first and Baker finally got his shot and took over center field from Sonny Jackson, who had moved out there from shortstop in '71. Dusty used the promotion to his advantage and hit .321 to secure a spot. After his excellent follow-up season, '74 and '75 were pretty mediocre in comparison. Atlanta's offense in general took a huge hit from '73 and Dusty averaged .259 with 20 homers and 70 RBI's. Both years he also spent a bunch of time in right field to make way for Rowland Office. Some games in '74 he would play both positions which he said later influenced his offense in a negative way. After the '75 season he was traded to the Dodgers in a pretty big deal that brought Jimmy Wynn, Lee Lacy, and Tom Paciorek to Atlanta.

Hopes were high for Baker in LA in '76. The team publicly announced that they made the trade with the expectation that Baker would do for the team that year what Wynn had done in '74. Talk about a high bar. But things didn't quite go Dusty's way. Bothered by a knee injury, his stats cratered to a .242 average with only four homers and 39 RBI's. But to open the '77 season new LA manager Tommy Lasorda named Dusty his starting left fielder and the response was huge: not only did Dusty hit .291 with 30 homers and 86 RBI's in the regular season but he won two playoff games against the Phillies with homers. After a '74-like '78 he posted big power years in '79 and '80. In the latter year he hit .294 with 29 homers and 97 RBI's to come in fourth in NL MVP voting and win a Silver Slugger. In '81 the power came in substantially but he hit .320 for his second Silver Slugger. He also was named to his first All-Star team and won his Gold Glove in the Dodgers' World Series year. Another All-Star season followed in '82 as he kept his average above .300 and rediscovered his power, with 23 homers and 88 RBI's. After a discounted '83 he left LA and moved to San Francisco as a free agent. For the Giants Dusty split time in right with Jack Clark, hitting .292. He was then traded across the bay to Oakland for a couple minor leaguers. He put up pretty good numbers in '85 but then ran out of gas during '86 and after the season he retired. Dusty finished with a .278 average with 242 homers and 1,013 RBI's. In the post-season he hit .282 with five homers and 21 RBI's in 40 games. His career OBA was .347.

Baker's conversion to the coaching side was pretty much immediate. In '88 he re-joined the Giants as first base coach. From '89 to '92 he was the team's hitting coach. He became the manager in '93, won 103 games, and NL Manager of the Year. He would win that award twice more during his stay in San Francisco which lasted until 2002, winning three division titles and reaching the Series his last year. He then moved to Chicago where he managed the Cubs from '03 to '06. His first season there the Cubbies reached the post-season. Things went south in '05 when the team's two franchise pitchers, Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, both got hurt and Dusty was accused of going Billy Martin on the pitching staff and over-using its aces. In '07 he took over Cincinnati where he continues to manage after returning the Reds to the playoffs in 2010.

At this point in his career Dusty had good enough numbers to not have to mention basically the same info in two star bullets. Dusty had a pretty interesting time in high school. He grew up in Riverside where Bobby Bonds was on his Little League team. When he was a junior he moved to Carmichael where he and his siblings were the only black kids in the school district and Dusty was a four-sport star including - obviously - track. When he signed with the Braves, his dad - who was a strict guy and wanted his son to go to college - sued the Braves to block the deal. When he lost he put Dusty's money in a trust until he was 21.

Given the closeness of Dusty's given name to a Chuck Berry tune it is appropriate to post some music news. On this date in '74, two new number ones hit. In the States Ringo Starr had his second chart-topper as a solo guy with "You're 16." On the song he was backed by former band-mate Paul McCartney - on Kazoo, of all things. In the UK the new top spot belonged to "Tiger Feet" by Mud. I never heard of these guys or this song and just checked out the video on YouTube. Think of something halfway between Styx and the Partidge Family and you get the picture. The violinist wears a cape which tells you all you probably need to know.

So at least Johnnie B and Randy were both in the same league:

1. Baker and Rick Monday '77 to '83 Dodgers;
2. Monday and Randy Hundley '72 to '73 Cubs.

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