Cubs start sales pitch for Baker

Posted: Friday, November 08, 2002

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs didn't waste much time letting Dusty Baker know they want him as their manager.

Cubs general manager Jim Hendry called Baker on Thursday, one day after the San Francisco Giants announced Baker wouldn't be returning as their manager, and set up a meeting for Monday or Tuesday of next week.

''We had a nice conversation for 10-to-15 minutes. He's getting ready to go out of town on a hunting trip,'' Hendry said Thursday night from Arizona, where he's attending the Cubs' organizational meetings.

Hendry said there was no timetable.

''We want to get the right guy. We certainly expressed our interest to Dusty and he seems interested in us. Hopefully we'll move forward at a good rate,'' Hendry said.

Among those Hendry has already interviewed are Bob Melvin, Ken Macha, Buck Showalter and Fredi Gonzalez. Macha will manage the A's and Showalter will guide the Rangers next season.

But it was no secret the Cubs were waiting to see what would happen once Baker's contract with the Giants ran out, shortly after they lost Game 7 of the World Series to the Angels.

''I think my actions have spoken. We wanted to wait. He did a great job in San Francisco,'' Hendry said.

''He's a winner, a proven winner and a very positive guy. He would be a quality manager.''

Hendry said the meeting would take place somewhere in the West because Baker lives in California.

And if Baker needs an enormous challenge after his successful 10-year run with the Giants, the Cubs can certainly provide it.

No World Series championships since 1908, no World Series appearances since 1945, no back-to-back winning seasons since 1972. Need more?

A three-time NL Manager of the Year, Baker would be an instant presence with his familiar toothpick and ability to relate to players and maximize their talents.

He would be Chicago's sixth manager since 1992 and the fourth since Jim Riggleman -- now a candidate for the Seattle vacancy -- was fired after the 1999 season.

Don Baylor was fired last July and interim manager Bruce Kimm was let go at the end of a dismal 67-95 season -- Chicago's third 90-loss campaign in the last four years.

Despite their long legacy of losing, the Cubs could be attractive for several reasons.

The Tribune Company that owns the team could afford and be willing to give Baker a significant salary boost, and the Cubs have a strong young pitching staff that includes Kerry Wood, Mark Prior and Matt Clement.

There's also a superstar who puts up big statistics in Sammy Sosa, but Baker's got plenty of experience handling egos after dealing with Barry Bonds for a decade.

And Chicago plays in one of baseball's best parks. Wrigley Field, surrounded by a neighborhood, features ivy-covered brick walls and a rabid fandom that likes to party.

There's no McCovey's Cove, but Lake Michigan with its icy April winds is just down the street about a mile.

Plus, he could still manage the NL team in the All-Star game next summer, in Chicago at Comiskey Park.

''No manager in baseball is more popular than Dusty,'' Giants general manager Brian Sabean said. ''That's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be engaged with somebody like that.''

Baker's task would include developing young players like Corey Patterson, Bobby Hill and Hee Seop Choi and being competitive in a division that includes the St. Louis Cardinals and NL Manager of the Year Tony La Russa, whom the Giants beat this year in the NLCS.

Baker's Giants averaged 91 wins the last six years. But despite his success, he left San Francisco in part because of differences with owner Peter Magowan. Some of the sparring was over who deserved credit for the franchise's success.

Chicagoans can appreciate that, having watched Phil Jackson roar away on his Harley after the Bulls won their sixth NBA title because of his squabbles with general manager Jerry Krause.

Baker's agent, Jeff Moorad, says his client would rather keep managing than take some time off. And he knows the Cubs are a potential suitor.

''To the extent they have serious interest, we're ready to listen,'' Moorad said.

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