Cubs Take a Giant Step With Hiring of Baker
CHICAGO -- Dusty Baker has been known for the toothpicks that dangle from his mouth, the wristbands he wears on his arms and his ability to meld the frostiest of personalities.
Now Johnnie B. Baker Jr. will be known around Chicago as a man who’s confident enough -- or perhaps crazy enough -- to believe he can help bring a winner to Wrigley Field.
“I love challenges,” Baker said Friday after being named manager of the Cubs.
After more than three days of wrangling over money, the Cubs reached agreement with Baker just before 7 p.m. CST Friday.
Neither side would disclose terms of the four-year deal, which is believed to be worth about $14 million, which would make him baseball’s second-highest paid manager, behind the Yankees’ Joe Torre.
The 53-year-old Baker said the Cubs “dug a little deeper” toward the end of the negotiations. “We were creative and came up with ways to make it work,” he said.
When General Manager Jim Hendry’s search began nearly seven weeks ago, he did not know if Baker’s reported feud with Giant management would compel the three-time manager of the year to leave the team.
Hendry didn’t even know how Baker felt about Chicago -- the team or the city.
But Hendry knew enough about Baker to make him believe he was the perfect fit.
Even if there was only a small chance to hire him, Hendry was content to let other candidates accept other managerial jobs.
The Texas Rangers snapped up Buck Showalter. The Oakland A’s promoted Ken Macha. The Seattle Mariners hired Bob Melvin on Friday to replace Lou Piniella.
“Jim’s first choice was Dusty Baker,” team President Andy MacPhail said. “His second choice was Dusty Baker and his third was Dusty Baker. So he kept after it.”
Baker said many factors compelled him to accept the Cubs’ offer.
Gary Matthews, a close friend who’s in line for a Cub coaching job, sold him on the city. Cub TV analyst Steve Stone stressed the team’s base of young talent. Baker’s wife, Melissa, has family in the area.
Former manager Don Baylor, fired by the Cubs in July, offered the temporary use of his condo and apparently didn’t try to poison Baker on the organization.
“I’m trying to [focus] on the positives Donnie gave me,” Baker said. “I wish Donnie still could be in this job. I trust his opinion big-time and he gave me as much info as he possibly could.”
But the most important information came from MacPhail and Hendry, who convinced Baker that the organization’s goal was not simply to make money and attract big crowds to Wrigley.
“Andy MacPhail and Jim Hendry, they’re really set on winning,” Baker said. “I know I’m not a miracle man. I don’t know if it’s going to take a year or two years or whatever. But we’re dedicated to winning.
“A number of players have indicated that they would possibly like to come to Chicago and play for me. They’re dedicated to bringing in the best players that the budget will allow.”
In fact, the Cubs might now actively pursue Jim Thome, who hit 52 home runs for Cleveland last season. They’ve already acquired catcher Damian Miller from Arizona in a trade.
“He’s an enormously popular manager with his players,” MacPhail said. “As result, the field of players that would like to play for the Cubs has increased with tonight’s announcement by a large amount.”
Baker had a .540 winning percentage in his 10 seasons in San Francisco. Five of his teams won 90 games, and the Giants fell one victory shy of a World Series title last month.
The Cubs will be Baker’s biggest managerial test. They haven’t won a World Series since 1908 and have made the playoffs only three times since 1945, their last World Series appearance.
“I want to get rid of the stigma that the Cubs can’t win and that they can’t win playing daytime baseball,” Baker said.
Melvin, the Arizona Diamondbacks’ bench coach, was hired as Seattle’s first new manager in a decade, replacing Piniella, who left to become the Tampa Bay Devil Rays’ manager. Melvin was one of four finalists, including Dodger bench coach Jim Riggleman.
Melvin, 41, a former major league catcher, is the 12th manager in Mariner history.
He was given a two-year contract.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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