Dusty Baker wanted out of Atlanta. He was tired of losing, he said, and tired of living in the South. So he marched into the office of Braves General Manager Eddie Robinson and demanded a trade back home, to California.
There were five major league teams in California. Baker preferred one.
“I always wanted to be a Dodger,” he said Wednesday. “I heard the Dodgers had the best athletes, pretty uniforms and good bodies. I was like, ‘Shoot, you’re talking about me.’”
This was 1976, before free agency had fully taken hold. When Baker demanded a trade, Robinson asked if he had ever been to Cleveland.
After the season, he packed up and drove home, decades before the invention of cellphones. Somewhere around New Mexico, he said, he saw on television that he had been traded to the Dodgers. He called his father, who said the trade had been completed two days earlier but no one could reach him.
Baker, now the manager of the Washington Nationals, played for the Dodgers from 1976 to 1983. He finished fourth in National League MVP voting in 1980 and made the All-Star team in 1981 and 1982. He hit 139 home runs as a left fielder, the most in Los Angeles Dodgers history.
“Probably the thing that I’m most proud of is that I’m on the all-Dodger team as a player and the all-Giant team as a manager. I don’t think there’s another one that’s done both. Bruce Bochy soon will take over for me, I’m sure, if he hasn’t already done it.”
Baker did not specify which all-Dodgers team he was referring to, but in 2008, when the Dodgers asked fans to select a 50th anniversary Los Angeles team, the outfielders were Duke Snider, Reggie Smith and Rick Monday.
Parade or bust
The Dodgers are not the only team with a fan base tired of its team getting into the playoffs but not advancing to the World Series.
The Nationals won the NL East for the third time in five years. In 2012 and 2014, the Nationals entered the playoffs with the best record in the NL, but they lost in the first round both times.
“Everyone wants to win the World Series,” Nationals GM Mike Rizzo said. “That’s the ultimate goal, to have a parade and get the ring. … You can’t reproduce it with winning divisions. It’s all about the ultimate win.”
Rizzo said he does not entirely subscribe to the theory that the postseason is a crap shoot, since he does not believe there are undeserving teams in the playoffs. Still, he is proud of what the Nationals have accomplished over the past few years.
“I think we’re one of the model franchises in all of baseball,” he said. “We’re proud of it.”
Father and son
Livan Hernandez, who threw the first pitch for the Nationals in their inaugural 2005 season, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch before Game 1 of the NLDS on Friday.
Adam and Drake LaRoche will share the first pitch before Game 2 Saturday.
“We’re a family-oriented team,” Valerie Camillo, the team’s chief revenue and marketing officer, told WJFK radio.
Adam LaRoche played for the Nationals from 2011 to 2014, with Drake happily in tow in the clubhouse. Adam LaRoche retired in spring training — forfeiting $13 million in salary — when he rebuffed the Chicago White Sox in their request that he not bring his 14-year-old son into the clubhouse quite so often.
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