There have been great players in baseball, and superior managers, but few excelled at both like Dusty Baker. He broke into the big leagues as a disciple of Hank Aaron in Atlanta, hitting .321 in his first full season in 1972. Three years later he was traded to Los Angeles, where he became one of the National League’s finest all-around outfielders. He hit .320 and won the Gold Glove Award as the Dodgers won the 1981 World Championship, and he made the National League All-Star Teams in ’81 and ’82. Over the years, opponents raved about his dead-pull batting stroke, speed, defensive ability and power (30 homers in 1977). A born leader, named manager of the year three times (1993, 1997 and 2000), Baker left his mark with three different franchises. His ’93 Giants won 103 games, matching the franchise’s highest win total since 1905. He holds the distinction of being the only Chicago Cubs manager since 1908 to win a postseason series (2003). In 2010, his Cincinnati Reds reached the postseason for the first time in 15 years. At every stop, players raved about his communication skills, rollicking good humor and worldly nature. “Dusty is my mentor, almost a father figure to me,” said ex-Giant Matt Williams, who later became a manager. “He fixed my swing when I was playing, taught me about the game and when to rely on your instincts. But he also taught me lot about life. He’s a special man.” Only a World Series title eluded Baker, but he always scoffed at the “pressure” of scrutiny. He survived prostate-cancer surgery in 2001, “and to me, that’s real pressure.” Baker’s relentlessly optimistic nature stems from his father, “who told me, ‘don’t harden your heart.’ being an African-American, sometimes you have to be optimistic about things when you could have gone the other way. I kind of feel sorry for people who are inherently negative. I can’t imagine what that would be like.”

Inducted into the BAY AREA SPORTS HALL OF FAME – 2015

Narrative by Bruce Jenkins