Baker’s dozen is all about loyalty
March 12, 2003
MESA, Ariz. — Dusty Baker and the Cubs might be a perfect match.
Baker’s loyalty to his players and coaches is undeniable. Enduring Cubs fans have an indisputable loyalty for a team traditionally described as “hapless.”
The Cubs, who haven’t had back-to-back winning seasons in 31 years, were happy to bring aboard Baker, who won the National League championship with the Giants last fall. The loyal skipper brought with him five coaches and four former players. If you throw in his kids running around the clubhouse and dugout, you’ve got a Baker’s dozen.
Former Giant and Douglas High School pitcher Shawn Estes is glad to be in the mix.
“This lets me know there are still people in my corner,” he said. “It’s a loyalty thing. Dusty’s got loyalties and that’s what makes him a good manager. He stays loyal to his players who have had success with him, guys he can trust and guys who are going to go our there and bust their butts every time they take the field. Those are the guys he wants in his dugout.”
Joining the left-handed pitcher at the spring training camp are a pair of Giants from last season, infielder Ramon Martinez and outfielder Tom Goodwin. Both players are on the bubble in terms of making the 25-man roster. Rosters were cut down to 50 on Tuesday.
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Martinez is in competition with former Dodger Mark Grudzielanek, who has a better resume and bigger guaranteed contract. Both are adept at shortstop, second and third base. Martinez has been sharp this spring while Grudzielanek has struggled with illness.
“Ramon’s a guy who’s as fundamentally sound as anyone I’ve seen,” Baker said. “He makes very few mistakes. He gets all the signs, stays in the game and executes. In my eyes he’s a starter who’s not starting.”
Martinez knows he’s getting a fair shot with Baker.
“That’s what makes it great playing for him,” Martinez said. “He’s loyal to his players.”
Reliever Rod Beck is also back with his former coach after being out of baseball for a year and undergoing Tommy John surgery in October 2001.
The Cubs last appeared in the postseason in 1997 when they faced Baker’s Giants in a one-game playoff for the chance to play eventual National League champion Atlanta. Beck, in his first go-round with the Cubs, saved the game.
Together again, Beck, who is a long shot to make the team, is glad he is getting his opportunity with Baker. “He’s the best there is, hands down,” Beck said. “It’s because of his ability to communicate with all different types of players — veteran players, rookie players, Latin players. He speaks fluent Spanish.”
Dick Pole, who was with Baker from 1993-97, is the Cubs’ new bench coach. Sonny Jackson, Gene Clines and Juan Lopez all came from the Giants with Baker to the Cubs. Wendell Kim, who last worked with the Giants in 1996, has rejoined Baker’s staff as well.
“It’s about who I think can do the job and teach, communicate well, guys who have something to add and something to say and guys who can work well together,” Baker said. “It’s big. A coaching staff is a team within a team.”
“Dusty’s going to be here for at least three years and he wants everybody to be on the same page,” Estes said.
But Baker doesn’t want to refer to pages from any history books, although he lets on that he already has.
“I don’t want to hear about no 58 years. I’ve only lived 53,” Baker said from his office at HoHoKam Park before Tuesday’s game with the Royals.
“All that talk just puts negative thoughts in your head. I don’t want to hear about no 1945 (last pennant), no 1908 (last World Series title). What can you do about it?”
Perhaps guide the Cubbies to a pennant. If that happens, the team could lose the term hapless and the Giants might learn the importance of loyalty.
On deck: Douglas High graduate Shawn Estes is trying to rejuvenate his career with the Cubs. See Thursday’s sports section to see how the former Giant is working on his mental game to return to previous form.
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