09/26/2012 12:32 AM EST
Baker one of baseball's greatest treasures
By Mike Bauman / MLB.com
Maybe it would help if you were not a fan of the Cardinals, but you get the point. By this time, Dusty Baker, manager of the Reds, should be regarded as a baseball treasure.
Baker was hospitalized in Chicago last week with an irregular heartbeat. He revealed on Tuesday that he had suffered a mini-stroke when he was being discharged on Friday.
His condition is much improved, and he has returned to Cincinnati. He met with his team at Great American Ball Park on Tuesday but is not expected to return to his managerial duties until the final series of the regular season, in St. Louis next week.
The Reds, in a statement, said that both Baker's cardiologists and neurologist expect him to make a complete recovery.
That is terrific, because it is difficult to imagine Baker, even at the age of 63, at less than full wit, wisdom and vitality. His work in the managerial portion of his baseball life requires no introduction but, in brief, he has been named National League Manager of the Year three times. He is second among active managers in victories, and is in the top 20 all-time in managerial victories.
The Reds' clinching of the NL Central gives him five division titles with three teams. He took a Wild Card team, the 2002 Giants, to the World Series, and he managed the Cubs to within five outs of the World Series in 2003.
Although Baker was later blamed by some Chicagoans for anything and everything that went wrong with the Cubs, the club's records -- both prior and subsequent -- will indicate that no other manager of that team has come closer to the promised land in the last 67 years.
The Cubs' managerial job has typically been a vocational graveyard, but Baker had the kind of standing in the game that would earn him another opportunity. He has made good on that opportunity with the Reds, winning division titles in two of the last three seasons.
Baker has always had an inquisitive intellect, combined with a lively and persistent sense of humor. I recall a time during his tenure managing the Cubs when, after his daily pregame session with the media, he motioned for me to sit in the dugout with him. He had a stern look, and I had a vision of a visit to the principal's office.
"I see you smiling at some of the things I'm saying," Baker said. "But those things aren't intended to be funny."
I responded that these were almost involuntary smiles, brought on by the impressive knowledge and intellect that were invariably contained in his remarks. He laughed out loud at that, which was exactly what he should have done. No problem.
The standard of being "good with the media" is exceeded by Baker, probably on a daily basis. Whereas other people in his position may be put off by difficult questions, he is engaged by them. Honesty is not a choice, but a reflex with him.
This is a reflection of his ability to consistently, successfully relate to a wide range of personalities on his clubs. He genuinely puts a value on the human beings with whom he associates, and that has helped him earn the respect of the wide range of personalities that can populate a Major League roster.
Combine that with four decades of playing and managing experience -- during which you can bet that few days went by when he didn't pick up some knowledge -- and you have exactly the right man for this kind of job.
The one fortunate part of this episode of ill health is that the Reds, who have been capably led by bench coach Chris Speier in Baker's absence, are not in a stress-inducing situation. They clinched early and have continued to play well, so the table is being set for Baker's healthy return.
In a statement released on Tuesday, Baker thanked what seemed to be most of the Western Hemisphere for his treatment and for the support.
Here's one more wish for Dusty Baker to be recovered quickly and completely, back in the Reds' dugout, hale and hearty. And back to being himself, which has typically been more than good enough.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.