Dusty Baker may not be popular among Pirates’ fans but the man loves Pittsburgh.
The Rivers Club in downtown Pittsburgh may not be familiar to many Pittsburgh sports fans but for one evening, it was the center of Pittsburgh baseball. Every year the Rotary Club of Pittsburgh hosts the Chuck Tanner Banquet and presents the Manager of the Year Award. This year, the winner was Washington Nationals skipper, Dusty Baker.
Baker is best known as the former manager of the Cincinnati Reds, where he earned a reputation of being the king of Bean-ball. Despite not being the most popular manager among Pirates’ fans he really had nothing but good things to say about the city. [perfectpullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“I felt like I knew Pittsburgh long before I got here. It’s a great town. Lots of diversity on the teams. Always felt welcomed when I came here.”[/perfectpullquote]
Dusty Baker grew up in Riverside, California which is about as far from Pittsburgh as one can be. Despite that, he always had a special connection to the city. He grew up reading the Pittsburgh Courier, which was a nationally syndicated African-American newspaper. However, that wasn’t the only connection he had to the city. His brother was a big time Roberto Clemente fan and Dusty himself borrowed a bit of Pirates’ flair in his high school baseball days. “I got in trouble in high school for cutting off the sleeves of my jersey. I had to buy the jersey top for the school again.”
The reach of the Pirates during Clemente era was huge. He wasn’t just popular among young Latin American player. Baker may have grown up a San Francisco Giants fan but there’s no denying his love and adoration for great Roberto Clemente.
Chuck Tanner, a big man with a big heart
The main reason people were at the dinner was, of course, to pay tribute former Pirates’ manager Chuck Tanner. The Manager of the Year award is named after Tanner, so naturally Baker paid tribute to the man several times during his acceptance speech. Baker said, [perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“Chuck meant a lot to me. He showed me how to treat people. I saw the way his players responded to him. Never had trouble on the team. He had a wild bunch with those Pirates. His strength, his personality helped control that wild bunch.”[/perfectpullquote]
Baker has clearly been influenced by Tanner’s managerial style. During stops in San Francisco, Chicago, Cincinnati, and Washington he has earned a reputation of being a players manager. He knows when to reprimand a player and when to let the player be. The 2015 Nationals finished 83-79 and were torn about by a toxic clubhouse. Baker came in and immediately made a difference. The Nationals improved to 95-67 and won the NL East division title. The Nationals were always talented but Baker’s steady hand really made a huge difference in the culture of the team.
Chuck Tanner managed some of the most colorful teams in Pirates’ history. They had big personalities and a lesser man would have lost the team. It’s easy to look at the current crop of Nationals and see a little bit of the mid to late 70s Pirates teams. The Nationals are carried by a crazy cast of characters and clearly needed a manager like Dusty Baker to right the ship.
Baker has managed four teams and taken each to the postseason. He may not have a World Series title as a manager but no one can deny he knows how to win. Taking a team to the playoffs is difficult, much less four different organizations.
Awards are great but respect is better
Winning the Chuck Tanner Manager of the Year Award is a great honor. Many also predict that this award won’t be the last for Baker this season. He is the favorite to win the NL Manager of the Year award, too. Awards are great but Dusty Baker has something everyone should want, respect. I only spent about 20 minutes chatting with Dusty and I immediately felt a new-found respect for the man. Some may say he’s too “old school” but there is certainly a place for that in today’s game.
Dusty treats his players like men and never disciplines them in public. He understands that when you’re dealing with egos, you have to let the players by themselves…within reason, of course. Dusty Baker may never be popular among Pirates’ fans but there is no doubt he has the respect of his peers and anyone that was lucky enough to watch him accept the Chuck Tanner Manager of the Year Award.