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'Why not us, why not me?'

Baker not deterred by Cubs' long history of losing

Posted: Tuesday November 19, 2002 3:43 PM
Updated: Tuesday November 19, 2002 9:22 PM

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* Dusty Baker wanted a new challenge, so he signs on with a team that hasnít won the World Series in 94 years. Start
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CHICAGO (AP) -- More than four decades before 53-year-old Dusty Baker was even born, the Chicago Cubs won a World Series. Many long and cold winters have since passed and they've never repeated.

"I didn't know it was 94 years, I'm finding out all those numbers once I get here," Baker said Tuesday as he pulled a Cubs cap on his head and took over as manager.

Baker has a four-year contract worth about $15 million and accompanying high expectations, less than a month after taking the San Francisco Giants to the World Series.

"When I think about it, why not me, why not us?" Baker said of his chances for ending the Cubs' long history of losing. "Look at the Angels who beat us. Everybody was talking they had a curse and hadn't won.

"You have to think about leaving whatever has happened bad in the past. You can't bring it forward with you. It's a new time, a new day, a new era, starting over from zero."

Baker's dugout presence, his ability to handle players of all salary levels and talent, his success as both a person who played the game well and then managed for a decade made him an easy choice for the Cubs.

In addition, he becomes a magnet for available free agents, perhaps Jeff Kent, who played for him in San Francisco, or Jim Thome. The Cubs are expected to talk with Thome's agent this week.

"Some of the free agents I talked to, their agents tell me time and time again, 'Well if you get Dusty, my guy will probably give you stronger consideration,"' Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said.

"He has that knack about him that people know they will get a straight shot and he will do what he can to make them better."

Baker got started Tuesday by bringing his longtime friend Gary Matthews to his introductory news conference. Matthews, a former Cub, will be on the staff, probably as the batting coach.

"He has a soft demeanor, but he's no nonsense," Matthews said of Baker. "He's going to bring his own foundation here."

Baker also had a phone conversation Tuesday with the vacationing Sammy Sosa, who called him from Paris. After handling Barry Bonds for a decade, Baker figures he'll have no problem with Sosa, who is one shy of 500 homers.

"I need Sammy and hopefully Sammy needs me," Baker said.

"Sammy is a star. This is Sammy's team, he's the man. I just came from a similar situation where Barry is the man. I feel very thankful that I leave one situation with a mega player and mega star and come to Chicago with another."

Sosa and Don Baylor, who was fired last July after 2 1/2 years, had some problems early on but worked them out.

"The problem wasn't Sammy. It was losing," Baker said. "If you didn't have Sammy, imagine how much you'd really be losing."

Baker, a three-time NL Manager of the Year, said his rules will be fairly simple and are similar to the ones he learned from his parents: Be on time, don't lie, give maximum effort and don't say things to embarrass yourself, your family or the organization.

Asked how much difference a manager can make, even on a team that has lost 90 games three times in the last four years, Baker couldn't assign a number of victories based on his expertise.

"Who knows?" he said. "I'm only as good as my players. A lot depends on the maturity of the young pitching, a lot depends on the free agents they bring in, on the maturity of (Bobby) Hill and (Hee Seop) Choi.

"And then I'm always looking for a surprise, a guy I didn't count on."

He'll also have a task that other managers have faced over the years. Now, how does HE pitch to Bonds?

"I can promise you one thing," Baker said. "I won't pitch around him in spring training."

 
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