Baker recently arranged through one of his mentors, former San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh, to consult with Seattle Sea-hawks coach Mike Holmgren, who left a winning program in Green Bay. "I have a three-year-old son," Baker says. "I've heard people say I'll go home to spend more time with him. What am I going to do? Go to school with him? He's getting to the age now where it's really fun for him to be around the ballpark, be the batboy and things like that. Listen, I know I've got a good eight to 10 more years of managing in me. I want four or five championships. My son will be 12 or 13 then, and maybe it'll be time to help him out with some coaching. I'm only halfway there. I'd be crazy to leave now."
Before he sits down with Magowan, Baker must deal with the Dodgers and with the void on his resume. While Baker has won more games than any Giants manager except the great John McGraw and is recognized for getting the most from veteran players, he has never won a playoff series. Baker is 1-6 in postseason games, including a 1-3 disappointment against the New York Mets in their 2000 Division Series that critics regard as the Waterworld of his otherwise respected career.
This time Baker has the well-balanced, experienced club he prefers. At week's end San Francisco was second in runs scored (4.8 per game) and ERA (3.65). The eight regulars in his lineup are at least 30 years old and have been through multiple pennant races. That experience enabled the Giants to start their 19-8 run immediately after a four-game losing streak in which they scored five runs. "It was exactly what would have sent a younger team floundering," General Manager Brian Sabean says, "but we turned around on a dime."
Through Sunday, San Francisco had enjoyed fabulous health this season: Its five starting pitchers had missed a total of four starts, and none of the eight regulars had been sidelined for a stretch longer than 15 games. Leftfielder Barry Bonds had put up slo-pitch softball numbers, and second baseman Jeff Kent had belted a career-high 34 homers.
The Dodgers' season, meanwhile, has gone much less smoothly. They ranked 12th in the league in scoring at week's end and were challenged by injuries to starting pitchers Kazuhisa Ishii (out for the season with a skull fracture he suffered when struck by a line drive from the Houston Astros' Brian Hunter on Sept. 8), Andy Ashby (who used Krazy Glue on Sunday to help toughen the skin over a persistent finger blister) and Kevin Brown (still struggling after June 11 surgery to repair a herniated disk).
Shawn Green (42 home runs, 109 RBIs) has carried the team offensively, though in spurts. He hit .302 with 32 homers in May, June and August, but only .237 in April and .250 in July, with three home runs in each month. L.A. has failed to find a consistent force to put behind him in the lineup. Third baseman Adrian Beltre ripped three hits in a 16-3 shellacking of the Colorado Rockies last Saturday, but that followed a 1-for-34 meltdown during which he swung at 28 of 36 pitches in one stretch.
That the Dodgers remain a contender in the face of those shortcomings enhances the growing reputation of the earnest Tracy, who is Muzak to Baker's Coltrane cool. At 46, Tracy has never been involved in a pennant race in the final week of a season. He had 46 hits in a forgettable big league career, or 1,935 fewer than Baker, after which he took jobs selling cardboard boxes and delivering newspapers. He apprenticed for 13 years as a minor league manager and major league coach before Los Angeles promoted him last year from its bench coach to its manager, replacing Davey Johnson. The team won 86 games in 2001 despite putting players on the disabled list 20 times. This season the low-key Tracy has continued to shepherd the team away from its clubhouse fractiousness of recent years. "They've cleaned the air there and are riding on enthusiasm and adrenaline," Sabean says.
When the Dodgers flew home from Denver on Sunday after a 2-5 road trip, they took comfort in knowing it would be the last time they would have to get on a plane this season—unless they need to travel to San Francisco for a one-game playoff. They close out their schedule at home against the Giants, Rockies and Padres, with a bus trip down Interstate 5 to San Diego thrown in.
San Francisco, which begins a series with the Brewers in Miller Park on Friday, asked the Dodgers to switch Thursday's game from 7:10 p.m. to an afternoon start to save the Giants from having to arrive in Milwaukee at 5 in the morning. The Dodgers stopped laughing long enough to say no.
Of this week's showdown, Los Angeles general manager Dan Evans says, "They're big games, not necessarily because it's such a big rivalry, but because we're two very closely compared clubs. We're very similar, and I think we'll continue to be similar. It's easy to have intensity when you've got Barry Bonds on the other club. He's one of the greatest ever to play the game, and he's an easy guy to dislike if you're a Dodgers fan."