Baker again seeing Red
Wants to return franchise to level he remembers as player
BY JOHN FAY | JFAY@ENQUIRER.COM
SARASOTA, Fla. - When Dusty Baker came to Cincinnati in the 1970s as a member of the Atlanta Braves or Los Angeles Dodgers, he remembers seeing red.
Lots and lots of red.
"I remember everybody in town being in red," he said. "I remember being brainwashed before I ever got to the stadium. I'd see red in windows. Women had red dresses on. Men had red hats on. I remember knowing when you had them down, they had a good chance of coming back to beat you."
Baker hopes to bring that red sea back to Cincinnati. Today, the Reds will have their first workout with Baker as the manager.
He knows about seven straight losing seasons and how the luster is off an organization that was once among baseball's best.
Baker clearly wants to make baseball matter more in Cincinnati. That would, of course, mean more red on the streets.
"I'd like that," he said. "I'd love that actually. Winning does that. I'd feel like I did some of my job. I saw that on the caravan - we went to parts of West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio. People are yearning to come back. They want something to come back to. Winning does that."
Baker has a history of success in his 14 years as a manager. He was thrice voted National League manager of the year. His overall winning percentage is .527. He's won 89 or more games eight times.
Spring training is a big part of the preparation to be successful.
"I'll run a very organized camp," he said. "I like to be time-efficient. We're here to work. I want guys to get ready for the season in steady progression - start the season wide open, 100 percent mentally and physically."
Baker has talked to a lot of players leading up to spring training. But today will be his first chance to actually work with them.
"I'm really in a learning period," he said. "There are a lot of guys I don't know. The guys I do know, I still don't know what it takes to get them ready for the season ... I'm depending a lot on the coaches who were here before. That's one of the reasons I kept a lot of guys."
Baker is an easy-going guy with a wide variety of interests. But he's here for one reason.
"Spring training is work for us," he said. "It's fun for the fans. But it's work for us. Anything you do for six weeks and have one day off, get there early and leave late, is work.
"I equate spring training as studying for the test. This is doing your homework."
The first assignment? Learn to win.
"First thing you've got to do is win," Baker said. "There are three steps: There's spring training and there's a long race called the season. You want to have a winning record to give yourself a chance to get to the playoffs. No. 1, you've got to have a winning season.
"I know a lot of people want you to go from not having a winning season since 2000 to winning a championship. That's possible. But you've got to take it one step at a time.
"You've got to start thinking like a winner and thinking you can win."
Baker likes the makeup of the club. Center field and first base are open and the starting rotation is two spots short of full.
"But we have a lot of options," Baker said.
Most of the options involve young players. Despite his reputation as a manager who favors veterans, Baker is good with the youthfulness of the club.
"I've always yearned for a team that you can teach some guys how to play," he said. "It's difficult to teach old dogs new tricks like they say. When you have a mixture of youth and their exuberance and the wisdom and knowledge of the veterans, (it's) a combination that could mean that you're good for a long time if you make the right moves along the way. When you have a team set up in this dynamic, you're not going to have wholesale changes. Pluck out one, insert another."
Most of the questions about the Reds center on pitching. The club was second-last in the NL in ERA.
But Baker said you have to look at the big picture.
"It's not just pitching," he said. "I don't like to separate pitching. It's not like football where you have offense, defense and special teams. When you don't win, it's a lot of stuff. It's defense. It's staying out of double plays. It's hitting cut-off men, being fundamentally sound, running the bases. It's the bullpen, cutting down the walks ... not being intimidated by the ballpark."