The calendar may say February, but baseball is back, and our nation’s capital has high hopes that its team, the Washington Nationals, will capture its first World Series trophy for the city. To get there, it’s betting on a baseball and military veteran, Dusty Baker, who proudly served as a U.S. Marine.
Baker’s baseball experience is extensive, including manager positions over 20 years with the San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds. An All-Star player, he was a key contributor in winning the World Series for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1981.
Along the way, Baker played with some of the most legendary names in the league. As part of Major League Baseball’s celebration of “Black History Month” this February, Baker credits home run hitting champion Hank Aaron for helping him excel in the pro ranks. Despite the enormous pressure of chasing Babe Ruth’s home run record in 1975, Aaron demonstrated extraordinary professionalism and grace under pressure. The experience was not lost on Baker or Aaron. He was in the on-deck circle when Aaron hit his record-breaking 715 career home run.
“The year that I went through chasing the record I think really helped him to get to where he is today,” Aaron said.
“He has meant everything to me in my baseball career,” Baker added.
Importantly, it was Baker’s training in the military which primed him for a promising start in baseball and set the foundation for his leadership skills as a manager. Johnnie B. Baker Jr. was born in Riverside, California on June 15, 1949, and got his nickname from his mother because he was constantly dirty. She ran a charm school, and his dad had a civilian job in the military. “Dusty” then served with the Marines and the Reserves from 1969-1975. While stationed at Parris Island, South Carolina, 1st Battalion Private First Class Baker was named the outstanding Marine in his platoon.
“The chain of command has to be in place. That's what Dusty has established,” said former baseball star and current broadcaster Rick Sutcliffe, in an exclusive commentary on ESPN.com, while discussing Baker’s military mindset in baseball. “You can't have rookies running into the manager's office complaining about this gripe or that situation -- they need to know the chain of command.”
“The armed services have proven that such an approach works, and Dusty has proven that it also works in baseball. His leadership has been exceptional,” Sutcliffe added.
Baker’s leadership talents soared from his first season as a manager, leading the San Francisco Giants to a 103-59 record and a playoff berth in 1993, propelling him to the title of Manager of the Year. He won that award two more times, in 1997 and 2000.
Baker is also part of baseball folklore. He played an integral part in the first ever documented “High Five,” which occurred between Baker and Dodgers teammate Glenn Burke on October 2, 1977, at Dodger Stadium, an event featured in the ESPN documentary "The High Five" directed by Michael Jacobs.
To date, he is one of only three African Americans to manage a World Series team - he hopes to be only the second one to win a championship, this time with the Nats.
And today, Baker is the only African American to be leading a major league baseball team.
Baker is currently a member of the National Advisory Board of the Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA), a national non-profit organization committed to providing student-athletes with a positive, character-building youth sports experience.
“I try to develop a culture in my locker room like a family situation,” he tells PCA in an instructional video about how to develop a “Team Culture” when he leads. “I try to create a positive culture, try to develop a culture of togetherness, of diversity, which I think is mandatory in this world today but very very difficult to do.”
No doubt Baker’s fellow Marines would let out a big “Ooh Rah” in agreement. Semper Fi!
Image Credit: http://dodgerblue.com/mlb-rumors-nationals-may-hire-dusty-baker-as-manager-not-bud-black/2015/11/02/