SAN FRANCISCO -- Dusty Baker returns home at the peak of his managerial career, his San Francisco Giants poised just two victories from the World Series.
His players love him.
His opponents respect him.
His city embraces him.
And his bosses would like to kick him out the door.
For what, you ask.
The only one who could really say is Peter Magowan, the Giants' managing general partner, and he's not saying much.
With Baker concluding a two-year, $5.3-million contract, all Magowan has told reporters is that first, the future of General Manager Brian Sabean will be determined, and then Sabean will determine who the manager is.
What, no vote of confidence for Baker? All his Giants have done is:
-- hold off the Dodgers in the wild-card race.
-- beat the Atlanta Braves in the best-of-five division series after falling behind in games, 2-1. The Giants pulled it out by winning back-to-back games on opposite ends of the country on back-to-back nights.
-- Take a 2-0 lead over the St. Louis Cardinals in the best-of-seven National League Championship series which resumes Saturday afternoon at Pacific Bell Park. Against a Cardinal team which won 21 of its last 25 regular-season games to wrap up the NL Central championship and then swept the defending world-champion Arizona Diamondbacks in a division series, the Giants have won with hitting in Game 1 and pitching and defense in Game 2.
Baker is punching all the right buttons. In Game 2, he takes out shortstop Rich Aurilia, who had already hit two home runs in the game, in a double switch and then finds Aurilia's replacement, the lighter-hitting Ramon Martinez, at the plate in the ninth inning with an insurance run at third.
No problem. For the first time in several years, Bakers calls for a squeeze play and it works perfectly.
According to sources close to the team, Magowan is troubled by the acclaim Baker has received and, until this year, questioned his managerial ability.
Although San Francisco has won at least 90 games in each of the past three seasons, Baker's postseason record in his decade at the Giants' helm has certainly been disappointing. The team only qualified for the postseason twice and failed to get past the first round on each occasion. The Florida Marlins swept three straight from San Francisco in 1997 and the New York Mets took three out of four from the Giants in 2000.
Asked about Baker's situation Friday, Sabean would only say, "My future is undecided. I'm not going to comment on Dusty's."
And what does Baker himself say?
"I have to practice what I preach to my own players," he said. "I tell them, 'Don't worry about your contract. Go out and perform and the contract will take care of itself.' If you keep it in that order, it's no distraction.
"I get tired of answering questions about it, questions that I have no answers to because I have not been approached, and I have not approached anybody else. There's a lot of speculation, people are talking a lot, but regardless, the more we win, the better position it puts me in personally.'
Considering the Giants' unexpected success, with a possible World Series looming ahead, Magowan may be forced to give in to public pressure and rehire Baker, at considerably more money than he would have been forced to shell out several months ago.
Or Baker could tell Magowan what to do with his job and seek another managerial opening.
(Optional add end)
The 53-year-old Baker's calmness in the eye of this storm stems, at least partially, from his experience in the offseason with a much more threatening storm. He underwent successful surgery for prostate cancer.
Before he knew how things were going to turn out, however, the usually optimistic Baker had a down day while on a hunting trip up in Grass Valley, Calif.
"There's this hippy dude in this bar," said Baker, who noticed the man was wearing a hat which read, "I Don't Give a (Bleep) Club."
Baker was told there really was such a club and he could join and get a membership card for only three dollars.
Baker paid up, but, long before the card arrived, his positive mood had returned.
"It was just that one day that I didn't give a (bleep)," he said.
Before the surgery, Baker flew to Hawaii and prayed at a mountaintop healing center.
Then he told his family, "Yeah, I'm going to make it big time."
Apparently, Peter Magowan wasn't listening.
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