Dusty Baker adjusting to rare experience: life without baseball
Near the end of Bill Walsh's life seven years ago, friends of the football coaching great gathered for lunch. Among them were former 49ers Joe Montana, Dwight Clark, Eric Wright and Bill Ring, as well as baseball lifer Dusty Baker. A group photo was taken that day, which was emblazoned on a saucer that now sits on Baker's desk in his Sacramento-area home. That saucer serves as a reminder of advice Walsh once gave Baker.
"Bill told me a long time ago, 'You've got to have balance in your life,'" Baker recalled in a recent telephone interview. "Every time I look at Bill on my desk, I think about having balance."
That balance was particularly important, Walsh had noted, so that one doesn't become lost or depressed after losing a job or retiring later in life. Walsh's counsel is pertinent now for Baker, whom the Reds dismissed in October despite his having led the club to its third 90-win season and playoff berth in the last four years.
Now Baker, at age 64, is facing only his third baseball season out of uniform since the Braves selected him in the 26th round of the 1967 draft. Of the last 47 seasons, Baker has spent 45 of them in uniform, having played 20 years for four teams (Braves, Dodgers, Giants and A's 1967-86), coached for five years with the Giants (1988-92) and managed 20 years for three clubs (Giants, Cubs: 1993-2006; Reds: 2008-13).
Only twice before in his professional life has Baker not been in a dugout on a daily basis. In 1987 he worked as a stockbroker. In 2007 he worked as an analyst for ESPN.
"I told people I'd take every 20 years off," he said. "I didn't quite make 20 years [this time]."
Baker wanted to manage again this season, calling clubs who were searching for a new skipper, but he didn't receive any offers to work in baseball. (He said ESPN, MLB Network and the Dodger Network all called to gauge his interest in a return to television, but he said those opportunities arose too soon after his departure from the Reds and before he was ready to commit to an off-field job.)
"I made a couple calls early -- right after the season, when there were [managerial] openings, and I didn't get any calls back," Baker said, "so I just told my agent, 'Hey, man, I want to do something in baseball, be it front office or commissioner's office.' I felt like I've been a good ambassador for the game, but no one's called.
"I'd like another shot at managing, which is why I called the teams that had openings. The only thing missing [for me] is a championship, but if no one calls, then that's O.K. too. I've been preparing, probably, for this for a number of years because you know the day's going to come."
Baker's not one to remain idle, however, and while fans and media members have sometimes lampooned him as an old-fashioned manager with antiquated lineup construction, he has many diverse and modern interests away from baseball.
As a native Californian interested in conservation -- he hunts, fishes and owns a vineyard -- Baker has a keen interest in alternative, renewable energy. He said his home is powered by solar panels, and he is serving as an adviser to JLM Energy, an energy technology company that's working to bring self-generation of power through solar panels and wind turbines to a commercial scale (including on property Baker owns in Kauai).
"This really matches his spirituality, I think, in a lot of ways," Farid Dibachi, the CEO of JLM Energy, said. "He's been very interested in the environment and the way that this technology can really help the environment. He's been a great help to us to brainstorm, think about different ways of positioning this technology and bringing it out to the customers."
JLM Energy is but one of seven companies that Baker is involved with as an investor, advisor or board member. He said he's also involved with, among others: California Strategies, a public strategy and consulting firm; Legacy Harbor, an online community where families can share, organize and preserve records and memories; and One Source, a milk with a two-year shelf life.
"Some of these things, I have a whole lot to learn," Baker said, "but I'm curious about learning."
Daniel MacKenzie, the founder and CEO of Legacy Harbor, met Baker through a mutual friend last year and visited him at several of the Reds' road stops. MacKenzie recruited Baker to serve on the board of advisors for his nascent company. Legacy Harbor is also developing a sports-inspired offshoot called Legacy Pro, with which Baker will be especially involved.
MacKenzie describes Baker as someone who is focused and determined to strive for greatness in all his endeavors. MacKenzie has saved a simple, yet inspirational, text-message reminder Baker sent him: "Hard work pays off." MacKenzie believes that ethos has propelled Baker to all his sporting accomplishments.
"This man understands how to build and motivate teams," MacKenzie said.
The value Baker brings to these companies is not only as an experienced manager and motivator but also as a facilitator of introductions. Given his pleasant disposition and four decades as a well-traveled public figure, Baker's personal network is extensive.
"You can only imagine what his Rolodex has the ability to do for us," MacKenzie said.
"Dusty, to me, is a connector," Dibachi said, invoking the terminology from Malcolm Gladwell's book, The Tipping Point. "He's the kind of guy who has a deep intelligence, understands things and once he decides he has a sufficient understanding of something and can talk about it, he's very good at saying, 'You know, Farid, you ought to be talking to such-and-such person. You should connect with this guy and talk about this -- there might be something interesting there.'"
This should come as no surprise, as Baker has always been lauded for the way he connected with and motivated his players and coaches. He could also be incredibly loyal, which may have even led to his dismissal, according to CBSSports.com, which reported that Baker was fired by the Reds after he refused to can hitting coach Brook Jacoby.
Baker has proven to be a quick study in the business world, according to Dibachi, who studied at Cornell and Stanford and previously worked at Hewlett-Packard. (Baker and Dibachi originally met about a decade ago, when their sons were in the same class in school.)
"The thing that surprises me is how quickly he grasps very complicated, very complex concepts," Dibachi said. ". . . The combination of assets that he brings to the table is ideal, really, particularly for businesses that are trying to do groundbreaking things."
It's been a markedly different offseason than last winter for Baker, and not only because he's not preparing for a new season in the dugout. Baker suffered from an irregular heartbeat and a stroke in September 2012 and spent the subsequent offseason visiting cardiologists, neurologists and urologists for tests, as they probed in search of the cause of the stroke. He was instructed to rest as much as possible.
A year later, however, he's been out hunting and fishing regularly, and watching his 14-year-old son, Darren, play basketball on his high school freshman team. (Yes, this is the same son who was famously rescued from a home-plate collision by the Giants' J.T. Snow in the 2002 World Series.) Baker said he might do some coaching of local amateurs, acknowledging, "I'm going to be jonesing after a while for some baseball." Managing, however, remains his pursuit.
"My son asked me, 'But, Dad, aren't those seven jobs equaling like one whole job?'" Baker said. "And I'm taking -- supposedly -- time off. But I like to work."
Baker may be left on the outside of the baseball establishment for now, but he's proving irrepressible in finding new professions and getting back to work. It's a whole new balancing act.