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No boos from this crowd
Dusty Baker returns tonight, and those Cubs who played for him have nothing but good things to say
By Bruce Miles | Daily Herald Staff

Dusty Baker got a fresh start this off-season with the Cincinnati Reds, who visit the Cubs for a three-game series starting tonight.

 

Associated Press

Things were far from fine during Baker's final days as Cubs manager.

 

Associated Press

There were very few smiles as the fans clearly displayed their displeasure.

 

Associated Press

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Published: 4/15/2008 2:06 AM

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In barrooms and backrooms around Chicago this week, they'll be talking about Dusty Baker coming back to town.

Most of that talk probably won't be kind to Baker.

And no doubt the 40,000 who jam Wrigley Field for each game this week will have a one-word welcome to Baker, the first-year manager of the Cincinnati Reds: "Booooooooo."

Cubs fans no doubt still blame Baker for not getting the Cubs to the World Series in 2003, and for the Cubs blowing their wild-card lead in 2004.

They probably remember Baker standing by as his players feuded with team broadcasters.

Some cringe at Baker ignoring statistical analysis in favor of gut feelings, as well as at some of his lineups, which featured the likes of Neifi Perez at the top of the order.

But in one room, you'll hear no such talk.

That would be the Cubs' locker room, where several players remain from the Baker years of 2003-06.

Over the weekend in Philadelphia, the Daily Herald and others posed questions to a few of those players: first baseman Derrek Lee, third baseman Aramis Ramirez, pitcher Kerry Wood and pitcher Michael Wuertz.

Lee and Ramirez were veteran position players under Baker. Wood was a starting pitcher. Wuertz was a young reliever who made his major-league debut under Baker.

Let's take at look at their answers, roundtable style:

Q. How should Dusty be received by the fans when he comes back to Chicago?

Lee: He should be received good. He did a great job. He's a good person. He should be received good. I don't see why he shouldn't be.

Wood: I'm going to be excited to see him. People forget that he was the first manager in a long time to have back-to-back winning seasons. Eight years ago, if you would have talked about a guy coming in and turning an organization around and winning back-to-back seasons, I would have said, "We'll take it. It's great."

Obviously, it didn't end the way we wanted it to and the way he wanted it to. Dusty puts his heart and soul into every team he manages. I think the players realize that. The people around him on a daily basis understand what he puts into the game. The results are everything in this game. I hope they treat him well."

Ramirez: I can only speak for myself. He did great things in Chicago. He took the team to the playoffs. It wasn't his fault what happened the last three years.

Q. Why do you think he took so much heat in Chicago, especially in '04?

Ramirez: Good question. I don't know. It wasn't his fault. The last year, we just didn't have a good enough team. We didn't have the talent to compete.

Lee: It was us, the players. We had kind of a rough schedule that last month (of '04), and I think we just ran out of gas the last couple weeks. We couldn't hold on to that slight lead we had. That had nothing to do with Dusty.

You can't be in the clubhouse while someone's calling the broadcasters while he's trying to manage the game. It just is what it is. I don't think Dusty worries too much about that.

Wood: Anytime you get into something with the media, it never works out well for anybody. It is what it is. It happened. I don't think any of us wanted it to happen, and it got ugly. You have to realize what you're dealing with.

Q. Did he get a bad rap for not "liking" young players?

Wuertz: He was the first one to give me a chance, especially with the year they had in '03 and to start the year with the team in '04, I have a lot of respect for him. He's a fun guy to play for.

Every manager can get that thrown on him because you have veterans who are proven, and it's hard to throw young guys into spots. Dusty threw me into games in '05 that were big games. It's not that he didn't like young players. We had a lot of older guys that played. I think he gets a bad rap for that.

Q. Does Baker get unfairly blamed for hurting pitchers?

Wood: Absolutely. Nothing that happened to me was because of that man. You have guys who go through their whole career and don't get injured. You have guys who go through two years and get injured six times. I don't think that has anything to do with a manager or a coach or anything like that.

Wuertz: The other thing I think he gets a bad rap for is overusing pitching. Well, you know what? Look at other teams. There are other guys throwing 85-90 games. We've got guys throwing 75 games, and (people) are saying, "Oh, it's because of him our pitchers are getting hurt." That was not the case.

Q. What are Dusty's strengths as a manager?

Lee: He's a great manager and an even better human being. I think his record speaks for itself. He's won everywhere he's been. Obviously, we had a tough year in '06. It didn't matter who was the manager. It wasn't the manager's fault that year. It was great to play for him. It was some of the best years of my life playing for Dusty.

Ramirez: I learned a lot under him. I don't know if I can say I grew up, but I learned an awful lot.

Wuertz: You can go up and talk to him anytime, not only about baseball, but he cared a lot about what's going on with your family, as well. I think that's one of the biggest aspects I saw as a young player coming up.

Q. Do you think he'll have extra motivation to beat the Cubs?

Lee: He wants to beat everybody. Dusty doesn't like to lose. I don't think he would want to beat us more than anybody else. I think he enjoyed his time here. It's unfortunate 2006 was such a bad year. It's unfortunate he had to go out on that term. I don't think he's bitter. He's not a bitter person. I don't think he's circling Chicago on the calendar."

Scouting report

Cubs vs. Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field

TV: Comcast SportsNet today and Wednesday; Channel 9 Thursday

Radio: WGN 720-AM

Pitching matchups: The Cubs' Ryan Dempster (1-0) vs. Aaron Harang (1-1) today at 7:05 p.m.; Carlos Zambrano (1-1) vs. Josh Fogg (1-1) Wednesday at 7:05 p.m.; Ted Lilly (0-2) vs. Edinson Volquez (1-0) Thursday at 1:20 p.m.

At a glance: The series marks the return of former Cubs manager Dusty Baker to Chicago. Baker's Reds lead the NL in walks with 62 and are fourth in on-base percentage at .348. Harang is 8-3 against the Cubs lifetime and 4-0 at Wrigley Field. The Cubs' Derrek Lee is 12-for-35 with 4 homers vs. Harang. Aramis Ramirez has 4 homers off Fogg. The Reds' Adam Dunn has 6 homers and 13 walks vs. Zambrano. Cubs pitchers have turned in only 5 "quality starts" in the first 12 games.

Next: Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field, Friday-Sunday.

-- Bruce Miles