WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — After an outstanding career as an outfielder with the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers, Dusty Baker turned to managing. Until last year, he had taken five clubs into postseason play — San Francisco, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati, Washington and Houston — without winning a World Series. And then he finally broke through with the Houston Astros, who beat the Philadelphia Phillies in six games of the 2022 Series.
He had reached the top of the mountain. But had he seen it all? Of course not. Now, he manages with yet another set of rules he and all managers and teams have had to navigate this spring training.
“As a manager in baseball, I thought I’d thought of every scenario that there is and then sooner or later, some scenario comes up that you hadn’t seen,” said Baker. “That’s baseball.”
There is the pitch clock. There is the limit on throws to first base. And, the least of the changes, the bigger bases.
Dusty Baker’s two teams
Through all this, he will be managing, in effect, two teams — the one that he normally would have had all spring and the one that will be bereft of most of his stars who will be playing for various nations in the World Baseball Classic.
This weekend for perhaps nearly two more weeks, Dusty Baker will be managing the latter club.
“What can I do about it.” he said, “It is what it is. I’ve just been trying to get those guys ready, so they don’t sustain any injuries, as much as we can. It’s not disruptive because I’ve got a lot of kids who can play when they’re absent but I’ve had to play guys longer and sooner than before in order to get them ready.
“These guys wouldn’t be going seven innings until at least the third week of spring training and then I would have to get (some of) them a nine (inning stint) before they would go to the WBC. I normally wouldn’t do that until the last week of the (exhibition) season.”
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At the WBC, those players will be playing baseball the way it used to be played, before the rules adjustments of the past few years. Those players might be gone as long as 16 or 17 days and then their muscle memory of the rules changes will be tested after they return for a handful of exhibitions at the end of spring.
“I can’t worry about WBC rules,” Baker said. “I’ve got to worry about our guys here. We’re having a little period of adjustment. Jeremy Pena got called out on strikes the other day. He was in the (batter’s box) but he wasn’t engaged. Different guys engage differently, you know?
“But I’m glad they’re trying to make these adjustments in spring training instead of starting during the season. Then I’ve noticed that some of the pitchers are a little more conscious of the shot clock than they are making a pitch. I know guys like (the New York Mets’) Max Scherzer are going to try to take advantage of this clock.”
Scherzer held the ball for 14 seconds against Washington’s Michael Chavis after Chavis had used his one chance to call time and step out of the box during an at-bat.
“We were taught that you can only could hold your concentration for three seconds, then step out and look down and focus,” Baker said. “It’s hard to hold your focus.”
As for his pitchers getting winded, trying to keep up with the clock, Dusty Baker said, “There are certain places where they’ve got to run in (from the bullpen) from right field or left field. No matter what, they’re excited to be out there. They start hyperventilating. I have to tell them to slow down and catch their breath before I give them the ball.
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“I tell the catcher to calm them down because the action happens so rapidly. I tell my infielders to make my guy on the mound hold the ball if he’s starting to frazzle.”
Baker admitted, “I find myself watching the clock more than I find myself watching the opposition. Now I’ve got to change somewhat how I manage, from the expertise that I’ve learned.”
Rick Hummel, who was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame for baseball writing, is the baseball columnist for Sportsnaut.