Baker dispels job security doubts

Baker dispels job security doubts

MINNEAPOLIS -- Chicago Cubs general manager Jim Hendry has said he wants to give Dusty Baker a chance to manage the team when it's whole. On Sunday, the Cubs took a step toward that with the return of Derrek Lee.

Is getting Lee back enough to salvage the season?

"We've got a lot left of the season," Baker said before Sunday's game against the Minnesota Twins. "Look at my lineup. It's a totally different look now. I can put [Todd] Walker back in the second spot, I've got [Lee] in the third, [Phil] Nevin fourth, Aramis [Ramirez] fifth, Jacque [Jones] sixth. That gives us pretty good punch there. It gives us a Gold Glove first baseman at first. This guy is very important."

Lee can't do it all. Baker had a long talk with Hendry on Saturday night to discuss the team's plans after injuries to Freddie Bynum and Tony Womack. Baker's job status didn't come up, but the Cubs entered Sunday's game on pace to lose 100 games for the first time since 1966.

"Right now, to tell you the truth, I'm not worried about [my job] because worry does no good," Baker said. "I know what I can do. My track record speaks for itself. It's not like I started yesterday. It's a little disheartening how soon people forget [my track record], or the fact that I haven't had my team. I've had a dozen starters, and six, seven of them have been rookies."

Baker, a three-time Manager of the Year, said he did not sense Hendry had altered his stance.

"Jim hasn't changed his mind," Baker said. "He knows what I can do. If I've got the horses, I'm going to win. That's been my record, hasn't it? I didn't lose what I know overnight."

On May 27, Hendry gave Baker his support, saying at that time that the manager would "get every opportunity to manage the club and get us out of this hole, and he'll get to manage the club when we get healthy the next couple weeks."

Cubs president Andy MacPhail, who is with the team this weekend, believes the general manager and manager have to work together, and is leaving the matter to Hendry.

"That's something that I think Jim has already addressed," MacPhail said. "He's going to try to give the manager an opportunity to get as many of his guys back. I think Jim's made it clear where he stands on that."

It's not just losing Lee for two months that has been the Cubs' problem. They began the season without Kerry Wood and Mark Prior in the rotation, lost valuable backup outfielder Angel Pagan, and have had to deal with catcher Michael Barrett's 10-game suspension.

Baker still expects Wood to pitch again this season, he's just not sure when. The right-hander has been slowed because of stiffness in his shoulder.

"We need [Wood to pitch] and he needs it, too," Baker said. "He needs it for his career and his sake."

This is the last year of Wood's contract, although there is an option for 2007. Baker said he couldn't recommend renewing Wood right now because he hasn't seen him pitch.

Baker also is in the last year of his contract. The losses have been tough.

"I don't like losses, but I don't get beat down easily," Baker said. "If I was going to get beat down, I would've been beat down a long time ago. You can't beat me down. It won't happen. I've been through too much. I've been through the Marines, I've been on good teams, I've been on bad teams.

"The one thing is, how you do your job and how you're perceived of doing your job isn't necessarily how you are," he said. "I know me. I know who I am. I know what I can do. I'm very confident. When things get tough, I get tougher. I'm a tough dude. I've been tough a long time."

Does Baker feel his job is in jeopardy?

"If it is, I'm still doing the best I can do," he said. "I'm doing the best I can do on a daily basis. If my job's in jeopardy, it's in jeopardy. I'm not the first dude, and I probably won't be the last dude. If people expect me to quit and roll over, they don't know me."

Baker's had enough to deal with in his personal life, including his brother battling depression, battles with the Internal Revenue Service, and prostate cancer.

"No matter what's happened in my life, I've come out of it," he said. "There've been times when I was down and out, but guess what, I came out of it.

"I've got faith, I work hard, I've got the desire, and I believe in God and I believe in me."

Hendry didn't give Baker any time table to get the Cubs turned around. Baker said he's not feeling pressure from the general manager.

"There are a lot of people around who still think I'm pretty good," he said. "This is a tough job and I realized it was a tough job when I came here. These four years aren't going to erase the last 34."

And he sees a future in Chicago with the Cubs.

"If they want to blame me for everything that's happened this year, then I'm a powerful man, more powerful than I know I am," he said. "It's OK. I was in the same situation in San Francisco. I was in trouble there, too. You give me the horses, and if the horses stay healthy, I'll win."

Managers usually get too much credit when teams do well and all the blame when teams do poorly. They also get fired. Baker knows that.

"Look at Joe Torre," Baker said. "How many times has he been fired? Three? Four? Bobby Cox, how many times has he been fired? Two? Three? Billy Martin, how many times has he been fired? Eight? You look at Casey Stengel, he got fired. Tony La Russa has been fired, and Jim Leyland.

"Did they quit? No," Baker said. "I'll do what I can do."

Hendry received an extension in May. Baker didn't. There's talk around Chicago that Baker's in trouble, job-wise.

"I've been hearing that Dusty's in trouble most of my life," Baker said.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.