Cubs part ways with Baker

Cubs part ways with Baker

CHICAGO -- Dusty Baker didn't take any questions on Monday after the Cubs announced they were not renewing his contract. There was nothing left to be said.

Baker is gone after four seasons in Chicago, guiding the Cubs to the Central Division title in 2003 and ending this season with the worst record in the National League at 66-96. The Cubs were 322-326 (.497) under Baker.

"I'd just like to tell everybody that I'd like to thank the organization for giving me the opportunity to come here and win this thing," Baker said Monday to a packed media throng in the interview room at Wrigley Field. "I wish we could've gotten it done, and we didn't. I guess all things must come to an end, and all things come to pass."

What's next for Baker?

"I fully expect to stay in baseball in some capacity," he said. "I'm not exactly sure what. I'm going to go home and be with my family for a few days. Perhaps the phone might ring and [someone might] ask me to do something. My time in Chicago was a very good time. I wish we could've gotten it done."

Baker was expected to do commentary on ESPN during the postseason. He was focused on cleaning out his office and Chicago condo on Monday.

"I want to thank my players for the effort they've given us," Baker said. "We kind of came up short, but as it has been in the past, I fully expect to stay in contact with my players. They usually call me for advice in one area or another. I urged them yesterday to learn from some of the things they might have understood and some of the things they didn't understand and retain it. ... Perhaps someday they can use it on being better ballplayers and better family men and better people, period.

"I just wish the organization and [general manager] Jim Hendry well as they go forward, just like they wished me well as I go forward."

The easygoing Baker opted to not take questions.

"There's really no answers right now," he said.

His wife Melissa and son Darren were in Chicago to help him pack.

"It's emotional as you're doing it -- you see four years come to pass before your face," Baker said.

Hendry, who hired Baker in November 2002, called Monday "an unfortunate day."

"I think the world of him," Hendry said of Baker, who spent 10 seasons with the San Francisco Giants before joining the Cubs. "Aside from baseball, I think he's a tremendous human being and a very caring man.

"He's done a lot, not only for his players in the game, but for many people outside of baseball, and he's been very good to me," Hendry said. "Obviously, he was the choice and the only choice I wanted to make for 2003 when I was fortunate to be in charge of the Chicago Cubs. Today was a day I never foresaw happening."

Hendry's contract also was to expire at the end of the 2006 season, but he was given a two-year extension in April by then team president Andy MacPhail. On Sunday, after the Cubs played their last game of the season, MacPhail announced his resignation. John McDonough, the senior vice president for marketing and broadcasting, was named interim team president.

Hendry said he shared the blame for the last two poor seasons.

"It's a total team effort on the bad season, starting with myself," he said. "We have a number of excuses if we want to use them, but we just didn't play well. We certainly had our share of injuries and nothing went right since the end of April. That being said, sometimes it just doesn't work, and you have to make a change and move forward."

Questions about Baker's job status intensified in May when the team went 7-22.

"It was hard to watch him go through some of the things he's had to go through," Hendry said of the criticism. "He's certainly not finished in our game, and he's certainly not incapable of going elsewhere down the road and managing and winning.

"Joe Torre, two or three places he didn't win, and he found the right place at the right time and the rest is history," Hendry said. "Dusty Baker has done nothing but great things for the game and certainly our failures on the field are not something I would totally put on him. ... [I expect him] to rebound and be successful in whatever else he wants to do.

"I'm grateful to him," Hendry said. "He made me look awfully smart in 2003."

In 2003, the Cubs won their first Central Division, and reached the National League Championship Series, only to lose in seven games to the Florida Marlins. The Cubs were five outs away from reaching the World Series for the first time since 1945, but lost a crucial Game 6.

Hendry would not give specific reasons as to why Baker was not renewed.

"For the best interest of the Cubs and where we're at and what we have to do, I just think a change is appropriate," Hendry said.

The two had a good relationship, Hendry said, and he complimented Baker, a three-time Manager of the Year, who has a lifetime 1,162-1,041 record.

"It's not my nature to play the blame game, it's not my nature to play the excuse game," Hendry said. "In '03 and '04, none of us saw this day coming. There are a lot of factors that you can't put your finger on or try to make a rational reason or excuse of why they happened.

"I tried to factor everything in and make the decision I thought was best for the Cubs at this particular time," he said. "In no way, shape or form is that a slight of 'Dusty can't do this, Dusty can't do that and somebody else can do it better.' I felt it was just time to make a change."

Baker had to work short-handed this season as injuries knocked pitchers Mark Prior and Kerry Wood and first baseman Derrek Lee out for the majority of the season. Of the five pitchers in the starting rotation on Opening Day, only Carlos Zambrano and Sean Marshall were available at the end. Greg Maddux was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 31, Jerome Williams was demoted to the Minor Leagues (and was subsequently claimed by Oakland), and Glendon Rusch suffered a life-threatening blood clot in his lung.

The Cubs' offense struggled to get on track, despite the addition of leadoff man Juan Pierre. In Spring Training, Todd Walker, Neifi Perez and Jerry Hairston Jr. were battling for the starting second base job. None remained at season's end, as all three were traded. The job is still up for grabs in 2007.

A significant amount of the Cubs' payroll was on the disabled list. That handcuffed Baker as well.

"You can't have the pitching we had coming out of '03 go down like we had and snap your finger and say, 'Why didn't we get pitching to replace it?'" Hendry said. "Certainly it's a tough obstacle to overcome. Some of the people we counted on didn't play well, and every player to a man in there would say they had a hand in the decisions being made, too. We could've played better baseball.

"At the end of the day, when you lose that many games, the injuries aren't an excuse -- it's about winning," Hendry said. "At the end of the day in November, it doesn't say next to your loss column, 'Oh, gee, they had this amount of guys on the DL this year.' You either win the games or you don't. Unfortunately, we haven't been able to stay as healthy as we need to to play better."

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