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Dusty Baker on being traded to L.A.: 'I always wanted to be a Dodger'

Dusty Baker on being traded to L.A.: 'I always wanted to be a Dodger'

Dusty Baker might be baseball’s premier storyteller. Get him going any part of his 40-year major-league career as both a player and manager, and he’ll usually offer a fascinating tale down to the granular details.  

So with the Nationals set to face the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Division Series this weekend, the 67-year-old Riverside, California native was naturally given a chance to reflect on being traded to the L.A. back in his playing days. And as one might he expect, he had a whole lot to say about it.

Here’s the setup: After spending his first eight big-league seasons with the Atlanta Braves, Baker had grown frustrated with his team’s apparent rebuilding effort. He hoped to play for a winning organization and return to Southern California. In other words, he wanted to play for his childhood team. So shortly after the 1975 season ended, Baker let it be known where he hoped the Braves would send him.   

“Man, that’s what I wanted,” he recalled after Wednesday’s pre-NLDS workout. “Cause I didn’t like losing. [The Braves] had traded Hank Aaron, that winter of ’75. I didn’t know the business end of baseball at that time. They traded all of us at the same time, and then sold the club to Ted Turner. They traded Ralph Garr to the White Sox, traded me to the Dodgers, traded Darrell Evans and Marty Perez to the Giants.

“My reaction was, I went in and I asked [Braves general manager] Mr. [Eddie] Robinson. I wanted to be traded back to California because I was tired of being in the South at that time, and I was tired of losing.”

While Baker already had California on his mind, his general manager apparently had different plans.

“And [Robinson’s] reaction to me was: Had I ever been to Cleveland?” Baker said. “So I called Hank, and I asked Hank: ‘How come every time I ask them to trade me, they ask me have I ever been to Cleveland?’ Cause Cleveland wasn’t Cleveland as you see it today. Cleveland’s a good town. But back then they played in old Browns stadium. That was like where you sent the bad actors.”

Upset that he wasn’t going to be traded to his preferred destination, Baker decided to take a scenic, cross-country drive back to his home state.

“So I went in and I told them: I’m getting out of here," Baker said. "And I packed up my, I had a 914 Porsche. I had sold the Ford. I sold my Thunderbird to my mother-in-law. And then I packed up my Porsche, built a little rack on the back, and like Route 66: Across America, going to California.

“They didn’t have cell phones, so I stopped in Carlsbad Caverns. I stopped at the Grand Canyon. To see things I hadn’t seen. And that night I was going to bed. I always wanted to be a Dodger, because I heard the Dodgers had the best athletes, the pretty uniforms, the good bodies. And I was like, shoot, you’re talking about me. That’s the way I thought. I’m serious.”

During one of his stops on the way back to California, Baker learned the news that the Braves granted his wish — albeit a few days after it happened. With no cell phones or social media available in the mid-1970s, Baker didn’t know he was traded until he turned on a television.     

“So then I’m watching the news, and they showed like four players: Jimmy Wynn and (Tom) Paciorek and (Lee) Lacy and Jerry Royster. And I was like: ‘Dang, who’s this bad dude they just traded for?’ And then I saw my picture come up, myself and Ed Goodson. And I called my dad. He said: ‘We’ve been looking for you for two days. You’ve been traded to the Dodgers.’ Eddie Robinson did me a favor, traded me to where I wanted to go.”

After a tough first year with the Dodgers, Baker would go on to hit .281 with 144 home runs and 586 RBI over eight season in Los Angeles. He’d later manage their chief rival in the San Francisco Giants, so west-coast baseball will always have a place in Baker's heart. 

"I was on all the All-Dodger Team," Baker said. "And probably the thing I’m most proud of, I was on the All-Dodger Team as a player and the All-Giant Team as a manager. I don’t think there’s been another one that’s done both. I mean, [current Giants manager] Bruce Bochy soon will take over for me, for sure, if he hasn’t done it already. But that’s part of my history there.”

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Mike Rizzo details the rehabilitation process for Bryce Harper to return for Nationals

Mike Rizzo details the rehabilitation process for Bryce Harper to return for Nationals

When Bryce Harper went down Saturday night during the Nationals' game against the San Francisco Giants, everyone in D.C. stopped breathing for a moment. This was true even for Nats GM Mike Rizzo.

"We've all felt it," Rizzo said. "You get that little pit in your stomach and it's the same feeling I had when [Wilson] Ramos went out."

RELATED: HOW JUDGE COULD HELP NATS KEEP HARPER IN WASHINGTON

The Nats' star right fielder was running out a ground ball to first base when his left leg hit a slippery base, causing his knee to hyperextend. Harper immediately went down and grabbed his knee in agony. He eventually had to be helped off the field.

The team has been plagued with injuries this season, from the bullpen to outfielders.

After the initial shock of seeing one of his best players go down with what could have been a season-ending injury, Rizzo told the Sports Junkies he went in 'GM mode.'

"You immediately go to GM mode. We immediately called our farm director, Doug Harris, and made arrangements to get Michael Taylor on a plane. Pull him out of the game in double A, get him on a plane and bring him here because we knew that we needed a player that next day. You know, you gotta change gears quick."

"Then I went down to see Harp in the clubhouse. When I saw him walking up the stairs from the dugout to the clubhouse, I was a little bit relieved. You never know with those injuries. Until you get the MRIs, until you see maybe a day or two later what transpired in there, you have to be cautiously optimistic, I guess that it wasn't an [Adam] Eaton type of thing where you knew immediately that he was gone for the season."

While everyone was waiting to see the severity of Harper's injury, Mike Rizzo and his team were making a game plan.

"You go into your evaluation mode. You look at the depth of your roster. What's next? You get the cabinet together, we were all in the GM box watching the game, so we were all together and kind of put our heads together to try to come up with a plan.

"If it's a light injury, if it's a year-ending injury, what do we do? What are the plans? And you know, you put plans together. If I'm not mistaken it was like the first inning or second inning or something like that. It was early in the game, so we had three hours to lament over it and think about what we're trying to do and put a game plan together kind of on the fly. We literally had Michael Taylor flying into D.C. later that evening so we kind of had to turn things around pretty quickly."

Now that the GM knows Harper's injury is a significant bone bruise, what steps does the team take to get him back on the diamond as soon as possible?

"If I had a time frame for you, I would give it to you. But there's no sense of putting on a time frame because the injury, the bone bruise, has to heal before he can do any type of rehab, stimulated rehab, baseball activities. He's not doing anything below the waist.

"He's doing his workout programs. He's doing all his weight work, all his cardio, all the things he has to do above the waist. But, we don't want him weight-bearing impacting with running and hitting and spinning, you know when you stick a swing and that type of thing, until he feels much much better and he's asymptomatic with the pain in his knee."

Rizzo said Harper will eventually progress to an AlterG treadmill, an anti-gravity treadmill that speeds up the rehabilitation process by supporting as much or as little body weight as needed.

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Howie Kendrick hits two homeruns for Nationals against former team

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Howie Kendrick hits two homeruns for Nationals against former team

WASHINGTON -- Gio Gonzalez allowed two hits in six scoreless innings, Howie Kendrick hit two solo home runs and the Washington Nationals snapped the Los Angeles Angels' winning streak at six with a 3-1 victory Tuesday night.

Gonzalez (11-5) struck out four and issued three walks in lowering his home ERA to 1.79, now the best in baseball. The left-hander, who was three outs from a no-hitter July 31 at Miami, allowed his first hit two hits into the fifth against the Angels.

Los Angeles, which had climbed into an AL wild-card spot during its streak, lost for the first time since Aug. 7. Tyler Skaggs (1-3) allowed the two home runs to Kendrick and five other hits while striking out six in five innings.

Kendrick has homered in three of his past four at-bats after hitting a walk-off grand slam in the 11th inning Sunday night against San Francisco.

Playing their third game since Bryce Harper went on the 10-day disabled list with a bone bruise in his left knee, the Nationals got an insurance run in the sixth on a wild pitch by Bud Norris and an error on Angels first baseman Albert Pujols. That provided some extra breathing room when Cliff Pennington hit a home run in the eighth, the first run Brandon Kintzler has allowed since being traded to Washington from Minnesota.

With Ryan Madson's availability in question after dealing with a blister Sunday, the Nationals went with Matt Albers in the seventh, Kintzler in the eighth and Sean Doolittle in the ninth. Doolittle picked up his 12th save of the season and his ninth with Washington.