The strongest memory I have of Dusty Baker is him jumping up and down behind the dugout railing after J.T. Snow hit the game-tying 3-run home run off of Armando Benitez in the 2000 NLDS (immortalized in the 2001 “Downtown” Giants ad campaign, which I cannot find online anywhere). He’s the most visceral and positively emotional baseball manager I’ve ever seen and he’s the only one who’s ever made me believe he feels with his players.
It’s a game of sticks, balls, and bases, so the idea that it can’t be outwardly fun while it’s being played is antithetical to the entire idea of a game. There’s so much misery in the world at large and around the game itself (nobody hates baseball more than the national broadcasters who have to talk about it during a telecast) that players/managers/coaches like Dusty are rare.
The archetypal baseball manager looks like he has a migraine and reacts with blind rage at the slightest provocation. Terry Collins always seemed like a genuinely miserable person. Jim Leyland often looked like he just realized he shouldn’t have bought that boat. Bruce Bochy’s expressions of joy rarely rise above the appearance of quiet relief. I don’t need to see a stage actor out there, but I’ve always welcomed Dusty Baker’s positive attitude because it’s genuine.
Players and organizations seemed to have appreciated his light, too, because he’s a baseball lifer. He and the Giants have seemingly buried the hatchet and he’s back in the fold as a special adviser. I’m kooky enough to believe that AT&T Park has a trace of his soul in it. After all, he helped put it on the map (Barry Bonds helped some).
Happy 69th Birthday, Dusty! Hope it’s a nice one!